Tigard junior places second at state wrestling championship tournament

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Tigard Junior Natalie Wilhoi nearly earns a pinfall victory in her state championship match, but came just seconds too late. Adam Littman/Tigard Life
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For a few seconds, Natalie Wilhoit thought she won the state title. Then she saw her coaches. 

“My coaches were not looking happy while talking to the ref, and I was like, ‘That’s not good,’” the Tigard junior said. “I knew something happened.”

Wilhoit thought she won because the ref smacked the mat to signal a pinfall in her match against Thurston High School’s Izabella Castleberry. However, at the time of the pin, Wilhoit was down by 15 points in the match, and when a wrestler is up by 15 points, the match is supposed to end in a technical fall. The refs let the match continue while a move was going on, but it had already ended. 

After the refs huddled up, they held up Castleberry’s arm to signal she won the 155-pound weight class in the 5A/6A state championship tournament. 

“It’s a really rough way to lose,” Tigard Coach Kaleb Reese said. “I’m telling her to take that into next year. You pinned the state champ. You just gave up too many points before you did it.”

Still, both Reese and Wilhoit were thrilled with her performance. In just her second year wrestling, she finished second in the state. Wilhoit said she was almost relieved she did so well since it was the biggest tournament she has wrestled in. 

The championship tournament took place at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland. 

“We walked in from the bottom and it was like, “Oh, whoa, this is where we’re going to wrestle?” she said. “It was a little stressful because there were so many people there watching, and so many people I didn’t know. I didn’t want people to look at me and think I’m a bad wrestler.”

Anyone who watched Wilhoit’s matches en route to the championship match wouldn’t have thought that. She scored pinfalls in all three rounds of the tournament to get to the state title match. 

While the stands were full of people Wilhoit didn’t know, she had plenty of support from the other wrestlers. The Oregon School Activities Association sanctioned girls wrestling as a new sport starting this year, the first new sport added in the state since softball was added in 1979. Previously, girls were part of the boys wrestling team

Wilhoit said she met so many girls from different schools throughout the season, and she got to see a bunch of them at the state tournament. 

“There were so many girls there and that was only the girls that made it to state,” she said. “Girls wrestling is so different as a sport. Girls’ attitudes are a lot different in the sport, as well. We’ll see each other at tournaments and become friends. I got to see a lot of my friends there.”

Wilhoit is already thinking about a return trip to the state tournament next year, where she wants to bring home a first-place finish. 

“If I put in the work during the offseason and in the season, I’ll get better than I am this year and can win the state title,” she said. “I got so close this year. With that boost of confidence, I can go it again. That’s my goal. I’m going to work as hard as I can so I can achieve.”

Reese agrees, and thinks some other Tigard girls can get that far, too. 

“The future is bright at Tigard,” he said. “We’re losing one girl from this year. We’re bringing back 10 or 11 girls with tons of experience.”

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