There are a couple ways of looking at the upcoming season for the members of the Hood River Valley wrestling team,
Some might see it as a growing year after the graduations of seven seniors (including three state placers). Others would say it is a chance to improve upon last year’s 12th-place finish at state.
But no matter which camp you are in, the bottom line is that this Eagle team is young and inexperienced.
“Those are the two words that best describe our team this year,” said ninth-year head coach Mark Brown, who is entering his final season.
“I’m not expecting us to be a factor at the district level because we just don’t have the numbers. My big concern is getting my four or five guys through to state and seeing what we can do there.”
Topping the list of state candidates are the four senior leaders: Jason DeHart (160 pounds), Nigel Bond (215), Rocky Level (145) and Jorge Lujano (275).
Level won a district title and placed seventh in the state last year, while Bond finished second and district and won three state matches for the second straight year.
DeHart and Lujano just missed the state cut last year due to deep district brackets. But both wrestlers have two-plus years of varsity experience, as well as some national team experience, that should help carry them into the top three in 2004.
“We’re just going to take it step by step,” Lujano said. “This year is going to be a lot different for us as a team, but we can’t let that distract us from what we’re trying to do individually.”
Bond agreed: “We just have to do the best we can as individuals and let the team take care of itself,” he said. “This is an important year for the seniors and we want to finish on top.”
Two more seasoned grapplers, junior Erik Flory (152) and senior Mike Allen (140), will help keep the Eagles steady in dual-meet competition. And Brown says that if they put in the work, they could surprise some people.
“We could even get six or seven kids to state, but it’s going to be tough,” he said. “There are a few underclassmen who could step up, so we’re just going to do everything we can to get them ready for district. Everything until then is just the preseason.”
One underclassman who stands out — and will need to stand out — is junior Zach
Bohince, last year’s 103-pound district champion who was one match away from placing at state.
But Bohince won’t have it easy in 2004. After a growth spurt over the past year, Bohince is going to make the leap to 119 pounds, where Josh Van Ek had been a mainstay for three years.
“Zach is a tough kid and he gets better every day,” said assistant coach Jeff MacKay. “But it can sometimes be humbling when you are asked to jump up two weight classes. He will always be competitive, but he might have to go back to taking his lumps this year.”
The lower weights are where the Eagles are going to have to make their biggest adjustment this year. Van Ek’s departure, combined with the losses of three more lightweights, make HRV a little slim in the lower weight classes.
“We have some holes that need filled, but we don’t have enough kids to fill them all,” MacKay said. “We have a very talented group of young wrestlers, but they have to be developed. It doesn’t make sense to throw a freshman in the middle of a varsity match because it could hurt him more down the road in terms of confidence.”
However, despite the Eagles relative inexperience, MacKay praised the early-season work of freshmen Ben Eddy (103), Alex Titus (189) and Race Fischer (130), as well as sophomores Jose Ramirez (112), Sal Ledezma (189) and Adam VandenBos (135).
“There is definitely a bright future for this team if all these guys stick with it,” he said. “The next couple years could be growing years for us. But if you ask me at the end of the season, I might tell you that these guys are ready to be a factor next year.”
One major factor for the Eagles this year is depth. If the team sustains any injuries or incurs any suspensions, it doesn’t have a whole lot of back-up to turn to.
Heading into today’s season-opening tournament at Westview High School, the 171 class was still considered “open,” while four others (103, 125, 135, 189) may only have JV representation.
That’s because all the coaches agree that it is important to develop young wrestlers rather than throw them into the fire with little chance of success.
“It’s not that these kids aren’t good enough,” MacKay said. “It’s that they need to be toughened up a little. When you come straight out of middle school, you don’t really have a grasp of what high school competition is like.”
“We have a lot of good freshmen and sophomores coming up,” Bond said. “And they are going to need to step up for us to have a chance. They have all been bringing it in practice, so we’ll see what they have starting this weekend.”
The Eagles dominated last year’s Westview Invitational with five individual champions. But of those, only Level is back to defend his title. HRV will travel to Clackamas next weekend for another invitational, and then kick off the Intermountain Conference dual meet season against Hermiston on Dec. 17 at home.
“We may not be as strong as last year,” Lujano said. “But we’re still going to be competitive with most teams out there. It’s just going to be a lot different.”