PORTLAND - For the third time in a four-year Hermiston High School career, Kyle Larson claimed an individual state title at the OSAA/US Bank/Les Schwab Tires state 4A wrestling championships at Memorial Coliseum.
His performance, dominating the 152-pound class, led Hermiston to an eighth- place finish in the team race and capped a stellar career that will now move to Oregon State University in the fall.
Larson won the title with a 7-3 victory Saturday over Crater's Ron Lee.
Lee gave an effort to dethrone the Bulldog senior, taking a 2-0 lead in the first round, but Larson was not to be denied a perfect season that included 30 pin victories.
"I thought Kyle handled the pressure well. He just won three state titles and he's 44-0 with 30 falls. He's the best kid we've ever had. He wrestled a smart match," Hermiston coach Curt Berger said.
Keith Carter placed second at 119 pounds, falling to Redmond's Ryan Enoch in the finals, 3-1. Hermiston's Tyler Hartsteen defeated Taylor Wilkerson of Crater to take third at 275 pounds and help the Bulldogs cap the three-day tournament with 82 team points. Crater ran away with the team title with 186 points.
Pendleton tallied 39.5 points to share 24th place with Churchill, thanks to the third-place effort of Justin Carter at 125 pounds. Carter battled back after a loss Friday to defeat Luke Penner of Corvallis and Eliseo Rios of Southridge. Pendleton's Sean Orr had his season end with an eighth-place finish at 275. Orr was forced by a shoulder injury suffered Friday to forfeit his two Saturday matches.
Larson said that the key to winning at the state's highest level is hard work, particularly in the off season. What's made Larson so good?
"Summer wrestling. My biggest season is summer wrestling," Larson said. "You learn to stay off your back, you learn to take a guy down. If you're not wrestling in the summer, you're not going to be three-, four- or two-time state champion, like you should be."
Hermiston's Keith Carter will have a third and forth shot at a state title in the coming years and he admitted to not being prepared for his final match.
"I wasn't prepared for this match. I didn't go out there ready to wrestle. I just took the whole day off today. I just wasn't prepared mentally at all to wrestle," he said. "I didn't do anything right. I took a couple of nice shots, I just didn't finish anything."
"There's just a lot more pressure in that match and Keith just didn't wrestle," Berger said. "He was in a finals situation, he thinks he's going to win it based on what's happened in the past. Maybe he was nervous or just not prepared.
"It's a matter of handling the pressure. He had a tremendous tournament. He went through the tough side of the draw. The difference between wining a state title and not is how you prepare. You have to win them all."
Hartsteen defeated Wilkerson in 53 seconds Saturday and put the wraps on a 41-4 campaign.
"I'm real pleased. After I lost, I knew I had to come back and get third to help the team out. Third was the best I could do (with one loss at state) and I did it, I met my goal, being the best heavyweight Hermiston had."
Larson is the best Hermiston has ever had and Berger said replacing him will be tough.
"It's like having a high-powered rifle and now you're using a squirt gun," Berger said. "That's a guy that we are really going to miss."
Larson's father, Harry, who also serves as a Bulldog assistant coach said it's not rocket science why his son earn three state championships.
"It's just awesome that we can do it and show other people that we can do it," Harry Larson said. "(Athletes) should be shooting to win state titles. This is just another stepping stone. Kyle's just unbelievable. He's an athlete and he loves wrestling. You've got to like wrestling or you're not going to be good. You've gotta like going out there and getting in the heat of the battle and fighting."
Of all the accomplishments to date, Kyle said he cherished most that he was able to win a title last year along with his brother Jeremy, who is already at OSU.
"It was lots of fun winning with my brother," Kyle said. 'We'll hopefully get that done along the road at Oregon State."
Pendleton's Justin Carter, a sophomore, was disappointed he couldn't reach the finals, but happy to battle back and get by Rios 8-1.
"I was just going out there to beat him," Justin Carter said. "It kinda sucks that I lost (Friday), because I wanted to be in the finals, but it feels pretty good to be third. I want to win it next year and the year after."
"I was only worried about him for two minutes (Friday) after he lost," Pendleton coach Fred Phillips said. "He told me, 'don't worry about me, I'll get mine tomorrow.' I'm real proud of him."
True to his word Carter did just that.
"I think in the semifinal match, he relaxed a little bit and lost, but he learned from it and that's good," Phillips said.
"I tell my kids all year that it takes more heart to take third than win a state tournament, because you have to suffer that loss, suck it up and get after it and quit feeling sorry for yourself. Justin did that. He's a competitor.
"He wrestled hard. He did the things he needed to do. The kid was dangerous on his feet. (Carter) did a good job."
The future is bright for the Bucks, who will return eight wrestlers with state experience next season.
"Having one of them take third was huge. To come in and win some matches and look impressive. Now he's set the bar. Now he knows he can win a state championship and we've got a state championship caliber kid in our (practice) room. He set the bar, now (his teammates) have to come to him," Phillips said.
"Justin doesn't lead with words. He just gets the job done. I hope we take away from this that we're as good as anybody else, all we have to do is compete."