Cooper places second at state wrestling
Last updated 2/28/2023 at Noon
Senior Ben Cooper capped his wrestling career at Sisters High School with a runner-up finish at the OSAA 3A Wrestling Championships held Friday, February 24 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland.
Cooper’s finish is the highest at the state tournament in Sisters High School history.
A snowstorm in Portland made Cooper’s path to the championship match different than anticipated. The storm hit hard on Wednesday, and wreaked havoc on traffic throughout the Portland area, forcing the OSAA to postpone the event to begin on Friday, rather than Thursday. Continued snow-related issues caused further changes, and the OSAA was forced to change the event from a two-day tournament to a one-day event, all on Friday.
Both Cooper and fellow senior Hayden Kunz arrived at the Coliseum Friday knowing that if they kept winning they were in for a long day.
For the 152-pound Cooper, in his third career state tournament, the action would stretch almost 12 hours.
Cooper entered the championships seeded 10th, based on his record and finish at District.
“I was a little nervous when I saw the seeding, but I had to just take it one match at a time,” he said.
Cooper had the gift of a bye in the first round before facing Seth Drago, who beat the third seed in his first match. Cooper won by major decision 12-0 to dispatch Drago and advance to the next round.
To make it to the championship match, Cooper had to get by second-seeded Gavin Hoelich of Pleasant Hill. Hoelich owned a stellar record this season of 45-1 with Hoelich knowing very clearly that his lone loss the entire season had come at the hands of Cooper.
Cooper prevailed again in a hard-fought 7-4 decision only to face his season-long nemesis, Hunter Kemper of Burns, the reigning state champion who Cooper has known through wrestling since second grade. In three previous meetings this season, Kemper was undefeated against Cooper.
The pair grappled through two rounds, with Kemper chalking up points and Cooper shut out. In the third round Kemper went ahead 15-0 resulting in a major decision victory.
“Even though I lost to him again, I think it was my best match of the season,” said Cooper. “I had some good chances to score points. He’s a really good wrestler.”
He continued, “My goal was to make it to the finals. That was my biggest dream of my life so I am really happy that I made that goal and gave it my best all the way to the end.”
Looking back at the tournament, Cooper said he preferred having everything happen all in one day. “I liked it a lot better. I didn’t have time to get nervous or have to cut weight.”
Going into the tournament, fellow senior Kunz hoped to earn a medal. In his three years as a wrestler for the Outlaws, this was his third appearance at the state tournament. He began his wrestling career in sixth grade, sat out his freshman year, and returned to the sport as a sophomore.
“It was great to be at the Coliseum in Portland after the last two years of having the meet at Cascade High School,” he said. “It felt like a bigger deal, and it was a lot more exciting.”
His dream of a medal did not come to pass, as he lost his two matches.
Kunz faced off against fourth-seeded David Rice of Rainier in the opening match at 145 pounds, but got taken down by fall at 3:19 and moved to the consolation bracket. He got a reprieve with a bye in the next round before squaring off against Nephi Heakin of Harrisburg. Heakin got the best of Kunz, defeating him by fall at 4:07. Heakin went on to claim the third-place medal with two more wins.
“Looking back I still feel I could have beaten both of those guys, but things didn’t go as I had hoped,” he said. “In my second match I was too hesitant, and it cost me the match. It was still a good experience, but I am disappointed.”
First-year coach David Kemp said the weather delay made for “a fun and crazy weekend.
“We got stuck in the snowstorm in Portland and spent hours on the highway,” he said. “We didn’t find out officially that the tournament was being postponed a day until late Wednesday night, which meant we had all day Thursday to sit and wait.”
On Thursday nearly everything around their hotel was shut down due to the snowstorm. Cooper said, “Hayden and I just hung out in the hotel a little bit, and went walking. No one was out in the streets. We did eventually go to a movie to pass the time.”
Kemp said, “The snow delay made it crazy, but the fun part was getting Ben into the finals, which was an amazing accomplishment for him and for the program.”
Cooper is looking into continuing his wrestling career in college and has been in contact with the coach at Umpqua Community College. Kunz on the other hand says he is moving on to other things. Both boys say they found satisfaction in their careers and Kemp hopes that younger wrestlers will be inspired by their example.
“These guys have done things right and I am proud to have coached them,” he said.