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5A title chase expects to be tight

Given how deep and balanced the field is for this weekend’s Class 5A wrestling state tournament, it all could come down to which school is able to get on a roll and finish in the finals.

Eagle Point head coach Kacey McNulty knows a few things about such a surge after watching his squad pull through two weeks ago for the Special District 3 championship. As the Eagles prepare for their trip to Portland, McNulty is hoping they have one more run in them at Memorial Coliseum.

“There’s about eight teams that are a tossup and it’s all about who shows up,” McNulty said in breaking down the 5A title contenders. “It’s going to be a dogfight. It could be one of those tournaments that comes down to how those kids do in the finals, and hopefully we have some of them. It’s a new weekend, it’s all about can we get on a roll or not. We got on a roll at the district tourney and hopefully we can repeat that.”

Eagle Point crowned five district champions and had five others finish second to take some momentum into this weekend after an otherwise roller-coaster campaign that has seen a host of lineup changes.

The Eagles join Crater and Sandy with the most state qualifiers (18) but Hillsboro, Hermiston, Dallas, Redmond and Churchill have the right kind of pieces to make for quite a trophy dash. Hermiston has won seven of the last eight 5A titles.

The Comets boast four district champions and three runners-up to help their cause.

“I think we have enough of a spread from light guys to heavy guys that if we get on a roll we can compete with anybody up there,” said Crater head coach Greg Haga.

Senior James McCoy (152 pounds) and junior Ethan Pomeroy (170) lead the charge for Eagle Point after each placed fourth last year. McCoy, who earlier placed third at the Reser’s Tournament of Champions, is seeded second while Pomeroy is a No. 1 seed.

“James has had the same goal all year and that’s to be a state champion,” said McNulty. “He’s had a great week and a half of practice and he’s ready to go. (Pomeroy’s) looking great, too. He and McCoy have been working out together and they’re good for each other because they’re both competitive guys in the practice room and get after it.”

Senior district champions Blaine Cloney (195) and Levi Pomeroy (126) join junior Conor Gaines, who earned the league title at 132, as top contenders. Seniors Mikey Johnson (113) and Christian Torrico (120) boast valuable state tourney experience, while junior Bryan O’Neil (145), sophomore Chance McMullin (106) and senior Anthony Valdovinos (285) could create a stir in the brackets.

For Crater, seniors Nate Walters (145), Wyatt Haas (220), Walter Kurz (126) and Jason Comer (152) will look to wrap up their careers on top for a young team that advanced 14 underclassmen.

Juniors Tommy Winningham, who was third in the 6A bracket last year, and Cavin Gillispie, who placed fourth, have battled injuries but are in line to peak at the right time for Crater. Freshmen Zeth Brower, who was third at Reser’s at 106, and Meek, who is the No. 3 seed at 138, also have what it takes for a championship run.

Ashland lost one of its top hopes for a state-placer when junior Chance Swenson, district runner-up at 195, was scratched from the field due to prior commitments but still boasts district runner-up Liam Weston (220) and senior Christopher Bowland (160).

At the 4A level, Crook County set a state tournament record one year ago by becoming the first team to eclipse 400 points (406.5) and will again be favored after winning the all-classification Reser’s championship.

Phoenix brings only six wrestlers to the 4A tourney so team trophy are unlikely, but the Pirates stand to be well-represented when it comes to potential state-placers.

Senior Richard Orndorff (132) is ranked fifth and is complemented by a host of talented junior Pirates in Cedar King (132), Jessi Daniels (138), Justin Knight (160), Trace Vega (195) and Brady Vierra (220). Each has been battle-tested thus far and capable of making a run for a program that has crowned at least one state champion in eight of the last nine tournaments.

Nyssa, Vale and Glide are the usual suspects expected to contend again for the 3A team title, with Illinois Valley hoping to challenge for a trophy behind eight state qualifiers, including seniors Logan Miller, who was third at state last year, and Eric Miller, who placed fourth.

Cascade Christian senior Luke Valle is ranked second at 126 and expects to challenge for a rare state title for a program that was revitalized this season under the coaching of Dan Vidlak. The Challengers also qualified senior Knute Thompson (152) and freshmen Max Valle (106) and Gunner Thompson (120) for this weekend.

For the first time, this year’s state tournament setting also features a four-person bracket for the girls’ exhibition state championships. Ashland’s Sofie Bogdanove (120), Sydney Norvell (138) and Joanne Lemley (145) will be joined by North Medford’s Tatum Balzarini (170), Phoenix’s Nevina De Luca (120) and Grants Pass’ Kaitlyn Dara (120) and Olivia DeMars (145) in vying for exhibition titles.

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