World wrestlers: Trio of Dawgs qualify for prestigous squad, to compete in South Africa

<p>Hermiston wrestlers (left to right) Issac Aguilar, Tyler Berger and Abraham Rodriguez earned spots on the Oregon Wrestling Association Cultural Exchange team and will compete in international tournaments in South Africa this summer. All three made the squad that traveled to Russia last year.</p>

Hermiston wrestling is going international — again.

Three Hermiston High School students — Issac Aguilar, Tyler Berger and Abraham Rodriguez — will embark on a journey to South Africa to compete in tournaments as part of the Oregon Wrestling Cultural Exchange team.

For the trio of Dawgs, being on the team isn’t a new thing. All of them made last year’s team — which means they had to win a qualifying tournament last year, and had to do it again to make this year’s team — that went to Russia and experienced a country that has produced Olympic champions with staggering regularity.

As for the trip to South Africa, a nation that sent Oregon State University wrestler Heinrich Barnes to the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, Berger and Aguilar both said they are going to get plenty of time on the mat, something that’s incredibly valuable when they come back to Oregon for next season’s high school wrestling circuit.

“One of the guys on the team has done this trip before and he told us we’d get 40-plus matches,” Berger said.

Said Aguilar: “This is something that most people don’t get to do. You get that experience of wrestling someone from a different country.”

Since the team will be competing at the international level, there are only 12 spots on the squad due to how the weight classes are organized. Rodriguez made the team at 160 pounds, or roughly 73 kilos, while Berger qualified at 138 pounds (63 kg) and Aguilar at 119 pounds (54 kg).

Hermiston assistant coach Rob Berger will accompany the team on the trip as an official, said that wrestling is just part of the trip.

“Obviously we want to get the wrestling in, but the cultural aspect is a big part of this,” he said.

“We want our kids to see how the other kids live, how they train and things like that.”

Berger said last year’s trip to Russia was more about the culture as the kids only wrestled 5-7 matches. This trip, Berger said, the team will enter into two international tournaments and could possibly get into a third.

The trip lasts about three weeks, from July 25 to August 11, and the team members stay with local families and in dormitories during the trip.

Like any international adventure, the price tag is pretty hefty. Each wrestler (and official) has to fundraise $2,800 to pay the bill, and each wrestler has been out in the community asking for sponsors and donations, Rob Berger said.

“They’ve talked to businesses and have tried to find work in order to go. Any donations are appreciated,” he said.

With the high school season well behind them, the guys definitely aren’t about to hang up their headgear and take time off. Tyler Berger and Aguilar, along with high school teammate AJ Garcia, are competing at the FloNationals tournament at Drexel University in Philadelphia this weekend.

With other tournaments between now and the trip abroad, there won’t be much rust to knock off and everyone should be “in great shape” as Tyler Berger put it.

“It’s right after Fargo [the site of USA Wrestling’s national championship tournament], so we’re going to be training pretty hard for that,” Tyler Berger said.

The Fargo Nationals are July 13-21 in Fargo, N.D.

In order to become one of best wrestlers in the nation, or potentially the world, seeing and competing against international wrestlers is imperative.

“I want to be an Olympic gold medalist one day,” Tyler Berger said. “Seeing all these different styles of wresting is something I need to do.”

If interested in making a donation for the trip, contact Rob Berger at Hermiston High School.

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