Wrestling team calls on experience to fuel quest for fifth-straight title

Hermiston assistant coach Orlando Perez demonstrates technique on junior Joey Delgado during Wednesday's practice at Hermiston High School. Delgado finished second in Class 5A at 119 pounds last season, losing to teammate CJ Dircksen, 3-2, in the title bout.

Make no mistake — winning championships isn’t an easy thing to do. Even though the Hermiston wrestling team makes it look that way.

After coming off two of the most dominating state tournament performances in Oregon high school sports history, the Bulldogs are excited and ready to begin a run to their fifth-straight OSAA Class 5A state title.

Head coach Curt Berger said he really likes what he’s been seeing early on, and how can he not? The Bulldogs return nine state tournament placers from last year’s team — six of which either won individual titles or came in second.

“We’ve got a great junior and senior class as far as experience and toughness goes,” Berger said. “And the freshmen and sophomores are really athletic.”

Seniors Bryce McMahon and Curtis Berger, along with junior Joey Delgado, will be depended on to provide solid leadership and a lead-by-example attitude for the season.

McMahon won a state title at 152 pounds last year, pinning Crescent Valley senior Kyle Christiansen in four minutes, nine seconds. He feels this team is going to be one of the best teams Hermiston has had.

“We have a lot of new talent,” he said. “We have some returners who should win state, too. If we keep it going like we are now, we’ll set a new state record.”

While the actual high school season won’t start until the Inland Empire meet Dec. 10-11 in Spokane, Hermiston has been able to get some of its new talent on the mat already.

Freshman Tyler Berger, who is ranked No. 3 at 119 pounds in the Oregon Wrestling Forum preseason rankings, wiped the mat with his opponents at the Pacific Junior Open in Forest Grove on Nov. 6. He finished the 125-pound bracket with a 5-0 mark, including three wins via fall.

Delgado, Berger and senior Fabian Scotto also competed in the tournament at Pacific University. Delgado finished second at 135 pounds while Scotto placed fifth at 155 pounds. Berger won the 195-pound class.

With nearly 60 wrestlers through the first week of practice, Coach Berger said the most important thing about the meets early in the year is to get his guys as much mat time as possible against top-notch competition. This year’s schedule isn’t filled with cupcakes either; it’s as tough as it’s ever been.

After the Oregon Classic in Redmond was moved back one week, the hole created in Hermiston’s schedule allowed the club to pick up the Rollie Lane Invitational on Jan 7-8 at the Idaho Center in Nampa.

“The way the dates worked out was nice,” Berger said. “It might not be as tough as Tri-State, but it’s very similar. Idaho has some great teams.”

The Tri-State meet is perhaps the toughest on the schedule, as it usually is every year.

Held at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene on Dec. 17-18, it’s always a good barometer for judging where the team is due to the best teams from Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon showing up to compete.

Of course, the Reser Tournament of Champions is the other remaining gem on the Hermiston docket, held Jan. 28-29 at Liberty High School in Hillsboro. There are no classification brackets in this knock-down, drag-out affair, which pits the state’s best against each other regardless of school size.

With another solid tournament in the Best of the West Duals on Dec. 21-22 in Pasco, which is essentially another home meet for the Dawgs, the crew will be well-seasoned by the time they tackle the new regional meet, Feb. 18-19 at Benson High School in Portland.

With the new playoff restructure by the Oregon Schools Activities Association, the Columbia River Conference and Portland Interscholastic League will now compete in a 12-team combined event, with the top four from each weight class advancing to the state finals the next weekend at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

With most of the tournaments being both varsity and junior varsity teams, Coach Berger said that’s extremely valuable to see everyone in action before the regional meet.

As for duals in the CRC, the Dawgs will host The Dalles Wahtonka on Jan. 20 and rival Pendleton on Feb. 10. Both start at 7 p.m., while the third dual at Hood River Valley will be at 6 p.m., Jan. 27.

After a team wins four state titles in a row, and five overall, people around the state tend to take notice rather quickly. Hermiston is ranked No. 1 in the Oregon Wrestling Forum preseason poll.

“People expect us to be ferocious,” Berger said. “And we’re going to be.”

Want more coverage? Check out Billy’s blog, “Herald Preps,” for more information and insight at http://heraldpreps.blogspot.com.

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