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Comets aim for 11th straight trophy

Crater may have had its state-title streak come to an end at four straight last year, but that doesn't mean the Comets weren't successful.

For the 10th straight year, Crater came home with a state trophy by finishing third to cap the 2007 Class 5A state tournament.

With 17 qualifiers this time around, Crater coach Greg Haga doesn't see any reason for his team to slow down as the Comets go for a trophy (top-four finish) for the 11th time in a row.

"In the years going up there (to the state tournament), I don't remember not going up with that in mind," says Haga, whose team has won seven titles and finished second once in the past 10 years. "After 20 years, I don't think we're going to be changing anything."

The Comets' chief challengers don't appear to be any different this time around, either.

Hermiston, the defending 5A champion, is loaded with 13 state qualifiers, including five district champs. The Bulldogs advanced 13 to state last season and beat Crook County for the title by a 59-point margin.

Haga says he expects Hillsboro to be in the mix with 14 wrestlers after winning the Northwest Oregon Conference title, along with Thurston and Southern Sky Conference rival Eagle Point.

"They have enough gunpowder to get right up there and push everybody," Haga says of the Eagles, who advanced six district champs among their 13 qualifiers. "I'd like to see us and Eagle Point up there both getting a trophy to show that we do have a pretty tough conference down here."

The Comets used their team depth to pull away from Eagle Point in the district tournament, outscoring their hosts 378-317 to earn their fourth straight district crown and the 15th in Haga's 20 years.

Still, the Eagles crowned more district champions than Crater (five) and are excited about their chances at the three-day tourney.

"There are some quality kids in that group and they'll do well at state," EP coach Kacey McNulty says of his contingent.

Defending champion Roseburg is the favorite to win the 6A team title after advancing 20 wrestlers — including 11 district champs — to Portland, but Canby and Newberg each expect to give the Indians a run for their money.

Canby edged Newberg for the Pacific Conference crown and will be taking four district champions among its cast of 14, while the Tigers counter with seven champions among their 12 qualifiers. Newberg is also fresh off a victory in the Reser's Tournament of Champions.

North Medford doesn't hold aspirations of earning a trophy on the team front but, with seven qualifiers, the Black Tornado expects to shake things up at Memorial Coliseum. Led by district champion Kade Peden (171), North Medford finished second to Roseburg at the SWC district.

South Medford is taking five wrestlers to state, with district champion Ken Hyland (152) expected to contend for one of the top spots.

Class 4A powers Illinois Valley and Phoenix are also positioned well, with 13 and 12 qualifiers, respectively. The Pirates' Noah Berman will be in search of his second straight state title after claiming the 171-pound crown last year. Phoenix placed fifth as a team last year — one point shy of third place — while Illinois Valley was seventh. The Cougars edged the Pirates, 125-123.5, for the Skyline title last weekend.

Defending champion Sweet Home returns as the 4A favorite with 18 qualifiers.

At the 3A level, Cascade Christian has advanced three wrestlers to the state tournament: James Humphreys (285), Derek Brite (171) and Nic Beiter (215). Nyssa and defending champion Burns are expected to battle for the 3A title, while Culver is in line to repeat as 2A/1A champion.

The state tournaments run today through Saturday, with the championship finals slated to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com