Hood River Valley High School wrestlers are on a mission.
As the team's reputation as a wrestling powerhouse grows throughout the state, so do expectations, and with only two seniors and no returning state placers this season, the relatively young squad has a lot to prove.
The first real test came this week at an elite tournament in North Bend. The Oregon Coast Classic is an invitation-only competition that brings many of the best teams in the state together to see how squads measure up the beginning of the season.
The Eagles placed 20th out of 32 teams, with only Nick Morgan and Juan Karlos Hernandez making it to the podium.
"The kids are not satisfied with that number," said Kroll. "There's some real hunger in the wrestling room to improve. The Coast Classic is one of the state's most challenging individual wrestling tournaments outside of the state championship, so it was a good test for the team. But 20th is definitely not something we're satisfied with."
Morgan, a junior who transferred to Hood River this year from Spokane, led the team with a fourth-place finish at 195 pounds, followed by Hernandez finishing in fifth at 220 pounds.
"It was a tough tournament," Morgan said after practice Thursday. "The level of competition I've seen in Oregon seems to be about the same as Washington, but in Hood River practices are a lot more intense than my old school in Spokane. I like the intensity and the team spirit. I'm proud to be a part of this team."
With only a few days to rest after the Coast Classic, the team traveled to The Dalles Wednesday for a double-dual meet against Portland teams from Roosevelt and Jefferson high schools. The results were a very different picture. Against Roosevelt, the Eagles won 72-4, with only one loss in its entire lineup and against Jefferson the team lost only two matches for a 72-7 pounding of the competition.
With a hole at the heavyweight class, Hernandez was bumped up a weight class and took two of three of the team's losses against guys 40-50 pounds heavier than him.
"It was a hard day for me," Hernandez said. "But the team needed someone to fill that hole, and if I'm the one that needs to step up, I'll do it. Wrestling is not just individual sport; it's also a team sport. I really like how together we are as a team this year."
The team will face another of the state's toughest tournaments next week in Lebanon. The eight-team dual-meet tournament will again feature many of Oregon's top teams.
"As we grow a reputation as a top wrestling program, we get invited to tougher and better tournaments," Kroll said. "It's great, but it also means we have a lot to prove.
"We have great team spirit and a lot of hard workers, so we're expecting this to be a solid building season. We're shooting for 15 state qualifiers, and with only two seniors on the team it means we'll have a lot of returning talent next year."
The next home contest for the team will be a triple dual against The Dalles, Cleveland and Roosevelt at 6 p.m. Jan. 4.