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Vikings look sharp at tourney

Forest Grove hosts the Bob Beisell Invitational and crowns three individual champions

 - Forest Grove's Mason Pang (top) wrestles Rex Putnam's Cameron Davis in the 182-pound fifth-place match on Saturday at the Bob Beisell Invitational tournament in Forest Grove.These Vikings defended their home turf well.

Hosting 10 other teams in the annual Bob Beisell Invitational, the Forest Grove wrestling team more than held its own on Saturday, crowning champions at three weight classes and picking up a total of nine place-winners.

Those three titlists — Christian Guerra, Matthew Johnson and Lucas Higginbotham — helped propel the Vikings to third place in the team standings with 128 points, only behind runaway winner Century (228½ points) and Beaverton (142).

Best of all, Forest Grove coach Chad Beatty was pleased to see his team demonstrate some gumption after a lackluster dual meet against McKay earlier in the week.

“Today, they wrestled really well, I felt. We still have a lot of work to do in certain positions, but overall our effort was really, really high,” Beatty said. “Wednesday, I don’t feel like we gave our full effort and I don’t think we were totally focused on what we needed to be focused on, but today was refreshing to see them respond and really put it out there.”

Beatty said it was fun to watch his team perform Saturday, and a glance at the results might show why, at least in part. Higginbotham, Johnson and Guerra have been stalwarts all season for the Vikings, but some of their teammates stepped up as well.

Among the team’s place-winners, Alex Vanderkin posted a third-place showing at 182 pounds, and Quentin Oppenlander stepped up with a fourth-place effort at 138. Other Viking scorers included Leonard Blix (fourth, 195), Norberto Lopez (sixth, 145) and Mason Pang (sixth, 182).

But Forest Grove’s biggest strength so far this season has been its lower weights, and that held true again Saturday for the Vikings, who also got a fifth place from Maya Guerra at 126.

For Johnson, the competition was an impressive rebound from the team’s invitational the previous week, the Don York invite in Portland, where Johnson uncharacteristically failed to place.

The junior was back in form at home. After an opening round bye, he recorded a pin and then two consecutive technical falls to win the 126-pound title, including a 21-6 shellacking of Reynolds’ Steven Coca in the final.

“He responded and he did what he was capable of doing,” Beatty said. “And that was fun to watch. To see workout partners — Higginbotham, Guerra and Johnson — all get techs in the finals, it’s pretty refreshing and it’s accredited to their hard work.”

Higginbotham also bounced back after suffering a loss in the McKay dual. Overall, the sophomore has been super so far this season, and he continued that with a fall in the semifinal round and a win by technical fall (20-5) against Century’s Richard Monterroso in the final.

After qualifying for the Class 6A state meet last year as a freshman, Higginbotham has been hard to beat this winter, raising his record to 16-4 at the Bob Beisell tourney.

“Mainly my attitude. My confidence has been there, but I figured out my stance and all that, just all these things that I felt were missing last year got completed by coach Beatty, because he’s really helping us,” Higginbotham said regarding his improvement.

As for Guerra, he posted three wins to improve to 17-4 on the season. His run included a 12-10 decision against the tough Eduardo Baltazar of Century in the semifinal round before the Viking senior beat Tyler Montgomery of South Albany 16-1 in the final.

“It hasn’t gone like what I expected it to be,” the returning state finalist said of this season. “I was hoping it would be a little better, but it’s going pretty well. I’ve been improving a lot, especially with our new coach. It’s helped a lot.”

While his team appears to be rounding into form, Beatty pointed out that the time frame the Vikings are operating under is rapidly shortening.

The end of the season is starting to loom, as the Greater Valley Conference district meet is scheduled for Feb. 21-22 — just a month away — with the state tournament coming up the following weekend.

“We’re trying to really focus and get going,” Beatty noted. “We have a lot of work to do and we’re doing the work. I’m feeling good tonight, but we have to do it consistently.”

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