The Hermiston wrestling team is headed into familiar waters at the Oregon 5A state wrestling tournament, but it is in uncharted waters with just three returning state placers among the 14 state qualifiers.
The Bulldogs, who have won eight of the past nine Class 5A state team titles (sans 2012), return state champion senior Valen Wyse at 170 pounds (he won at 152 last year), senior C.J. Hendon, who was third at 138, and junior AJ Tuia (145), who placed sixth at 132 as a freshman.
“In the past, we have had five or six guys who had placed and were looking to improve, or guys who had won and were looking to get another title,” said Hermiston coach Kyle Larson. “We are in a little bit of a different position than we have been in the past.”
The state tournament runs Friday and Saturday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland.
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Larson, in his second season, said he thought going into district that they could come away with 12 to 14 state berths, but had a different outlook after the fact.
“To be honest, after going through district, I thought we should have gotten 16,” said Larson, a 2003 Hermiston graduate and three-time state champion.
The Bulldogs had four champions last year and ran away with the team title after piling up 226.5 points, far and away better than co-runners-up Churchill and Crater, which each had 137 points.
Winning another title won’t be quite as easy this time around.
“It’s up in the air,” Larson said. “It’s tough to predict what will happen at state with so many teams and so many variables. Will you get help from other schools? Who wins, who gets bonus points? We are looking to go in and wrestle the guy standing in front of us, score as many points as possible and see what happens in the end.”
Joining Wyse, Hendon and Tuia at state will be Joey Gutierrez (182), Corey Mason (220), Julio Leiva (170), Kenny Bevan (220), Beau Blake (285), Oscar Lopez (132), Ruben Madrigal (106), Gage Shipley (113), Jesus Rodriguez (126), Wade Kirkpatrick (145) and Sean Stewart (195).
Wyse, Hendon, Gutierrez and Tuia all won district titles.
The Riverside Pirates are sending a contingent of seven to the state tournament, led by senior Aristotle Rockwell, who is undefeated at 31-0.
Rockwell won the 128-pound title last year. He is the top seed at 132 this year.
Joining Rockwell at state are Anthony Kernal (220), who was sixth at state last year, Ruben Villa (285), Andrew Barker (120), Kevin Altamirano (126), Fernando Ortega (106 and Jordy Mendoza (220).