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Raiders have eight at NAIA tourney

ASHLAND — Peaking at the right time has been a hallmark of the Southern Oregon University men's wrestling team under head coach Mike Ritchey.

Relative to where the Raiders were a couple months ago, it's safe to say they're doing it again heading into this weekend's NAIA Championships.

The 60th annual tournament begins Friday and culminates Saturday at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kansas.

After rallying with five straight dual wins to finish with a 9-7 record, the 10th-ranked Raiders executed an upset at the West Group Qualifier and ran away with their seventh regional championship in nine years.

To compete in the team standings at the national tournament, though, they'll have to overcome a numbers game that is stacked against them: They did not receive any individual at-large bids — all eight wrestlers in the traveling party qualified automatically by placing top-three at regionals — so six other teams will have more potential point-scorers.

Five-time defending champion Grand View (Iowa) and second-ranked Indiana Tech have 12 wrestlers each.

Among SOU's representative are three returning All-Americans — second-ranked Tyler Cowger (149 pounds), third-ranked Hunter Hodges (157), and Casey Coulter (133). Tanner Fischer, No. 11 at 197 pounds, is the other top-16 wrestler in his class.

SOU also sent eight individuals last year and finished 10th. In the seven years before 2016, the Raiders were runners-up five times.

The field includes 240 wrestlers with at least 20 in each weight class and as many as 27 at 125, 149 and 165 pounds. To become an All-American, one must place in the top-eight in his bracket. Cowger, a runner-up last season, is vying to become the seventh four-time All-American in SOU history.