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Tornado out to prove itself at state

Wading through a wrestling conference dominated by top-ranked Roseburg, which has won six of the last eight Class 6A state titles, staying confident can be challenging.

The offshoot, however, is it can put a chip on your shoulder and prompt a determined effort to prove your worth.

For North Medford, the latter appears to be the case heading into this week’s state tournament at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum. The Black Tornado has spent the bulk of the season as the No. 2-ranked team in the state and is primed to live up to that status as it negotiates a tough field led by Roseburg, McMinnville and David Douglas.

West Linn and Sprague are also potential threats for a state trophy (top four finish), with Roseburg and its 19 state qualifiers — nine district champions and four runners-up — a strong bet to repeat as champion.

“If these guys didn’t bring (a state trophy) home,” North Medford head coach Phillip Lopez said of his wrestlers, “I think they’d be kind of disappointed, especially with the way they’ve wrestled all year. I think we chased everyone and saw everyone we needed to see and everyone’s made huge improvements. Now it just comes down to how they do wrestling on the big stage.”

With nine state qualifiers, including four district champions and three runners-up, North Medford has the firepower to return home with only the second state trophy for the Medford School District since splitting into two high schools in 1986. The Black Tornado placed third in 2010.

South Medford’s lone state qualifier is senior Brandon Brooks, who will be seeking his first state tourney win in three trips beginning Friday.

“Realistically, we’re all fresh and these guys are feeling pretty good,” added Lopez, whose team finished ninth last year in his first season. “We didn’t get battered up too much last week (at the Southwest Conference championships) and I feel like we’re having fun right now and they just have a different look this week. Hopefully it carries on to this weekend.”

Last season, Trent Wilson secured a piece of history by nabbing the first state title in North Medford High history and, despite finishing second at district, the senior is one of the Black Tornado’s leading candidates at state. The third-ranked 195-pounder has battled injuries all season but is already a two-time state-placer and knows a thing or two about stepping up at Memorial Coliseum.

“I think the biggest thing when you deal with an injury is it affects your mindset,” said Lopez. “I think lately Trent’s starting to get a little bit more comfortable with himself. I would not be surprised if he wins state, and he should. I believe in him and I believe he thinks he can win it, too. Even with his loss (in the SWC finals), I believe he thinks he’s getting back into stride and has always been someone who comes on late.”

Wilson lost in the SWC final to longtime rival Will Reddekopp of Roseburg — 2-1 on a third-overtime tiebreaker — in a match neither wrestler really went for it. The duo mostly got caught up in hand-fighting before the second-ranked Reddekopp held Wilson down in the final tiebreaker.

Lopez said he views all his qualifiers as potential state-placers and wouldn’t discount any as a threat for the top spot.

“I always tell these guys we don’t take a back seat to anyone and that’s the mentality you’ve got to have,” said Lopez. “I don’t think you should be scared of anything. If anything, you should be excited if you have a stud to wrestle that’s in your way. Like in any sport, it’s all about who makes the least mistakes. These guys are pretty resilient and should be confident.”

Junior Henry Cox (113) placed third one year ago, senior Skyler Black (220) placed sixth and junior Cole Hornbrook (152) was in position to reach the placing rounds (top six) with a seven-point advantage before getting caught in what Lopez deemed a “brain lapse” on one fateful third-round move and was pinned.

Cox, who repeated as district champion, is ranked fourth at his weight after being one of the title favorites last year.

“He’s been real fired up, in a good way,” said Lopez. “It’s been a while since he’s been motivated like this and he’s been smiling and working hard.”

Fellow SWC champions Wyatt Westfall (170), Dillon Ulrey (145) and Luke Mackey (132) also expect to lead the charge toward the placing rounds, with Westfall ranked second in the state as a junior, the senior Ulrey ranked third and the junior Mackey ranked sixth.

Tornado junior Caleb Dix (138) and sophomore Daniel Ibarra (285) give the squad depth, with Dix gaining valuable state experience last year.

“A lot of these guys have already been to state and you’re always trying to make that next jump so hopefully they’ll be able to do that,” said Lopez.

After finishing third in a loaded SWC bracket, Black will have to hit the ground running against fourth-ranked senior Alex Thavongsack of Centennial in his opening match Friday. Black entered last week ranked No. 1 at 220 and a recent illness has cost him some weight but added some agility.

“Skyler is Skyler … he always finds a way to gut out a tough match,” said Lopez. “Skyler will wrestle anyone tough.”

Brooks, who finished third at 170 in the district championships, opens his third trip to state with top-ranked Corson Davis of Sprague on Friday. South Medford’s last state champion was crowned in 2000 (Ian Taylor, 215), and the Panthers boast five overall.

Grants Pass qualified five wrestlers for state, including district champion Tyler Bellon (106), runners-up Trevin Bailey (113) and Cole Brouhard (126), fourth-ranked Trajan Hurd (145) and Talon Lloyd (126).

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