This is it.
Pendleton senior Alex Rendon is on his last go-round to win a state wrestling title, and it’s well within his grasp.
The Bucks will host the Intermountain Conference district tournament Friday and Saturday, with the top four in each weight class advancing to the state tournament next weekend in Portland.
“Ever since high school started, that has been the end goal for me,” Rendon said of a state title. “Our senior class is big compared to past classes, and we knew as seniors we would be dominant.”
Pendleton has not had a state wrestling champion since 2011 when Roman Holcomb (112) and Dylan Holcomb (119) brought home titles.
Bucks coach Fred Phillips believes Rendon has the tools to get the job done after placing second last year.
“Alex is the most gifted pure athlete I have ever coached,” Phillips said. “He is very good. I believe he can do it.”
Rendon, who is 45-3, has had an impressive season. He won the 138-pound title at the Muilenburg Invitational in La Grande, then captured the 132-pound title at the Joe Stewart Invitational and the Bend Invite.
He also went 7-0 at the Oregon Classic, and 5-0 at the Colton Holly Tournament.
While he has wrestled at various weights this season, Rendon will take the mat at 126 pounds this weekend. His three losses this year are to guys at 132, so the sacrifice is worth it.
“It’s a struggle every day,” Rendon said of watching his weight. “But 132 is stacked for state. At 126, there is a two-time state placer from Crook County (junior Hunter Mode).”
Rendon likely will see Mode in the district finals this weekend. He has not wrestled him before.
“I’m pretty sure we will find each other at the tournament,” he said.
Mode won the Class 4A 106-pound title last year, and was second as a freshman for the Cowboys, who are in their first year at the 5A level.
“We have the No. 1 and No. 2 kids in the state at 126 in our conference,” Phillips said of Mode and Rendon. “They are in opposite sides of the bracket and could see each other in the finals.”
In the beginning
Rendon started wrestling when he was about 7 years old, but he was not a natural from the start.
“It took a couple of years, but once I got it, I was pretty talented,” he said. “More so than I am now.”
Phillips said he knew who Rendon was from the time he came on the wrestling scene.
“Everyone knew who Alex was,” Phillips said. “He had this curly head of hair and he won a lot. I knew at one point he’d wrestle for us.”
Rendon also played soccer when he was younger, but discovered football in middle school.
“Football is more for me,” said Rendon, who was the kicker for the Bucks football team. “In middle school, I decided I liked football more than soccer, and I had a pretty good foot from soccer.”
But wrestling has always been his top sport.
He went to state as a freshman, but did not place. He placed fifth as a sophomore, then lost the 126-pound championship match last year to Crescent Valley’s Beau Ohlson by an 11-5 decision. Rendon finished his junior season 44-6.
“I saw him (Ohlson) at the Bend Invite, but he is heavier than me now,” Rendon said.
The next chapter
Rendon said he has thought about wrestling at the college level, but has not made any commitments.
Eastern Oregon University and Southern Oregon University are on his radar.
Phillips wrestled at Southern Oregon and has good contacts.
“He’s just not sure what he wants to do,” Phillips said. “We joke around that to be a successful college wrestler, you have to be a little off. You have to be able to endure pain and suffering. I’m not sure he is willing to do that.”
Rendon said he appreciates what Phillips has done for him over the years.
“He has been a good coach all four years,” Rendon said. “I would not be as good as I am without him.”