Team scores weren’t kept, but winning titles wasn’t Taft High Coach Robb Ellis’ intent for Saturday’s first Holiday Crab Pools Invitational, where 123 wrestlers from 13 squads battled in the school gymnasium to turn an abundance of mat time into individual improvement.
“The concept was a unique one as we tried to pair wrestlers by skill level into four-man pools and a few three-man and five-man pools, where wrestlers got to wrestle two, three or four matches against wrestlers with similar experience and ability,” the second-year Taft coach said.
With a meet-leading 21 competitors in the crowded field, 14 Tigers placed first or second in their pools.
“Taft showed up and wrestled above their coaches’ expectations,” Ellis said.
In the varsity skill-level pools, Cody Knott (160 pounds), David Jin (170) and Jace Fostveit (195) took first place, while Giovanni Salazar (126), Devon Lindquist (152) and Jace Phippen (220) finished second.
Riley Ellis (145), Jacob Mayoral (160), Jeff Adair (195) and Alec Bosworth (220) were victorious in the JV skill-level pools, while Kevin Acosta (132), Jared Bryan (152) and Elin Fitch (170) placed second in the JV competition.
Freshman Kadence James captured first in the 126-pound girls division, while senior Autumn Barela was forced into a boys group due to having no girls in her weight class.
“The coolest thing to see as a coach was that our first-year and younger wrestlers competed well as a group and outperformed wrestlers with similar skill levels from many of the schools,” Ellis said. “It shows that our approach as coaches to train newer wrestlers must be working.”
Ellis said Saturday’s emphasis on individual improvement should help the Tigers on Thursday when they compete in their first league dual meet against host Willamina, Dayton and Clatskanie. Willamina is the defending State champion and joins Dayton with returning State champions and State placers at multiple weights.
“This will be a time that our wrestlers need to perform well to get seeding for possible better placement in their bracket at the District tournament to try to place third or better and qualify for State,” he said. “If they can win matches against certain top wrestlers at league dual matches, they may have an easier time fighting their way into third place or better at Districts.”
Taft will also compete Saturday, Jan. 12, in the Alsea Bay Classic in Waldport, “where we will see some great competition and some new teams we haven’t seen this year,” Ellis said.
There will also be a girls division competing at Waldport. The girls State qualifier is set Feb. 1-2 at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.
The District tournament is slated Feb. 15 at Warrenton High School.