When asked what his goal is for the season, Andrew DeHart simply pointed up at the wall.
Last season he finished fourth in state at 132 pounds, which was good enough to get his name on the row of blue banners hanging on the wrestling room wall as a state placer. But that finish isn’t enough for the Hood River Valley High School junior; state champions get a gold star next to their name, and that’s what he’s focused on this season.
Drenched in sweat from a hard workout, the Hood River Valley High School junior was one of about 40 wrestlers at practice Tuesday evening. With no school this week, another 30 or so wrestlers were absent, making this year’s squad the biggest coach Trent Kroll has had in his six years with the team.
“We’re starting the season with about 70 wrestlers,” Kroll said. “We’re looking at the numbers as a great thing. People want to be a part of the program, and we’re excited about that. Space is an issue, but we’ll deal with it. The best problem in the world is not enough mat space.”
Along with DeHart, Kroll is looking to returning state placers Cesar Zarate, Nick Morgan and Juan Carlos Hernandez to take leading roles this season. Zarate was sixth last year at 145 pounds and will probably move up a weight class to 152, Morgan finished fourth at 182 and is expected to stay in the same weight class and at 220 pounds Hernandez finished third at state.
Also on the list of top varsity wrestlers is heavyweight Brandon Dominguez, who is pre-ranked second in the state at his weight class. Also pre-ranked at second in Oregon is David Brunk, who finished fourth at state last year at 152 pounds. Brunk will sit out his senior year, however, due to an ACL injury from the football season.
“David was by far our best wrestler coming back this season,” Kroll said. “It’s a tough situation for him, but we’re looking at it as an opportunity. He’s going to be “coach Brunk” this season and will gain some coaching experience as he heals. His goals are to wrestle freestyle in the spring and move on to college wrestling next fall. To accomplish those goals it’s important that we don’t try to bring him back too early.”
Hood River is in Oregon’s 5A Special District 2 with ten other teams (Benson, Cleveland, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Roosevelt and Wilson from the Portland area and The Dalles, Hermistion and Pendleton from the Columbia River Conference). Of the four CRC teams, three finished in the top ten in state, Pendleton second, Hermiston third and Hood River ninth.
“We’ve got a great schedule this season,” Kroll said. “We’ve added a couple more home events from last year (five total) and we did enough fundraising as a team to be able to travel to the Reno Tournament of Champions in December.”
Among the 70 wrestlers on the mat this season, six are girls. That number has been steadily increasing in recent years and will likely increase even more as there are ten more girls in Hood River middle school and youth programs.
“We’re definitely at the forefront of female wrestling in Oregon,” Kroll said. “Our goal for all of our girls is to be girls state champions. We have two former wrestlers – Katie Eddy and Frannine Ybarra – who are now wrestling in college, both with scholarships.”
Eddy is wrestling for Oklahoma City College and Ybarra for South Western Oregon Community College.
Looking to take her place among the varsity lineup for a second year is sophomore Jessica DeHart, who went 16-16 last season at the team’s 106 pound position. Since last season DeHart picked up girls freestyle state and national champion titles.
“Her goal is to be a four-time state champion, and she can do it,” Kroll said.
As brother and sister, Jessica and Andrew DeHart are two of the hardest-working wrestlers in the room, and, like several others who are giving 100 percent every day, both have their sights set on getting that coveted gold star next to their names.