LEBANON — Tanner Sallee will be going for a different kind of reversal at this weekend’s 5A state championships.
Three years ago, Sallee watched his older brother, Colton, win the 170-pound state title during his junior season with the Lebanon High wrestling team. The elder Sallee then finished second at 160 the following year.
Eager to mimic his brother’s success, Tanner came up just short of a championship as a junior in 2016, losing by fall to Redmond’s Mitchell Willett in the 160 finals. The defeat has stuck with Sallee, who is the top seed at 182 for this year’s state tournament.
The younger Sallee is champing at the bit to match his brother’s accomplishments, regardless of the order he collects them.
“My older brother, he gets on me a little bit,” Sallee said before Tuesday’s practice. “He won a state championship and was a runner-up, so I’ve got to follow in those footsteps. And for myself, it would mean a lot.”
Sallee is one of a dozen Warriors who qualified for the two-day event, which runs Friday and Saturday at Memorial Coliseum in Portland.
A four-time state competitor, Sallee has collected back-to-back Mid-Willamette Conference district titles and is 39-1 this year. He was the champion at 182 at December’s Rose City Championships and the Sierra Nevada Classic in Reno, Nevada.
Sallee’s lone loss of the season was a 5-0 decision to Roseburg’s Austin Harris in the title match of the Reser’s Tournament of Champions. Harris, also a senior, is the No. 1 seed in 6A’s 182 bracket.
“Tanner works really hard in practice,” Lebanon coach Michael Cox said. “He’s gotten a lot more mature since his freshman year. I think he understands that we are trying to make him better, not just trying to torture him sometimes. I think he’s realized that a lot this year, and every kid is that way. From when they walk into our program as freshmen to when they leave as seniors, it’s night and day different.”
Sallee and teammate Jakeb Cripe, the No. 7 seed at 220, regularly battle in practice.
Cripe admitted that Sallee often gets the better of him.
“I’ve just always known Tanner as that wrestler that would always make me better,” Cripe said. “As kids, he would always be that kid that you wouldn’t really want to wrestle because he’d always beat you. I think from freshman year to senior year he’s just grown by leaps and bounds, even though he was still great his freshman year. I think he’s going to be a state champ if he does what he does best.”
The duo have also benefited from having a pair of skilled coaches to train with.
Former Lebanon and Southern Oregon wrestlers Garrett Urrutia and Craig Trask joined Cox’s staff this season.
Urrutia was an NAIA All-American at 165 in 2015 and won a state title at Lebanon. Trask was a two-time state bronze medalist for the Warriors in 2009-10 before moving on to SOU.
“They work out with (Sallee) every day and they have really elevated his level,” Cox said. “Because those guys, he could go the whole season without getting a takedown on them. … They’ve helped him tweak his technique a little bit. Those guys are way tougher than anybody he’s going to see, so his practices are way harder than any match he wrestles.”
Sallee said training with Urrutia and Trask has reminded him of childhood bouts with his brother.
“Growing up, we always competed. I’m two years younger than him so I always wanted to be as good as him,” Sallee said. “He was basically my motivation all the way up to high school. Once he left it kind of died down, but now we’ve got (Urrutia and Trask) up in here that have given me that back. And it’s been great.”
Sallee, who began wrestling at age 5, is also an accomplished football player.
He was a first-team all-MWC pick at linebacker as the Warriors went 12-1 and captured the program’s first state championship. Sallee recorded seven tackles in the title game against Wilsonville and had a pass breakup.
Cripe also shined in the finals, collecting five tackles (3.5 for loss) and a forced fumble.
Sallee believes the football success has carried over to the mat room.
“I’ve been with those guys on the football team since I was very young, and about half those guys are up here with us wrestling, too,” Sallee said. “It would be amazing to go out my senior year with a state championship in football and then a state championship in wrestling.”