Senior wrestlers led the Nyssa Bulldogs

Heath Hartley picked up his fourth state championship at the recent state tournament. Hartley is forgoing a collegiate wrestling career for a trip to Bolivia for his church. (Photo special to the Malhuer Enterprise by Ed Peterson)

By John L. Braese

The Enterprise

NYSSA – For one wrestler, taking the podium was a familiar step.

For the other another, the podium was almost as familiar.

As the Nyssa wrestling squad claimed its third straight championship team title recently, three seniors returned home with championship medals hanging from their necks.

Osiris Tapia found wrestling in the seventh grade. He will graduate from Nyssa High School in May as a three-time Oregon champion in the 285-pound class. Tapia credits the Nyssa coaching staff with the success he has found on the mat.

“The staff were always taking us to tournaments in Idaho and Nevada,” he said. “The more you wrestle, the better you get.”

This year proved to be a little more difficult than past years for Tapia. While wrestling in a Reno tournament early in the season, he landed on his shoulder, damaging a joint. With district and state tournaments coming, Tapia went into rehab mode.

“I iced my shoulder all day,” he said. “I could not get on the mat so I would run all day.”

With the shoulder improving each day, Tapia took the district title and then claimed his state title in Portland.

Tapia plans to enroll in and wrestle for Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay.

“The amazing thing about him this year was the way he dealt with adversity,” said Nyssa Coach Luke Cleaver. “He never really got healthy, but just stayed focused. You have to take into account he did not meet a person on the mat since January. He started wrestling against a person in the district meet and pinned his way all the way to a state championship.”

A Bulldog who has seen the winner podium numerous times again repeated, this time for his fourth straight title.

Heath Hartley wrapped up his high school career as a four-time state champ in the 120-pound class. Posting a 46-1 record for the year with his lone loss coming at the Sierra Nevada Classic in December, Hartley is among a select few to claim four straight titles.

“The coaching staff here at Nyssa worked us hard every day,” Hartley said. “The reason we succeeded is the teammates we had. They were terrific.”

This year’s title far surpassed last year’s, according to Hartley.

“I was so sick last year when I won the match I could barely walk,” he said. “When I won as a freshman, I really did not know how big a deal it was. Sophomore year was exciting, but for the first time in my career, I smiled when I won this year.”

“I made him sit down after that match last year,” said Cleaver looking back. “He was white as a ghost.”

Cleaver said Hartley is the one wrestler he considers overlooked.

“His scores are not huge, but you have to take into consideration he has not given up one offensive points since the second week of December,” said Cleaver. “He manages matches. His mat presence ensures he is never at risk.”

As for his plans after graduation, wrestling is taking a back seat for two years.

“I am going on a mission for the church to Bolivia,” Hartley said.

One challenge: Hartley doesn’t speak one word of Spanish.

“I leave in June, so I will need to learn it pretty quick,” he said.

As for wrestling after he returns from Bolivia, Hartley said his days on the mat might be done.

“I want to attend Utah Valley University,” he said. “Wrestling is a big commitment and with college, studies come first. I am really unsure if I want to wrestle in college.”

Leaving the mat may be tough as Hartley has spent many an hour practicing takedowns since sixth grade.

The third senior of the state clan, Jose Candelas, was unavailable for this story.

Candelas picked up the title in the 182-pound division.

“He just does stuff well,” Cleaver said of Candelas. “He does not have a lot of tools, but the ones he has, he uses to the utmost. He keeps himself in matches.”

The common denominator for the seniors is missing the camaraderie on the Nyssa team and the trip to Portland to defend a Bulldog team title.

“I can honestly say this is the best group I have ever had as a coach here in Nyssa,” said Cleaver.

Have a news tip? Email news @ malheurenterprise or call John L. Braese at 541-473-3377.