Derek Wiley
The Bulletin

CULVER —

Sitting in a classroom at Culver High School, two weeks away from a chance to win his fourth OSAA state wrestling championship, Lorenzo Vasquez talks about all the people in his corner — the parents who raised him, the older brother who pushed him, the coaches who trained him, and the girl who taught him the importance of doing well in school.

Vasquez started wrestling as a first-grader in Madras but moved to the Culver Mat Club in the third grade, where he met Lance Hoke, a volunteer coach, whose son Cylus was Vasquez’s age.

The three hit it off immediately and wherever the Hokes went, from wrestling tournaments all over the state to other wrestling events as far away as Iowa and Missouri, Vasquez came along.

In middle school, Vasquez spent his summers working with the Hokes building barbed wire fence in the middle of nowhere Oregon, camping in tents for as long as two weeks.

“They had to fend for themselves,” Lance Hoke says. “I’m not the type of person that tells them when to eat. When you’re hungry you stop to eat and when you’re thirsty, you drink. They learned to take care of themselves.”

Vasquez also learned the value of hard work.

“Sometimes we’d have to hustle, sometimes we’d have to work all night,” Vasquez says. “That was the experience he (Lance Hoke) brought to me that taught me a lot, how to work harder, that it’s not going to be easy.”

Vasquez says his wrestling breakthrough came in the sixth grade when he won two matches in double overtime to place sixth at the Oregon Wrestling Association state tournament in Newberg.

After finishing second in both OWA and middle school state tournaments in the seventh and eighth grades, Vasquez won the 106-pound Class 2A/1A OSAA state championship as a freshman at Culver, and Lance Hoke was right there in Vasquez’s corner.

“He ran by everyone else and just jumped into my arms,” Hoke says, recalling Vasquez’s reaction after that state championship. “That was the coolest, for sure. Without a doubt, it was pretty special.”

Vasquez then won the 113-pound state title as a sophomore and the 120-pound championship last February as a junior. Another title later this month would put him in rarefied air: He would join former Bulldogs Miguel Baltazar (2005-08) and Jared Kasch (2010-13) among the fewer than three dozen Oregon wrestlers ever to win four state championships.

“To win four state titles you’ve got to do a lot of things right,” longtime Culver head coach J.D. Alley says. “There are a lot of great wrestlers that have stubbed a toe on things that have nothing to do with wrestling that will cost them a title along the way.”

Vasquez’s weakness was school. But after making grades just good enough to stay eligible in his freshman and sophomore years, he started earning A’s and B’s as a junior and now carries a 3.16 cumulative GPA.

It is not a coincidence that he had begun dating Rosie Olivera, a straight-A student at Culver, at the end of his sophomore year.

“She kind of influenced me a little bit,” Vasquez says. “I definitely had to work way harder for that (better grades) and it reflected out in the wrestling room, working hard all the time.”

Vasquez also began thinking about life after high school, and about wrestling in college.

“Coming into high school I didn’t know anything about college, especially college wrestling,” he says. “Every year we go to J.D.’s house for dinner and watch the NCAA finals. I always thought that stuff was really cool.”

On Dec. 8, in a schoolwide assembly just before the opening matches of the Culver Invitational, Vasquez, sitting under a spotlight, signed a national letter of intent to wrestle at NAIA Southern Oregon University. Witnesses to the signing included virtually every Culver student and teacher, as well as some 280 wrestlers.

“I’ve never seen that gym so packed,” Vasquez says. “That was so cool. That was something else, definitely something really special. I feel privileged to do so (wrestle in college). I work so hard. It’s something I’m really appreciative for. It’s really special, not a lot of people get to do stuff like this. I really want to take advantage of it.”

But before moving on to Southern Oregon, Vasquez says he wants to make the most of his final season at Culver.

“I want to take it all in,” he says. “It’s my last year. I don’t want to waste a moment.”

Vasquez, the only Culver wrestler ever to win a weight-class title at the prestigious Reser’s Tournament of Champions, won his second such title on Jan. 26 in Hillsboro. His closest match was a 10-3 decision in the 120-pound semifinals. He then defeated Christopher Strange, a reigning Class 6A state champion from Newberg, by a 10-2 major decision in the finals.

“You have the guys in the higher divisions looking down on you because we’re 2A, and I don’t really like that,” says Vasquez, who won his first Reser’s in 2018. “We’re definitely small but we hit hard and we prove that at those kind of tournaments.”

After the 2019 Reser’s tournament, Alley told Vasquez to stay near the podium because he would be receiving another award.

But Vasquez did not believe his coach.

“I thought it would probably go to one of the bigger schools,” Vasquez says of the tournament’s outstanding wrestler award. “I didn’t think I was in the running for any of that.”

Vasquez’s older brother Miguel, a former state runner-up at Madras High, bet him $10 that he would win the outstanding wrestler honor, but Lorenzo did not take the bet.

“When they called my name, he (Miguel) just looked at me and smiled and that was definitely something that was really cool,” Vasquez says. “J.D. talks a lot about living vicariously through our teammates, and I think my brother kind of does that through me too, and that’s something really special that I can bring to him.   … He didn’t get to wrestle at all these big tournaments. He definitely loved the sport.”

Vasquez also wants to make his parents proud.

“It means a lot to me because I get to make my parents look good,” he says. “They raised me. They get a lot of credit for what I do and so do my coaches. It’s just a reflection of all their hard work.”

Vasquez won his second Reser’s title just four days after losing to Crook County standout Hunter Mode 8-0 at the Cowdog Classic in Prineville.

“I was pretty disappointed after that match, a lot of fighting demons in my head,” Vasquez says. “I really don’t like to lose. There’s always something more you can do and I was thinking about that, maybe regretting that I hadn’t worked harder before.”

After the loss, only his second of the season, Vasquez says Culver assistant coach Robert Frazier told him, “One’s greatest victory comes after one’s greatest defeat.”

The next day, Alley wrote the same quote on a board in the Culver wrestling room.

“It helped me fix what was going on in my head,” Vasquez said. “I thought, I’m a champ. I’m not going to give this up. It’s going to be tough, but I’ve got to go hard and give everything I’ve got. This is my last year. I had some pretty good practices, those four days (leading up to Reser’s), going as hard as I could.”

Culver will wrestle in the Class 2A/1A Special District 4 championships next Friday and Saturday at Pine Eagle High School in Halfway. The state tournament is Feb. 22-23 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland — where Vasquez has already made three trips to the top of the awards podium.

Alley will miss having Vasquez in his wrestling program.

“To watch the evolution of Lorenzo Vasquez is very rewarding,” the veteran coach says. “He’ll be really, really difficult to replace, just having him around. I’ll just go pick up Lorenzo and we’ll have a milkshake and hang out.”

When Alley was too sick to shovel snow at his wife’s beauty salon last Tuesday morning, Vasquez agreed to do the job after the wrestling team’s 6 a.m. workout before school.

“Only one kid in a million would do that,” Alley says.

­­— Reporter: 541-383-0307, dwiley@bendbulletin.com

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