Raiders welcome 18 in mat recruiting class
ASHLAND — Southern Oregon University men's wrestling coach Mike Ritchey is not modifying the blueprint that has made his program a perennial NAIA powerhouse, as illustrated by the latest Raider recruiting class.
Ritchey, entering his 21st year as head coach at SOU, announced Monday the addition of 18 wrestlers who will join the Raiders this fall for the program's 60th season. Fourteen of them are freshmen from Oregon and the rest are Californians, maintaining the program's strong regional ties.
The class is an especially critical one for the Raiders. They'll be replacing six regular starters, including two national champions and four other All-Americans, from last season's team that finished second at the NAIA championships.
"We went out looking for kids who were dedicated to the sport, academically solid and really motivated to be part of our program," Ritchey said. "With the challenges we're heading into, I knew we needed some quality individuals to replace what we've lost because we're going to have a young roster with a chance to mold together and push through some adversity.
"In the end, we're going to take a shot at a national championship, and what year that happens will be determined by their development."
The class includes five wrestlers who were OSAA state champions in 2015, including Eagle Point's James McCoy. The others are Sheridan High's Justin Acuff, Vale's Sage DeLong, Gresham's Chandler Michael and Elmira's Zane Wardwell. Besides McCoy, the Raiders will add another Rogue Valley product in South Medford's Brandon Brooks, who placed seventh at the OSAA championships as a senior.
McCoy placed fourth at the 5A championships as a sophomore and junior before claiming the 152-pound state title as a senior for the Eagles, going 56-4 for the season.
Brooks placed sixth in the 6A ranks at 170 pounds for the Panthers, posting a 29-6 record in his final season.
Acuff became Sheridan's first three-time state champion when he tackled the 3A's 138-pound bracket last season. He had an overall record of 34-3 as a senior.
DeLong went undefeated and was taken down only once en route to 195-pound 3A state and district championships with a 37-4 record. He improved his state placing every year, getting fifth as a sophomore and third at 42-6 as a junior.
Michael, the 6A 145-pound champion, went 35-3 as a senior and was named Barlow's athlete of the year. He was the state runner-up as a junior, as well as a freestyle and Greco state champion his first three seasons. As a sophomore, he became a Greco USA Wrestling All-American by placing seventh.
Wardwell completed his career at Elmira with two 4A heavyweight titles. With four straight pins at the 2015 championships, he brought his record to 35-2. He was also an all-state defensive end and a district champion in the shot put and discus.