South grapplers come of age under Thompson
It's been a long, toilsome process, but you can now count the South Medford High wrestling team as an upper tier program in the Southern Oregon Conference.
The Panthers finished a solid fourth at the district tournament in Klamath Falls last weekend and will send five wrestlers to the Class 4A state tournament Feb. 17-18 in Salem.
Juan Aguilar was the team's crown jewel at district, winning the 103-pound title with three straight falls. Seth Hernandez (135) also bagged an individual title after edging teammate Chris Helman in double overtime.
It's easy to get lost in the shuffle when you're in the same district as Crater and Roseburg, which went 1-2 at last year's state tournament, and Grants Pass, which is currently sixth in the 4A state rankings.
Fourth-year coach Ken Thompson knows the road to success begins with getting kids to try a sport that doesn't yield the glamour of football, basketball and baseball but requires more work than perhaps the other three combined.
— It's hard to make wrestling fun, Thompson says. It's a very physical sport, and if you don't work your kids hard you can't win, especially in this conference.
Thompson makes the experience more enjoyable by getting his wrestlers together for activities off the mat such as barbecues and riding go-karts at the Slick Kart Track.
One advantage Thompson had when he took over at South was an incoming freshman class that had barely lost to Scenic Middle School ' Crater's feeder school ' at the eighth-grade district tournament. Those grapplers are now seniors, and they anchored a team that won the Camas (Wash.) Holiday Invitational, took second at the Battle of the Border in Crescent City, Calif., finished third at the Rogue Valley Classic and fifth at the Reser's Tournament of Championships in Hillsboro.
South Medford went 3-3 in SOC dual meets , including a win over Grants Pass, and nearly upset Roseburg in mid-December.
Two of our main goals were to have a winning record in SOC duals and finish in the top three at district, Thompson says. We didn't quite meet either one, but these kids have battled hard all season.
Joining Aguilar, Hernandez and Helman at the state tournament will be Travis Harvey (140) and Dan Swift (152).
Aguilar, who was ejected from last year's district tournament for unsportsmanlike conduct, has the best chance of winning an individual state title. He's ranked third at 103 pounds.
NORTH MEDFORD'S Jon Ulrey, who was seeded third at 119 pounds and an odds-on favorite to advance to the state tournament, failed to make weight at Friday morning's weigh-ins.
Ulrey was less than a quarter-pound over, but exceptions aren't allowed.
What irked first-year North Medford head coach Bill Jones was that two teams ' Crater and South Medford ' didn't make it to the scales at Klamath Union High when the weigh-ins began at 9 a.m. Crater was actually on school grounds and made it to the procedure by 9:10, but South Medford didn't arrive until about 9:20, citing bus troubles, tournament director Clay Rounsaville said.
At the state tournament, no wrestler is allowed to take part in the weigh-ins after they begin, regardless of circumstances. Jones felt the same protocol should have been used at district. In other words, the entire Crater and South teams should have been booted from the tournament.
Rounsaville discussed the issue with head official Kevin Horn, and they determined that as long as the wrestlers weighed in between 9 and the cut-off time of 11, they were within the guidelines.
This is something the coaches need to discuss at their next seeding meeting, or take up with the (Oregon School Activities Association), Rounsaville said. If someone says they have bus trouble, we've got to honor that.
At the heart of the matter is the possibility of a wrestler running off the last couple pounds in the parking lot after the weigh-ins have begun.
Most coaches monitor the weights of their wrestlers closely, but some have been known to sneak food into their duffel bags and eat it just prior to weighing in.
With 15- and 16-year-old kids, you take nothing for granted, says Crater coach Greg Haga. We weigh every kid before we leave our school. I'm sure just about every coach does that ' but there are no guarantees.
Haga puts his own set of scales on the team bus and has been known to pull over and weigh a borderline wrestler on the way to a tournament.
YOU DON'T WIN most outstanding wrestler awards at district tournaments for taking second, but you could make a strong case for Crater's Kyle Eding, who finished runner-up to teammate Cody Clark at 215 pounds.
Eding, who couldn't even crack Crater's JV team a month ago, pinned Grants Pass' Tyler Dungey in the championship quarterfinal round and stunned second-seeded Joe Smith of Roseburg, 4-2, in the semifinals before the top-seeded and top-ranked Clark pinned him in the finals.
He doesn't look quick or athletic but he'll fool you, Crater assistant coach Nathan Winner says of Eding. He's improved a ton since the start of the season.
Eding began beating Nick Grabowski, who had been Crater's No. 2 man at 215, during practice. Grabowski was moved to heavyweight for district despite weighing in at less than 200 pounds. Grabowski didn't fare badly himself, winning four of six matches to take fifth place.
SOUTH MEDFORD HIGH boys basketball coach Dennis Murphy will attempt to post his 500th victory when the Panthers play host to Grants Pass at 7 tonight.
The fourth-ranked Panthers (16-3, 9-0 SOC) soared to 80-42 and 97-55 wins over North Medford and Klamath Union, respectively, last week.
They beat the Cavemen (13-7, 7-2), 64-53, on Jan. 14.
Murphy, who launched his coaching career at St. Mary's High in 1975-76, is in his 17th season as South Medford's head coach.
Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail