When wrestlers arrive at the Dawg House this afternoon for the Special District 4 championships, they’ll be greeted by the sight of a banner-filled wall that signifies a decade of dominance by their hosts.
Hermiston’s 10 state championships might intimidate some of the freshmen and first-timers, but should only serve as motivation for the many state hopefuls on the nine teams represented.
Eight wrestlers will be looking to defend SD4 titles, but just 24 of the district’s 56 state qualifiers are back from last season. The top four in each weight class move on, and eight of the district’s nine teams come into the meet with a serious title contender in at least one weight.
“I think each team has their individual front-runners that are going to go out and score a lot of points, that they expect to get in the finals and score a lot of points,” said Hermiston coach Kyle Larson. “Throughout the district it seems like everybody’s going to come and fight, so we’re just getting ready to get in there and score a lot of bonus points. Everybody’s got a role on the team, and everybody knows their role, whether they should be winning titles or striving to make it to the state tournament.”
No team can claim the depth of the Bulldogs.
Hermiston handled each of its league duals against Pendleton, Hood River and The Dalles with ease, and defeated Bend and Mountain View with equal aplomb at the Oregon Wrestling Championships. Redmond, Summit and Ridgeview complete the district field.
Hermiston and Redmond each have three returning district champions, and the Bulldogs’ nine returning state qualifiers leads the pack.
The strength of Hermiston’s formidable lineup falls in the middle weights as junior Adrian Tuia (145 pounds), and seniors C.J. Hendon (152) and Valen Wyse (160) all won titles at lighter weight classes last season.
The 152-160 brackets are shaping up to be the most competitive of the tournament as Pendleton senior Morgan Holcomb and Redmond senior Mitch Willett both won district titles as well last year and have wrestled in each of those weight classes this season. Summit’s Grant Leipart is another wrestler to watch there.
Also back to defend their titles from last year are Redmond’s Evan McLean (113) and Mario Nonato (220) and Mountain View’s Caleb Duhn (126).
Four more Bulldogs are the top returners in their bracket, and heavyweight Beau Blake was second last season while John-Henry Line (195), Kenny Bevan (182) and Julio Leiva (170) were third. Joey Gutierrez was second to Willett at 160, and has wrestled as heavy as 182 this year, and Jesus Rodriguez was the third-place 120-pounder.
Corey Mason (220) and Wade Kirkpatrick (152) also placed last season for the Bulldogs, but not high enough to earn a state berth.
Larson said those are two he expects to come out wrestling hard and have a good chance to break through this season, and said the 106 class is another where he hopes to pick up a lot of points with Ruben Madrigal and Alice Todryk.
“We’re absolutely expecting both of those two to make it to state tournament,” he said. “It’s tough to do sometimes but we’re expecting both those to go.”
The Bucks aren’t loaded up like the Bulldogs, but have several state hopefuls and could contend for second place in team points with a strong showing.
Joining Holcomb as a title contenders for Pendleton are sophomore Alex Rendon (132) and senior Jeff Kovach (138). Each wrestler won his last match, which came during a dual in Hermiston on Feb. 1 which was also the last live action for the Bulldogs, as both teams were stuck at home last weekend due to inclement weather.
The ultimate goal for the Bulldogs is an 11th banner to adorn their gymnasium wall, and Larson said it’s hard to put a number on how many state berths the team needs to secure to put them in the driver’s seat.
“There’s been some years where we’ve taken 11 to sate and won a state title, and there’s years we’ve taken 16 to state and won the title and with eight champions,” he said. “We want to get as many to the state tournament as possible. One of these years our goals is to have 28 in the state tournament and 14 champs, so we definitely have high expectations as a coaching staff.”
Action will begin on Friday at 3:30 p.m., and is expected to pick back up around 10 a.m. on Saturday. All matches will take place on three mats in the main gym.