LA GRANDE — After a strong showing at one of the largest regional tournaments, the La Grande wrestling team saw its momentum stalled when the 2021 Sierra Nevada Classic in Reno, Nevada, was canceled in the wake of rising COVID-19 numbers.

The recent nationwide surge of COVID-19 and concerns about the omicron variant led to the tournament’s cancellation, and the pause may prove detrimental on the mats for La Grande.

The Tigers sere up against elite wrestlers from Idaho, Washington and Oregon at the Tri-State Tournament in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, on the weekend of Friday, Dec. 17. Nearly 50 teams competed at the tournament, and La Grande placed fourth overall — the Tigers scored 159.5 points and had a pair of wrestlers earn individual first-place finishes.

The Carson brothers each placed first in his respective weight class, with sophomore Kai Carson taking first at the 126-pound weight class and senior Braden Carson winning the 138-pound division. Four other La Grande wrestlers placed in the top seven of their weight class. Mason Walcott, Brysen Penaloza, Joshua Collins and Brody MacMillan all placed in their weight classes, helping La Grande earn top placement among some of the region’s top teams.

Head coach Klel Carson noted that the tournament was a major success. La Grande had its best finish as a team at the Tri-State Tournament in recent memory. Roughly a month into the season, the Tigers gained a heavy dose of momentum with a strong showing at the regional tournament. With a number of rising upperclassmen on the roster, La Grande saw the pieces falling into place after a second-place finish at the 4A state tournament last season. However, the cancellation of the Sierra Nevada Classic is a road bump for La Grande, ending 2021 with misfortune.

With momentum stalled, the future remains in the air for a La Grande team with high potential. As seen in previous years, the pandemic has caused major shifts in traditional sports schedules. As the Tigers look to take home another state title, the wrestlers will be hoping that the season continues without any additional cancellations.

Football powerhouses seeing success on the hardwood

NORTH POWDER — The Powder Valley boys basketball team faced off with its 1A football state championship counterpart, the Adrian Antelopes, in a hardwood showdown on Dec. 27. In another hard-fought matchup, Adrian came away with an identical outcome — a narrow victory.

The two teams battled through a high-scoring game, with the Antelopes coming away with a 80-75 win. The Badgers built up an early 20-7 lead after the first quarter and led 41-25 at halftime, but a huge second half from Adrian tipped the scales in favor of the Antelopes.

All season long, Powder Valley has leaned on a balanced scoring effort from its large group of upperclassmen. Senior Clay Martin scored a team-high 19 points, hitting a trio of three-pointers in the second quarter.

The loss was the first of the year for Powder Valley, who came into the matchup 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in the OSAA 1A standings. Adrian is off to an 8-1 start on the year and has looked like a top 1A team in the early stages of the winter basketball season. Junior Carter Bayes has been a standout for the Antelopes, which was evident in his 25-point performance in the win over Powder Valley.

After a thrilling 1A football state championship game in which the Antelopes pulled off a last-minute 46-38 victory, the two teams find each other near the start of conference play in the ensuing basketball season. Both teams rely on a similar group from the football teams, with quarterbacks Reece Dixon and Conley Martin anchoring their squads at the point guard position.

Through the early stages of the year, the Badgers and Antelopes are establishing themselves as powerhouses on the basketball court as well as the football field. If the stars align, Powder Valley could find itself with another chance to face Adrian in a state title game when the basketball playoffs approach.

Powder girls are heating up

NORTH POWDER — After a tough start to the year, the Powder Valley girls basketball team is finding a rhythm.

The Badgers began the season 0-6, but a recent three-game winning streak and a close loss to 3A Burns at the end of 2021 have Powder Valley trending up. The team’s roster is composed of four upperclassmen and nine underclassmen, a major change from last year’s team that was carried by three key seniors.

“We just knew with our youth that it would take some time,” head coach Allen Bingham said. “They’re putting some things together. I think we’re on an uptick.”

Powder Valley took advantage of its presence at two recent holiday tournaments, going 2-1 at the Union Bobcat Classic and 1-1 at the Baker Holiday Classic. The Badgers lost a narrow 43-40 contest to Enterprise on Day 1 of the Bobcat Classic on Dec. 16, but bounced back with wins over Imbler and Elgin on the following two days. The Badgers defeated the Panthers 42-18 and cruised past the Huskies 44-11. Powder Valley kept the momentum going in Baker City on Dec. 27 with a 62-30 dismantling of Adrian — then came within 10 during a 41-31 loss to a strong Burns team.

During the Badgers’ recent surge, junior Dallee Jo Bingham led the way with 16 points in the win over Adrian. Sophomores Ayla Bingham and Abby Cox have been strong contributors, with each adding 11 points in the team’s most recent victory. Dallee Jo Bingham has also helped the Badgers in the paint, grabbing a game-high eight rebounds against Burns — Powder Valley managed to out rebound the Hilanders in the loss.

Allen Bingham was pleased by the effort in the loss to Burns, noting that the offensive effort against an aggressive Burns defense was a promising sign.

“Burns is a really good team and very aggressive,” the coach said. “I thought that was the best we’ve played against an aggressive defense.”

The Badgers have caught steam at the right time, with league action set to start up in the early phase of 2022. Powder Valley gained victories over Old Oregon League competitors Elgin and Imbler in non-league competition play. League play for the Badgers begins on Jan. 4 with a matchup at Cove. Tip-off is 6 p.m. at Cove High School.

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