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State wrestling notes:

Fjarli is some force for Comets

PORTLAND -- Some of the athletes at the Class 4A-3A-2A state wrestling tournament can intimidate their opponents simply by walking out on the mat.

A nasty scowl accompanied by a muscle-bound body can give a wrestler an edge before the whistle blows to start the match.

Crater's Cameron Fjarli doesn't have that edge.

Fjarli, the Comets' 215-pounder, stands all of 5-foot-6. He looks paunchy, like maybe some of the ushers at Memorial Coliseum could whip him.

But don't be fooled. Fjarli is among the Comets' best wrestlers.

He won his first three matches at the tourney before losing to defending state champion Brandon Larson of Glencoe Friday night in the semifinals.

He does have a weird build, but he's stronger than an ox and his style gives everyone problems, Crater assistant coach Nathan Winner said. His center of gravity is so low that you can't get underneath him to shoot, and he's so strong that you can't lock into him and throw him.

Fjarli, a junior who has won 35 of 40 matches this season and can finish third with a pair of wins today, never turned out for wrestling until he moved to Central Point from Beaverton three years ago. He only won three matches as an eighth-grader, he says, but improved considerably the following year and then broke into Crater's starting lineup last year as a sophomore.

Fjarli advanced to the state tournament last year in the 215-pound division even though he weighed just 185. The Comets needed him to wrestle at the higher weight, and he was only too happy to oblige. Despite the weight disadvantage, he managed to win one match. When I go out on the mat, guys give me a look as if to say, `What's this wimp doing out here?' Fjarli says. But that's OK. the end of the match, I think I've earned their respect.

Fjarli is also a better than average football player. He has been a two-year starter at offensive guard for the Comets and has been named honorable mention all-conference each year.

He really is a good athlete, Crater head wrestling coach Greg Haga says. He can bench press almost 300 pounds and he's a lot quicker than he looks.

Fjarli weighs just a shade under 215, so he doesn't have to cut any weight.

Some of my teammates are pretty envious, he says. I make sure I eat in front of them.

WINNER ADMITS IT feels a little strange to be affiliated with a school he had learned to hate while growing up in Eagle Point.

But he has no regrets about taking a teaching position at Crater and serving as an assistant wrestling coach with the Comets.

I certainly never envisioned being at Crater, but they've treated me great, Winner said. I've got a good situation in the classroom (he teaches algebra and geometry) and it's been a lot of fun helping out in the wrestling room.

Winner, 36, was a standout wrestler for Eagle Point in the late 1970s and in 1984 won a national championship for what is now Southern Oregon University.

He became the head wrestling coach at Klamath Union in 1988 and succeeded Bob Bergen at Eagle Point in 1990.

Following the legendary Bergen was tough on Winner, a fierce competitor and strict disciplinarian who was deeply troubled whenever a wrestler wouldn't give 100-percent effort. He stepped down after one year.

The fact that he was teaching at the Eagle Point Junior High instead of the high school didn't help. But Winner stayed on as an assistant coach for seven years before finally getting out of the sport last year.

But when Crater came calling, Winner couldn't refuse the offer.

I really don't have a desire to be a head coach again, he says.I love going to practice and showing what I know to the kids, but I also like being able to go home after two hours and not have to hassle with all the extra stuff. I've got a young daughter and two young sons, and I need to spend time with them.

Winner still roots for the Eagle Point wrestlers.

At the Southern Oregon Conference district meet, a Crater wrestler threw an Eagle Point grappler to his back. Winner momentarily forgot his allegiance and blurted out, No! Get out of there!

Those old habits are hard to get rid of, he said.