For the past month, Mid-Columbia wrestlers have been gathering momentum, traveling around the Pacific Northwest to build their skills and gain experience that will serve them against a deluge of fierce postseason competition.
If you haven’t heard of them yet, you almost certainly will. With 16 returning district champions in the Mid-Columbia Conference alone and 17 defending regional champions (including six girls), area grapplers are hungry to do even better in 2016.
State titles were a little harder to come by in 2015, but there are even a few of those, including Hermiston’s potential four-time state champ, Sam Colbray, at 195 pounds.
So if wrestling hasn’t piqued your interest yet, here are several reasons for you to take notice over the next month until the district tournaments begin the first weekend in February.
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Chiawana and Kamiakin have been the cream of the crop, followed closely by Pasco. Led by defending district and regional champion Levi McBride (195 pounds), Chiawana is prepared to own any dual meet — and most tournaments — at 152 pounds and above. Bryce Buckley (152), McBride and Kameron Silvers (220) have dominated their weight classes so far.
“So far we’ve had some injuries and illnesses, but we’ve worked incredibly hard,” Riverhawks coach Jack Anderson said. “This is a great group of kids to be around. We want to win a league title. That’s our goal, but it’s going to be a difficult task.”
Kamiakin is led by sophomore Riley Gurr, who finished second at Mat Classic XXVII at 106 pounds last year and is a year older and a few pounds heavier. He’s ranked as the top 113-pounder in the state in Class 3A, but he’s beaten all comers at 120, too. Freshman Austin Almaguer is off to a promising start at 106, winning titles at the Hanford Winter Cup and the Bob Mars tournament, with a runner-up finish at the Rose City Championships. And don’t forget about Clyde DeLeon (defending 3A district champ at 138, moved up to 152) and Nick Little (defending 3A district, regional champ at 285, fourth at state).
“When I first came on, we were notorious for forfeits, but now we’re competitive at every weight class,” said Braves coach Jordan Anderson, Jack’s brother. “We’re really coming along.”
Pasco has its share of returning talent as well, with a balanced lineup from light to heavy, led by two-time defending district champions Patrick Torres (132) and Luis Velazco (160). The Bulldogs sent four wrestlers to state last season and should increase that total this year with help from Jake Covington (145) and Roman Cortez (195).
Richland might just have the best heavyweight in the state in Nic Workman, a two-time district champ who finished third at state last year and was a runner-up at the prestigious Tri-State Tournament this season. The Bombers also have an anchor in Cole Ballard at 182.
The Southridge Suns have what one MCC coach calls “one of the best athletes in the conference” in Zayid Al-Ghani (170), a defending 3A district champ who won titles at Best of the West and the Mel Carlson Invite.
Kennewick’s Emilio Ramos made one of the biggest jumps this season after finishing sixth at 126 last season. He’s now working at 152 and ranked highly among his division. Ronny Loomis (182) own the Bob Mars title and looks to return to state.
Hanford is young (17 freshmen) but led by sophomore Hunter Murphey (113 pounds), who took second at the Inland Empire Classic, and Walla Walla heavyweight Kurt Blackman has a solid shot at his first Mat Classic berth.
Othello finished 12th in the Class 2A team standings at state and has five returning Mat Classic qualifiers, led by two-time state placer Anthony Ruiz (195).
In the Class 1A ranks, Royal could make a run at a state title after taking sixth last year. The Knights have five state placers among seven returning qualifiers. Kiona-Benton’s Jaron Gunter (106) and Tanner Cook (285) both posted runner-up finishes at state last year and will be hungry for a title in 2016. Connell returns three state placers and five qualifiers. Columbia-Burbank’s Trevor Medlock will look to return to Mat Classic.
Colbray leads an impressive group of Hermiston wrestlers who helped the Bulldogs win a third consecutive Oregon Class 5A state title in 2015. With 14 returning state qualifiers, including seven state placers, Hermiston should be in the hunt to add to that streak. With another state title at 195, Colbray will become the 30th grappler in Oregon history to earn four state titles.
Grandview won the Mat Classic team title with just three state qualifiers last year. Of course, each of them — Viannei Perez (105), Marrizza Birrueta (110) and Desiree Zavala (140) — won state titles, which helps. Perez and Zavala (a two-time state champ) are back for their senior seasons. Sunnyside, led by three-time state qualifier Daisy Chavez and Jeniya Guillen (third at state in 2015), will get help from freshman Chahala DeLaRosa (100).
Pasco has five returning state qualifiers and two returning state placers in Hailey Hall (135) and Danielle Gibson (140), both of whom earned Best of the West titles.