Out of unusual wrestling season emerges 3 state champions for the Warriors

The 2021 wrestling season will not only go down in Philomath High’s history as one of the most unusual because of the pandemic, but also as one of the most successful with three individual state champions.

The program’s only team title came at the 1994 Class 3A tournament when the Warriors edged Hood River Valley for top honors. That squad had one individual state champion with Diego Hernandez winning at 123 pounds on a 9-7 decision over Sweet Home’s Bryan Coulter.

This past season’s Philomath contingent placed a respectable fourth as a team on June 26 at the state tournament at Cascade High but three individual state champions in one season appears to be a first for the Warriors.

Senior Connar Kohn capped his perfect season with the championship at 220 pounds. Junior Blaise Pindell earned the title at 170 pounds. And sophomore Ben Hernandez took the top spot on the medal stand at 113 pounds.

Kohn qualified for state during his freshman and junior years with his top finish coming in 2020 when he placed fourth at 195, losing to teammate Issiah Blackburn in the third-place match on a 10-5 decision. Heading into 2021 and moving up to 220, Kohn took his success on the mat to a new level.

His dad, James Kohn, was there every step of the way as an assistant coach with the Warriors.

“He’s always there and that helps, especially since he sees me during practice and he’s right there during meets,” Connar Kohn said. “He knows what I like to do and how to improve the moves I make. He knows how to coach me.”

Kohn finished the season with a 25-0 record and never went the distance with pins in 22 bouts — the other three victories were by forfeit. As one might expect, Kohn entered the state tournament as the No. 1 seed and the results only confirmed that he was competing on a different level.

Connar Kohn
Connar Kohn finished the season undefeated at 25-0. (Photo by Heather Thorpe via Oregon Wrestling Association)

In the first round, Kohn handled Marshfield junior Hayden Murphy in 1 minute and then took down Banks freshman Mishael Mauck in 2:24, his longest bout of the tournament. Kohn beat McLoughlin junior Tanner Wells, the No. 4 seed, in the semifinals on a pin in just 43 seconds.

“It was pretty interesting,” Kohn said about state. “A lot of the people I wrestled there I had seen earlier in the year. There was supposed to be the No. 2 from Seaside that we hadn’t seen yet, but the Siuslaw kid, who I beat at regionals, ended up beating him, so it was me and the Siuslaw kid in the finals for state as well.”

In the championship match, Kohn ended it in quick fashion with a pin in 1:35 over senior Christian Newlan, who came in seeded No. 6. As Kohn said, Newlan had upset the No. 2 seed, Seaside junior Lawson Talamantez, in the semifinals with a pin in the closing seconds of the second period.

Kohn said it would’ve added an extra twist to the state tournament to go up against a wrestler he hadn’t faced, but added, “It was kinda cool that me and the Siuslaw kid went up against each other at both regionals and state.”

Kohn never expected the season to unfold as it had — with a perfect record. He finishes his PHS career with an exceptional 118 victories, according to records researched and posted on the Oregon School Activities Association website.

Blaise Pindell
Blaise Pindell, junior, won a 6-0 decision in the 170 finale over Elmira senior Ayden Wolgamott. (Photo by Heather Thorpe via Oregon Wrestling Association)

Pindell had the same situation with a matchup against a familiar foe in the state title match. Pindell took a 5-0 decision over Elmira senior Ayden Wolgamott in the district finals and beat him again in the 4A finale o a 6-0 decision.

“That was the third time I’ve wrestled him this season and I beat him all three times,” said Pindell, the first win over him coming on a 5-0 decision. “It was a pretty good match for me (in the finals). I was able to wrestle my match and set the pace.”

Wolgamott, who seeded No. 5, reached the championship match with a 7-3 decision over the No. 2 seed, La Grande sophomore Wyatt Livingston.

Pindell opened the tournament with a pin in 1:04 over Mazama junior Seth Wright and followed up with a pin in 3:34 over eighth-seeded sophomore Cole Shafer of La Grande.

Pindell advanced through the semifinals with a pin in 1:44 over Sweet Home sophomore Kaden Zajic. Coming into state, Zajic was unseeded but he was a formidable foe with the Sweet Home grappler advancing through his first two matches with back-to-back pins over No. 4- and No. 6-seeded opponents.

“At the beginning of the year, I moved up a weight so I didn’t know how I was going to come in,” Pindell said about the season. “I saw the rankings and was doing pretty good early on, so I knew I was capable (of winning state). It was all mental pretty much, just being in the right state of mind to focus on the match and not overlook anybody or be too timid out there.”

Ben Hernandez
Sophomore Ben Hernandez ended up with a third-period pin in the 115-pound championship match over Henley freshman Dylan Clark. (Photo by Heather Thorpe via Oregon Wrestling Association)

Hernandez moved down a weight class late in the season to enter districts and state at 113 pounds. The top seed, Hernandez pinned second-seeded Henley freshman Dylan Clark in 5:04. Clark had advanced to finals with two technical fall victories and a first-period pin.

Hernandez’s toughest opponent may have been making weight. Rules allowed wrestlers to be 2 pounds over, so had to make 115 but he said it was a challenge.

“It was nice cutting to 115 instead of 113 but I had to watch my weight on that second day. It was a two-day tournament and it was fun going on a run after the first day,” Hernandez said, explaining how he needed to make sure he made weight on Day 2.

Hernandez opened the tournament by beating Woodburn freshman Josh Gutierrez on a pin in 58 seconds. He followed with a victory on a hard-fought 4-1 decision over unseeded Tillamook junior Joshua Perdew. Hernandez pinned Perdew in 2:27 at a home dual on June 10.

“He was a pretty challenging opponent and we went all three rounds,” Hernandez said. “That was a close one.”

Hernandez defeated fifth-seeded North Marion freshman Ayden Flanagan on a pin in 45 seconds in the semifinals.

In the championship match, Hernandez was in a battle with Clark but conditioning helped him gain the advantage late.

“It started off kinda rough for the first two rounds … I was down by points in the second round,” Hernandez said. “When the third round came around, he was pretty tired, winded honestly. He just got out of position at one point, popped out, and then threw the half and it was done.”

Hernandez credits his successful season to extra work that he put in.

“I’ve been putting in hard work, training with Mat Sense down in Corvallis with a private coach, Jason Lara,” he said. “That’s been a huge help.”

Philomath qualified eight wrestlers for state and two other Warriors won medals. Senior Issiah Blackburn and sophomore Blake Niemann each had fourth-place finishes in their respective weight divisions.

“Most of our team won districts or placed at districts and they were able to make it to state, so that was pretty cool with most of us going to state and having that whole atmosphere,” Hernandez said.

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