PORTLAND – The Thurston boys and girls wrestling teams competed at the State Wrestling Championships on Saturday and Sunday at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland. Both teams entered the event ranked No. 1, but finished the championships in second place, bringing silver trophies home to Springfield. While it wasn’t quite the result they were looking for, the Colts left the big stage with their heads held high knowing they’re one of the top programs in the state.
“If you get any trophy at the state championship, it’s amazing. Our goal at the start of the year was two blue (first-place) trophies, and we ended up with two silver trophies, so not too far off the mark,” Thurston head coach Mike Simons said. “I’m not gonna lie, I’m disappointed. But on the other hand, our kids wrestled really tough. I’m really proud of them.”
On the boys side, the Colts qualified 14 wrestlers from the league championships, with eight wrestlers eventually making the semifinals on Saturday night. In those eight boys semifinals, Thurston won all eight, with three becoming state champions on Sunday.
“To get eight boys in the finals, eight placers, three state champions, I’m really proud of them,” Simons said. “I don’t know if any team’s ever had eight finalists at the 5A/6A level that I’m aware of.”
Those three boys champions were: Kanoe Kelly (106), Kolton Malone (145) and Vaun Halstead (195). Halstead successfully defended his state title on Sunday, and moved to 36-0 on the season. There’s something clinical about watching Halstead wrestle. It’s calculated and scientific, yet elegant and graceful. And it’s definitely dominant.
“The team is important to me this year. So I wanted to get out there, do what I need to do to take care of business, get the fall, and get the six points for my team,” Halstead said. “I just went out there with the mindset that I’m gonna win, and I’m gonna dominate, and I did my best to do exactly that.”
For Halstead, the team competition was important because of the comradery the wrestlers have built all season. It’s one of the reasons he believes the team was able to go eight-for-eight in the semifinals.
“To have eight finalists is almost unheard of. We were just feeding off each other’s energy and continuing to build. That’s just always a success in our book, as a team, and as individuals,” he said.
Feeding off his teammates’ energy seemed to work out all season. Competing in the heavier weight classes means Halstead consistently watched his teammates compete before him. It’s that support system that he feels allowed him to become a two-time state champ.
“To be able to win back-to-back state championships is absolutely amazing,” Halstead said. “I’m just extremely thankful for all the support I’ve got from my family, teammates, coaches, partners along the way. Just extremely thankful and grateful for all the blessings that have come my way.”
For his coach, it’s always satisfying to watch.
“He’s been dominant all year. It’s been fun to have a dominant kid like that. He’s a three-time state finalist and a two-time state champ, and then he’s set up to wrestle for Oregon State next year. They’re getting a really good kid,” Simons said. “Man, it’s been a pleasure to coach him. It’s awesome when you’re sitting in the corner and you know that your kid’s gonna win.”
While the boys were in constant contention, the girls came into the final day in seventh place, having to battle just to make it onto the podium. While catching eventual champion North Medford was out of the question, a podium finish was still the goal.
“Just being honest, we did not have a good first day with our girls. And I let them know that we didn’t have a good first day, and we rebooted. I had a little talk on the bus with everybody, and they showed up today to get back into it and grab a trophy,” Simons said. “We went from out of the trophy race, not even thinking we were gonna get a trophy, to second place. So two silver trophies for us and it’ll give us something to build on next year.”
The lone girls state champion was Kaylee Annis, who became the school’s first three-time state winner. While Annis wasn’t able to go out with a team championship, she knows what the team had was something special.
“We just have a really amazing wrestling room,” Annis said. “When you’re surrounded by a ton of hard workers, everything just comes easier.”
The boys (197.5 total points) ended up second to Redmond (197.5), while the girls (65 total points) fell to North Medford (78) but eked by Forest Grove (64) for the silver trophy.
For the wrestlers this season may be over. For Simons, the next one has already begun.
“We’re gonna start tomorrow getting ready for next year. That’s what it’s all about,” Simons said. “Being able to compete at events like this, it’s what motivates me every year to try to motivate these kids to shoot for the stars.”