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North, Phoenix aim for top-10 state showing

Although team titles are seemingly out of the question for the local squads at the Class 6A and 4A levels, that doesn't mean programs like North Medford and Phoenix aren't excited about the prospects of a big state tournament push beginning today.

For the Black Tornado, this year's effort will be important as head coach Nolan Harris looks to establish North Medford as a top-10 caliber program.

For the Pirates, who suffered a big loss with the injury of junior leader Luke Amuchastegui two weeks ago, it'll be about proving that they still belong among the elite.

"I just want the kids to really open up and just wrestle fearless," said Harris. "The result will just take care of itself. I'd love to finish in the top 10, but as long as they're getting after it and putting on a show for the fans, that'll be good enough for me."

A year ago, the Black Tornado took seven wrestlers up to state but returned with only one state-placer in 160-pounder Kade Peden. Harris doesn't think that will be the case this time around with an older and more experienced group. North qualified 11 wrestlers for state, including district champions Ryan Mahoney (145 pounds), Cory Haggans (152), Mark Dickison (171), Kody Bonham (189) and Robert Ross (285).

"I think last year we were a little intimidated and I don't want to see that intimidation factor this time around," said Harris.

"It's a whole new ballgame when you get to that state tournament," added the North coach. "It can go either way, you can either be excited to be in that atmosphere or it can make you clam up. But I think our kids are ready this time."

Matching up with Roseburg several times throughout the season could very well pay off for the Black Tornado. Even though the Indians easily outscored North at every turn, the Tornado was able to gain a measure of vindication with several individual victories.

"I'm glad we didn't see them more than we saw them," Harris said of Roseburg, "but, at the same time, being in their league and competing with them over and over again, maybe some of these other teams don't look quite as tough for some of the kids."

At the 6A level, the only likely challenger for two-time defending state champion Roseburg is Newberg. Each team boasts six district champions, with the Southwest Conference champion Indians advancing 18 to state and the Tigers taking 14.

"So far Roseburg's been a Goliath, but anything's possible," added Harris. "Newberg's always tough and Canby is up there, but it's going to take a group effort to knock them off."

Harris said the key for his team will be in how it responds today after getting off to slow starts the past few years.

"You feed off your teammates so we've got to get going right out of the gate," he said.

Phoenix coach John Farmer knows all-too-well how pivotal momentum can be at the state tournament, and he's hoping that his Pirates are ready for the challenge once again.

Losing title-contender Amuchastegui in the week prior to the Skyline Conference district was certainly a jolt to Phoenix's trophy hopes, but Farmer said the Pirates have plenty of firepower to throw at the rest of the 4A field.

"As far as winning it as a team, I don't know that we have that kind of power," said Farmer, "but we're going to go up there and just go after it. We've got some kids who I think can wrestle with anybody out there."

Sweet Home and Tillamook appear to be the cream of the crop at the 4A level, followed by South Umpqua and Scappoose. Sweet Home and Tillamook have earned the top spot in the last two years, respectively, and will each be bringing 17 wrestlers to compete at Memorial Coliseum.

The Pirates, however, do return two state-placers in Ryan Tourville (135) and Josh Warden (152), and expect to get a boost from the likes of Eleazar Deluca (140) and Alex Machado (189) among others.

Warden's run at state will be especially interesting considering his stepping into Amuchastegui's shoes after competing at 160 for most of the season.

"He was a contender at 160 and we feel he's an even stronger contender now at 152," Farmer said of Warden. "He's the type of kid who never stops wrestling, so whoever he's wrestling better be ready to go the whole time."

District champion Henley has the depth to shake things up at state, and Illinois Valley's top-tier wrestlers may be enough to send the Cougars to yet another top-five showing.

"I think the Skyline will be represented pretty well up there," said Farmer.

Ken Hyland is South Medford's lone state qualifier, but despite a wealth of challengers at 160, the second-ranked Panther senior stands to be one of Southern Oregon's top placers.

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