WRESTLING: Locals aim for big showing at state
There’s not much about the wrestling state tournament that Crater head coach Greg Haga isn’t prepared for by now in his prominent career, and it’s his hope that his wrestlers are in the same frame of mind heading into this week’s action at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum.
“I think we have a pretty good history of wrestling our best at the end of the year,” said Haga, who has led the Comets to nine state titles. “That’s kind of our goal and we’ve geared everything toward that. I’m expecting to see the same thing in a couple days.”
Crater and Eagle Point each stand to make noise in the 5A state tournament, with each boasting four champions from the Midwestern League district championships two weeks ago.
At the 6A level, North Medford advanced six district champions and one runner-up among its 10 qualifiers from a Southwest Conference meet typically dominated by Roseburg, creating hope for a third state trophy in the past five years.
“It just all depends on how kids come out and wrestle,” said Black Tornado interim head coach Jimmy Ulrey. “They could very well be in that state final or placing as low as sixth place. It’s exciting on that level because you never know.”
Among other things to watch this weekend, South Medford will look to earn multiple top-6 finishers for only the second time since 1993, while North Medford senior Kyleigh Lopez and Phoenix junior Emma Truex will seek to repeat as state champions but this time in officially sanctioned girls wrestling tournament action in a change made in the offseason by the Oregon School Activities Association.
Phoenix also has a legitimate chance to renew its run of state champions in the regular tourney at the 4A level, and Cascade Christian junior Gabe Vidlak will work toward earning a repeat 3A title after becoming the Challengers’ first-ever state champion a year ago.
State tournament action begins Friday morning, with matches through the championship quarterfinal round. Championship semifinals and consolation placing matches are Saturday, with the six-mat finals kicking off at 7 p.m.
For Crater, senior MWL champions Tanner Ulrey (120 pounds), Angel Diaz (126), Hunter Hiatt (145) and Tony Flores (182) lead a young but talented parade of 21 state qualifiers.
“Their goal is for all 21 of them to contribute point-wise to the team,” said Haga of the large Comet contingent. “How many you take only matters on how many scores. If only eight of them score, that’s all you needed to take. We’ve got to get a kid to get a point someplace. Front side (of the bracket) or back side, we’ve got to take care of business.”
Haga said he’s been especially impressed with Ulrey’s consistent performance this season, and believes any of Crater’s district finalists could be in line to finish as state placers. Placing second at the district were seniors Nathan Santoni (152), Logan Lowder (160) and Tanner Lee (170), sophomores Isaac Childress (113) and Kellen Kerrigan (132) and freshmen Colby Meek (138) and Joseph Jordahl (195).
Ulrey placed third at 113 last year when Crater finished second as a team after winning it all the year before and tying for second in 2016. Diaz also placed sixth last year at 120.
“Ulrey is seeded second and he’s done a great job and been solid all year,” said Haga. “I think he has a great shot in being there for the finals. We have several other guys right in there for placing, it’s just a lot of times it’s on that back side and who wants to fight for it the most.”
“Our guys understand we’re not going to overpower anybody on the championship side,” he added, “so we’re going to have to do damage on the back side.”
Eagle Point finished third behind Crater and Thurston at the MWL district — the Comets and Colts expect to challenge Crescent Valley, Dallas, Crook County and Lebanon for a 5A trophy — but showed plenty of quality among its 11 state qualifiers.
District champions for Eagle Point include senior Trigger Weyers (106), Bradey Thrash (132) and Josh Sitzer (170) and junior Freddy Barajas (113). Of the group, Weyers is seeded No. 1 at his weight, while Barajas is third and Thrash and Sitzer carry No. 4 seeds.
Barajas is the Eagles’ lone returning state placer after taking fifth at 106 last year.
Not making it any easier for Eagle Point is the fact that several of its other state qualifiers face top-4 seeds in their first or potential second matches.
Seedings, however, can be what you make of them, which is another point Haga made to his team this week.
“I don’t take a lot of credence in the seeds and all that,” said the Crater coach. “Every year there are kids that are unseeded and that come on and do a great job, and guys that are seeded that go down. If we’re seeded up pretty high we want to achieve that or more, and if not we want to knock off a couple guys in the brackets. It’s how we wrestle now, that’s what’s important.”
Ashland’s lone 5A state qualifier is senior Trevor Fulton at 182.
Roseburg has won five straight 6A team titles, and 10 of the last 12, but the Indians expect to face a strong challenge at the top from Newberg, leaving the likes of North Medford, Sprague and Mountain View to likely challenge for the two remaining state trophies.
With SWC champions like seniors Andres Ramirez (145) and Jullian Stone (220), juniors Enrique Jaime (120), Benjamin Zeigler (132) and Cole Zoller (138) and sophomore Alex Silva (106), the Black Tornado has the anchor pins to secure its fourth overall trophy.
Jaime, Ramirez and Stone each placed third last year and will be seeking to take that next step, while SWC runner-up senior Thomas Hamilton is another prime hopeful at 160. Of the group, Ramirez and Stone each carry No. 2 seeds into the tournament, while Jaime and Zoller are seeded third.
South Medford’s top hopes reside in freshman Brayden Ostvik (113) and sophomore Kilian Cosgrove (132), who each placed second at the SWC district, but third-place finishing senior Andrew Hall could lend a threat at 145 in his final tournament.
In the girls tournament, Lopez has earned state titles in each of the past three seasons that it was an exhibition event during the regular state tourney and is in good position as the No. 1 seed at 115 to finish that run in style. Truex similarly has won two previous titles and similarly carries the No. 1 seed at 125. Both pinned their way to regional titles three weeks ago.
Phoenix carries an experienced roster into the 4A tournament, with seniors Ezra De Luca (113), Jacky Hawkins (138) and Elijah Santana (160) each coming off district championships and boasting No. 3 seeds at state. Senior Dane Johnson (170) and juniors Mike Walker (152) and Ryan Brumble (220) also reached the district final and promise to be among the potential state placers.
For Vidlak, last season’s 3A state title for Cascade Christian was not something entirely unexpected, but he has missed some time on the mat this season and it will be interesting to see how the No. 1 seed fares as he goes for his third straight top-3 finish.
The only other Challenger to qualify for state this year was sophomore Cody Havniear, who placed second at 132 in the district but was sixth at 120 last year at state.
At the 2A/1A level, Rogue River senior Dyllan Houser (182) and junior Gabriel Tambellini (220) were district champions and are each seeded fourth. Butte Falls/Crater Lake Charter sophomore Wyatt Carlton finished second at 220 in the district and is the Loggers’ lone state qualifier.
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