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Local wrestlers off to fast start

If early results are any indication, this wrestling season stands to be a competitive one in Southern Oregon.

The season got off to a good start when Class 5A trophy contender Eagle Point edged North Medford, a Class 6A state trophy hopeful, last Wednesday in an exciting 36-31 dual. It ramped up over the weekend when the Black Tornado bounced back to win the Oregon City Invitational while Crater secured the Del Norte Tournament title.

“I think Eagle Point has a real solid squad and I think North Medford’s real solid,” said Crater head coach Greg Haga on Monday. “We’re pretty solid and Grants Pass has a good team, so it should be a good season.”

North Medford head coach Phillip Lopez definitely agreed, although none of it is much of a surprise considering the rich history of the sport in this area.

“The (Rogue Valley) always has had good wrestling,” said Lopez, “and it’s pretty young this year, too. It’s only going to get better.”

The Comets, who return to the 5A level after four years at 6A, secured five championships among seven finalists (two at one weight) at the 15-team Del Norte Tournament. Especially exciting for Haga was the way his wrestlers took the action to their opponents.

“I just liked seeing how our kids wrestled aggressively early in the year,” said Haga.

And the results weren’t too shabby either.

“It’s always nice to win,” Haga said with a laugh. “Winning’s a lot more fun than losing.”

Zeth Brower (106 pounds), Nate Walters (145), Jason Comer (160), Cavin Gillispie (182) and Wyatt Haas (220) each won their weight classes by going 5-0. Logan Meek’s lone loss came to Walters in the championship final, while Walter Kurz (126) also had to settle for second after reaching the finals.

For Brower, his first high school tournament experience came with an added bonus after he was named the outstanding wrestler among the lightweights. The freshman is a former middle school state champion and an acclaimed wrestler at the youth club level. His older sister, Brooke, won her state championship exhibition match during last year’s state tournament in Portland.

“I thought he wrestled really smart,” said Haga. “He’s a little bit smaller than a lot of those other guys because he’s only about 96 pounds, but he does a great job with mat awareness and is a pretty smart situational wrestler.”

The Comets will get another big test on Wednesday when they host North Medford in a nonconference dual before journeying to this weekend’s Coast Classic. The Black Tornado crowned four champions in winning the Oregon City Invitational, with Cole Hornbrook (152), Dillon Ulrey (160), Wyatt Westfall (182) and Trent Wilson (220) doing the honors.

“It was just a lot of fun,” Lopez said of the 18-team Oregon City event. “They’re starting to believe that they can get things done. They’re not afraid of working hard right now and by the end of the year, I don’t think we’re going to be surprising people.”

Last year, Wilson earned the first state title (at 195) since North Medford High was established in 1986. Teammates Henry Cox and Skyler Black were also state placers last season, and finished runner-up at 120 and heavyweight, respectively, in Oregon City.

Also finishing second last weekend for North Medford was Luke Mackey (132), who like Ulrey has transferred from Crater.

Hornbrook’s run through the 32-man bracket at 152 was especially noteworthy for Lopez.

“Out of all the guys that wrestled, Cole Hornbrook probably had the toughest bracket,” said the coach. “He wrestled four state qualifiers and one kid (Jefferson’s Terrell West) who took third in the state last year at his weight class.”

Hornbrook, a lanky junior, was ultimately able to overcome West in the finals.

“He just never stopped attacking and went out there and never backed down,” said Lopez. “At the end he finally broke him and he just kept turning him and turning him.”

“The big thing is he finally broke through and realized he belongs up there at the top,” he added.

GROWING PAINS: The boys basketball teams at North Medford and South Medford boast a bevy of new faces this season, and how quickly those new players adjust to the varsity level will dictate how much each will be able to contend for a Southwest Conference title this season.

At North Medford, only seniors Tristen Holmes and Edmund Polataivao return as starters, although junior Tucker Barry was a key reserve off the bench one year ago.

At South Medford, with injuries sidelining senior standout Brayden Massey and junior post Hunter Bradford, only senior Cameron English returns as a starter. Senior Craig Contreras saw limited action last year, making the defending champion Panthers about as inexperienced at the varsity level as a team can get.

A hint of that youthful nature cut into each team’s efficiency in their season openers over the weekend, although neither team paid much of a price as North Medford stormed past Ashland, 82-54, and South Medford had little trouble with Springfield, 67-50.

The Black Tornado was incredibly efficient on offense after routinely breaking down the Grizzlies’ defense and fared well with its full-court pressure. Defending in half-court sets left Ashland somewhat vulnerable as rotation assignments and the like weren’t as crisp as head coach Scott Plankenhorn will want heading into Friday’s game at perennial power Jesuit.

South Medford experienced more of a roller-coaster ride than its cross-town rival. The Panthers looked a little shell-shocked as most took the varsity court for the first time, committing eight of their 13 first-half turnovers in the opening quarter and struggling to run their offensive sets.

“When you play with the JVs, you get away with that stuff,” South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy said Saturday of soft passes to the wrong hand and half-hearted cuts and screens. “But when you get to the varsity level, that doesn’t work. That’s the learning curve and the growth that’s got to be made. I’m proud of them, though, because we did a better job in the second half and competed well.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry