FINAL TEAM SCORES – 1. Menlo (Calif.) 153, 2. Southern Oregon 108.5, 3. Eastern Oregon 105, 4. Providence (Mont.) 91, 5. Embry-Riddle (Ariz.) 86.5, 6. Montana State-Northern 85, 7. Vanguard (Calif.) 71, 8. Corban 55, 9. Arizona Christian 22.5, 10. Simpson (Calif.) 17.5, 11. Warner Pacific 0

PRESCOTT, Ariz. – Traveling with a group that included seven freshmen and only three individuals with previous postseason tournament experience, there was reason to wonder if the Southern Oregon men’s wrestling team was ready to reclaim its status as one of the Cascade Conference’s best.

When the dust settled Saturday at the Embry-Riddle Activity Center, the Raiders had left no doubt that they were. After settling for eighth place last year, getting picked fifth in the preseason and being unranked for the majority of 2022-23, they stole second place at the CCC Championships presented by U.S. Bank – finishing in front of four NAIA Top 20 squads.

Aaron Gandara repeated as a conference champion, claiming the 149-pound title, while 133-pounder Evan Potter and 174-pounder Alex Hernandez joined him as All-CCC performers with matching third-place finishes. They all qualified automatically for the NAIA Championships, as did Andrew Herrera, who took fourth at 197, and Antonio Garcia, who was fifth at 285.

SOU went 7-2 in its placing matches to accumulate 108 ½ points and edge rival and No. 8-ranked Eastern Oregon, which took third with 105. Menlo (Calif.), ranked No. 7, captured the title with 153 points and five finalists.

Dylan Straley (157) added a fourth-place finish, Derek Ramos (141) and Travis Thorpe (157) both took fifth, and Jordan Faifai (165) was seventh. Automatic NAIA Championships bids were awarded based on the number of nationally-ranked individuals the CCC had in each weight class, but they’ll hold out hope for when the NAIA office announces 30 at-large qualifiers next week.

“I’m really happy with the result and the team’s effort,” third-year SOU coach Joel Gibson said. “We’re coming for the top spot, but there was a lot of improvement over last year so we’re headed in the right direction.”

Gandara, who claimed the 157 title as a freshman last year, joined Devin Poppen as SOU’s only two-time winners since the CCC Championships began in 2018. Ranked No. 6 in the NAIA and seeded No. 1 at the tournament, he shut out two opponents in bonus-point wins Friday and topped Embry-Riddle (Ariz.)’s Jonah Chew by 3-1 decision in Saturday’s semifinals. Montana State-Northern’s Martin Wilkie forfeited their scheduled championship bout, making Gandara 25-5 on the season.

Potter, a sophomore ranked No. 7 at 133, bumped his record to 22-2. In the semifinals, No. 6 Jovan Garcia of Menlo defeated him for the second time this season, 9-5, but Potter bounced back with a technical fall of Julian Leon of Vanguard (Calif.) in the consolation semis and an 8-1 decision over No. 20 Braden Carson of EOU in the third-place match.

After suffering an upset loss in his tourney opener, Hernandez made the long road back through the 174 consolation bracket look easy with three pins in four matches. The No. 9-ranked redshirt-freshman finished off his run with a 56-second pin of Menlo’s No. 20 Maximus Zamora in the third-place match. He’d started the day by defeating Arizona Christian’s Anthony Aguilera by fall and Montana State-Northern’s No. 17 Rylin Burns by 7-6 decision.

Herrera’s fourth-place showing came after he was seeded eighth at 197 to open the tourney. After upsetting EOU’s No. 7 Jay Smith in Friday’s quarterfinals, he dropped his semifinal to No. 21 Afton Silvis of Menlo, 2-1. A 3-1 decision over Vanguard’s Jacob Potts got him to the third-place match, where No. 15 Carl Hansen of MSU-Northern pinned him in the first round.

Garcia, a No. 24-ranked redshirt-freshman, needed three consolation victories to lock up his national tournament bid after losing in Friday’s semifinal. He earned the final spot in the heavyweight bracket with a 5-3 upset against No. 19 Ethan DeRoche of Providence (Mont.) in the fifth-place match.

Straley, a redshirt-freshman ranked No. 23 at 157, was the fourth Raider to appear in the semifinals. He made a run at Menlo’s No. 9 Abraham Del Toro before losing 10-8, then defeated his teammate, Thorpe, 6-4 to reach the third-place match. There, No. 8 Beau Blackham of Embry-Riddle beat him by 7-3 decision.

Faifai, another freshman at 165, went 2-2 at the tourney. He topped Embry-Riddle’s Stone Aguirre in the third-place match, 7-1. Ramos won his 141 fifth-place match by injury default after staying alive earlier in the day by knocking off EOU’s No. 9 Jaxon Morlan, 10-9.

The NAIA Championships will be held in Park City, Kan., on March 3-4.

133 – Simon Graeber
Round 1 – Graeber p. No. 8 Joel Avila, UP, 4:10
Quarterfinals – No. 20 Braden Carson, EOU, dec. Graeber, 8-4
Consolation R2 – Zach Mauras, EOU, dec. Graeber, 8-3.

133 – No. 7 Evan Potter (3rd place)
Round 1 – Potter p. Adam Stanley, ERAU, 4:08
Quarterfinals – Potter tech. fall Brennon McDermott, MSUN, 16-0 (4:02)
Semifinals – No. 6 Jovan Garcia, MC, dec. Potter, 9-5
Consolation Semifinals – Potter tech. fall Julian Leon, VU, 17-2 (7:00)
3rd-Place Match – Potter dec. No. 20 Braden Carson, EOU, 8-1

141 – Anthony Perez
Quarterfinals – Steven Kroesen, VU, dec. Perez, 4-1
Consolation R2 – Perez major dec. Elian Murrillo, SU, 11-0
Consolation R3 – Blake Runion, CRB, dec. Perez, 5-4

141 – Derek Ramos (5th place)
Round 1 – Ramos p. Elian Murrillo, SU, 4:34
Quarterfinals – Rico Robles, ACU, dec. Ramos, 8-6 (SV)
Consolation R2 – Ramos received a bye
Consolation R3 – Ramos dec. No. 9 Jaxon Morlan, EOU, 10-9
Consolation Semifinals – Steven Kroesen, VU, dec. Ramos, 5-3 (SV)
5th-Place Match – Ramos injury def. Blake Runion, CRB, 3:52

149 – No. 6 Aaron Gandara (1st place)
Round 1 – Gandara major dec. Tomas Jacobo, SU, 11-0
Quarterfinals – Gandara tech. fall Jordan Piercy, CRB, 16-0 (4:03)
Semifinals – Gandara dec. Jonah Chew, ERAU, 3-1
Championship – Gandara wins by medical forfeit over No. 7 Martin Wilkie, MSUN

157 – No. 23 Dylan Straley (4th place)
Quarterfinals – Straley dec. Vincent Cramer, EOU, 8-1
Semifinals – No. 9 Abraham Del Toro, MC, dec. Straley, 10-8
Consolation Semifinals – Straley dec. Travis Thorpe, SOU, 6-4
3rd-Place Match – No. 8 Beau Blackham, ERAU, dec. Straley, 7-3

157 – Travis Thorpe (5th place)
Quarterfinals – No. 25 Aden Graves, UP, dec. Thorpe, 9-3
Consolation R2 – Thorpe received a bye
Consolation R3 – Thorpe p. Connor Harris, MSUN, 2:25
Consolation Semifinals – No. 23 Dylan Straley, SOU, dec. Thorpe, 6-4
5th-Place Match – Thorpe dec. Vincent Cramer, EOU, 9-3

165 – Jordan Faifai (7th place)
Round 1 – No. 5 David Rubio, CRB, dec. Faifai, 7-0
Consolation R2 – Faifai dec. Carlo Castagnaro, ACU, 18-11
Consolation R3 – No. 24 Devin Crawford, MSUN, dec. Faifai, 11-6
7th-Place Match – Faifai dec. Stone Aguirre, ERAU, 7-1

174 – No. 9 Alex Hernandez (3rd place)
Round 1 – Matthew Bartlett, CRB, dec. Hernandez, 7-6
Consolation R2 – Hernandez p. No. 15 Sheldon Cole, ERAU, 6:09
Consolation R3 – Hernandez p. Anthony Aguilera, ACU, 5:00
Consolation Semifinals – Hernandez dec. No. 17 Rylin Burns, MSUN, 7-6
3rd-Place Match – Hernandez p. No. 20 Maximus Zamora, MC, 0:56

184 – Kabb Christensen
Round 1 – Kaden Martin, ACU, dec. Christensen, 7-5
Consolation R2 – Austin Vanek, MSUN, p. Christensen, 2:03

197 – Andrew Herrera (4th place)
Round 1 – Herrera dec. Tyler Moore, CRB, 7-1
Quarterfinals – Herrera dec. No. 7 Jay Smith, EOU, 8-5
Semifinals – No. 21 Afton Silvis, MC, dec. Herrera, 2-1
Consolation Semifinals – Herrera dec. Jacob Potts, VU, 3-1
3rd-Place Match – No. 15 Carl Hansen, MSUN, p. Herrera, 1:30

285 – No. 24 Antonio Garcia (5th place)
Round 1 – Garcia dec. Sven Lukner, CRB, 3-2
Quarterfinals – No. 21 Antonio Dacosta, MC, dec. Garcia, 7-3
Consolation R2 – Garcia dec. Ryan Moldenhauer, MSUN, 5-2
Consolation R3 – Garcia p. Garrette Branson, ERAU, 6:16
Consolation Semifinals – Jacob Vincent, SU, dec. Garcia, 2-0
5th-Place Match – Garcia dec. No. 19 Ethan DeRoche, UP, 5-3

Content used with permission, compliments of SOU Sports
Photo by Al Case, Ashland Daily Photo


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