Prep wrestling: Season preview

Redmond, Crook County, Culver all seek state titles

By Beau Eastes / The Bulletin / @beastes

Central Oregon has always boasted strong wrestling programs.

Redmond, Crook County and Culver high schools have all won team state titles, and each year the region usually produces a number of individual state champions. Last season alone Central Oregon boasted six state champs.

This winter should include more of the same. Culver is battling for its seventh straight Class 2A/1A crown. Redmond High makes the transition from 6A — where the Panthers never struggled to compete — to 5A. Crook County hopes to improve on last season's fourth-place finish at state. And Bend schools Mountain View, Summit and Bend High all look to continue the improvements they have shown over the past several years.

Ironically, arguably the area's top wrestler, Boomer Fleming, will be wearing the singlet of a program with zero wrestling history or tradition.

“We're trying to build a foundation,” says Dan Elliott, wrestling coach at Ridgeview High in Redmond, who is guiding Fleming and the Ravens during the school's first year. “We want to get as many kids as possible to the state tournament, but our biggest concentration is on development. We're really, really green. Our biggest goal is to bring along the inexperienced kids and be in a position to be competitive at the end of the year.”

Fleming, who as a sophomore at Redmond High last season won the 6A state title at 160 pounds, plans to be more than just competitive. After playing football at 190 pounds this fall — he was a standout running back for the Ridgeview football team — Fleming figures to wrestle at 182 pounds this winter. Competing at the 4A level this year, Fleming is hoping to become the Ravens' first state champion in any sport.

“Boomer's the one you want to build around,” Elliott says. “He's a great kid and a tremendous wrestler. He really brings a lot of class into the (wrestling) room.”

Fleming is just one of several Central Oregon wrestlers who could make state title runs this season. Crook County, which sent a school-record 22 wrestlers to the 4A state tournament last February en route to a fourth-place finish, brings back 17 wrestlers with state experience. Eight Cowboy freshmen qualified for the 2012 4A state tournament, four of whom advanced to the championship semifinal round. Colbran Meeker was the runner-up at 126 pounds, Trayton Libolt finished third at 103, Alex Urrea was fourth at 145, and Brendan Harkey took fifth at 138. All are back for Crook County this winter.

“We always have big expectations at Crook County,” Cowboys coach Jake Huffman says. “Nothing's really changed there. But I'd say we're going to focus more on the individual, try to really develop each wrestler and not get so hung up on team goals. We do that and the other stuff will take care of itself.”

Crook County has just three seniors this season, but all have been battle tested at state. Dean Smith placed fourth at 160 pounds in 2012, Dawson Barber is a two-time state participant, and transfer Gunner Crawford took sixth at the 5A tourney at 170 pounds last year wrestling for Bend High.

With enough depth to help offset the lack of seniors, the Cowboys should contend with reigning state champion Cascade, Henley and Sweet Home, among others, for the 2013 4A team title.

“It sure makes challenge matches a heck of a lot more interesting,” Huffman says about a Crook County wrestling room stacked with state-level competition. “It's a great advantage to have, but it can be pretty stressful on the kids. They have to fight for their job every week. But it's a great problem to have as a coach.”

Madras senior Miguel Vasquez also expects to be one of the top wrestlers in 4A after ending the last two seasons one win away from a state championship. Vasquez took second at 125 pounds in 2011 and was the state runner-up at 132 pounds this past winter.

While Crook County fights for the top spot in 4A, Culver looks to maintain its reign at 2A/1A. The Bulldogs, who have won every 2A/1A state title since the state went from sponsoring three wrestling state tournaments to five at the start of the 2006-07 school year, are strong again this season with two returning state champions. Senior Jared Kasch will try to become the 25th Oregon high school wrestler ever to win four state titles, and sophomore Tucker Davis looks to contend for state again after winning the 2012 2A/1A final at 120 pounds. Culver will be without standout junior Noe Gonzalez, who won state at 113 pounds last season; the wrestler and his family have moved to Walla Walla, Wash.

“It is tough and it is special,” Bulldog coach J.D. Alley says about Kasch's quest for back-to-back-to-back-to-back state titles. “Some people say since the reclassification, things have been watered down and it's easier to win four titles than before.

“That's hogwash,” Alley argues. “To try to do the same thing, on the fourth weekend in February for four years in a row, you've got to be on the top of your game. A lot of things besides wrestling have to go right in your life. You have to be healthy, injury free, you have to pass English class and make weight. You just don't have a chance to stub your toe.”

At the 5A level, Redmond High expects to be competitive right away after wrestling in Class 6A for the past six years. The Panthers, who placed seventh at the 2012 6A tourney, return seven state qualifiers from a year ago, including senior Chance Lindquist, who took third in 2011 at 119 pounds and third again last season at 138 pounds. Sophomore J.T. Ayers looks to make the state finals again for Mountain View after finishing second at 106 pounds at the 2012 championship tournament. And Summit's Joaquin Reyes is back for his senior year following a third-place state effort at 170 pounds last season.

Wrestlers to watch

A look at some of the top returning Central Oregon wrestlers for the 2012-13 season:

• Boomer Fleming, jr., Ridgeview: At Redmond High last year, Fleming won the Class 6A 160-pound state title as a sophomore. He will likely wrestle at 182 pounds this season.

• Jared Kasch, sr., Culver: A three-time defending state champion — his most recent title was at 126 pounds — Kasch is looking to become the 25th prep wrestler in Oregon history to win four state crowns.

• Tucker Davis, so., Culver: Davis earned a state title last winter at 120 pounds, knocking off the tournament's No. 1 seed 4-1 in the state final.

• Colbran Meeker, so., Crook County: Meeker capped a strong freshman season with a runner-up finish at 126 pounds during the Class 4A state tournament.

• J.T. Ayers, so., Mountain View: As a freshman last season, Ayers placed second at the Class 5A state championships in the 106-pound bracket.

• Chance Lindquist, sr., Redmond: Lindquist, who has taken third at state the past two years at the Class 6A state championships, could contend for a 5A title this season. One of 11 state qualifiers for the Panthers last season, Lindquist won the consolation bracket at 138 pounds at the 2012 6A championships.

• Miguel Vasquez, sr., Madras: Vasquez has posted state runner-up finishes each of the last two seasons, most recently taking second at 132 pounds at the 2012 4A state tourney.

— Beau Eastes

Prep wrestling outlook

A glance at Central Oregon schools competing this season:

Class 5A

Redmond

Head coach: Kris Davis (first season)

2011-12: Finished seventh at Class 6A state tournament

Class 5A Special District 4 regional tournament: Feb. 8 and 9 at Churchill High in Eugene

Bend High

Head coach: Luke Larwin (sixth season)

2011-12: Finished 16th at Class 5A state tournament

Class 5A Special District 4 regional tournament: Feb. 8 and 9 at Churchill High in Eugene

Mountain View

Head coach: Les Combs (17th season)

2011-12: Finished 14th at Class 5A state tournament

Class 5A Special District 4 regional tournament: Feb. 8 and 9 at Churchill High in Eugene

Summit

Head coach: Tom Nelson (fifth season)

2011-12: Finished 13th at Class 5A state tournament

Class 5A Special District 4 regional tournament: Feb. 8 and 9 at Churchill High in Eugenee_SClB

Class 4A

Crook County

Head coach: Jake Huffman (fifth season)

2011-12: Finished fourth at Class 4A state tournament

Class 4A Special District 2 regional tournament: Feb. 15 and 16 in La Grande

La Pine

Head coach: Gary Slater (third season)

2011-12: Tied for 18th at Class 4A state tournament

Class 4A Special District 2 regional tournament: Feb. 15 and 16 in La Grande

Madras

Head coach: John Downs (first season)

2011-12: Finished 12th at Class 4A state tournament

Class 4A Special District 2 regional tournament: Feb. 15 and 16 in La Grande

Ridgeview

Head coach: Dan Elliott (first season)

2011-12: First year of program

Class 4A Special District 2 regional tournament: Feb. 15 and 16 in La Grande

Sisters

Head coach: John Downs (first season)

2011-12: Did not score at the Class 4A state tournament

Class 4A Special District 2 regional tournament: Feb. 15 and 16 in La Grandee_SClB

Class 2A/1A

Culver

Head coach: J.D. Alley (23rd season)

2011-12: Won the Class 2A/1A state tournament

Class 2A/1A Special District 3 regional tournament: Feb. 16 at North Lake

Gilchrist

Head coach: Garry Journey (second season)

2011-12: Finished 18th at Class 2A/1A state tournament

Class 2A/1A Special District 3 regional tournament: Feb. 16 at North Lake