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SOU wrestlers get green light for nationals

ASHLAND — The Oregon Health Authority’s approval of the Cascade Conference’s return-to-play plan for high-contact sports was timely news for two Southern Oregon University men’s wrestlers.

Despite having not yet competed this season, 125-pound senior Pancho Barrera and 133-pound junior Justin Coon will travel to Wichita, Kansas, to compete at the NAIA championships on March 5-6. Barrera and Coon were among 32 individuals selected to represent the Cascade Conference by the CCC’s head coaches in lieu of traditional qualification through the conference tournament, which was canceled due to COVID-19.

The CCC was originally allotted 46 NAIA championship spots. The number dipped when Embry-Riddle (Ariz.) and Menlo (Calif.) opted out.

Qualifiers for the 64th annual event — which will take place inside Hartman Arena — were announced Monday, and CCC wrestlers in the state got the official go-ahead Tuesday.

The long layoff aside, Barrera and Coon are no strangers to the national stage.

Coon, a Tillamook product, is now a three-time qualifier for the Raiders. He went 18-12 overall as a sophomore last season and was an at-large qualifier, and a year earlier earned an automatic spot by placing second at the CCC Championships. In the most recent NAIA rankings, he was 19th at 133.

Barrera hasn’t competed in twice as long after redshirting the 2019-20 season. After wrestling for two years at Southwestern Oregon Community College, he joined the Raiders in 2018-19 and posted a 14-11 record while at one point reaching No. 7 in the NAIA’s 125-pound rankings. He took an at-large bid to the NAIA championships and won his first match to reach the quarterfinals but dropped the next two.

Little has changed on the team front. Grand View (Iowa), winner of the last nine national championships, is the top-ranked favorite to win another.

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