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Eagle Point climbing back toward the top

Eagle Point climbing back toward the top

SALEM ' You won't find Eagle Point's name anywhere near the leaderboard at the Class 4A state wrestling tournament, but that doesn't mean first-year head coach Kacey McNulty isn't making progress.

The Eagles, whose proud tradition includes four state titles, had nearly hit rock bottom when McNulty left North Medford to take over the program last fall.

With only 15 competitors returning from last season's team, some speculated that Eagle Point would struggle to win half its Southern Oregon Conference dual meets and finish in the upper half of the district tournament.

That speculation gained momentum in December when Grants Pass crushed the Eagles 47-22 in their opening SOC dual meet.

At 6:30 a.m. the following day, McNulty put his troops through a demanding workout just hours before they took the mat in a dual-match tournament at Phoenix.

— As fate would have it, the Eagles' first opponent was Grants Pass. This time, the Cavemen were pushed to the limit before squeaking out a 33-31 win.

Our freshmen were really intimidated during that first match, McNulty says. They were under the mat lamp for the first time, and they weren't used to the pressure.

The Eagles went on to win four of their last five SOC duals, including a shocking 33-31 victory over top-ranked Crater on January 13. They then finished fourth at the district meet behind Crater, Roseburg and Grants Pass and qualified five wrestlers to the state tournament.

They stood in 19th place heading into Saturday's championship semifinal round.

Things are coming along, McNulty said as he sat in the stands at the Oregon State Fairgrounds Pavilion between sessions. I think the kids are buying into my philosophy.

That philosphy includes showing up at practice on time every day and giving 100 percent effort. McNulty won't settle for anything less.

Discipline and accountability are things you have to have in order to be successful in this sport, he says. Most kids want those things and the ones that don't aren't worth having around because they're a bad influence on everyone else.

McNulty brought back former longtime assistants Rob Cowden and Chip Emigh and brought in former North Medford assistants Brandon Keosky and Jim Rainey to form one of the better staffs in the state.

With only three seniors, a strong freshman class and an even stronger eighth-grade group ready to join the ranks, the Eagles should be significantly better next season.

If we can get some offseason commitments and keep these kids on the mats, we could make a big leap, McNulty says. If that happens, I'm going to be really eager for next season to start.

THE OREGON STATE Fairgrounds Pavilion has drawn mostly positive feedback from coaches, fans and media. The new facility seats only 5,200 spectators and there's concern that some fans could get turned away for tonight's championship finals.

But the cozy confines are part of the appeal. Fans are much closer to the action than they were at Portland's Memorial Coliseum.

It's definitely a more intimate setting, OSAA assistant executive director Brad Garrett says. We're keeping our fingers crossed that it'll be big enough for Saturday night.

The site has other advantages over Memorial Coliseum. Fans with motor homes are welcome to stay on property adjacent to the building.

Parking is &

36;3 instead of &

36;7, and if you don't mind walking a few blocks, you can park for free.

The Pavilion is also in a comfortable residential area, unlike the coliseum, where walking to your car late at night could be a worrisome adventure.

CRATER STANDOUT Chase Maloney hasn't yet decided where he'll attend college. He'll need a reasonably good score on his SAT test to get into Oregon or Oregon State ' the two schools that are heavily recruiting him ' to overcome his 2.7 grade-point average.

Maloney's cousin, Bryson Gutches, has already signed with Oregon State. Another cousin, Les Gutches, is an OSU assistant coach, but Maloney says he doesn't feel obligated to become a Beaver.

I'll probably go with whoever offers the most money, says Maloney, a 160-pounder who had a 40-0 record heading into Saturday night's championship semifinal round. I like both schools.

Maloney has been so dominant that he's given up just two points all season, not counting the escape points he concedes in order to continually take down his opponents. The two points Maloney yielded came during an 11-3 win over North Valley's Zack Giesen in the championship match of the Rogue Valley Classic.

Giesen is zeroing in on his third straight Class 3A state title.

THE EXCEPTIONAL athleticism Maloney was evident last fall when he turned out for football for the first time and became an honorable mention, all-conference defensive back.

Now comes word that Maloney drilled a 49-yard field goal and a couple of 48-yarders while fooling around in a P.E. class last week.

I played soccer when I was young, he says.

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