McNary’s Anthony Garcia-Reyes (blue singlet) finished fourth in the 220-pound division at the MVC District Tournament (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

After placing seventh last year, the McNary wrestling team was hoping to show improvement at the Mountain Valley Conference District Meet, which took place at Mountain View High School Feb. 13-14.

It’s safe to say their goal was accomplished.

The Celtics, who only placed five wrestlers last season, sent 12 of their 21 kids to the podium, which earned McNary a third-place finish at districts.

“I’m so proud of the kids. They wrestled so tough. They were in a bunch of close matches and they never stopped wrestling. It was such a fun weekend. I got a lot of compliments from other coaches on how tough the kids wrestled. It was a huge difference from last year,” McNary interim head coach Sam Martin said.

Despite some of the experience McNary has, the top finishers for the Celtics were actually young guys in freshman Hunter Ruberto and sophomore Aldo Villavazo.

Ruberto placed third in the 145-pound division while Villavazo took second at 220 pounds. Both wrestlers automatically qualified for the state tournament at the Moda Center in Portland, which starts on Friday, Feb. 28.

After receiving a bye in the first round, Villavazo pinned Anthony Alvarez from McKay to earn a spot in the semifinals. Villavazo then advanced to the championship match after his opponent was disqualified — Villavazo was unable to wrestle in the championship bout due to injury.

Ruberto, on the other hand, took a much windier road to earn his state qualification.

Ruberto won his first round match, but got beat with an 18-3 technical fall against Elijah Byers from Sprague in the quarterfinals. But the Celtics freshman responded in a big way.

“All week, we talk about never giving up during a match. You’re always in a match until the final whistle. I took every match like it was going to be my last. I was putting it all on the line,” Ruberto said.

Ruberto got two straight pins before edging out Mountain View’s Mason Burke in the consolation semifinals, winning by a score of 12-8.

The victory over Burke gave Ruberto a berth in the third-place match, which wound up being a rematch with Byers with a state tournament spot on the line.

Ruberto battled with Byers into the second round, but when he was able to get position with a two-point reversal, Ruberto nailed down the pin six seconds before the second round ended.

“Going into the second match, I knew I was going to have to try and do something to catch him. Once I got the reversal, I knew that I had him,” Ruberto said.

“We knew that kid was tough on top. But Hunter always kept himself in good position. He had an opportunity and he capitalized on it. It’s just a testament to Hunter’s mental toughness and how he has worked to get to this point,” added Martin.

McNary’s top state performer last season was 120-pounder Grady Burrows. Even though he made the podium at districts once again this year, his sixth place finish wasn’t enough to secure him a third straight trip to the state meet.

Burrows did advance to the semifinals, but lost a hard-fought 4-3 decision against Tyson Oliver of Mountain View.

“He was winning for almost the entire match against a really good kid, but he gave up a takedown late and wasn’t able to seal the deal,” Martin said.

Burrows tweaked his back in the consolation round and had to default to sixth place after not being able to wrestle in the fifth-place match.

McNary’s other state competitor from last season, Gilbert Parra, fell just short of grabbing an automatic bid to the state meet as he took fourth in the 138-pound division.

The Celtics other fourth place finishers were Daniel Hernandez (132), Anthony Garcia-Reyes (220) and Anthony Cruz-Lopez (285).

All four wrestlers still have a shot to make the state meet as a wild card, but they won’t know whether they made it or not until the brackets become official on Sunday, Feb. 23.

After competing in the junior varsity lineup for most of the season, Esteban Victoria (138) wrestled his way to a fifth place finish, highlighted by an overtime pin in the fifth-place match against Steven Gonzalez from South Salem.

“He gutted out some tough wins. He just perseveres through everything and he doesn’t let any situation get him down,” Martin said.

Gio Cervantes also finished fifth at 145 pounds. Damian Hernandez (106), Donovin Garcia (126) and Isaac Everts (170) each placed sixth.