Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
As wrestlers throughout the Rogue Valley prepare for the state tournament Friday and Saturday at Portland's Memorial Coliseum, they can take inspiration in the fact that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
One only needs to look so far as Crater's own Derek Turituri and his remarkable rise through the ranks to realize that notion is true.
Turituri is one of eight state qualifiers from Crater and among dozens from this area who will test their skills against the state's best in hopes of an eventual championship.
He's also the most unlikely of all to advance, if only for his relative newness to the sport.
As a first-year wrestler, Turituri seemingly came out of nowhere to claim the District 4 Regional championship at 220 pounds two weeks ago in Grants Pass. The unranked junior didn't even compete at the varsity level for the first half of the season, but he was in complete charge at the regional, upending Roseburg's Ben Goirigolzarri, ranked No. 4 at the time, in the semifinals by a 6-5 score and then completing his quest with the same totals against eighth-ranked Sumner Saulsbury of Redmond.
"I thought he would qualify for the state tournament but I didn't think he would pull off a district title," said Crater head coach Greg Haga. "I knew I wouldn't put it past him but those other kids are pretty mat savvy. The thing he has going for him is he's a pretty quick study."
Turituri, who moved to No. 5 in the state rankings released Wednesday, hadn't stepped on the mat prior to this year but his athleticism is undeniable given his record as a football and track and field standout for the Comets. He played basketball last year but began talking with some of the wrestlers and finally came on board after Haga spoke to him and his dad Darren Turituri about his potential prospects as a wrestler.
"I spoke to his dad and said, 'You know, he's a big guy and I'm a big-guy coach," recalled Haga.
And that was that.
The Comets brought Turituri along slowly but it didn't take long before Haga knew the team might have found someone special to help strengthen the lineup.
"The thing that probably surprised me the most about him is his work ethic," said the coach. "Here's a guy who steps into the mat room having never wrestled before but he'd been a stud on the football field and he just comes in and works his tail off. He works unbelievably hard every day."
Haga said the one good thing about Turituri's lack of knowledge in the sport was that he didn't have any bad habits to break. Turituri, with the help of his teammates, worked on techniques almost exclusively over the first half of the season and then it was time to just let his natural abilities shine through.
"For him I think it was a little frustrating at first but I kept saying to him to go hard until Christmas and then you'll start seeing things become more natural to you and you'll be able to react easier."
That advice has born true to this point, now it's up to Turituri and his mates to take that one step further this weekend. Senior Chance Fahndrich is Crater's lone wrestler to be seeded at state with his No. 2 spot in the 182-pound bracket featuring three-time state champion Brandon Griffin of Sprague.
Morgan Walters (120), Nate Walters (132), Tyler Montague (138), Kody Gray (145), Chase Mackey (160) and Lane Augustson (195) round out the field for the Comets.
"We're taking eight kids to state and seven are coming back next year so we want to set ourselves up for next year to compete," said Haga. "Where we finish this year depends on how tough our kids wrestle, but I'm really happy with our kids' work ethic and attitude this year and I think we're ready to take that next step."
Roseburg is favored to repeat as the Class 6A state champions for a third straight year thanks to 16 state qualifiers, including seven regional champions and five runners-up.
North Medford head coach Nolan Harris said his five-strong group of state qualifiers will be looking to break through as state placers (top six) but these days that's easier said than done considering the talent-filled 16-man brackets.
"Anymore in a 16-man bracket you're not going to get an easy match anywhere," said Harris.
Senior heavyweight Marlon Campos is ranked fourth and stands to pace the Black Tornado, along with seventh-ranked junior Reid Shipley (170). Senior Tyler Crist (126), freshman Trent Wilson (182) and junior Kaden Johnson (182) also are capable of placing.
South Medford's lone state qualifier is 120-pounder Tyler Thomas, while Grants Pass will be taking six strong wrestlers, including regional finalists Casey Coulter (106), Zack Nance (113), Nick Grow (132), Luke Collins (138) and Ryan Shean (170).
At the Class 5A level, Eagle Point exhibited a lot of poise and confidence in winning its region two weeks ago and advancing 13 in 11 weight classes to the state tourney. Of that group, the Eagles received championship efforts from senior Aaron Lorenz (120), sophomore Alek Callahan (132), freshman James McCoy (138), senior Travis Woods (145), junior Johnny Wilkerson (182) and senior Manny Valdovinos (285).
Wilkerson and Valdovinos each earned No. 1 seeds, and the Eagles also have capable placers in regional runners-up Orlando DeLaCruz (113) and Hunter Hoeptner (152) and third-place qualifiers Caleb Ash (160) and Thane Baumer (145).
"I think in any state tournament to win a state championship you kind of have to have a little bit of luck," said EP head coach Kacey McNulty. "You have to win all those close matches. So if we can win a few of those, we have an opportunity."
Ashland's Mason Montgomery, who was second at 195 in the regional, and Cody Eisenberg, third at 220, also should be in position for placing at state.
Hermiston has claimed the past five 5A state titles but will get a run from Dallas, which was runner-up a year ago and qualified 17 for the state tourney. Hermiston won its region with only 10 state qualifiers, edging Pendleton, which advanced 14.
"They just have quality kids at every weight and that's going to make them tough," McNulty said of Dallas.
Henley is a strong favorite to repeat as Class 4A champions but Skyline Conference foe Phoenix aims to make some noise with two-time defending state champion Eleazar De Luca (145), heavyweight Steven Sharbono and sophomore Braden Vega (138).
Also advancing for the Pirates are Kyle Bradfield (145), Nick Renfro (132), Jacob Willis (132), Riley Dodd (138) and Ismael Rubio (160).
"We're going to have to see how it plays out," said Phoenix head coach John Farmer. "Right now I don't think many of them are favored to be top placers but if they wrestle like they did in the regionals and the way they've worked out this week in the practice room, I think they could take some people by surprise."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry