JJ Lewis
PHS freshman JJ Lewis pins Monroe’s Hooper Slagle in the second period to take the 160-pound title at Wednesday’s Benton County Championships. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In a meet that dates back 22 years, the Benton County Championships have provided local wrestlers with an opportunity to square off for bragging rights on the mat. Most of the competitors know one another to create a unique atmosphere among the six high schools in the county.

In the end, Philomath High earned the tournament’s team trophy for the first time since 2010-11 and for the sixth time overall. The Warriors had eight first-place individual finishes at the meet, which was staged Wednesday afternoon on two mats in Philomath High’s main gymnasium.


“The older kids did what they were supposed to do as a favorite and won,” PHS coach Troy Woosley said. “I thought everyone was really respectful and everything for the whole tournament. You always want to be building character for the Benton County Championships because it’s all local people.”

Winning county titles were freshman River Sandstrom (106 pounds), junior Ben Hernandez (120), senior Blake Niemann (126), junior Chase Ringwald (132), junior Caleb Blackburn (138), freshman JJ Lewis (160), sophomore Jared Gerding (170) and sophomore Jacob Hamlet (285).

Philomath won 31 of 46 bouts overall and won the meet with 182 points with Crescent Valley second (136.5) and Corvallis third (130.0). Santiam Christian (89.5), Monroe (83.5) and Alsea (23) rounded out the field.

On a side note, Crescent Valley did not send its top wrestlers to the meet.

Ben Hernandez
Junior Ben Hernandez looks up at the mat official while defeating one of his three opponents. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

For the Warriors, Hernandez is one of those wrestlers that no longer flies under the Class 4A radar. Coming off a state-winning performance to cap last spring’s pandemic season, Hernandez knows he now has a target on his back.

“For sure, everyone’s wanting to wrestle the state champ so I definitely have to (focus) in every match,” he said, although he was unchallenged in Wednesday’s meet.

Hernandez said the season’s gone well for him as well so far, including performances in larger tournaments, such as the third place he took at Banks.
“The season’s definitely been pretty good at the 120 weight class,” he said. “Today, I had three pretty quick matches, all first-round pins.”

A smaller meet like the Benton County Championships gives wrestlers an opportunity to work on some tactics learned during the week in practice. Hernandez wanted to try to compete again this year at 113 — he won state at that weight class last season.

“I was hoping to cut to 113 when we got 2 weight allowance, but that didn’t end up happening due to my body fat but at 120, I’m chillin’,” Hernandez said.

A 2-pound growth allowance will be added to each weight class next month but as Hernandez said, he won’t qualify because of an initial body fat assessment at below 7%.

Blake Niemann
Senior Blake Niemann squares off against freshman teammate Walker Westbrook in the 126-pound finale, winning with a pin in 1:12. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Niemann, who placed fourth at state last season, said he’s settling down into the 126 weight class for the rest of the season.

“My weight plan doesn’t allow me to cut to (1)20 so I’m going to stay where I’m at,” he said. “I feel good at this weight and I feel healthy here.”

Niemann had to work through some challenges early this season but has seemingly found a rhythm on the mat in recent weeks.

“My season’s going much better after the first tournament … I started a little rough, lost a couple of matches but now I’ve gotten on the right track,” Niemann said. “At the last tournament at Grants Pass, there were 36 schools and I placed second at that one, so that was good, and then I just won the Benton Countys today.”

Niemann also had three first-period pins and had to face teammate Walker Westbrook, a freshman, in the 126 finale.

Ringwald is another one of the team’s talented wrestlers in the lower weight classes. He pinned his Crescent Valley opponent in the semifinals and then pulled out a 5-3 decision over Monroe’s Dillon Greene in the 132 championship match.

“My last match was pretty hard but I went up in weight .. this won’t be my weight class,” said Ringwald, who will typically wrestle at 126 and said one of his biggest goals is to place at the state tournament. “In practice, I’m learning a lot of new moves.”

River Sandstrom
Freshman River Sandstrom took first place at 106. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Sandstrom won his first two matches on pins and then took a 14-10 decision over Monroe’s Tanner Dilworth in the 106 finale. Blackburn, Lewis, Gerding and Hamlet all defeated their opponents with pins.

Three of Philomath’s top wrestlers were not in action at the meet with David Griffth and Joseph Choi recovering from knee injuries and Blaise Pindell working back from a shoulder injury. Woosley said he believes Pindell should be back next week, possibly the week after next, and estimated that Griffith is likely two weeks from returning. Choi suffered an injury at the Grants Pass tournament and is out for a minimum of two weeks, possibly longer.

When the Warriors get those three key wrestlers back on the mat, Philomath will be a tougher team to face. Pindell won state last season at 170.

“Oh yeah, we’ll be tough to beat if we get all of our starters back,” Woosley said. “But the younger kids, they’ve done well.”

Philomath is scheduled to compete Dec. 29-30 at the Northwest Duals at West Albany, a varsity-only meet. A Jan. 15 junior varsity meet has been added to the program’s schedule for Jan. 15 at Florence while the varsity grapplers compete at the Oregon Classic in Redmond.

Benton County Championships
Wednesday, Dec. 22, at Philomath HS

Team Scoring
1, Philomath 182; 2, Crescent Valely 136.5; 3, Corvallis 130; 4, Santiam Christian 89.5; 5, Monroe 83.5; 6, Alsea 23.

PHS Results

106: River Sandstrom (3-0, 1st place)

Ayden Young, MonroeW-Pin0:17
Ellie Morton, PhilomathW-Pin2:17
Tanner Dilworth, MonroeW-Dec14-10

106: Ellie Morton (1-2, 3rd place)

Tanner Dilworth, MonroeL-Pin0:34
River Sandstrom, PhilomathL-Pin2:17
Ayden Young, MonroeW-Pin2:31

113: Taylor Mussati (0-3, 4th place)

Everest Sutton, Crescent ValleyL-Pin1:25
Jack Boyd, Crescent ValleyL-Pin1:42
Jennifer Russell, CorvallisL-Pin1:37

120: Ben Hernandez (3-0, 1st place)

Alex Brown, CorvallisW-Pin0:19
Sam Schmidgall, Santiam ChristianW-Pin1:35
Gunner Gillett, Crescent ValleyW-Pin1:54

126: Walker Westbrook (1-1, 2nd place)

Daunte Kost, CorvallisW-Pin5:06
Blake Niemann, PhilomathL-Pin1:12

126: Blake Niemann (3-0, 1st place)

David Saw, CorvallisW-Pin1:58
Yusei Sasanuma, Santiam ChristianW-Pin0:46
Walker Westbrook, PhilomathW-Pin1:12

132: Chase Ringwald (2-0, 1st place)

Miah Egner, Crescent ValleyW-Pin2:38
Dillon Greene, MonroeW-Dec5-3

132: Vincent DeMasi (1-3, 6th place)

Gerald Peck-Cleveland, AlseaW-Pin0:52
Dillon Greene, MonroeL-TF4:45 (15-0)
Colton Faust, PhilomathL-Pin3:04
Miah Egner, Crescent ValleyL-Pin2:46

132: Colton Faust (2-1, 3rd place)

Miah Egner, Crescent ValleyL-Pin1:35
Vincent DeMasi, PhilomathW-Pin3:04
Gerald Peck-Cleveland, AlseaW-Pin1:22

138: Caleb Blackburn (3-0, 1st place)

Jacob McGrew, AlseaW-Pin0:41
River Nygren, Santiam ChristianW-Pin2:00
Gavin Hale, CorvallisW-Pin1:36

138: Lucas Bourguois (1-2, 4th place)

Gavin Hale, CorvallisL-Pin2:00
River Nygren, Santiam ChristianW-TF4:54 (16-1)
Brady Jolly, Santiam ChristianL-Pin0:46

145: Gradin Fairbanks (2-1, 3rd place)

Kaden Haugen, Santiam ChristianL-TF4:07 (18-3)
Isaac Rutland, AlseaW-Pin0:35
Armando Escobedo, CorvallisW-Pin0:43

152: Ryder Zitlau (2-2, 5th place)

Rory Macdougall, CorvallisW-Dec11-6
Jack Sabee-Paulson, CorvallisW-Pin0:19
Isaiah Toma, CorvallisL-Pin0:43
Rory Macdougall, CorvallisW-Pin0:48

160: JJ Lewis (3-0, 1st place)

Ezra Miller, CorvallisW-Pin5:09
Brandon Fernandez, CorvallisW-Pin1:35
Hooper Slagle, MonroeW-Pin2:34

170: Jared Gerding (2-0, 1st place)

Jerrod Vester, Crescent ValleyW-Pin4:39
Jerrod Vester, Crescent ValleyW-Pin1:43

285: Jacob Hamlet (2-0, 1st place)

Diego Legorreta, CorvallisW-Pin0:51
Diego Legorreta, CorvallisW-Pin0:27

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