Phoenix gears up for fast start at state

PHOENIX — If Phoenix is to make some noise at the Class 4A wrestling state tournament, it'll likely take place in the opening hours of action Friday at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

With only defending champion Eleazar De Luca taken care of in the bracket seeding as a returning state placer, the rest of the Pirates were at the mercy of a pre-tournament draw to determine their path and luck certainly wasn't on their side.

Of the seven other state qualifiers besides De Luca, the Pirates face off with the No. 1 seed in three weight classes to open the tournament and a No. 3 seed in another weight class that happens to be ranked No. 1 in the state.

"Everyone thinks they got jinxed on these things but we have so many draw-ins where we have a No. 1 seed," said Phoenix head coach John Farmer. "We kinda ran into it a little but if you're going to wrestle up there, you've got to expect to run into some good kids, if not in the first round then at least in the second round."

While some might cry foul, Farmer's attitude is the earlier the better for such meetings.

"We'd just as soon get them right away because sometimes the better kids aren't up for that first match," he added. "If you follow it, traditionally that first round is a bad one for seeded kids who are looking ahead and all of a sudden find out they're in a real match."

Phoenix freshman Braden Vega drew top-seeded Jake Stigall of North Marion to open action at 119 pounds, while junior Nick Renfro faces top-seeded Shane Lucari of Estacada at 125 and junior Tylor Hudson has McLoughlin senior Lawrence Timmons as an opener at 189.

Also at 125, senior Caleb Glanz faces top-ranked senior Adam Hayner of Molalla, who enters the tourney as a No. 3 seed.

Seeding is determined by a wrestler's placement in prior state tournaments, then a blind draw is used to fill out the bracket, making sure regional foes don't meet in the first round.

Henley breezed to the Skyline Conference and District 3 Regional championships and enter this weekend as the favorite to walk away with the 4A crown. The Hornets advanced 17 to the state tourney, with Crook County serving as their most likely challengers.

Eight wrestlers at state gives Phoenix a shot at a trophy, but the Pirates will need to really pull together if their to repeat last year's fourth-place effort.

"I'm not sure we can make as much of a noise as we did the last year and the year before," said Farmer, "but you never know. Phoenix, in the past history, has done some surprising things."

One thing Phoenix has in its favor is one of the more dominant wrestlers at any level in De Luca. The 140-pound junior standout hasn't lost to an Oregonian since the championship finals his freshman year, and is coming off an offseason where he claimed Oregon's triple crown. He won last year's state title with a second-round pin and, so long as he doesn't give in to complacency, is a solid bet to repeat his title.

"Kids have been moving away from him at state once they found out he was going to 140 because he's got a pretty good reputation of getting real serious around state time," said Farmer.

If there's anyone at this weekend's tournament who won't need an introduction it will be De Luca. As someone who lives and breathes wrestling, he's made the rounds throughout the years at various tournaments and is seemingly friends with everyone he encounters.

"The one thing that he has that I think is probably the most I've ever seen from any wrestler in this program or any other program is his love of the sport," said Farmer. "He loves everything about it. IF he's not wrestling, he's online reading about it or talking to people about it. Every aspect about it he loves. He follows college and high school wrestling in and out of the state and wrestles all summer long and seeks out the toughest competition he can find."

Such a work ethic has allowed De Luca to continue evolving as a wrestler. Almost unstoppable on his feet, he has trained hard at becoming more proficient when things go to the mat, either from the top or bottom position.

"In matches now, even though he could build up bigger scores by cutting guys loose, he's purposely working on ways to hold a kid down and pin him or work his way free from the bottom to make him more of a complete wrestler," added Farmer. "He's gotten a lot better in all aspects of wrestling."

The one area that raises a concern for the coaching staff is the social aspect of such a prestigious tournament for someone as affable as De Luca.

"Eleazar is very social and when he's around other wrestlers it's like a homecoming to him," Farmer said with a laugh. "It's tough to keep him where we want him. We've got to reel him in every once in a while just to make sure he warms up all right."

Senior Robert Amstutz (160), junior Riley Dodd (130) and sophomore Austyn Snow (119) will also be in action this weekend for the Pirates.

Hidden Valley qualified three wrestlers in juniors Seth Sotelo (140) and Josh Marshall (145) and senior Keith Campbell (171). North Valley is sending four wrestlers to state in senior James Bowers (130), junior Hector Garcia (152) and sophomores David Cornish (103) and Dillon Schnee (140).

In the Class 3A tournament, Rogue River's John Dees (160) and Aaron Longtain (119) each have a good shot at bringing home a title, with fellow Chieftain Garrett Dees (189) also looking to stir things up. Also advancing were Cascade Christian's Zac Roberson, the 189-pound regional champ, and Garrett Banks (171).

Illinois Valley qualified Gabe Miller (125), Zack Anderson (135), Matt Coultas (145) and T.J. Hughey (130) for the state tourney.

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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