The Road to the Olympics runs through Eugene

Zac Brunson has a schedule for getting to the world's biggest sports stage
Feb. 21, 2012 / By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

It didn’t take long for Zac Brunson to impress his wrestling coaches with his ability to focus when he dove into the sport as a 6-year-old.

In less than a year, Brunson honed in on the biggest goal available - the Olympics.

“He’s had that goal basically since he started,” says Scott Kearney, who began as Brunson’s coach with the Churchill Wrestling Club more than a decade ago. “He’s been focused on being a high school, college and Olympic champion and that hasn’t changed since he was a little kid.”

When the OSAA/U.S. Bank/Les Schwab Tires State Wrestling Tournament begins Friday, Brunson will aim to complete the first step of his path to the Summer Games by winning his fourth state title.

Following graduation, Brunson will head to the University of Illinois, where his goal is to win four NCAA titles.

Then, it’ll be time to work on qualifying for the Olympics. If his path works as he hopes, that’ll be in time for the Summer Games in Rio De Janiero, Brazil.

“I  have goals for later this week, goals for later this year and goals for five years from now,” he says. “I can absolutely see myself in the Olympics in Rio.
“I want to be the best in my sport and if it works out in four years, I’ll be in the Olympics.”

Brunson says he found wrestling to be his sport almost immediately. He showed up in the first week that Kearney, whose brother Chuck was the coach at the University of Oregon, and assistant Jeff Thomas started the Churchill Wrestling Club.

“I love the one-on-one aspect, and think it’s the toughest sport,” Brunson says. “I love how in-depth it goes, how much there is to it.”

Brunson’s skill began to mature as a freshman, when he won the state title at 135 pounds despite being unseeded.

As a sophomore, he won at 145 pounds, scoring a fall or technical fall in all four matches, a feat he repeated last year at 160 pounds.

Heading into his fourth state tournament, Brunson says he’s lost just once to an Oregon wrestler during the high school season. As a freshman, he lost 12-9 to Cleveland’s Eric Luna, a senior who won the state title at 140 pounds later that year.

Brunson’s strategy is very basic - score points.

“My goal is to score 30 points each  match,” he says. “If someone takes me down three or four times, I don’t worry about it because I’m trying to score 10 or 12 takedowns and win that way.

“I’ll take a fall if it’s there, but if you can score 30 points, you’ll win.”

“He’s extremely motivated and driven to succeed in the sport,” Scott Kearney says. “He always in the wrestling room, working out, training, figuring out ways to get better.”

Brunson’s skill earned him a national title at the Junior National Freestyle Championships in Fargo, N.D., last summer. He won 11 matches at 152 pounds in three days.

Brunson’s win made him only the ninth national freestyle champion from Oregon, according to Scott Kearney.

Despite being unbeaten and a three-time champion, Brunson was seeded second behind junior Quinn Dreher of Silverton for the state tournament.

Winning a fourth title would put Brunson in a category with only 20 others since the OSAA began sponsoring state tournaments in 1948. Four high school titles has been a goal of his for years.

“When I first started wrestling, I looked ahead and saw you could win four titles in high school,” he says. “That’s something I’ve wanted to accomplish for a long time.”

Three other seniors will be competing for their fourth title this weekend as well. Brandon Griffin (182 pounds) of Sprague, Joey Delgado (138) of Hermiston and Quinn Johnston (145) of Gold Beach have all won titles since their freshman seasons.

Griffin, an occasional practice partner for Brunson, has signed with Lehigh University.

Churchill, which finished second in Class 5A two years ago, also features Chase Kearney, Chuck’s son who won a state title last year. The Lancers expect to compete for a trophy this weekend.

The Next Step
Brunson chose Illinois over programs at Minnesota, Missouri, Cornell and Oregon State, although Scott Kearney says Brunson likely would have chosen Oregon if the school hadn’t cut its program in order to restart baseball.

The lure of the Big 10, though, would have been tough to overcome.

“Earlier this year, the Oklahoma State at Iowa dual had 15,000 people in the stands,” Brunson says. “Illinois at Iowa had almost the same size crowd.
“I’m really excited about competing in that environment.”

Illinois, which can seat 4,500 fans for home dual meets, has never finished as high as second in the NCAA Tournament but was fifth in the latest NCAA Rankings.

“I really like what they have going on there,” Brunson says. “They’ve got a new staff, and I really connected with them when I visited.
“I think they’re the guys I need to be with if I want to win four NCAA titles.”

Collegiately, Brunson will likely run across one of the nation’s top wrestlers, Penn State sophomore Dave Taylor, who competes at 165 pounds and is the leading contender for Wrestler of the Year.

Brunson says he’s ready for that step to college training a competition, which likely will include a redshirt season, along with the challenge of getting a degree.
Academically, Brunson says, there’s not a subject that’s jumped at him as being his career path.

“I look at the education as a bonus,” says Brunson, who carries a 3.8 GPA. “I’m going to get my degree, but my main goal in college is to win four NCAA titles.”

Four titles would put Brunson on a level with Cael Sanderson, who won four while at Iowa State (1999-2002) and then won a Gold Medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic Summer Games.

Sanderson, who redshirted as an academic freshman, is Taylor’s coach at Penn State, which won the NCAA Tournament last year.

Recently, Sanderson returned to active competition and is the nation’s top wrestler at 84kg.

As a junior national champion, Brunson is among the challengers for the National U20 team that will be determined in summer. The first step toward earning a spot on that team is a tournament in Madison, Wisc., in April. Brunson will be there.

The trials for the US team that will travel to London for the Summer Games will be held April 21-22 in Iowa City, Iowa. Brunson will be following them closely via the Internet.
Brunson would be a college junior or senior (depending on whether he’s used his redshirt season) when the next Olympic Trials arrive, and competition for those spots is likely to be tougher than ever as financial support for the sport increases.

Wrestlers, who used to support themselves as amateurs, are subsidized by USA Wrestling, and many, such as Sanderson, coach.

Mixed Martial Arts regularly attracts wrestlers due to its financial success, something Brunson says has already thought about.

“I can see myself doing that,” he says, “but I look at it as what wrestlers do when they can’t handle wrestling anymore.”

With his focus on and motivation to reach the loftiest of goals, Brunson says he’s very happy with the plan he has for the next stage of his life.

“If I’m good enough, I’d love to wrestle on the Olympic Circuit and make wrestling my profession,” he says. “I’d love to wrestle for the rest of my life.”

Fresh scent descends on wrestling finals

Roseburg, Culver win, but three other team titles change hands
Feb. 25, 2012 / By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

Roseburg and Culver defended the state wrestling titles, but three of the five other classification battles went to new schools, including Dallas, which won its first title at Class 5A.

Dallas won two weights to edge Pendleton, 164-150, and move up from second in 2011, its best previous finish.

"We're extremely proud of what our guys have been able to accomplish," Dallas coach Paul Olliff said afterward. "There's a lot of hard work by volunteer coaches and dads of the guys that made this happen."

Cascade won at Class 4A, only it second title, while Nyssa won at 3A, which ended a 10-year title run by Burns.

Culver won its sixth-straight title at Class 2A, having won each title since the state expanded to six classes in 2007.

Cascade narrowly defeated defending champion Henley, 188-185.5 getting the deciding points in a head-up battle between the schools. Cody Crawford, a junior seeded first, beat Phillip Morgan, a sophomore seeded second, 10-0 in the 182-pound final. Had Morgan won, Henley would have won the team race.

Four seniors won their fourth title: Quinn Johnston of Gold Beach, Joey Delgado of Hermiston, Zac Brunson of Churchill and Brandon Griffin of Sprague.

Wilson had two champions: sophomore Austin Wallace-Lister at 120 pounds, and senior Brian Wohan at 195, doubling the school total since the OSAA began sanctioning championships in 1948. Wilson finished 12th.

Roseburg won its third straight title with a whopping 237 points that more than doubled the second-place total of David Douglas, which edged Crater 102-101.5.

Culver overcame a solid challenge by Lowell to win 132-118.5.

Nyssa narrowly slipped past Willamina, 171-165, moving from a first-place tie when Sebastian Sanchez won at 195.



Roseburg wins its way toward title defense

Culver in dogfight for 2A crown
Feb. 24, 2012 / By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

Roseburg took over the Class 6A state wrestling tournament with eight semifinalists Friday at Memorial Coliseum, while the 10-year run of titles by Burns unofficially came to an end.

The Indians's quarterfinalists each won two matches, including and upset by unseeded junior Brody Faas of second-seeded Jay Devera of McMinnville in the first round at 138 pounds.

Roseburg amassed 102 points, which nearly doubled second-place Sprague's 53 points. David Douglas was third at 50 points.

The remaining four title races were highly competitive, beginning with Class 2A, where five-time defending champion Culver was tied with Lowell at 27 points, and both had eight semifinalists.

At Class 5A, Hermiston's five-year run as champion was headed for an end as Dallas (83) and Pendleton (78) battled for the lead, well ahead of the Bulldogs' total (58.5).

Caascade (91), Crook County (88) and defending champion Henley (84) are dueling for the Class 4A title.

Burns, which has a 10-year run of titles at Class 3A, is in seventh place with 40 points, well behind upstart Willamina, which is leading pre-tournament favorite Nyssa 81-69.

The semifinals and finals conclude Saturday.



The 10-year run of state titles appears likely to be at an end for Burns High as the OSAA state wrestling championships prepare to play out at Memorial Coliseum Friday and Saturday.

The Hilanders have just two underclassmen seeded first or second and aren't even rated in the top 3 at Class 3A, according to the Oregon Wrestling Forum. The 10-year run, which began in 2002 when the state had just three classifications, is the longest of any school in the sport and second only to the David Douglas girls swim team's run of 14-straight titles from 1967-81.

Hermiston, the Class 5A champion, has won five straight titles, but also appears in jeopardy of having that streak end as Dallas is a significant favorite with Pendleton and Churchill also competing for title recognition.

Roseburg, at Class 6A, Henley at Class 4A and Culver at Class 2A, appear ready to defend their titles - Culver running it's string to six consecutive titles.

Individually, four wrestlers will be aiming for their fourth title: Blake Griffin of Sprague, Joey Delgado of Hermiston, Zac Brunson of Churchill and Quinn Johnson of Gold Beach.


Burns, Hermiston, Culver, Roseburg win again

Burns takes its 10th straight team title, Henley claims its first
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

The favorites, including a first-time champion, won all five  team races at the OSAA/U.S. Bank/Les Schwab Tires state wrestling meet Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.

Burns claimed its record 10th straight title, taking the Class 3A title by a wide margin. Hermiston and Culver won their fifth-straight titles, while Roseburg won four titles and finished second twice among the 14 weight classes. Roseburg scored a meet-high 212 points, more than double the score of second place Sprague.

The title for Burns moved it closer to the overall school record for titles held by Lowell at 13. Burns has 11.

Henley, which had only finished as high as once, scored 172 points to win at Class 4A.


State readies for wrestling showcase

OSAA Finals set for Friday, Saturday at Memorial Coliseum
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

The annual pilgrimmage to Portland for the state wrestling championships might got a little more challenging Thursday morning when a snowstorm hit most of the state, but that's not likely to keep the defending champions away from Memorial Coliseum.

And Henley, too.

Roseburg, at Class 6A, Hermiston at Class 5A, Burns at Class 3A and Culver at 2A are poised to repeat as team champions, but the Class 4A race appears very competitive as the start of the OSAA.U.S. Bank/Les Schwab Tires meet approaches Friday morning.

At Class 3A, Burns is the clear favorite to win its 10th-straight title as it has four seniors ranked No. 1 at their weights.

Hermiston and Culver will be chasing their fifth straight titles.

At Class 4A, Henley enters ranked No. 1 in the Oregon Wrestling Forum rankings despite never having won a title. In fact, Henley has only claimed one trophy - second in 1967 throughout the history of the tournament, which began in 1948. The Hornets enter with just one wrestler seeded as high as second: senior Justyn Headley at 189 pounds; but have 16 wrestlers entered at the 14 weights, including two each at five different weights.

At Class 2A, Lowell appears as a strong contender to upend Culver in what could be a very competitive team race. Both schools have four wrestlers seeded No. 1. Lowell, which finished second last year, has two second seeds, while Culver has just one. Culver, though has 10 entrants, while Lowell has just nine.

Lowell is the overall leader in state titles with 13, but it hasn't won since 1991.

The meet champions will be crowned Saturday night when finals begin at 6 p.m.



State wrestlers have many awards for service

Dave Schultz Award is an annual treasure
Staff Report

The Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award, presented annually to a high school senior, is based equally on outstanding wrestling success, scholastic achievement and citizenship or community service. Winners are chosen at the state and regional levels with the national winner being named at the Wrestling Hall of Fame's Honors Weekend each summer.
The award is named in honor of the 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist who died from a gunshot wound in 1996. Schultz won a world title and five other medals in world championship events and was an assistant coach at Oklahoma, Standford and Wisconsin.


1997            Kenny Cox, Churchill

1998            Brian Watson, Canby

1999            Jason Harless, Bonanza

2000            Justin Godley, Crater

2001            Shane Webster, Crater

2002            Eric Stevenson, Newberg

2003            Kyle Larson, Hermiston

2004            Sean Santana, Newberg

2005            Bryson Gutches, Churchill

2006            Zach Giesen, North Valley

2007            Ryan Smith, Crook County

2008            Jarrett Owens, Tillamook

2009            R.J. Pena, Sprague

2010            Alex Elder, West Salem


Roseburg heads list of team winners at state meet

Hermiston, Burns, Culver keep streaks alive
By Kevin Mealy, oregonsports.com

PORTLAND - In a night dominated by traditional powerhouses, Roseburg reclaimed its spot atop the class 6A ranks while Hermiston, Burns and Culver all continued title runs at the OSAA/U.S. Bank/Les Schwab Tires state wrestling championships at Memorial Coliseum.

Roseburg won the 6A title for the third time in four years by scoring 298.5 points, just missing the record of 303 set last year by Hermiston at the 5A level. Hermiston finished with 269 points and its fourth-straight title since the OSAA expanded from four classes to six in 2006-07.

Burns won it’s ninth-straight title at Class 3A and Class 2A Culver matched Hermiston with it’s fourth-straight title.

Scappoose scored only its second title by upending defending championg Sweet Home, 195 to 182. The Indians, with a long tradition but only one title in 1974, built an early lead in the tournament and matched the Huskies the rest of the way. Both teams finished with nine place-winners.

The tournament’s traditional powers showed up in several finals that featured intrasquad rivalries. In the round of finals at 119 pounds, CJ Dircksen and Joey Delgado of Hermiston fought it out for the 5A championship one mat from Dan Faas and Reed Van Anrooy of Roseburg who were wrestling for the 6A championship. “It really sucks, because we’re both good buddies,” said Faas, the top-ranked wrester at the weight. “We got milkshakes and Slurpies together this morning, but when it comes to the mat we’re supposed to hurt each other.”

Faas, a senior, won his second state title against his unranked freshman teammate. That match was followed by a pride battle between Reed Van Anrooy’s older brother Drew, and second-place Newberg’s three-time champion Tommy Siciliano. In a spirited and controversial match that had half the Coliseum’s spectators on their feet, Siciliano did just enough to hold off Van Anrooy and become the 18th wrestler in Oregon history to win four titles.

Siciliano survived an apparent late takedown by Van Anrooy - which was reversed for the two being out of bounds, and won 3-2 as fans booed for his stalling in the final 15 seconds.

Siciliano was so nervous that he spent much of his post-match celebration throwing up in a garbage can while being slapped on the back by jubilant teammates.

In Class 3A, Burns, which won the title last year by just 2.5 points, scored a 38-point victory over Reedsport, which won a pair head-to-head championship finals.

Burns senior Dallas Root won the 125-pound title for the Hilanders as well as his family.

“I’ve wrestled since the fourth grade, so that’s nine years, and I have two older brothers who wrestled,” Root said. “It’s always been a dream to have a state champion in the family and in my final year, now we do.” Culver took home the Class 2A title by outscoring Lowell 139.5-95.

The Bulldogs have won or finished runner-up in eight of the last nine years.

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