It'll be tough sledding for area wrestlers

Being able to navigate the wintry path to Portland for the state wrestling tournament won't be nearly as difficult as steering through a loaded set of Class 6A and 5A brackets.

In each case, there's an overwhelming team favorite with heralded wrestlers around every turn. At the 6A level, Roseburg is expected to repeat as state champion, while Hermiston stands to rule the 5A roost for a fifth straight year.

"I don't think anybody's going to catch Hermiston unless they really have a poor performance, and I just can't see that happening," said Eagle Point head coach Kacey McNulty, echoing sentiments extended by the 6A coaches toward Roseburg.

With 12 state qualifiers and a handful of potential semifinalists, the Eagles are still hopeful for a state trophy that has eluded the program for quite some time. Eagle Point has finished in fifth place, just outside trophy consideration, for the past three state tournaments.

"I think there's a way to the finals for all of our kids," McNulty said with a laugh. "None of the lines end in dead ends for us."

"We've been preparing our guys for this and have had two weeks off to get ready," he added. "It's a mental sport so hopefully we can have them all believing that they can make it to the finals or be a state placer."

Dallas, Lebanon and Churchill will be the chief competition for one of the top four spots, with the Lancers coming off a regional championship over the Eagles and a runner-up showing at last year's state tourney.

Leading the charge for Eagle Point will be regional champs and returning state placers Aaron Lorenz (112 pounds), Travis Woods (140) and Gage Baumer (171), as well as runners-up Orlando DeLaCruz (103), Daniel Morgan (160) and Manny Valdovinos (285).

Lorenz and Baumer have been steady throughout the season, while Woods appears to be back in stride after dealing with a broken nose that left him to wrestle with a bulky mask for most of the season. The junior finally ditched the mask at the regional.

"Since he's had the mask off, he's been wrestling a little better and probably has a better view of where he is on the mat," said McNulty.

DeLaCruz and Valdovinos also have what it takes to go far in the bracket, while Johnny Wilkerson gives the Eagles another potential state placer at 160.

Also in the mix for Eagle Point are Ben Zomerdyk (130), Eddie Perez (119), Taylor Mitchell (125), Nathan Lucas (130) and Caleb Ash (152).

"There's going to be a tough road for some of the kids but we're trying to prepare them to do the best they can do," said McNulty. "There aren't any byes and it gets busy right away. Your second match is a quarterfinal and if you win that you're a state placer, so (today) is a big day."

At the 6A level, Newberg, McNary, Grants Pass and Redmond are the leading candidates to come away with a trophy, although counting out Crater is never recommended when it comes to state tournaments. The Comets, who, like GP and Redmond, qualified eight wrestlers, have a history of making a run in the season-ending event.

"Any time you step on the mat you're looking to win," said Crater head coach Greg Haga. "Our goal, like every year, is to compete. You never know, you get on a good run there and it's amazing where you'll end up. Our goal is to wrestle one match at a time and compete for six minutes and then see where that leaves us."

Seniors Brandon Montague (145), Skyler Prislac (130) and Mike Macuk (135) carry state tournament experience and are all seeded among the top four slots. Haga has high hopes for that crew, not only individually but what they could do to spur on the efforts of their teammates.

"I think all three of our seniors have a real legitimate shot coming home in the top three," said Haga. "In a tournament like this, momentum's huge. We kinda had the reverse momentum in the (regional) semifinals and that just shows you how important momentum is. With these guys, it's imperative they get off to a good start for us, and the younger kids will hopefully follow suit."

Other seeded wrestlers for Crater include Kody Gray (140), Chase Mackey (152) and Chance Fahndrich (160). Other hopefuls for reaching a top-six finish and placing at state for the Comets are Truman Winningham (112) and Tyler Montague (125), who could face a second-round match against second-seeded Peter Russo of Newberg.

"Everything's out the door this week and starts new, whether you're seeded or not," said Haga. "The bottom line is you've still gotta go out and wrestle and get the job done."

North Medford's Cody Wedman drew the No. 1 seed at 145 and will be in the opposite side of the bracket from Southern Oregon Hybrid nemesis Brandon Montague, but the rest of the draws weren't as favorable for the Black Tornado.

Facing a top-three seed in either the first or second round will be 112 pounders Edgar Garcia-Cox and Chris McFall, Tyler Crist (119), Alex Smith (135) and Marlon Campos (285).

Also in the running for North Medford will be Branden Todd (160), while South Medford's Jordon Townsend was the lone Panther qualifier at 171.

For Grants Pass, Jose Cruz (160), Nathan Piader (125), Jesse Orndoff (119) and Luke Collins (130) each are seeded in the tourney and should battle for a top-six spot or better. The Cavemen also qualified Casey Coulter and Zach Nance at 103, Ryan Shean (171) and Brandon Goodwin (189).

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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