Christian Guerra caps his junior season with a surprise run to the 106-pound state final

PORTLAND — Forest Grove ended a lot of storylines on a high note last weekend.

After not placing a single wrestler on the awards stand at last year’s Class 6A state tournament, the Vikings landed four on the podium Saturday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, including 106-pound state finalist Christian Guerra.

Forest Grove also racked up 55 points in the team standings to finish eighth overall, a program best.

And thanks to Guerra, Forest Grove head coach Frank Johnson closed out his high school coaching career with a championship match. Johnson was hired as the men’s and women’s wrestling coach at Warner Pacific College, so this state tournament was his last as the Vikings’ leader.

“We said, ‘Look, we didn’t come this far just to come this far,’” Johnson said about team mindset for the tournament. “And that’s sort of what happened last year. People get satisfied with just being here, and that’s not what it’s about.

“The guys, they had that attitude coming in that we were coming home with medals. We came here to get hardware, and that happened.”

That attitude translated into a solid performance for a squad that took just six wrestlers to the competition.

Ahead of the Vikings, Roseburg claimed the team title with 272.5 points, more than doubling up West Linn (107.5), Hillsboro (95) and Grants Pass (82). In an impressive display of depth, thanks as well to Century (seventh, 57.5) and Glencoe (10th, 55), the Pacific Conference put four programs in the top 10 of the team standings.

The team finish certainly was a highlight, but so was Guerra’s run to the state championship match. Competing at home two weeks ago, he took third place at the Special District 1 regional tournament. But at the Coliseum, he made a run all the way to the final before dropping a 10-3 decision to unranked Bennett Mesa of Roseburg.

“It was exciting and really nerve-racking,” Guerra said after receiving his silver medal and standing on the awards podium. “I didn’t even expect to be here right now.”

But Guerra earned his way in. In the first round, the junior benefited from a forfeit by South Salem’s Tanner Stone. Then he picked up a big upset with a 7-0 decision over No. 2 Gus Warren of Canby. And in his semifinal, he punched his top-two ticket with a 9-3 decision against Glencoe freshman Ian Stettler.

So there he was on Saturday evening, squaring off against Mesa and earning the first two points of the contest on a takedown before the Indians freshman seized control.

The tournament run surpassed even Guerra’s expectations for himself.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t even think I’d even place in the top two,” said Guerra, who had not placed before at state. “My goal was to place in the top six. All I wanted was my name on the (wrestling room) wall.”

Guerra credited his wrestling partners, Lucas Higganbotham and Matthew Johnson — both of whom also competed last weekend — in contributing to his success. And both he and his coach noted the work he had to put in. Once Guerra hit about 111 pounds, he struggled to get lighter, Johnson said. Multiple workouts per day, Guerra said, helped him get there.

“He had to stay on a very strict diet and do a lot of exercising, do a lot of work, and he finally did it,” Johnson said. “Being disciplined really paid off for him. He grew a lot this season.

“When you do something that difficult, the result is growth, and Christian grew a lot. And so I’m very pleased.”

Matthew Johnson and twin brothers Chad and Cody Smith also left the state tournament with medals. Johnson added a fifth-place finish at 113 pounds. The younger Johnson won his first match, was pinned by Roseburg freshman Austin Harris in the quarterfinals and worked his way through the consolation bracket to score a rematch with Harris in the fifth-sixth place match. There, Johnson scored an 8-2 decision against Harris.

Competing at 132 pounds, Chad Smith lost his first match, but impressively, he worked all the way through the consolation bracket and wound up with a sixth-place result to take the final spot on the awards podium.

Twin brother Cody Smith also earned a medal, a fifth-place finish at 138 pounds. Smith won his first two matches to advance to Saturday’s semis, where he dropped a 15-6 decision to top-ranked Spencer Stokes of Sunset. After a second loss, Smith moved on to the fifth-sixth place contest, where he went out a winner thanks to a 10-4 victory against Austin Weaver of Roseburg.

Higganbotham (106) and Christian Rincon (285) also competed for the Vikings, a final high school group Johnson likely won’t forget.

“They’re great kids. Wrestling or not, they’re going to do great things in life,” Johnson said about this year’s team. “They’re just fun to be around.”

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