Forced out as the head football coach at Eagle Point High in January, Jacob Schauffler wasn't sure what direction he would go in the early aftermath...
Eight was enough for Crater to come within a half-point of second place during last year's Class 6A wrestling state tournament, so 10 qualifiers this time around should be better, right?
Unfortunately, there's no such logic that exists when it comes to the season-ending tourney, where quality outweighs quantity just about every year.
"The state tournament's about getting four or five guys in the finals," said Comets head coach Greg Haga. "If you can do that then you're set up pretty good. Everyone has to win matches, though. If you take guys up there and they don't win matches then that doesn't help."
North Medford head coach Nolan Harris agreed with that sentiment. The Black Tornado will be taking nine wrestlers to Portland's Memorial Coliseum for the state tourney, which runs Friday and Saturday, and making the most of each opportunity is pivotal.
"With nine kids there all nine have to score to have a chance," said Harris. "If you can do that, along with a couple main horses in a 16-man bracket, you can do some damage."
Making such headway stands to be difficult with Roseburg, David Douglas and Oregon City all serving as favorites for the team title, but North Medford and Crater each boast top-four potential.
The Black Tornado edged the Comets for second place in the District 4 Regional Championships, both well behind Roseburg, and will be seeking only its second state trophy. North Medford placed third in 2010, while Crater secured state trophies for 12 straight years until the streak was snapped that same year.
Roseburg appeared vulnerable midway through the season but its showing at the regional tourney, where the Indians ran away with the title and qualified 17 wrestlers to state, has it on pace for a fourth straight 6A crown. The Comets were the last to win four straight titles (2003-06) at the largest classification.
Crater appeared destined for a big season before a host of injuries cost them a pair of state-title contenders in Morgan Walters and Kody Gray, both finalists in 2012. Regardless, the Comets still have regional champions Nate Walters (132), Dillon Ulrey (138) and Chase Mackey (160) and runners-up Tyler Thomas (120), Tommy Winningham (138) and Jarrett Baker (220) to lead the way.
"We're happy with the 10 we have," said Haga. "We have guys that are pretty solid and I think we could possibly get two or three guys in the finals and place a few more."
Walters, who placed fifth last year, and Mackey are each seeded second for the state tourney, while Ulrey is a No. 3 seed.
Rounding out the Crater contingent are Derrick Turituri (285) — who placed fourth last year — Cavin Gillispie (170), Micah Walker (182) and Davey McCollum (195). Walker and McCollum each open against top-two seeds on Friday.
"I think we have some guys in some pretty good spots and we have some guys who are going to have to battle through some situations," said Haga. "Anytime you take 10 guys up or more you're going to have some good draws and bad draws."
"We're just pushing hard and, hopefully, I think our kids are fresh and ready to go," he added.
North Medford senior Reid Shipley leads the charge for his team after placing fourth last year at 170, with fellow senior Austin Mitchell (106) joining him as a No. 2 seed while senior Kaden Johnson (182) is seeded third. All three were regional champions.
Wyatt Westfall (152) and Trent Wilson (182) were regional runners-up, with the Black Tornado also advancing Henry Cox (106), Cole Hornbrook (132), Jacob Kasper (220) and Avion Maloney (285) to the state tourney.
"I've got a lot of seniors in there and I know their goals and want to see them fulfill those goals," said Harris. "Some are hoping for state titles and some want to place for the team so we can have a strong team showing."
South Medford's foursome to the state tourney includes Ruben Mendez (145) and Brandon Brooks (152), who each took third in the regionals, and Luis Ayala (126) and Anthony Neuenschwander (113). The senior Ayala faces a No. 1 seed right out of the gate, while the freshman Neuenschwander has a No. 4 seed.
Defending champion Casey Coulter is a No. 1 seed at 113 for Grants Pass, while Kjell Thorsen is seeded second at 145 to lead the Cavemen. Zach Nance (113) placed sixth last year, with GP also qualifying regional runner-up Michael Vanlohuizen (195) and Caeman Nicholas (160).
At the Class 5A level, Eagle Point will be taking 12 representatives and hopes to make a run at a state trophy, while Ashland junior Mason Montgomery is a legitimate title contender at 195 pounds.
Montgomery is ranked fourth in the state and placed third last year at 195, his lone loss coming in the semifinals to eventual champion Brian Wojahn of Wilson. State runner-up Jackson Soto of West Albany returns as the No. 2 seed at 195, while Montgomery is seeded third.
Ashland's only other state qualifier, Cody Eisenberg, opens against the No. 1 seed at 220.
Hunter Hoeptner, Johnny Wilkerson, James McCoy and Orlando DeLaCruz expect to lead the charge for the Eagles. Hoeptner and Wilkerson were regional champions at 160 and 182, respectively, while DeLaCruz (120) and McCoy (152) were runners-up. Hoeptner is EP's only seeded wrestler for state (third).
Wilkerson advanced to the state semis last year at 182 and was 10 seconds away from a finals berth when he allowed a deciding takedown. He wound up placing third and will be looking to take it a notch further this time around. DeLaCruz was fourth at 113 last year.
Eddie Perez (126), Sherman Hammond (138) and Caleb Ash (160) finished third at the regional, while teammates Levi Pomeroy (126), Ethan Pomeroy (145) and Thane Baumer (152) placed fourth and Christian Torrico (113) and Blane Cloney (170) won wrestlebacks to qualify. Both Pomeroys, Baumer, Torrico and Cloney each face either a No. 1 or 2 seed in their opening match.
"We have a lot of kids with pretty tough draws so we're going to have to overcome some adversity most likely," said EP head coach Kacey McNulty.
The 5A team race expects to be led by Hermiston, Redmond and defending champion Dallas, but McNulty isn't counting out his bunch for a potential trophy.
"We're gonna fight for top four, hopefully, we'll see," said the coach. "It's going to be a tough one but I think we have a chance of bringing home a trophy."
McNulty has been in the Portland area since Monday night after his mother suffered a brain aneurysm. He said Tuesday that she has regained consciousness and is making progress in her recovery, and that he expects to be on hand to coach the Eagles during the tournament.
In 4A action, which expects to be dominated by Henley wrestlers, Phoenix advanced six wrestlers to the state tourney, highlighted by No. 2 seed Izzy Rubio (160). The junior won the regional title last weekend and just missed out on being a state-placer in 2012, while senior Austyn Snow was a regional runner-up at 126.
Knute Thompson (third at 120), Richard Orndorff (fourth at 113), Kyle Bradfield (fourth at 145) and Trace Vega (fourth at 152) also qualified with good regional efforts. Bradfield and Vega will be tested early with openers against top-two seeds, while Orndorff opens against a No. 4 seed.
Hidden Valley's Brad Hyatt is the only other local seeded wrestler, with the regional champ settling in as a No. 3 seed at 195. Fellow Mustangs AJ Munoz (132) and Chance Anderson (152) expect to vie for a top-four finish, along with North Valley's Ryan Clarkin (160).
The 3A competition will include seven Illinois Valley wrestlers and Andrew Smith from Rogue River (182), who placed fifth at state last year. Advancing for the Cougars were Zack Clark (106), Eric Miller (120), Brandon Parker (132), Logan Miller (145), TJ Hughey (160), John Britt (170) and Julian Northrup (195). Eric Miller, Parker, Logan Miller and Britt each placed fifth last year.