In his final go-round with the Philomath High School wrestling program, Tony Rath can finally say he's the best in Benton County.
"I got second all three years ... this is my first time getting first — finally," Rath said following a pin over Alejandro Villicana in the 132-pound finale Wednesday at the Dale Mosbaugh Benton County Championships, hosted this season by Philomath. "I just wrestled really good wrestlers the past three years."
Rath isn't kidding. During his freshman and sophomore years at the tournament, he was runner-up to Corvallis High's Bayarmagnai Oktar with losses in the finals each year on decisions.
"He's on their coaching staff actually right now and I lost to him two years in a row," Rath said. "He was a solid wrestler when I faced him. We went into overtime the first year."
Then as a junior, Rath faced Crescent Valley's Legend Lamer and lost on a pin.
"You know how that's going to go," Rath said. "He's a national champion wrestler and he's going to go somewhere in college and be a really great wrestler. He already is a really great wrestler."
Philomath finished third out of the five teams in the meet. The Warriors have won the tournament five times in its 19-year history, the most recent title coming in 2015-16.
Crescent Valley took first place with 193 points with Corvallis second (176), Philomath third (161), Santiam Christian fourth (141.5) and Monroe fifth (114). The Raiders won the event for the second straight season and now have three titles overall.
Besides Rath, the Warriors also had an individual champion in senior Joey Howell, who dominated Monroe's Kai Garber in the 160-pound finale with a pin 49 seconds into the first period.
The Warriors had three athletes finish as runners-up in the tournament.
Philomath's Keltin Benson reached the championship match at 138 and lost to Crescent Valley's Legend Lamer. In the 170-pound finale, Santiam Christian's Daniel Hudson defeated Philomath's Issiah Blackburn. And the Warriors' Brooks Stearns lost in the 195-pound finale to Crescent Valley's Leif Linvog.
In the Stearns match, the Philomath junior was leading on points, 4-1, in the second period. He ended up losing by a pin with 1:04 left in the third.
Rath has built a reputation around his stamina and ability to wear out his opponents. However, he's been trying out a different approach this season.
"I've really been trying to keep the tempo up this year," Rath said. "We think that I can win more matches earlier and more often if I'm a little more aggressive.
"A lot of the closer matches in that third round are a lot harder to win if you're behind the 8-ball like I was last year," he added. "But this year, keeping an aggressive approach to begin with and trying to put it away early, mostly it gets us team points, and then it just helps me a little bit more."
Rath and Villicana are familiar with each other, including a meeting in last year's semifinals at the county meet.
"I wrestled him twice last year and he's pretty good, he's a solid kid," Rath said. "He's got great coaches in Corvallis and he's good from his feet. You could see there I was having a little trouble getting the takedown on the edge."
Rath took a 2-0 lead on Villicana in the first period. Then in the second, he upped the advantage to 3-0 before getting a pin with 30 seconds let in the period.
"He's always a good guy to face because you know he's going to give it a lot," Rath said. "Alejandro's a great wrestler."
Rath had a bit of a scare Dec. 21 in the Gladstone Invitational when he had to leave the mat with a head injury. But he flew through concussion testing and was cleared for this tournament.
"I got smashed right on my face into the met and came up a little woozy," Rath said. "I ended up having to go in and see if I had a concussion ... but I just got my bell rung pretty good."
Howell won a county title for the second straight season. With a family background that revolves around Monroe, it seemed only fitting that he go up against a Dragon athlete for first place. Garber entered wrestling season after playing quarterback for Monroe's Class 2A state championship football team.
"My dad was hoping I'd get to wrestle that kid the whole tournament. We're probably almost related," Howell joked, a reference to small-town life. "It's only his second year ... I'd never seen him before."
Howell is having an impressive season with an unbeaten record and two other titles with first-place performances in tournaments at Scio and Gladstone.
"I really can't ask for more. I'm 11-0 and I've given up three points all year," Howell said. "Two of them were on a questionable reversal that I'm not going to get into in the finals (vs. Yamhill-Carlton's Tabor Magnuson at the Gladstone Invite)."
Howell hasn't had to make too many adjustments so far other than the continuing effort to improve.
"As the season goes on and just as my high school career's gone on, I just need to be more aggressive from my feet," Howell said. "It's like in middle school, I swear I got barely any takedowns ever."
On the opposite end of that spectrum, Howell hasn't given up a single takedown so far this season.
The Warriors entered a 10-day break following the tournament with the next competition scheduled for Saturday at the Santiam Christian Screamin' Eagle. The Adair Village event is slated to begin at 9 a.m.
Dale Mosbaugh Benton County Championships
Wednesday at Philomath
Team scoring: Crescent Valley 193, Corvallis 176, Philomath 161, Santiam Christian 141.5, Monroe 114.
106 — Blake Brouwer (0-2, 4th): Pinned by Anthony Gimino, CV, 1:51; pinned by Jared Egbert, MHS, 1:52.
126 — Tony Rath (2-0, 1st): Pinned Logan Beem, SC, 1:08; pinned Alejandro Villicana, CHS, 3:30.
138 — Keltin Benson (1-1, 2nd): Pinned Luke Mehlschau, SC, 1:50; pinned by Legend Lamer, CV, 0:51.
138 — Morgan French (0-2, 4th): Pinned by Legend Lamer, CV, 1:20; pinned by Luke Mehlschau, SC, 3:07.
145 — Matt Halmet (0-3, 6th): Pinned by Ian Gimino, CV, 5:06; pinned by Luke Janssen, SC, 3:29; pinned by Hunter Johnson, CV, 5:25.
152 — Dylan Donnell (3-1, 3rd): Pinned Benjamin Wright, CHS, 1:12; lost tech. fall Jason Manzi, SC, 15-0; pinned Lane Byer, CV, 0:34; pinned Jayden Jensen, PHS, 4:21.
152 — Jayden Jensen (2-2, 4th): Pinned Alec Avery, MHS, 1:20; pinned by Caleb Nylin, CHS, 2:35; pinned Benjamin Wright, CHS, 1:09; pinned by Dylan Donnell, PHS, 4:21.
160 — Joey Howell (3-0, 1st): Pinned David Choi, SC, 1:08; pinned Daniel Kontra, CV, 1:35; pinned Kai Garber, MHS, 2:49.
170 — Issiah Blackburn (2-1, 2nd): Pinned Ricardo Holmes, CHS, 2:45; pinned Nicholas Keller, CV, 4:15; pinned by Daniel Hudson, SC, 0:26.
182 — Randall Tipsword (1-3, 6th): Pinned by Brock Love, CV, 1:26; pinned Damien McGirl, CHS, 1:26; pinned by Sirus Garcia, CHS, 0:52; pinned by Austin Murphree, PHS, 2:28.
182 — Connar Kohn (3-1, 3rd): Pinned Damien McGirl, 0:30; lost maj. dec. Brock Love, CV, 12-4; pinned Austin Murphree, PHS, 1:33; pinned Sirus Garcia, CHS, 2:41.
182 — Austin Murphree (1-2, 5th): Lost dec. Sirus Garcia, 6-4; pinned by Connar Kohn, PHS, 1:33; pinned Randall Tipsword, PHS, 2:28.
195 — Kalvin Schunn (2-1, 3rd): Lost dec. Cade O'Brien, CHS, 8-7; pinned Elliott Gracey, CHS, 0:34; dec. Cade O'Brien, CHS, 8-7.
195 — Brooks Stearns (1-1, 2nd): Pinned Elliott Gracey, CHS, 1:18; pinned by Leif Linvog, CV, 2:25.
220 — Luis Vargas-Juarez (1-2, 5th): Pinned by Cody Sherman, MHS, 2:46; pinned by Kane Rust, PHS, 5:31; pinned Garrett Olbrich, CV, 1:49.
220 — Kane Rust (2-2, 4th): Pinned Garrett Olbrich, CV, 1:38; pinned by Dani Sanchez, MHS, 3:53; pinned Luis Vargas-Juarez, 5:31; pinned by Jared Minter, PHS, 2:33.
220 — Jared Minter (2-1, 3rd): Pinned by Cody Sherman, MHS, 1:52; pinned Garrett Olbrich, CV, 0:58; pinned Kane Rust, PHS, 2:33.
285 — Noah Estes (0-2, 4th): Pinned by Aaron Schuefer, SC, 3:35; pinned by Garrett Birken, CHS, 3:40.