Tate Orndorff remembers the road home from Fargo, North Dakota, and in his memory it takes an eternity to cover all those miles.
Fargo in July is the home of the national junior and cadet national wrestling tournament, and a year ago Orndorff lost in the 285-pound freestyle championship match.
Matched against Iowa’s Jake Marnin, who had a weight advantage, Orndorff found himself thrown and pinned early in the second round.
“I spent the whole drive home going over and over that match,” he said. “That made the drive seem like forever.”
Odds are the pair will meet again twice next week. Marnin is the defending champion in both Greco-Roman and freestyle.
Orndorff doesn’t lose often. Already this summer he won the Fila Cadet National Greco-Roman national title, beating Marnin in the finals. He lost in the semifinals of the FloNationals but bounced back to finish third. And while wrestling at the 2013 Junior National Duals tournament for Team Washington, Orndorff was undefeated in both freestyle and Greco and named to the all-tournament team in both styles. In between, he spent a week at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado.
“That was a good week,” Orndorff said. “I got to work with the Olympic coaching staff and I learned a lot.”
As a junior at University High, Orndorff posted an undefeated, 38-0 season and won the state Class 3A championship by pinning all four wrestlers he faced. He finished the season with 33 pins.
Orndorff is the youngest of four brothers to wrestle at U-Hi, where his father, Dave, is the assistant coach. He’s the second to win a state championship and will look to become the first to be a repeat champion beginning this winter.
Physically, Tate Orndorff resembles his father, who was an All-American heavyweight at Oregon State and a national runner-up as a senior. Both are large and powerfully built, yet surprisingly soft spoken and humble. Accomplishments speak for themselves, so each is reluctant to embellish.
On the mat, however, Tate Orndorff is relentless. He’s constantly moving forward, constantly working his opponent to create an opening. In Greco, his attacking style creates openings for throws. In freestyle, it leads to takedowns and the occasional throw.
“I like to be aggressive,” he said. “I don’t like to sit back and wait for an opening. I’d rather create one.”
That style can sometimes work against him, he said. On the biggest stages he occasionally finds himself behind.
“He can sometimes be too aggressive,” U-Hi coach Don Owen said. “College coaches see it and I think they’d like him to pull it back a little. But I’ll tell you what, it’s a whole lot easier to take an aggressive wrestler and dial him back a little than to take a passive wrestler and get him to be more aggressive.”
Stanford, Owen said, is high on Orndorff and will likely offer him a scholarship. Already the Cardinal has asked him to retake his SATs.
“Tate has good grades and a good SAT score, but they asked him to take them again,” Owen said. “Oregon State likes him, too, and will probably make him an offer.”
The chance at a Stanford education is invaluable, like winning an educational lottery, and Orndorff said he’d love to wrestle in Palo Alto.
But the chance to wrestle at Oregon State, where his dad and uncle, Mat, were All-American wrestlers is intriguing.
“It would be fun to carry on the family tradition there,” he said. “I would like to get college figured out ahead of time so I can concentrate on wrestling my senior season. But that’s not up to me.”
How he does next week in Fargo may well have a bearing on college timing. Especially if his drive home feels like it takes less time.