The second annual Cascade Conference Wrestling Championships will be hard-pressed to recreate last year’s drama, but Southern Oregon University would welcome more of the same.
At the first-ever CCC meet, held in Ashland, the top four teams were separated by three points in the team race with SOU and Menlo (Calif.) standing as co-champions. It was the Raiders’ eighth conference or regional title in 10 years, their second in a row, and their 15th overall under head coach Mike Ritchey.
The tournament shifts this week to Great Falls, Montana, where Providence (Mont.) will serve as host and the action will play out over two days. Wrestling starts at 2 p.m. PST Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday, with the finals scheduled for 4 p.m.
Forty-three automatic bids to the NAIA Championships will be up for grabs, up from 41 a year ago. With six ranked teams in Wednesday’s final NAIA Top 20 poll — No. 5 Embry-Riddle (Ariz.), No. 6 Menlo, No. 9 Montana State-Northern, No. 10 Providence, No. 18 Eastern Oregon and No. 20 SOU — the CCC is tied for the most in the country.
Only the Mid-South Conference will hand out more automatic individual bids (47).
Of the 13 Raiders making the trip (including one alternate), six were in the lineup in 2018 and all of them were national qualifiers, including defending CCC champions Devin Poppen (141) and Tanner Fischer (197).
Four Raiders are nationally ranked heading into the weekend: 125-pounder Pancho Barrera at No. 7, 141-pounder Poppen at No. 12, 149-pounder Chandler Michael at No. 5, and 197-pounder Fischer at No. 12.
Here’s a look them:
Pancho Barrera (125)
Season Record: 10-6
Rankings: No. 3 CCC, No. 7 NAIA
Previous Appearances/Outlook: A national junior-college qualifier last year, Barrera will take on the most loaded 125-pound bracket in the country, which includes four top-12 individuals. He’ll hope to avenge tight losses in the final week of the regular season to Eastern Oregon’s fourth-ranked Mhar Caballa and Menlo’s fifth-ranked Riley Siason.
Devin Poppen (141)
Season Record: 22-5
Rankings: No. 3 CCC, No. 12 NAIA
Previous Appearances/Outlook: Poppen hasn’t lost a conference or regional tournament match since his first as a freshman, when he came back to win four straight to place third in the NAIA West. He’s now the two-time defending champion, and nine consecutive wins to end the regular season vaulted him to No. 12 in the national rankings after he started the year down a weight class. The man he defeated by 12-9 decision for last year’s title, MSU-Northern’s Matt Weber, is considered the man to beat at the tournament with a No. 2 NAIA ranking. Seeking to become an All-American for the first time, Poppen has pinned 16 opponents in 2018-19.
Chandler Michael (149)
Season Record: 15-5
Rankings: No. 2 CCC, No. 5 NAIA
Previous Appearances/Outlook: A co-champion in 2016 and third-place finisher each of the last two seasons, Michael will attempt to become a four-time national qualifiers. He was SOU’s lone All-American last year with a sixth-place finish and topped the CCC rankings for most of the season until Menlo’s third-ranked Terrill Sidner knocked him off two weeks ago. Michael, who owns 10 wins by fall, has two other top-11 wrestlers to contend with other than Sidner.
Tanner Fischer (197)
Season Record: 21-7
Rankings: No. 6 CCC, No. 12 NAIA
Previous Appearances/Outlook: An All-American after placing seventh nationally in 2017, Fischer has advanced to the conference/regional final three years in a row and won his first title in 2018 in a bracket that had six ranked individuals. That’s the case again, and he’s seeded sixth within a field where the margins are razor-thin. MSU-Northern’s Isaac Bartel, whom Fischer defeated in last year’s championship, is the top seed and ranked No. 2 in the NAIA; Providence’s John Hensley, who defeated Fischer for the 2017 regional title but lost to him in last year’s first round, is ranked No. 8.