Banks enjoys its best performance at state since 2005, with two wrestlers finishing in the top five
A resurgent season for the Banks wrestling program came to a close on Saturday with the end of one era and the beginning of another.
The Braves sent two wrestlers to the podium over the weekend at the OSAA Class 4A state wrestling championships - senior Bubba Brown, a contender for the 195-pound title who was overtaken late in the semifinals and eventually wrestled back for fifth place, and freshman Travis Thompson, a wide-eyed underdog at 145 pounds who nearly knocked off a two-time defending state champion and also wrestled his way to fifth place.
Those two performances - combined with freshman Colin Purinton advancing to the quarterfinals at 106 pounds - represented Banks' best showing at the state wrestling tournament since 2005, and second-year head coach Dan Herb couldn't be happier with the direction of his program.
'I think we exceeded a lot of expectations this year,' Herb said. 'We had two state placers for the first time since '05,
we had four regional champions, and we had two freshmen qualify for state. Things are looking up.'
Banks had representatives from both its incoming and outgoing classes at the state tournament, which was held Friday and Saturday at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland. Brown and fellow senior Kyle Douglas represented the old guard, while Thompson and Purinton, both freshmen, represented the new blood.
If their performances were any indication, the program is certainly moving in the right direction.
Thompson won by pin in the first round of the tournament, then earned an 18-8 major decision in round two against Ontario's Max Maeda, a state placer from a year ago. That earned Thompson a semifinal matchup against two-time defending state champion Eleazar Deluca of Phoenix.
'We knew we had a tough match,' Herb said. 'Travis wrestled him tough, he fought hard the whole match. That's a big stage for a freshman. It's kind of intimidating.'
Deluca won the match 18-7, then went on to beat Cascade's Ryan Dozler in the finals for his third consecutive state championship.
Thompson, meanwhile, dropped to the consolation bracket and immediately lost his first match to Zach Trask of Philomath, but the Banks freshman slotted into fifth when Maeda withdrew from the fifth-place match with an injury.
'That was an impressive performance for a freshman,' Herb said. 'I think he's already got big plans for next year.'
Purinton will also have his eye on a state title next year after bursting onto the scene as one of the most technically proficient wrestlers in the state. The freshman - who weighs just 90 pounds but wrestles at 106 - had an outstanding regular season that included a regional championship, but he couldn't quite find his way to the podium on Saturday, losing one match short of finishing in the top six.
Purinton pinned Newport's Makiah Chadwick in the first round of the state tournament, but suffered a 12-2 setback in round two against Trayton Libolt of Crook County. That sent the freshman to the consolation bracket, where he quickly pinned Cole Rohan of La Grande before losing to Newport's Josh Connor.
'Colin doesn't like to use excuses, but think about it - he's giving up 20 percent of his body weight every time he wrestles,' Herb said. 'He's starting out behind the eight ball. That's like giving up 40 or 50 pounds at a higher weight class.'
Despite the loss, Herb sees a bright future for his young star, who can add weight every year and likely still wrestle 106 pounds for his entire career.
'I think he's probably the best wrestler on the team in terms of technique, and he's one of the best in the state,' Herb said. 'There's no doubt in my mind that he'll be competing for a state title next year.'
The biggest disappointment for Banks came on Saturday when Brown, a heavy favorite to compete for a state title at 195 pounds, lost on a stunning reversal to Sutherlin's Beau Grauf in the semifinals.
After steamrolling his first two opponents, Brown held a 4-3 lead over Grauf with 40 seconds left in the match. Thinking he had been warned by the official for stalling, Brown pressed forward instead of hanging back, and Grauf caught his head and arm in a lock, then threw Brown to the mat for a two-point takedown and three nearfall points, flipping the match in his favor. Grauf went on to win 8-5.
'I take a lot of responsibility for that,' Herb said. 'Bubba thought he had been warned for stalling and I should have done a better job of letting him know the situation. I put that solely on my shoulders.'
Brown, like Thompson before him, suffered from the quick turnaround after the loss, having to wrestle in the consolation bracket just an hour later, where he lost 5-3 to Henley's Drake Dow. The senior composed himself, however, and pinned North Bend's Zach Olander to secure fifth place.
'When you see your entire career and everything you've worked for come to an end, then you have to turn around and wrestle an hour later, that's tough to do,' Herb said. 'I think given different circumstances we might have gotten a different outcome, but I'm proud of Bubba. He had a great career, and pinning that last kid was a great way to end it.'
Douglas was the only Banks wrestler to not win a match over the weekend. The senior 220-pounder lost 10-5 in the first round to Isaac Sanders of Brookings-Harbor and was pinned by La Pine's Chad Van Cleave in the consolation bracket.
'Kyle wrestled real tough in his first match. He had the kid on his back and I thought we might win it there, but it didn't happen,' Herb said. 'He still had a very good year. He's always worked real hard, and making it to the state tournament was a good way for him to go out.'
Although two of his four state qualifiers will graduate in the spring, Herb is still excited about the direction of the program.
'We're losing a pretty good senior class, but we've got a real strong freshman class coming up,' he said. 'Colin and Travis and the other young guys are already talking about next year and how they can improve.'