After slumping to fifth a year ago, the Tigers storm to the Special District 3 championship Saturday in Keizer

SALEM — When Dakota Church was in kindergarten, he attended Newberg’s annual youth wrestling camp for elementary school students and couldn’t help ask about the names posted on planks of wood on the wall of the Caffal Center.

They were district and state champions and all he knew was that he wanted to be one.

Twelve years later, Church can finally put his board on the wall after pinning his way to the Special District 3 title at 220 pounds Friday and Saturday at McNary High DAN BROOD - Turnaround â€' Newberg’s Patrick Boulanger spins around to take top position against Sprague’s Taylor Martinez Saturday in the Special District 3 championship bout at 113 pounds, but the Olympian won the match 5-2.

“It’s, like, unreal,” Church said. “I’ve always talked about how I wanted to be a district champion, but to actually be able to do it and succeed, I think it’s a tremendous accomplishment for me.”

Collectively, the Tigers also earned a spot on the wall by storming to the regional team title. But for this year’s team, the seed that grew into a such a satisfying victory was planted a year ago when Newberg finished a disappointing and uncharacteristic fifth place.

“I remember quite vividly sitting there through the finals, talking with the kids and our coaching staff, making sure that we didn’t forget the feeling on Saturday evening a year ago, but more importantly having a plan and doing something about it,” head coach Neil Russo said. “Our coaches worked hard for the last year and our kids obviously did too.”

The Tigers collected 334 points to outdistance runner-up Sprague by 44.5 points. Both Newberg and McMinn­ville finished unbeaten to tie for the regular season dual meet title after their season-ending bout was canceled due to weather, but the Russo’s squad clearly won the default tiebreaker, as the Grizzlies finished a distant fourth with 212 points, 23 behind third-place McNary.

by: DAN BROOD - A long time coming â€' Jack Kerwin celebrates winning the Special District 3 title at 160 pounds Saturday at McNary High School. The senior ‘had paid his dues’ starting since his freshman season, according to Newberg head coach Neil Russo. Newberg was not a team full of thoroughbreds this year, unlike it has been so often throughout it illustrious history, but was by far the deepest at the tournament, winning 27 of its 28 first-round matches.

The Tigers had a difficult time in the semifinal round, which was not a total surprise, winning just three of 11 matches, but had seven kids work their way through the consolation rounds to finish in the top four and qualify for the state tournament March 1-2 at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

“All those kids came back really well,” Russo said. “We knew were going to have to win it in the consolations and we did.”

Two of the three Newberg wrestlers that advanced to the finals — Jack Kerwin at 160 pounds and senior Dakota Church at 220 — earned titles, with Patrick Boulanger settling for second at 113 pounds.

Kerwin was quite fired up after his 5-2 victory over Troy Dunn of Sprague and deservedly so, considering his long road to the title.

“Jack is wrestling as well as anybody right now,” Russo said. “It’s so satisfying to see somebody who has paid his dues for four years. He stepped into the varsity lineup as a freshman by default and wasn’t ready for that. For two and a half years, he took some beatings and to see him rewarded with a district title is pretty satisfying.”

Kerwin also had some extra motivation because Dunn had upset teammate, fellow senior and top-seed Zane Burgess in the semifinals.

Burgess was one of five Tigers to battle their way back to a third-place finish, joining Aerie Baxter (106 pounds), Matthew McCarthy (145), Devin Russo (182) and Evan Smith (220). Also advancing to state by placing fourth were Brandon Harper at 138 and freshman Dallas O’Bryan at heavyweight.

Among the Tigers also earning medals but falling short of state were: Matt Frey, who was fifth at 120; Tim Lane, who was fifth at 126; Carson Albo, who was sixth at 145; Will Fox, who was fifth at 182; Nick Aydolette; who was sixth at 195; and Chase Pothier, who was fifth at heavyweight.

“Our team had a rough season last year and it felt good to come back and wrestle the way Newberg usually wrestles,” Kerwin said. “That’s how it’s supposed to be done.”

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