It was what head coach Sam Martin called “an historic weekend for McNary.” Three Celtic wrestlers were in the finals at the OSAA state wrestling championships — the first time that had been done since 1975.
And that wasn’t the only first.
Ali Martinez, Josh Friesen and Max Blanco didn’t just compete in the finals at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, they won.
For the first time in a decade, McNary had a wrestling state champion, and for the first time in school history, it had three.
And while Martinez, Friesen and Blanco all share the recognition of being a champion, their stories for the seasons are different and unique.
Heading into her junior year, it might surprise some to hear that Martinez was set for just her first season of high school wrestling. Her freshman year was lost to the pandemic, her sophomore season gone to shoulder surgery.
So in her first season back on the mat, she didn’t expect things to go as well as they did.
She finished 41-2, her only losses coming from out-of-state competitors.
“It was just for fun, but once I started winning and doing well I was like ‘oh, maybe I’m kind of good at this,’” Martinez said. “I just did it to get ready for softball so this wasn’t too big of a deal if I won or lost. I just put the work in I guess and it paid off.”
She was a driving force in McNary softball’s postseason run last season, coming two wins from a state title there.
But Martinez can’t point to a specific moment in the season where her confidence grew. Perhaps at the Dallas tournament was when she started recognizing her success.
“There was never a time where I thought ‘Oh I’m going to win state,’” Martinez said. “I never actually thought I would win state until I made it to state.”
And once she made it to state, she wasted no time.
Martinez finished her first match via pinfall in 13 seconds.
“It was pretty cool, especially at state, but I wasn’t cocky about it,” Martinez said. “It was more like ‘Wow, I’m glad I got that done,’ because it was my first match and I had nerves.”
In total Martinez spent less than four minutes in action over her three matches en route to the state title.
The win makes Martinez McNary’s first official female wrestling champion. Sam Urban won three unofficial state titles in the 2010s according to Martin.
3 to 1
Last season Blanco placed third at 106 pounds as a sophomore. This year, he came into the 106 pound bracket as the top seed, ready to improve on the previous finish.
“I just thought I couldn’t place any lower than that, and I knew I had to step it up and get first,” Blanco said.
He credited a change in the way he approached practice this season as helping him move up the rankings. He said he went “more hardcore” in the wrestling room, kept moving, and had a more focused mentality.
On his way to the finals, Blanco had two technical falls, leading his opponents by 15 points.
But Blanco wasn’t actually happy with them, saying that he was going for pins in those matches.
“I guess techs work too,” Blanco said. “It feels good to be able to tech people there.”
The finals matchup was a much closer affair. Blanco won the title with a 9-7 sudden victory — the closest you can get to an overtime buzzer beater in wrestling.
“I was really hyped, it was all or nothing at that point,” Blanco said.
Blanco doesn’t plan on defending his title next season. Instead, he aims to move up in weight class, looking towards 120 pounds most likely.
For Friesen, the lone senior of the trio, the state title means he ends his high school career as a champion.
“Surreal, that’s the best way I can put it,” Friesen said.
And while the feeling of winning might be surreal, his confidence about it was anything but abstract, even as the third seed.
“I knew I was winning the whole time,” Friesen said. “You’ve got to believe to make it happen.”
Friesen’s title win came with a first round pinfall, and it came against a familiar name, even if Cougar Friesen is no relation.
Despite knowing him for years, seeing each other at tournaments while growing up, this was the first time the two had ever wrestled against each other.
This season it was now or never for Friesen in his last year at McNary.
“I came really close my previous years, just placing,” Friesen said. “I just knew I had to make it happen. Placing doesn’t matter, I want to win it.”
He hasn’t decided where yet, but Friesen is confident he will wrestle at the collegiate level.