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Helping Hand

EAGLE POINT — Lending a hand has rarely been an issue for Eagle Point senior Hunter Hoeptner, who by all accounts has logged more than 100 hours of community service since stepping on the Eagles' campus.

This weekend's project, however, expects to be the most near and dear to Hoeptner's heart.

As one of 13 qualifiers from Eagle Point for the Class 5A wrestling state tournament, Hoeptner is a prime candidate to advance to the championship finals as a returning state placer and No. 2 seed at 160 pounds.

In doing so, Hoeptner could go a long way toward helping lead the Eagles to their first team title at the state tourney since 1989.

"It's obviously a big event and I'm just hoping for the best for my team, really," says Hoeptner, 18. "Obviously I want to do the best for myself as well but I think it's equally important for the team to do the best we can because I'm really hoping for a state championship this year."

Hoeptner takes a 34-7 record into the state tournament, which runs Friday and Saturday at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland, and has spent the entire season ranked second at the Class 5A level to Dallas senior Scotty Dunagan.

Two of this year's losses for Hoeptner have come wrestling up at 170 against Phoenix standout Izzy Rubio, who was a state runner-up one year ago and expects to contend for the title again this weekend.

It was Dunagan who pinned the lone loss on Hoeptner in last year's state tournament, rallying from a 2-0 deficit in the semifinals with one scramble that resulted in a 5-2 victory. That moment has played over and over in Hoeptner's head ever since, even though he went on to place a respectable third last year.

"Definitely something I'm looking forward to is getting that chance to wrestle him again and prove to myself that I can beat him," Hoeptner admits.

The 5-foot-8 standout certainly has the tools to make that goal a reality, according to Eagle Point head coach Kacey McNulty.

"Hunter's a competitor," says McNulty. "It doesn't matter who I put him out on the mat against, he's gonna try to win and he'll do that for the entire match. That makes him pretty dangerous at a state meet. It doesn't faze him what the size of the tournament is, he's just going to go out there and do what he does, which is compete. He doesn't get caught up in the big lights."

It's his ability to remain composed that Hoeptner insists is his greatest trait on the mat. Although he didn't take up the sport until he was in middle school, Hoeptner is uniquely poised under any circumstance.

"I've been told that I'm good at keeping my cool," says the 18-year-old two-time regional champion. "A lot of times the way guys try to get you mad and off your game is by hitting you on the head or maybe putting a little pain on you by twisting fingers and stuff but I just stay calm and focused on my match instead of letting something get out of hand. It doesn't matter what anyone does, I'm always going to stick to my game plan, which is attack, attack, attack."

Even though he wants to remain on the offensive throughout the match, that doesn't mean he goes into any situation with wild enthusiasm. It's a difference that has served Hoeptner well over the years.

"He's a great athlete and he's stingy with points and he's patient," says McNulty. "That makes for a good combination."

That versatility is also prevalent off the mat, where Hoeptner has had a hand in a myriad of projects during his time at Eagle Point High.

As part of his leadership class, which takes on community-based projects each year, Hoeptner has volunteered at Asante Ashland Community Hospital in guest services and in the engineering department, as well as work with the Emeritus at Eagle Cove Assisted Living facility by helping with electronics issues or simply by playing cards with its members.

Last year, he did a parks project where he went around to every skateboard and community park he could find in Eagle Point, White City, Medford, Ashland and Grants Pass and cleaned up trash for hours on end.

Throw in his work with the Eagle Point School District as an electronics expert who helps fix broken Ipads and the like, as well as volunteerism as a lunch buddy for Eagle Rock Elementary students and with an outdoor education program through the school, and Hoeptner has a history of offering a helping hand.

"It's definitely a fun experience doing all that," says Hoeptner, who holds a 3.64 GPA. "I especially enjoy seeing the kids and helping them out. Even the kids who aren't my designated lunch buddies, it seems like all their faces light up in the building and they know my name when I get there and that's a pretty amazing experience."

He hopes that experience can take another step forward this weekend, with individual and team titles at the forefront of his thoughts.

"This is my last chance to do something great for my school," says Hoeptner. "I'm just going to focus and give it my all."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Eagle Point senior Hunter Hoeptner enters the state tournament as the No. 2 seed at 160 pounds.