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SOU hosts inaugural Cascade mat championships

ASHLAND — The umbrella under which it operates has changed, but the Southern Oregon University men's wrestling team is hoping for a lot of the same Saturday as the postseason begins.

Ashland High's Mountain Avenue Gym will be the site of the first-ever Cascade Collegiate Conference Wrestling Championships, which boasts one of the most lauded fields in the country with 41 nationally-ranked individuals and five teams in the NAIA Top 20 poll.

It includes the same eight teams that previously made up the NAIA West Regional Qualifier Tournament: No. 6 Providence (Mont.), No. 7 Menlo (Calif.), No. 10 SOU, No. 13 Montana State-Northern, No. 18 Embry-Riddle (Ariz.), Eastern Oregon, Simpson (Calif.) and Warner Pacific.

The Raiders won seven of the last nine regional championships, including the 2017 title, before the CCC took over the operation. It was their 14th regional title since Mike Ritchey became the head coach in 1995. They last hosted in 2012.

SOU features one of the most seasoned lineups in the tournament, with five of its 12 individuals making their third postseason appearances.

Devin Poppen, the No. 4-ranked 141-pounder in the NAIA, was the team's lone regional champion last year, though Hunter Hodges (157) and Tanner Fischer (197) — both ranked No. 3 — were 2017 regional finalists and are SOU's reigning NAIA All-Americans.

Poppen and Fischer are both top seeds; Fischer and Hodges both have potential championship rematches looming.

The tournament features nine returning All-Americans in total, including three at 157 pounds with Hodges, Embry-Riddle's James Williams and MSU-Northern's Brandon Weber, the defending regional and national champion. The bracket's top seed, Eastern Oregon's Drake Randall, was a redshirt last year.

The top three placers in each bracket will be considered all-conference.

The prelims will begin on three mats at 9 a.m., the semifinals are scheduled for 2 p.m., fifth-place matches start at 4 p.m., and first- and third-place matches will take place simultaneously starting at 5 p.m.