Talent, determination and an eye on the bigger picture allowed Crater’s wrestling team to snap an 11-year championship drought last year at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland.
All that and maybe a little more will be necessary this time around as the Comets seek to defend their Class 5A title against a loaded field headlined by Reser’s Tournament of Champions runner-up Dallas.
Midwestern League champion Thurston, Mountain View and Sandy also stand in the way of a potential repeat by Crater, which has earned a state trophy in each of the past two seasons and boasts nine state titles under the direction of head coach Greg Haga.
“I definitely think if we go up and wrestle like we’re capable, it’s going to put us right in the running to battle for a state title,” said Haga, “but we’ve got to have everybody go up and wrestle their best. I think we have the depth and definitely have the studs to get in the finals, it’s just can we take advantage of the opportunities we have and when you mess up, don’t mess up too big.”
Besides two-time defending state champion Logan Meek, Crater returns two-time state runner-up Zeth Brower, who placed third one year ago, and fourth-place finishers Hunter Hiatt and Dallas Howard.
Brower led a consolation bracket surge last year that saw the Comets turn around a rough semifinals showing to wrap up the 5A team title well before Meek stepped back on the mat for his championship final.
“That’s the kind of effort we’re going to need this year,” said Haga. “If something happens, we have to readjust our goals and get the job done in the consolation rounds. That’s where most of the points are at anyway.”
Brower, a senior ranked No. 1 at 120 pounds, is coming off a standout regular season in which he was the MWL district champion and also earned a repeat Reser’s TOC title.
“He’s had a great year and I look for great things for him this weekend,” said Haga.
Fellow seniors Meek (160) and Beau Crawford (220) were joined by juniors Tanner Ulrey (113), Isaiah Griffith (132) and Tony Flores (182) also won district titles last week in a time when a flu-bug was running through the mat room. The senior Howard (152), juniors Angel Diaz (120), Logan Lowder (170) and Cody Fisher (195) and freshman Clayton Rock (138) each finished as MWL runners-up.
Rounding out the Comets’ 17-deep pool of qualifiers are juniors Hiatt (126) and Luis Duarte (182), sophomores Jacob Banry (106), Crayton Gillispie (220) and Isaiah Mays (285) and freshman Kellen Kerrigan (132).
Eagle Point had its 50-year streak of registering at least one state placer come to an end last year but, bolstered by a pair of 106-pound standouts, the Eagles have a strong shot at starting anew this year.
Senior Thomas Zomerdyk scored a major decision over sophomore teammate Freddy Barajas in the MWL district final and will take a No. 4 seed into the state meet.
“I’m excited for our 106 pounders,” said EP head coach Kacey McNulty. “I see both of them able to go quite a ways.”
The Eagles will have six representatives at state in total, including senior Jacob Hukill (195) and juniors Brian De La Cruz (145), Bradey Thrash (126) and Trigger Weyers (113).
Ashland senior Zach Adler was the MWL runner-up and ranked fourth at 220 but takes a No. 7 seed into state, while junior teammate Trevor Fulton (170) took third at the district and is a returning state qualifier.
Adler advanced to Day 2 at 182 last year but was eliminated just outside of placing position.
CLASS 4A: Phoenix didn’t have any of its seven state qualifiers make it to Day 2 last year but a few of those same faces are back and eager to show they belong, with a handful of newcomers aiming to make their name on the biggest stage for first-year head coach Jon Gay.
Junior Ezra DeLuca (113) was the lone Pirate to reach the district finals last week and will be making his first trip to the state meet. Joining him as leading contenders for Phoenix will be returning qualifiers Dalton Samis (145), Jacky Hawkins (138) and Ismael De La Torre (285), with Samis and De La Torre scoring the lone consolation wins last year.
“Ezra led the pack last weekend and has given himself a good spot in the bracket and a good chance to go make a run for his first time at the state meet,” said Gay. “And with that shock value gone and through their work in the process of the season, the other guys have all given themselves a shot, too.”
Other qualifiers include Elijah Santana (152), Elijah Galatioto (170), Joey Wilson (170) and Dane Johnson (182).
Phoenix has crowned at least one state champion in eight of the last 12 years.
Sweet Home snapped a string of four straight 4A titles by Crook County last year but the Cowboys appear ready to reclaim their throne after winning the Reser’s Tournament of Champions. Marshfield should also contend.
CLASS 3A: Experience is a great teacher and Cascade Christian’s leading trio of seniors Ryan Vidlak (106) and Gunnar Thompson (152) and sophomore Gabe Vidlak (113) have learned plenty in their time with the Challengers and now hope to put that to good use in Portland.
The Vidlak brothers comprised two-thirds of Cascade Christian’s semifinalist contingent last year but neither was able to break through and join Moses Jackson (2016) as the program’s only state finalist. This year, each is coming off a district championship and determined to take that next step on the big stage.
“That’s the goal,” said Challengers head coach Dan Vidlak. “We’ve got a pretty good chance and we’re going to give it our best to see if it happens.”
Ryan Vidlak and Gabe Vidlak each went on to place third at state last year, with Ryan ranked No. 2 entering this year’s tourney and Gabe ranked No. 1. Thompson, ranked third, is a four-time state qualifier and repeat district champion but has yet to breakthrough at the state meet.
“They’ve got to create some opportunities for themselves,” added coach Vidlak. “They’ve all got good seedings but that doesn’t mean anything, they have to go up there and perform.”
Freshman Cody Havniear (120), senior Trayson Weidman (126) and freshman Elijah Nehf (126) give the Challengers a chance to land four state placers in one state trip for the first time in program history.
Illinois Valley qualified two for state in Jessie Valles (106) and Chase Nelsen (170), while Rogue River is six strong with Grant Fehrenbacher (145), Caleb Barnwell (170), Tristen Spaeth (220), Gabe Tambellini (220), Gabe Echaide (285) and Daniel Herinckx (285). Echaide placed sixth last year.
Nyssa earned its third straight 3A team championship last year but could get a challenge from Willamina, La Pine and Glide.
CLASS 2A/1A: Butte Falls senior Billie Tucker is seeded third in the eight-man bracket at 220 after earning a dominant 16-0 technical fall victory in the district finals two weeks ago. Tucker previously took second in the 1A state tournament on Jan. 20.
Tucker advanced to the 2A/1A consolation semifinals at 285 one year ago as the program’s second state qualifier in school history.
Culver has won 10 of the last 11 2A/1A team titles, including the last four in a row.
GIRLS EXHIBITION: The Oregon School Activities Association announced Monday its plan to become the seventh state to award state championships for girls wrestling beginning next season so this year will be the last go-round for unsanctioned exhibition status at Memorial Coliseum.
“For my daughter’s sake, that’s cool,” said North Medford head coach Phillip Lopez. “For anyone, there’s a lot of college opportunities for those girls and it’s just getting bigger. In five years, watch how big it gets now that they’re making it official next year.”
North Medford junior Kyleigh Lopez (110) will look to secure a third straight title and put herself in contention for another triple crown in wrestling when she opens the exhibition semifinals against Silverton junior Madison Shockley.
Phoenix sophomore Emma Truex (125) battled for a 3-2 victory last year for her first state crown and will look to make it two in a row when she opens with Mountain View sophomore Taylor Ohlson in her semifinal opener.
Samantha Dara (100) and Kaitlyn Dara (135) of Grants Pass are also slated to compete this weekend.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry