Plenty of newcomers have joined the program, but the Hood River Valley Eagles wrestling program is looking at a season with an accomplished squad and high hopes for contention in Intermountain Conference and State 5A.
The girls’ and boys’ squads both feature a solid core of wrestlers who have placed high at OSAA and club level wrestling competition in 2017-18. Coach Trent Kroll has 32 boys and 11 girls out, and while 10-15 of them have not competed before, that is a typical number for novices, he said.
“We’re super excited,” said Kroll. “We’re coming in pre-ranked in OWForum.net,” at number 10, he said.
“We’re going after a state championship,” he said of his girls’ squad. “We’ve got a couple of schools in our way with Thurston and Century with more than 20 girls on their teams, but we have our 11, and seven with regional experience, and one of them is All-American.”
That’s senior Emily Mitchell, at 155 pounds. Senior Grace Miller is a three-time state finalist, placing second each time, at 145-140. Senior Elena Kroll placed third last year; she returns at 135-130.
Among the boys, senior Ryan Zeller (132 pounds) placed third in state last year, and Chad Muenzer, a junior, was sixth at 132. Returning regional placers are junior Blake Willis, 195 pounds, junior heavyweight Cody Durham, and sophomore Sam Munce, wrestling this year at 132-126. (In some cases, which weight classes athletes will compete are still undetermined, and can change during the season.)
Kroll added, “Beto Rojas will definitely bring senior leadership” at 195-182, and he has high hopes for senior Tristan Keely, 160-152.
“This group this year really does feel like a family,” he said. “The challenge is that everybody has a million things going on, lots of three-sport athletes involved in our program, and our season goes through the holidays, so it’s a case of keeping focused on goals and having fun without being stressed out.”
Kroll said, “It’s a team sport, but when you’re in the middle of the mat, on your own, you’ve got to believe in yourself and be fearless individually. We work really hard with a family culture with the team, in the knowledge that if we’re the only person in the wrestling gym we can’t be a state champion: We need the whole team.”
Keys to developing a successful wrestling program are “Trust and bonding and work ethic, and the idea that we all are responsible and dependable to each other,” Kroll said. “And that’s what we talk about daily.”
To new wrestlers, the coaches say, “Give us two weeks and you’ll fall in love with the sport.
“You set goals, you work hard to achieve those goals, and you have fun working hard,” Kroll said.
“You see the fruits of your success, or you learn to succeed through failure, and you feel personal growth through that.”
This will be the last season as head coach for Kroll, who took on the athletic director job this year. It’s a bittersweet transition year, but he calls his assistants “the best group of coaches anywhere.” They are: Sean Baker, Matt Kennedy, Brad Keely, Jimmy Donnelly and Lynn Miller.
The season started with an intramural friendly on Friday, held at the same time the boys basketball team was playing South Albany.
The annual blue-gold night gave every wrestler the opportunity to get a three-minute match, and for many of the athletes, it represented their first competition in front of a referee and a crowd.
“The last three or four years, we’ve done it in the auditorium on stage (in Bowe Theater) and before that, we had a night in main gym,” Kroll noted.
“This year, we thought we’d do something a little different. Originally, we attempted to schedule it on Thanksgiving week, and that didn’t work so we said, ‘Let’s do it Friday.’ It was kind of fun to hold it in the wrestling room, with tight quarters it made it look really full.”
Indeed, between wrestlers, family members and other community members seated on the floor and in the stands, it was a packed house for an entertaining evening capped by an exhibition match with coach Kroll edged on points by Ryan Zeller.
Kroll managed an initial takedown, from which Zeller quickly escaped.
“We lose Hermiston and gain Crook County,” Coach Kroll said of Oregon’s perennial mat powerhouses.
Crook County will be “the toughest as far as depth and individual spots,” he said. Redmond (Jan. 17 dual) is ranked top five this year as well. Pendleton (Jan. 23 dual) will be ranked top 10 as well, he predicted.
Kroll said a dual with Crook County is likely at the Jan. 19 Oregon Wrestling Classic, the IMC’s unofficial dual meet event.
See Saturday Hood River News for Dec. 6 results.