A season of hard work and dedication will come to a head this weekend when the regional championship wrestling tournaments take place for southern Oregon's locals at the Class 6A and 5A levels.
The District 4 Regional Championships for 6A wrestlers run today and Saturday at Roseburg High School, while the 5A District 4 Regional Championships are today and Saturday at Bend High School. The top four finishers at each weight class in both regionals will advance to the state tournament at Portland's Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 28 and March 1.
In 4A action, the Skyline Conference championships will be Saturday at North Valley, with the regionals for that level next week at Phoenix High.
Defending champion Roseburg is the heavy favorite in the 6A regional this weekend, with the Indians eager to climb back on top of the 6A ranks after being denied a fourth straight state championship last season. Roseburg finished second to Class 4A Crook County last month at the Reser's Tournament of Champions, which features the top teams regardless of classification, and secured eight of the 14 top seeds for this weekend's regionals.
"They've got a slight advantage," Crater head coach Greg Haga said with a laugh, "but I think we have a good crew going into the district tournament. The seeds turned out kind of like I thought they would but I'd like to think our kids will be wrestling their best come Friday."
The Comets were 13th at the Reser's TOC and Grants Pass finished 17th and both expect to be Roseburg's top challengers to the crown along with Thurston.
"I'd sure like to have that be a consideration," Haga said of vying for a regional crown, "but we don't live in Neverland. We're going to try to get in there and qualify as many kids as we can for the state tournament and then go on and get as many state placers as we can after that."
Also in competition at the 6A regional will be North Medford, South Medford, Sheldon and South Eugene.
"Our league is just super tough," said North Medford head coach Phillip Lopez, whose team boasts three wrestlers among the top two of the state rankings. "It's going to be an uphill battle with these guys this year. I honestly believe there's going to be a lot of state placers coming from our side of the region."
At the 5A regional, Eagle Point and Churchill expect to duel it out for the team title, with Ashland in position for two potential individual champions in Mason Montgomery (220) and Cody Frost-Eisenberg (285).
The Lancers edged the Eagles in a dual earlier this season, but Eagle Point head coach Kacey McNulty is hopeful that his squad will be better suited for the challenge this time around when action begins at 2:30 today in Bend.
"We're hoping our depth puts us over the top," said McNulty. "Churchill's going to have some champions and we're going to have some champions so it's going to be up to where the champions come from the other schools there and how that affects each of us."
Also competing in the 5A regional will be host Bend, Mountain View, North Eugene, Redmond, Springfield, Summit and Willamette. Using a senior-heavy lineup one year ago, Redmond ran away with the regional title.
In the 6A regional, the only No. 1 seeds not to go to Roseburg wrestlers were for Casey Coulter (113 pounds) and Kjell Thorsen (152) of Grants Pass, Thurston's Brandon Morgan (170), North Medford's Trenton Wilson (195) and Sheldon's Spears brothers, Willy (220) and Wyatt (285).
Top hopefuls for Crater include No. 2 seeds Jason Comer (145), Jerry Delafuente (160), Micah Walker (182) and heavyweight Mike Rios, along with Nate Walters (132), Tommy Winningham (152) and Cavin Gillispie (170).
For North Medford, beyond Wilson, Lopez anticipates big things from Henry Cox (106), Cole Hornbrook (138) and Skyler Black (220). South Medford's Brandon Brooks (170) and Nik Hegler (145) also expect to be in the mix for a state bid.
For Eagle Point to come out on top this weekend, big things are expected of James McCoy (ranked No. 1 at 152), Hunter Hoeptner (ranked No. 3 at 160) and Ethan Pomeroy (ranked No. 3 at 195). Runs to the finals at 126 for Eddie Perez-Rivera and Levi Pomeroy are also possible, along with finals bids for Alek Callahan (132).
"We have some tough kids and hopefully they show up and they're ready to go these last few weeks," said McNulty. "I think they will be. We're just going to go out and wrestle our best and do what we can do."
The same sentiment exists for Ashland, led by Montgomery (ranked No. 2 at 220) and Eisenberg-Frost (ranked fifth at 285). Montgomery was a state runner-up last year while Eisenberg-Frost won a wrestle-off to even advance to the state tourney but wound up using that momentum to place fourth at state.
Other Ashland hopefuls include Max Montgomery (182) and Sam Gostnell (152).
The weekend won't be the end of wrestling for Ashland's five female participants, who will move from Bend on Saturday to Corvallis on Sunday for the girls wrestling state qualifier. The top four wrestlers at the 10 weight classes at the girls qualifier will advance for exhibition matches at the regular state tournament in Portland.
Wrestling begins today in Roseburg at noon, with the semifinals picking up at 10 a.m. Saturday and the finals later that night. In Bend, today's action starts at 2:30 p.m. under a similar schedule as the 6A event, with action resuming at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry