If you had asked the Hood River Valley wrestlers what their goal was for 2002, they would have said, “a district title.”
But if you ask the Eagles what their goal is for 2003, the thought of winning a district title weighs in a distant second to qualifying numbers for state.
In fact, all four teams with a
legitimate shot of winning the Intermountain Conference title this weekend — Hermiston, Pendleton, Crook County and HRV — are saying the same thing.
“If we can get 10 guys to state and not win the district title, I’d be fine with that,” Hermiston coach Curt Berger said.
“The district meet is just a proving ground. We’re trying to win the state title, and you need to qualify a bunch of guys if you’re going to have a shot.”
Only the top three individuals in each of the 14 weight classes will qualify for the OSAA state championships, scheduled for Feb. 20-22 at Portland Memorial Coliseum.
And, by no means will it be an easy task to earn a state berth in the IMC — widely regarded as the toughest conference in the state, if not the entire Northwest.
“The conference is closer than it’s been in years,” said Berger, whose Bulldogs won the 2002 district title by just three points over Pendleton.
“There are four, five or six wrestlers in each class who could qualify, which makes this a scary event for us. Some of our top guys may not even go to state, when they would be winning in a lot of other districts.”
Berger and Pendleton coach Fred Phillips both view the 119-pound class as the deepest, most competitive field. Hermiston’s Keith Carter, Pendleton’s Seth Cox, Redmond’s Ryan Enoch, Crook County’s Wes York, and HRV’s Josh Van Ek each have an equal shot at winning the district title.
“There’s the potential of having six state-caliber wrestlers in one weight class,” said Phillips, who has heard that one of the conference’s top 112 pounders may move up to 119 for district.
“119 is by far going to be the toughest class, with at least five IMC wrestlers ranked among the top 12 in state. It’s going to come down to who wants it more,” he said.
The same can be said about the 275-pound class, in which four — even five — heavyweights could take the district title.
The current front-runner is Pendleton junior Sean Orr, who defeated the IMC’s two other top heavyweights, Tyler Hartsteen of Hermiston and Tommy Owyen of HRV.
Orr has beaten Hartsteen twice — once in overtime — and barely outlasted Owyen 3-2 in overtime at the teams’ Jan. 3 dual meet.
The other contender for the 275-pound district title is HRV junior Jorge Lujano, who has split varsity time with Owyen since mid-season. Lujano lost to Hartsteen and Orr earlier in the season, but has proven his worth for the Eagles, winning nearly every other match by fall.
Lujano is the type of wrestler who scares opposing coaches, because he could easily steal away a state berth from a senior who has three years’ state experience.
“HRV adds a whole new factor to our league this year,” Berger said. “The seedings can be a real pain because there are guys ranked four or five who have the potential of knocking off a No. 1. The hard part is that some really good guys aren’t going to state.”
Besides 119 and 275 pounds, the most competitive weight classes will be 103, 112, 140 and 160 pounds. HRV has potential state qualifiers in each class, and
because all four are so even, the Eagles could conceivably walk away with four district titles.
“I’d say that 103 and 112 are wide open,” said Phillips, whose 103-pounder, Tyler Kilkenny, is one of the favorites. “140 and 160 are also going to be a dogfight, and I wouldn’t want to predict who’s going to win.”
Joining Kilkenny atop the 103-pound bracket will be Kevin Rubio of Hermiston, Russ DeBoodt of Crook County, and Zach Bohince of HRV.
The Eagles have another contender at 112 pounds. Sophomore Efrain Garcia has come a long way since joining the team at the first of the year, and has beaten two of the IMC’s best — Ben Neasham of Crook County and Kilkenny of Pendleton — by fall.
HRV junior Rocky Level is the odds-on favorite to win the 140-pound class after beating each of his IMC foes with relative ease. Level hasn’t lost a match since Dec. 12 versus Southridge, and doesn’t plan to at district.
“Individually, I know I’m not going to be satisfied with anything less than a district title,” he said. “There are a lot of other guys on the team who are looking to take it as well.”
Level’s primary competition will come from Hermiston’s Andy Hall, who placed fifth at state last year (135 pounds), and Jeremy Marshall of Pendleton.
At 160 pounds, HRV junior Jason DeHart will have his work cut out for him as he faces Bend’s Jared Haller (fourth-place in state, 2002) and Crook County’s Austin Shields.
HRV senior Jacobe Krizman is regarded as the class of the 171-pound division, with only one wrestler — Mountain View’s Cody Larwin — standing in his way of a district title. Larwin beat Krizman back on Dec. 19 for his only loss of the season.
Fellow senior Nate Dethman hopes to qualify for state at 189 pounds, while John Harvey takes his best shot at 145, Trent Shelton at 152 and junior Nigel Bond at 215 pounds.
For a complete wrap-up of the Intermountain Conference district tournament, see the Feb. 19 edition.