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Phoenix hopes for a better showing this year at the Class 3A tournament

The Phoenix High wrestling team was a big disappointment at the Class 3A state meet last season ' one of the worst performances since Harry Mondale took over the program in 1969.

But don't blame Mondale too much for the collapse ' he wasn't even there. The venerable coach had to stay home with a heart ailment.

Mondale, who underwent five hours of surgery to repair an aneurysm in his aorta last March, is back coaching the team.

Unlike last season, when Phoenix was expected to win its second straight state championship and the eighth under Mondale, only to slide down to sixth, the Pirates head north without a target on their backs.

Top-ranked Estacada, defending champion Burns, Banks and Tillamook are considered the teams to beat at the 3A tourney, which begins at 10 a.m. today at Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

The Pirates managed to win their 22nd district title under Mondale last Saturday in Cave Junction, but with just two seniors and only a couple of surefire state placers, they might be doing well just to finish in the top 10.

Don't tell that to Mondale, though. With his booming voice and motivational methods, the Pirates have been known to overachieve with their head coach at mat side.

We're not going up there for a vacation, Mondale says. It's going to be another work week for these kids.

They're going to go up there and wrestle hard for six minutes each time they take the mat, and we'll see where that takes us.

Asked if he thought his club could produce a top-four finish and the trophy that goes with it, Mondale said: I would certainly think so. These kids had a great district and I don't know why they'd want to go backwards.

Phoenix qualified a modest nine wrestlers for the state meet ' eight fewer than last season ' and their only top-ranked competitor is senior Paul Stierle at 189 pounds.

However, Mondale believes 103-pounders David May and Kris Kaufman, 112-pound Anthony Broskey, 130-pound Kevin Cowley, 145-pound Jonathan Rowden and 160-pound Jack King can all emerge as state placers.

May is ranked third, Kaufman 16th, Broskey 10th, Cowley sixth, Rowden 10th and King 14th.

The rankings mean absolutely nothing to me, Mondale says. We've got a lot of young kids who struggled early but have come on strong, and they'll knock off some of those higher-ranked kids, I guarantee.

Illinois Valley and North Valley are also capable of top-10 finishes.

The Cougars, who were eighth last year and sixth in 2001, will bring some high-powered participants to the coliseum. They include fifth-ranked Zach Pagnotta at 130, fourth-ranked Matt Britt at 140 and top-ranked Mike Pagnotta at 152.

North Valley has three marquee wrestlers of its own in 125-pound freshman Zach Giesen, ranked sixth, 189-pound Brandon Rankin (third) and 215-pound Trey McLean (second).

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail