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Forest Grove senior Jake Bennett becomes the third two-time state champion in school history
by: Chase Allgood Forest Grove senior Jake Bennett gets a hug from coach Frank Johnson after beating Barlow’s Jacob Childs to earn a second consecutive state wrestling championship.

For one Forest Grove wrestler, a dominant season ended in familiar fashion with a second consecutive state championship; for another Forest Grove wrestler, a dominant season ended with yet another crushing tournament loss.

Forest Grove senior Jake Bennett became the third repeat state champion in school history and the first to win back-to-back titles since Gary Regier

in 1976-77, manhandling his competition in the 170-pound bracket at the Class 6A state wrestling tournament over the weekend at Portland's Memorial Coliseum.

Bennett pinned three of his four opponents and allowed only one point during the two-day tournament, following up his breakthrough performance from a year ago, when he won a state championship at 160 pounds.

'Jake had an amazing run this year,' said Forest Grove head coach Frank Johnson. 'The only point he gave up at the state tournament was a one-point escape to the state finalist from a year ago. Then Jake pinned him less than 30 seconds into the second round.

'The tournament was a fitting end to a stellar high school career for Jake.'

On the opposite end of the spectrum, fellow senior Kyle Vanderkin had to suffer the indignity of yet another fifth-place finish after coming into the tournament as a heavy favorite to compete for the state title at 160 pounds.

Vanderkin finished fifth at 152 pounds as a sophomore, then took fifth at 171 pounds last year after a controversial ruling knocked him out of the championship bracket. This was Vanderkin's year to shine after posting a 39-2 regular-season record and winning a district championship two weeks ago, but the senior faltered in the semifinals and had to once again wrestle his way back for fifth place.

'Some of the best memories of the past four years have been watching Kyle wrestle,' Johnson said. 'But seeing Kyle be so close so many times at the state tournament has provided some of the most painful moments of my coaching career.'

Vanderkin pinned his first opponent on Friday, then beat Roseburg's Javier Mandera 5-3 in the second round, setting up a semifinal match against Tyler Chay of West Linn.

Chay wrestled defensively, rebuffing Vanderkin's constant offensive attacks, and the match was tied 3-3 late in the third period. Needing only an escape to win, Vanderkin got to his feet and grabbed Chay's leg, but the West Linn junior hit a desperation move with nine seconds left and scored three nearfall points when he caught Vanderkin in a scramble.

'Kyle beat the best kid in his weight in the quarterfinals, then lost to a guy that had no business beating him,' Johnson said. 'It was just a momentary lapse on Kyle's part. He managed to get to his feet and actually put himself in an offensive position by securing Chay's leg. At that point, all Kyle had to do was let go of Chay's leg and push him away to get his escape point and win the match, but Kyle held on to the leg.'

Vanderkin lost his first consolation match to Hillsboro's John Morin - who he beat in the district tournament finals two weeks ago - but bounced back with a 5-3 win over Taylor Becker of Clackamas to secure his third straight fifth-place finish at state.

Bennett, meanwhile, completed one of the most dominant seasons in Forest Grove wrestling history. The senior broke his own school record for most pins in a single season before the district tournament started, then finished the year by pinning seven of his final eight opponents.

'Thirty of Jake's 37 wins (this season) were by pin,' Johnson said. 'That's a pretty dominating year.'

The top-ranked 170-pounder in Class 6A, Bennett began the state tournament by pinning Kyle Williams of Sprague, Gunnar Sigado of Redmond and Ryan Harman of West Linn. In the finals, Bennett was his usual dominant self, posting a 3-0 victory over Barlow's Jacob Childs to become the third repeat state champion in Forest Grove history, following Regier and Josh Johnson, who won titles in 2009 and 2011.

'Kyle and Jake established themselves as two of the elite wrestlers in school history,' coach Johnson said. 'Kyle became the fourth Viking wrestler to win three district titles and Jake became our third two-time state champion. They both became three-time state placers this year, becoming the sixth and seventh in school history.'

Those performances weren't the only highlights for the Vikings, who qualified four other wrestlers for the state tournament and saw sophomore Joe Rodriguez finish one win away from placing.

Rodriguez, wrestling at 113 pounds, won his first match by pin against Tyler Knights of Thurston, but couldn't get off the bottom in a 4-2 loss to Cameron Baldwin of Reynolds in round two.

'Baldwin pinned him earlier in the year, so a two-point loss is an improvement,' Johnson said. 'But we were looking for more this time.'

Rodriguez came back strong with an 11-3 major decision over Gresham's Sage Higgins in the consolation bracket, but his tournament came to an end with a 9-3 loss to Zachary Nance of Grants Pass, just one round shy of earning a trip to the podium.

'Joe has lots of potential and can do very well the next two years,' Johnson said. 'We have to get him to come out of the gate much quicker and get him to be more consistent at match time. He puts lots of time into wrestling, and that will pay off for him in the long run.'

Of Forest Grove's other three state qualifiers, only Ivan Mojica-Flores won a match. The junior lost his opener in the 120-pound bracket to eventual state runner-up Yasyf Sorenson of Sprague, then won a consolation match by pin against Canby's Devon Jarmer before having his tournament ended by three-time state placer Ernesto Escobar of Westview.

'Going into his final season, Ivan has to put himself in a position to be able to beat guys like that,' Johnson said. '(Ivan) is the kind of guy who will put the time in this spring and summer.'

Senior Joey Guerra qualified at 113 pounds but dropped both his matches, culminating with an 8-7 defeat against Jesse Delgado of David Douglas.

'Joey overcame many odds - not turning out for wrestling until his sophomore year, then battling a serious health condition,' Johnson said. 'Joey has to be proud of how far he made it. He showed lots of guts this year.'

Forest Grove's final state qualifier, 220-pounder Jeremy Sullivan, also lost his first two matches at the tournament.

'For Jeremy to go from a guy who wasn't sure if he would make it through his freshman season to a guy with more than 20 wins on the year and a trip to the state tournament was great to see,' Johnson said. 'At state, Jeremy ran into the 6A Wrestler of the Year (in) his first match. He was eliminated from the tournament with his next loss, but Jeremy has a lot to be proud of.'

While the Vikings have enjoyed unprecedented success over the last five years, crowning six state champions and sending 10 other wrestlers to the podium in that period, the program will face some challenges in the coming years.

'Next year will be the first time in three years and only the second time in six years that we start the year without a returning state placer,' Johnson said. 'It's going to be a bit like starting over. If we don't have guys commit to putting in lots of time over the spring and summer, it's going to be a long, tough road over the next couple of years.

'The exciting part about that is going to be seeing who steps up to fill those shoes.'

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