Four Huskies qualify for South Africa wrestling trip

Scott Swanson

Four Sweet Home wrestlers have earned berths on a cultural exchange team that will travel to South Africa this summer after winning their divisions in a qualifying tournament held March 10 at Thurston High School.

The four – juniors Colton Schilling, Tyler Cowger and Wade Paulus, and freshman Tyler Schilling – will travel with a team of wrestlers in 11 weight classes to South Africa from July 25 to Aug. 12.

Coaching the team – his first time leading a cultural exchange – will be Coach Steve Thorpe.

Team members will be Tyler Schilling at 101 pounds, Adam Webb of Thurston at 110, Isaac Aguilar of Hermiston at119, Colton Schilling at and Travis Bledsoe of Cascade at 128,

state champions Tyler Burger of Hermiston and freshman Alex Rich of Crescent Valley at 138, Cowger and Shane Shepard of Stayton at 152, Abraham Rodriguez of Hermiston at 160, Reid Shipley of North Medford at 170, Josh Morin of Hillsborough and Braxton Arrand of Thurston at 185, Paulus and Lucas Anthony of Thurston at 210, and 6A state champion Marq Randall of Roseburg at 285.

Colton Schilling, who traveled to South Africa for 15 days in 2009 with a team of Oregon wrestlers selected by the trip’s organizers, said this team is different because all the members had to qualify.

“Every team is different,” he said. “Each has its downfalls and upsides. I think this team has stepped it up in the lower weights.”

He noted that a number of wrestlers from last year’s cultural exchange trip to Russia and Siberia qualified for this trip.

Thorpe also emphasized that this is no invitational tour.

“They don’t get an invite and go,” he said. “They wrestled for this. They had to win a bracket.”

And it wasn’t easy for Tyler Schilling, who had to beat Cody Jackson of Scappoose two out of three matches to do it – after losing the first match to Jackson, which forced Schilling to wrestle up the backside of the bracket to get another shot at Jackson. Schilling took Jackson down, then gave up the lead on a two-point roll, then pinned Jackson to win.

“That’s the Greco national champion,” Thorpe said. “He was the best in the U.S. last year in Greco.”

Colton Schilling beat Bledsoe in the final, but Thorpe said he and fellow coach Mike Simons of Thurston had several picks for alternates to make the trip and Bledsoe was one, along with Arrand, Anthony and Shepard.

Cowger, who placed fourth in the nation in Greco last year and was a state runner-up in the OSAA championships the last two years, beat Jaxson Ward of Lowell , the runner-up at the state 2A/1A championships at135 pounds in 2011 and 152 pounds this year, in overtime to earn the trip.

“I kind of knew I was going to make it,” he said. “Once I had time to think about it, I got excited. I’m anxious to get over there and experience how good they are.”

Thorpe noted that the last time the two had met, Ward pinned Cowger, who was a freshman then.

Paulus beat Austin Faunce, runner-up at 195 pounds in the 6A state championships.

Schilling, who has won two state OSAA championships and placed second this year, and last year placed second in the Greco-Roman national championships, said the value of international trips is that it exposes wrestlers to different approaches to the sport.

“It shows me a lot of different styles of wrestling,” he said. “It helps me to adapt to different styles and to respond to different types of freestyle.”

Thorpe noted that the team will wrestle some 30 matches and compete in two national tournaments, one of which will include wrestlers from other countries such as Russia and Iran.

“This isn’t just a vacation they’re going on,” he said. “They’re not giving up three weeks of their summer to go play on vacation. This is what they are going to benefit from.”

Thorpe noted that his first Sweet Home team as head coach, in 1997, placed 10th in state, with Clint Sieminski the lone state title winner.

“That summer I sent seven kids to South Africa. They came back from that experience and the next year they won the state title. When you get the opportunity for an experience like this, it’s not only a cultural experience but it’s an opportunity for growth.”

For Thorpe, the trip represents a chance to take advantage of an opportunity he missed when he was selected to compete on an Oregon college exchange team that was going to take a six-week trip, led by then-Sweet Home Coach Norm Davis. He turned down the chance.

“I have regretted for 24 years that I did not go,” he said.

Schilling said of his last trip to South Africa was “an amazing experience. I made a lot of friends. It was a great trip, wrestling-wise and socially.”

The cost of the trip is $2,800 per wrestler. Thorpe said the boys are willing to work and if anyone has jobs for them, to call him at (541) 401-1154 or e-mail him at [email protected]. Those who are interested in sponsoring a wrestler should contact Thorpe, or Steve Schilling at (541) 979-3327 or at [email protected].

He asks those who can’t donate “to pray for our success and safety on this trip.”

He said an auction is being planned for April 28 to raise money for the wrestling program.

Thorpe said he has had other opportunities to coach exchange teams, but has declined – until now.

“I’m excited about this trip, that I get to go on it,” Thorpe said. “I think this is very important.”

Cowger said he’s eager to meet the quality wrestlers he expects to find at national tournaments in South Africa.

“I’m anxious to get over there and experience how good they are,” he said. “The goal is to win but it’s going to be a learning experience. Since we’re going to the two biggest tournaments, I expect the best of the best.”