North Medford wrestling coach Phillip Lopez fancies himself as someone pretty good at mapping out realistic expectations when it comes to the Class 6A state tournament.
This year, however, Lopez finds himself at a loss for words on that subject.
“I’m usually pretty good at figuring out where our teams are usually going to finish but this year I have no idea, I really don’t,” said Lopez, whose team had its streak of years with individual state champions halted at three last year.
North Medford also missed out on a shot at a third straight state trophy last year but has hopes that a stellar run at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum on Friday and Saturday by its 15 participants could result in the program’s fourth trophy overall.
“It’s one of those feelings that I wouldn’t be surprised if we put it together and we get it done,” said Lopez, “or I wouldn’t be surprised if we finished somewhere in the top 10.”
Across town at South Medford, second-year Panthers head coach David Bage isn’t looking quite as close at the team race as he is at having his six state qualifiers simply make the most of their opportunity.
“We’re feeling pretty optimistic but we had a long talk about taking it one match at a time,” said Bage. “Anything can happen at state. A lot of kids can get lost in the lights with a lot of matches going on in a big arena with a big crowd. You never know who’s going to show up but I think we’re ready and we’ve looked pretty good the last couple days.”
As the Southwest Conference district runner-up to Roseburg, which has won nine of the last 11 6A team titles and qualified 22 for this year’s tourney, North Medford takes a battle-tested approach into Friday in hopes that will make up for the team’s lack of returning success at the state level.
Only sophomore Cole Zoller is a returning state placer for the Black Tornado, and he placed third at 132 pounds in the SWC district tourney two weeks ago. Nine of North’s 12 state qualifiers last year scored at least one point but Zoller was one of only two to make it to Day 2.
It’s the hope of Lopez and company that those who exited last year’s state tournament unsatisfied will lean on that experience and be hungry to show their growth in a season that has seen North chase as many tough matchups as possible.
“Everyone has to beat someone good sooner or later, it doesn’t matter if it’s the first round or quarterfinals or whenever,” said the coach. “You’ve just got to find a way to win, but we didn’t go to all these tough tournaments throughout the year not to be ready for these kind of situations.”
Junior Jullian Stone (220) and senior Chase Mitchell (113) expect to pave the way for North Medford as district champions and returning state qualifiers. Both received the No. 3 seed at state but are each ranked second at their respective weights.
Also making return trips to the state tourney for the Black Tornado are SWC runners-up Enrique Jaime (113), Benjamin Zeigler (126) and Andres Ramirez (152), with senior Josh Robbins (195) and freshman Alex Silva (106) making their first state appearances after placing second at district.
Other state qualifiers for North include Jacob Watson (106), Griffin Gutches (120), Matthew Bryant (138), Thomas Hamilton (145), Tanner Gaoiran (152), Thomas Bates (195) and Romello Tealavea (285).
“There’s a lot of potential state placers in there and a lot of points that can be scored,” said Lopez.
The overall numbers may not be as plentiful for South Medford but the top-tier possibilities are just as good with senior district runners-up Cole Schumack (170), Ryan Beck (182), Michael Cormier (220) and Nate Eli (285) leading the charge.
Last year, Cormier became the program’s first state placer in two years when he finished sixth at 220, and he will join his senior teammates in pursuit of the program’s first individual title since 2000. South hasn’t had multiple state placers in the same season in more than 20 years, and no top-three finish since Ian Taylor’s winning effort 18 years ago.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we get all four seniors into the semis,” said Bage. “They’ve been here before and got wins under their belt so they know what it takes.”
Grants Pass qualified nine wrestlers for the state tourney, including SWC champion Vincent Washington (138).
Roseburg’s bid for a fifth straight state title will have its share of obstacles given the overall depth and talent at David Douglas, Newberg and Sprague.
“I would think Roseburg’s the team to beat until someone knocks them off,” said Lopez.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry