Southern Oregon University wrestling coach Mike Ritchey is pretty particular about who he brings into his program.
The longtime Raiders coach was on hand May 7 as Irrigon’s Alex Miranda-Walls signed his letter of intent.
“Alex is a kid who coach (Ken) Thompson put on our plate,” Ritchey said. “This is my 25th year coaching, and Alex is one of the finest young men I have seen in regards to academics, athletics and character.”
Miranda-Walls, who placed third at state the past two years at 170 pounds, said Southern Oregon was his first choice.
“As much as Coach Thompson was talking to me about them, he was talking to them about me,” he said. “When I went for my visit, it was a done deal.”
SOU, in Ashland, has been an NAIA wrestling powerhouse for more than 40 years. The Raiders have won four national team titles, crowned 35 national champions, and boast 245 all-Americans.
The last Irrigon wrestler to compete at the college level was Wade Aylett (2011 graduate), who went to Missouri Valley College.
Ritchey said Miranda-Walls’ scholarship is part academic and part athletic. It is equivalent to a half scholarship.
“We are looking for that kid who has that extra spark and is a leader in his school,” Ritchey said. “It takes time for some kids to establish those traits. Alex already has them. We are excited to bring a quality athlete from this area to our program. Hopefully this creates a pipeline. They are our biggest recruiters.”
Miranda-Walls finished his senior season with a 43-3 record.
He went undefeated at the Oregon Classic, won the Mac-Hi Christmas tournament, then started attracting attention after winning the Hanford Winter Cup and the Farm City Invitational in Hermiston.
Miranda-Walls lost his first match of the season Feb. 2 to Hon Rush of Baker/Powder Valley, a 6-4 decision at the Bank of Eastern Oregon Invitational in Heppner.
“Alex is a special kid you get once in a lifetime,” Knights coach Jason Dunten said. “He had great success this year and last year. He will be missed as a leader at our school.”
Miranda-Walls credits Dunten with getting him on the mat in the eighth grade.
“I give so much credit to both of my coaches (Dunten and Thompson),” Miranda-Walls said. “I would be playing saxophone full-time if they didn’t find me as a 145-pound band kid. Dunten told me (wrestling) was the greatest thing you can do. You know what you are made of. I guess I am made of more than sand.”
Miranda-Walls, 18, will major in physical education and health at SOU. He would like to be a wrestling coach.
Competing for the Raiders is a good start.
“I didn’t know how big that signature would feel,” Miranda-Walls said. “How many things it will open up for me right now. I’m looking forward to seeing who I can become.”