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Wins keep coming for SOU's Ritchey

ASHLAND — When Mike Ritchey says "it's not about the wins," he means it.

Sitting in his office at McNeal Pavilion, Southern Oregon's head wrestling coach for the last 13 years chuckles when asked to recall his most recent milestone: 100 dual meet victories.

It happened Jan. 4 at the Menlo Duals, where the Raiders opened against the host team with Ritchey stuck at 99. An hour later SOU secured a 24-12 win. Was Ritchey overcome with emotion? Elated? Just plain relieved? Actually, none of the above. In fact, he wasn't even there to see it.

Ritchey was at a nearby hospital, where senior 149-pounder Bo Icalia was being treated for a head injury that ended up costing him his season.

"I got a phone call in the emergency room," Ritchey said. "They said, 'Coach, you won your 100th dual.'"

The road win clinched yet another benchmark for one of the most successful coaches in SOU history — not to mention one of its most successful alums. Ritchey, 43, wrestled four years under former head coach Bob Riehm, becoming the school's first four-time All-American. He succeeded Riehm in 1995 and five years later led the Raiders to an NAIA national championship.

Consistency is also a hallmark of Ritchey-coached teams. The Raiders have 10 top-10 finishes at nationals under Ritchey, including six top-five seasons, and are 105-51 in duals. Perhaps most impressive, the Raiders have gone 36 consecutive seasons without a losing record, a streak that will likely reach 37 later this year.

"To me, it just gives me the sense that I'm on the right track with what I'm doing," he said.

That magical 2000-01 season is one of many fond memories that stick out in Ritchey's mind, but more than anything he savors the relationships, the out-of-the-spotlight moments that have more to do with long bus rides and hours in the practice room than wins and losses. His office only serves to illustrate that point — it's decorated almost entirely with wrestling photos, a wall-to-wall shrine to the program Ritchey has defined for nearly a quarter century.

"It's about the friendships you create and the lifelong people you connect with," he said. "The success of this program is obviously more important to me than my coaching career. When I get done here, I want everything in place so that the next guy who comes in has everything he needs ready to roll."

And when will that be? Ritchey says he considers that question every five years, and the next cutoff is after next season.

"I kind of look at it two ways — as an alum, because I wrestled here, and then I look at it as a coach, where we're headed," Ritchey said. "Sometimes the alum side is a little more critical than the coaching side.

"I think winning is a habit and I want to continue that tradition."

Joe Zavala is sports editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 482-3456, ext. 224, or joe.zavala@dailytidings.com

Southern Oregon coach Mike Ritchey demonstrates proper technique to a wrestler during practice. Ritchey picked up his 100th career dual-meet victory recently. - Thom Larkin