Alex Rich rarely faces someone who can keep up with him on a wrestling mat during the high school season.
But the Crescent Valley High senior lacks no motivation or focus. There’s a significant achievement within reach.
“You’ve just got to think about the end goal. State is always big,” Rich said.
The state tournament means even more to him this year, as he chases a fourth straight OSAA 5A title.
Just 27 wrestlers have won four state championships since Oregon high schools first held a tournament 90 years ago.
The state tournament begins its two-day run at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum on Friday. The finals are Saturday night.
Rich was a successful youth wrestler but it wasn’t until his freshman year of high school that he realized that four state titles was even a possibility.
The summer of 2011, prior to his freshman year, Rich couldn’t even score a point against Churchill’s Houston Ezell, whom he would meet the next winter in a state final.
They would face off during the season, with Rich erasing a six-point deficit in the final round to win by one.
“That’s when it really became, ‘yeah, you can probably do this because that was the No. 1 guy in the state at your weight right now,’” said Rich’s father John, a former Oregon State wrestler and the Crescent Valley coach up until this season. “That was a big hurdle for him to get over.”
Rich would defeat Ezell 3-0 for his first state title. He’s lost just three times since then and is currently 47-0 on the season – 67-0 if you include regional and national preseason tournaments, with trips to California and Iowa.
“Going undefeated on the season, it’s a big deal,” said Rich, who has signed to wrestle at Oregon State. “Not many kids can do it. For me do be able to do it at the end of the year is a big accomplishment for me.”
Thirty-four of his 47 wins have come by fall, with just six of those matches lasting more than the two-minute first round. Rich cruised through the Mid-Willamette Conference district tournament with three pins, each in less than a minute, and another match that ended early on a technical fall.
“I think when you’re going for your fourth title it’s probably easy to stay motivated,” Raiders coach Chad Lamer said. “You’ve got a target on your back so you know you’ve got to stay sharp and work hard.”
Rich, competing at 138 pounds this season, hasn’t wasted much time finishing off opponents. But the one time he got away from his regular approach it almost cost him his perfect record.
At the Cottage Grove Invitational earlier this month, teammate Stanfur Lassen had a 15-second pin and was leading the chase for an award for the quickest fall.
Facing South Eugene’s Aidan Braun in a quarterfinal later, Rich went for a quick strike and was on his back and trailing 5-0 in the opening seconds. Rich would work his way out of the jam and come back to win 19-9. But it caught his attention.
“After that scare I’m not going to let it slip,” he said. “I’m going to take my time and make sure I’m wrestling my best.”
Rich has been able to stay at the top of his game thanks to help from inside out inside the CV wrestling room.
Inside the room are volunteer assistants Zech Bresser and Logan Weeks, both former Oregon high school standouts. Rich also has Lamer, a three-time NCAA Division II national champion at South Dakota State. He also competed in the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Several times a week, Rich works out in the morning with former Oregon State wrestler Jason Lara. He also matches up with Oregon State wrestlers during the offseason.
Rich said his opportunity to compete against high-level non-prep competition is one not everyone has.
“To have those guys to wrestle with, it’s a pretty good measuring stick for yourself,” Lamer said.
It’s help for this season but also preparation for next, when he’ll test his skills against Division I competition every day while at Oregon State.
Rich’s potential is up to him, his coach says.
“I think it really depends on how well you can stay motivated and your determination to continue to work hard and want to win,” Lamer said. “I think it comes down to your mental attitude when you get to college if you want to keep putting in that work to stay at that level.”
This season, Rich has had a bigger target on his back than ever before.
He knows at state that will be even more so, and that shot at a fourth state title is all he can think about.
“It’s everything,” Rich said. “That’s every high school wrestler’s dream. It’s hard to even dream, and I’m fortunate to be able to experience it.”