David Helfrich earns 171 lb. state title: A champion on and off the mat

Alex Paul

Athletes prepare for the finals of the state wrestling tournament in different ways.

Some retreat from the roar of the crowd to meditate.

Others put on earphones and listen to music.

SHHS senior David Helfrich spent two hours Saturday night running and praying in the bowels of Portland’s Memorial Coliseum.

“I was very nervous,” Helfrich said. “I ran and prayed. Finally, I settled on the verse, ‘If God is with me, then who can be against me.'”

It worked.

Helfrich soundly decisioned Brian Murphy of Phoenix 7-1 to earn only state championship of 15 Husky qualifiers.

The win capped an outstanding season for the four-time state tournament qualifier. He finished the season with 37 wins against only one loss.

“It feels great, it’s my fourth time here,” Helfrich said after his championship bout. “It felt awesome. I don’t know what else to say.”

Helfrich said he had planned to beat Murphy on his feet but found the match to be more on the mat.

“I had beaten him 3-2 at the Oregon Classic and I knew he was tough,” Helfrich said.

Helfrich, who finished as a runner-up at last year’s tournament, came into the championship seeded second.

He drew a first round bye, then beat Lendgren of South Umpqua by tech fall in 5:08; decisioned Smith of Toledo 9-0; decisioned Teeples of Mazama 13-5 and decisioned Murphy of Phoenix 7-1.

Helfrich drew a standing ovation from the sizeable Sweet Home crowd as he exited the mats.

“I have to thank Chad Zurcher for spending so much time with me working on my feet,” Helfrich said. “Coach Thorpe really helped me with my shots.”

Coach Thorpe called Helfrich’s championship, “A fitting ended to a great high school career. David has such a great work ethic and has been a terrific leader for our team. He’s not only a winner on the mat, but he’s a winner in life. He treats all people well, he is kind, he goes to class and he’s respected.”

Sweet Home charged into the tournament hoping to bring home a championship trophy but a poor round on Friday sent the Huskies scrambling to hold onto second place against a strong Burns Highlander squad.

The top 10 3A finishers were: Burns, 181; Sweet Home, 154; Estacada, 140; Coquille, 124; Banks, 120.5; Phoenix, 119.5 (last year’s champions); Tillamook, 108; Illinois Valley, 83; The Dalles, 83; Sherwood, 76.

The Huskies placed the most athletes ever under Coach Thorpe’s tutelage. Third place finishes were earned by seniors Mike Aerni, 125 and K.C. Stokes. Fourths went to junior Andrew Swanson, 103 and senior Daniel Brewer, 215. Sixths went to sophomore Chad Workman, 103, senior Jordan Johnson, 125 and senior Matt Vassar, 189.

Several small issues turned large in terms of points by the end of the tournament.

A week before the tournament the Huskies lost senior 119 pounder Neal Workman to a shoulder injury. Two days before the tournament, 160 pound senior Adam Knight reinjured a persistent knee problem and had to withdraw.

At the tournament, former state placer senior Chad Emmert, seeded No. 2 at 130 pounds, failed to place in the top eight, a major surprise for the Huskies.

Junior Andrew Swanson spent Saturday’s rounds wrestling sick and senior Matt Vassar had been ill all week headed into the tournament.

“Burns is a very good team,” Coach Thorpe said of the new champions. “They have a solid core that’s very tough. They had a perfect tournament. They won the key matches they needed to win. They’re a hard-nosed bunch of kids who worked their tails off.”

Coach Thorpe said the Estacada Rangers, who fell in third behind the Huskies, also had a good tournament.

“We wrestled them during the season this year and we plan to have them come to Sweet Home next year,” Coach Thorpe said. “We look for strong competition and they will give it to us.”

Overall, 13 of 15 Huskies who qualified for the tournament scored points.

103: Chad Workman, sixth.

“Chad scored a lot of bonus points for us,” Coach Thorpe said. “He set himself up to be seeded next year. In the last month he’s really turned himself into a good wrestler.”

112: Andrew Swanson, fourth.

“I know that Andrew really wanted to be in the finals,” Coach Thorpe said. “He was really sick on Saturday but kept going. He was second last year.”

112: Chris Harnden, senior.

Although Harnden didn’t place, he was only one win away from the podium. “He wrestled his heart out for us,” Coach Thorpe said.

125: Mike Aerni, third.

“This was Mike’s first time at the state tournament and he had a very bad call on Friday,” Coach Thorpe said. “It was heart breaking but he rebounded back and took third through hard work.”

125: Jordan Johnson, sixth.

Johnson and Aerni, good friends, have battled each other all season long. They met again in the consolation rounds, with Aerni taking the win.

“Jordan is the most improved wrestler in our program,” Coach Thorpe said. “He has absolutely turned it on this year. He didn’t leave anything out at state. He injured his shoulder in the semis and kept going.”

130: Chad Emmert, senior

“Chad is the All-American boy,” Coach Thorpe said. “He’s a leader in the classroom and elsewhere. Chad is a three-time state qualifier and two-time placer.”

135: K.C. Stokes, third.

“K.C. came back strong after a loss in the semis,” Coach Thorpe said. “He wanted to win a championship badly. He finishes as a four time state placer: one championship, twice runner-up and a third.

135: Kyle Temple, junior.

“Kyle scored a win for us in his second trip to the state tournament,” Coach Thorpe said. “Next year will be his year.”

140: Jon Dearborn, senior.

“Jon was wrestling in what I believe was the toughest bracket at the tournament,” Coach Thorpe said. “There were eight guys seeded in that weight class. He wrestled his heart out. He’s a goer who never quits.”

152: Mike Lummus, junior.

“Mike scored a win for us and added needed points,” Coach Thorpe said. “One of his losses was by only one point.”

160: Joe Rosa, junior.

“Joe came in as the fourth man from district after Adam Knight had to withdraw,” Coach Thorpe said. “Joe trained last spring and has worked hard. A year ago he didn’t even letter. He’s come a long way.”

171: David Helfrich, champion.

“David has worked hard for years to get where he is,” Coach Thorpe said. “He knew as a sophomore that he needed to make adjustments to his style and he’s put in many hours to get the job done.”

189: Matt Vassar, sixth.

“Matt was taking IVs on Tuesday and Wednesday battling the flu,” Coach Thorpe said. “You never once heard him complain. He’s a hard-nosed wrestler and has come a long way. He pinned a good Cottage Grove wrestler. His first match was against the No. 2 seeded wrestler.”

189: Matt Miner, senior.

“Matt wrestled hard for us. He beat a Burns kids and that helped us along. Matt was at state last year and wrestled as hard as he possibly could for us.”

215: Daniel Brewer, sixth.

“I believe Daniel wrestled as well as he could for us,” Coach Thorpe said. His only losses were to the state champion and the No. 1 seeded wrestler of the tournament. He scored three falls for us and added a lot of bonus points.”

Husky qualifiers and their varsity season records were: 103: Workman, 27-6; 112: Swanson, 30-3; 112: Harnden, 9-6; 125: Aerni, 29-1; 125: Johnson, 14-8; 130: Emmert, 20-9; 135: Stokes, 31-2; 135: Temple, 19-7; 140: Dearborn, 23-10; 152: Lummus, 13-15; 160: Rosa, 4-5; 171: Helfrich, 37-1; 189: Vassar, 29-7; 189: Miner, 7-6; 215: Brewer, 33-8.

Coach Thorpe praised his coaching staff for their hard work this season.

“Tim Boatwright’s 21 years in the program shows,” Coach Thorpe said. “He brings facets to our program we just couldn’t get anywhere else.”

Steve Hummer has fit in well with the squad in his second season and volunteer coaches Shannon Stover and Chad Zurcher devote many hours after their regular days of work and school.