Blessed with seniors, numbers and a determination to get better, the Auburn Riverside wrestling team continues to flex its muscle.
Behind a pair of class champions, the Ravens pinned down their third tournament title of the first-half season last Saturday, pulling away from the pack to capture its first Doc Herren Invitational at Auburn High School’s Bob Jones Gymnasium.
State-caliber Yusef Nelson, who was selected the two-day tournament’s most outstanding lightweight, rolled to the 120-pound title, unseeded Will Russell seized the 220-pound class, and Auburn Riverside shone in the consolation rounds to pile up 257½ points to outdistance Sumner (217).
Auburn Mountainview had four finalists – with Marco Galeao winning at 113 pounds – to finish fifth in the team standings. Host Auburn was 10th.
The experienced Ravens did what they needed to do, especially in early Saturday consolation bouts.
“We thought we had a good chance today,” said Ravens coach Kyle Jones. “Second day, we really wrestled well in the consolation side and got some third places that were big points, and our championship guys really wrestled well and got us a couple of titles.”
Winning the invitational was on Auburn Riverside’s to-do list. The Ravens, defending North Puget Sound League Olympic Division dual meet and tournament champions, have high expectations this winter.
“This is the one we had marked on our calendars from the beginning that we wanted to try to get done,” Jones said of taking the Herren crown. “… This year we have upped our goals and see what we could do better.”
Nelson, who was seventh at state last year at 113 pounds, recently grabbed a runner-up finish at the heralded Tri-State showdown in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where he dropped a 9-3 decision to Mead of Spokane’s Chase Randall.
He dominated the field last Saturday, culminating with an 18-7 decision over Highline’s Kevin Plenh Romero in the final.
“I just wasn’t really creating angles … doing my (tactics) too much, but in the second round I began to figure it out,” said Nelson, who improved to 17-1 on the season.
Nelson has big plans, none bigger than winning a state title come February. His self-improvement plan took him to a pair of offseason camps in Oregon and another closer to home that was led by a good teacher – Michael Mangrum, a former Auburn Riverside standout and All-American at Oregon State University.
“I expect a state championship, nothing less,” Nelson said without hesitation. “I’ve worked for it. I deserve it.”
The Ravens’ second title came from Russell, a developing junior, who scored a takedown with two seconds left in regulation to defeat Kentwood’s Michael Orozco, 3-1. For most of the match, the combatants stood toe-to-toe.
“Will’s game plan is to always use his cardio. He’s got great conditioning,” Jones said. “As the match went on, you could tell the other guy was tiring. (Will) just needed to pull the trigger a little faster, but, as soon as he did, we got our two (points). He really did a great job all tournament.”
In the 182-pound final, the Ravens’ Sam Onishchenko battled Decatur’s Jacob Cassady but dropped a 10-3 decision. Cassady, who was third at 170 pounds at state last year, won despite a stubborn bleeding scrape over his eye that required a wrap-around head bandage from trainers.
Auburn Riverside picked up thirds from Kenny Miller (170) and Eyvar Robles (285) and fourths from Mikah Fathers (126) and Jonathon Richards (182).
For Auburn Mountainview, Galeao held on for a 3-2 decision over Sumner’s Griffin Klockeman in the finals.
The Lions’ Hanson, Jabril Mohammed (126), Noah Koester (132) and Russell Hanson (145) reached the finals, only to be turned away. Branden Buell was fourth at 106.
In a match between state-class wrestlers, Hanson was more aggressive, but Mount Si’s Duncan Harrison gained an early 2-0 lead that he carried until the final whistle.
Auburn’s Austin Riehl took third at 220, and Alex Contreras was fourth at 120.