Wrestlers’ depth may be key to tournament success

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Last year the Sweet Home wrestling squad demonstrated how teamwork wins championships.

The Huskies won the Oregon Classic tournament, their first Val-Co district title (in their first year in the league) and then capped it off by putting together a thrilling run in the state tournament that brought home Sweet Home’s first state championship since 1999.

That was last year.

This year the Huskies are back but the question is how far they’ll be able to go with a team deep in the lower weights and frighteningly thin on the upper end.

“The numbers are not where they have been in the past,” said Coach Steve Thorpe. “The quality is there. We have set high goals.”

Thorpe, in his 12th year as head coach, had 40 wrestlers out as of last Friday.

The Huskies are ranked fifth in the state but after graduating “a very good crew of seniors last year,” they have some holes to fill, the coach said.

“We’re not going to be as good a dual-meet team as we have been in the past,” Thorpe said. “We’re not going to be bad, but not as good as last year. We are going to be a good tournament team.”

Gone are graduates Jake Smith (sixth at 120), Andrew Knight (fourth at 152), Sawyer Anderson (eighth at 152), and Rob Helfrich (third at 189). But the cupboard isn’t completely bare, with four state placewinners returning.

Back this year is senior Danny Johnson, who took second in the state last year at 112 pounds. Johnson, who set the school record for pins last year with 30, is ranked second in the state, behind Banks sophomore Gabriel Goodrich, at 112 in preseason polls.

Also back is senior Jack Perry, who placed fourth at 119 last year and is expected to wrestle at that weight again this season. Perry is ranked third in the preseason.

Brock Crocker, who placed third as a freshman at 125 pounds last year, returns at 130 pounds, where he is ranked third, and Nick Pitts, fifth at 145, is ranked fourth currently at that weight.

In addition to the state placewinners, the Huskies welcome back a slew of returning lettermen and have “some good young talent,” Thorpe said.

They include sophomore Taylor Tagle, who won the Greco-Roman state championship last April and fourth in the freestyle tournament. He is expected to compete at 103 or 112 pounds.

Also back are sophomores Mitch and Matt Grove, who are expected to wrestle between 103 and 119 pounds, and senior Casey Johnson, who was one match away from placing in the state championships last year at 112 pounds.

Brad Pitts, a double state placer in Cadet competition last year following the high school season, returns after ending last season at 160 pounds.

There is also an influx of talent from a new freshman class, but Thorpe said he’s waiting to see what they can do at the high school level.

“We have some young guys, but I’m not going to talk about them because they haven’t done anything in high school yet,” he said.

Rounding out the squad for Sweet Home, as of Monday, are: Senior Shaw Valentine; juniors Marc Callagan, Logan Clark, Kyle Holmes, TJ McCraven, Joe Pauu, Nikki Smith, Joe VanEpps and Levi Weikel; sophomores Anthony Albright, Marshall Arndt, Jason Driver, Hunter Fielders, Tyler Holly, David Rinehart and Brehk Veitemheimer; and freshmen Mandi Binks, Ryan Binks, Michael Harry, Kyle Hummer, Derek Jacques, Jacob Jewel, Matt Long, Patrick Long, Keenon Martin, Kris Newport, Austin Rains, Donald Rinehart, Jessie Smith and Kyle Sorenson.

As far as the competition goes this year, Tillamook, which finished second behind the Huskies last year, is ranked first in the state going into the preseason, with Illinois Valley second. Thorpe said he expects a “tough as nails” Cascade and Scappoose to be right in there – all teams the Huskies will face.

“They’re well-coached and they’ve got great teams,” he said.

“We wrestle a tough schedule,” Thorpe said. “It’s going to test our guys’ character all year long.”

In the Val-Co League, he said he expects Philomath to present a challenge, particularly as the Warriors return all but two of their varsity wrestlers from last year and are strong in the upper weights.

“They’re very tough,” he said.

In their last practice before Thanksgiving last week, the Huskies got a workshop from former Sweet Home wrestlers Tomas Rosa and Kyle Temple, who are both varsity wrestlers for Southern Oregon University, Rosa at 149 pounds and Temple at 157.

“It’s very, very cool when they wrestle a dual meet and they announce both guys from Sweet Home, in back-to-back weights,” Thorpe said.

Both placed at state for Sweet Home but “there was nothing flashy or fancy about them,” he said. “What they have in common is an incredible work ethic. They worked themselves into the positions they’re in.”

Rosa went to the NAIA nationals last year and both are aiming to finish this year as All-Americans and academic All-Americans.

Thorpe hopes the examples set by the alumni will reinforce qualities he already sees in his team.

“The neat thing about this year’s team is they are very, very hard workers,” he said. “We’ll see what we’ll do when they’re toeing the line on the mat.”