Wrestlers open season in reloading mode

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home’s wrestling program has had an almost unprecendented run of success in the last five years, as the Huskies have trophied every year, including a state team title in 2009.

Although Sweet Home was third last year, Colton Schilling, Tyler Cowger and Wade Paulus won individual championships, the most ever in a single year for the Huskies in Coach Steve Thorpe’s 16 years at the helm.

This year, though, Sweet Home’s program will have a different look with the departure of two longtime assistants, Steve Hummer and Tim Boatwright. Hummer has moved to South Albany, where he will coach softball and assist new Rebels Coach Andrew Peterson.

Boatwright has retired after 33 years with the program (see accompanying story on page 2).

“It was a really different practice for me Monday,” Thorpe said during the first week of practice. “I didn’t realize it until I was walking into the room by myself. It’s something I have never been without. Tim is not going to be there this year. Steve Hummer is in South Albany. It’s a different feel.

“But I graduate people every year. We have a great coaching staff with Steve Schilling and Tomas Rosa back. You don’t replace Boatwright. You just reload with someone else.”

That would be Matt Mahr, the Huskies’ new assistant, and a slew of new wrestlers to the program following the departure of the three state champions, heavyweight Zach Gill, first-line wrestlers Nate Melcher, Trever Olson, David Skeen, Bobby and Brian Malloy, and a couple of other seniors.

It also was a historic year for graduates moving on to college competition. Schilling is wrestling at Division I Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cowger and Gill at Southern Oregon University, and Olson at Southwestern Oregon Community College.

“We graduated one of the best wrestling classes to come out of here,” Thorpe said. “When you have four guys who signed to wrestle in college out of one class, that’s pretty impressive. These were great wrestlers and great students. It was a very good class.

“But this is not my first group of seniors. It’s not the first time I’ve graduated a great class.”

Mahr, the new assistant, played football and wrestled at South Salem before competing at the University of La Verne (California), then transferring to Willamette. He has coached wrestling at Thurston with Mike Simons, a good friend of Thorpe’s.

Also assisting this year will be Tyler Holly, a two-time state place-winner before he graduated in 2010, Bryan Coulter, a state champion for the Huskies in 1995, and Greg Newport.

The Huskies have five seniors returning with high school experience: Dylan Elder, who won a district title last year; Ben Terry, Troy Hazelton, Ian Search and Nick Dadey. Elder is a returning district titlist.

Also back are juniors Tyler Schilling, who also was a regional titlist and third-place state medal winner, and Anthony Hardee, and sophomore Tyrel Miller, all of whom have state experience. Hardee has been to state twice and was a state place-winner last year in Greco and freestyle. Also back is sophomore Aaron Blanchard, a district placer last year.

Rounding out the team are: seniors Spencer Knight and Jimmy Sullivan; juniors Ryan Adams, Cole Ashcraft, Jason Miller, Travis Petersen, Shane Rivera, Colyn VanEck, Sam Woosley and Keegan Moore-McKay; sophomores Gavin Baskins, Christian Moon, Joseph Rasmussen and Daniel Rooney; and freshmen Lee Baltezore, JC Elder, Evan Feigum, Levi Ferebee, Tyler Fincher, Austin Harvey, Oscar Hernandez, Nick McIntire, Kobe Olson, Jake Porter, Wayde Savolt, Dillon Stutzman, JR Szubart and Brandon Watkins.

Fourteen freshmen make up more than a third of the team.

“We will be a young team, but I already like the way the kids are working,” Thorpe said. “They may have inexperience, newness to this sport, but they’re willing and eager to learn.

“There are some people who say we’re graduating them out. We’re reloading. We’re still returning a lot of varsity wrestlers from last year.”

Schilling will move up a couple of weight classes from 106, where he placed third at state as a sophomore and then followed that up with international-style Greco and freestyle state championships. Elder also will probably move up from 126.

Among the newcomers, several have wrestled at the junior high and in Mat Club and Thorpe said they’re getting up to speed at the high school level.

“As you move up to a higher level, the faster paced everything becomes,” he said. “With the faster pace come greater demands and greater maturity.”

Thorpe said he expects “very tough” competition from Cascade, which won the regional and state titles two years ago. Elmira and Stayton, which is coached by Husky alum Kyle Temple, are on the rise, he said.

“Kyle Temple is doing the right things at Stayton, making them good,” he said. “I don’t know how things are going to shape up. No matter who we face, our goal is to set our expectations high and work very hard to achieve them.

“We have some guys who we thought should be wrestling that aren’t but we’re going to focus on the guys we have. Wrestling’s a tough sport. It’s not for everybody.”

Due to the fact that the season is starting a tad late, due to OSAA scheduling, Thorpe said, the Huskies will not hold their usual season-opening four-way meet, but will open at the Perry Burlison Classic tournament at Cascade Saturday, Dec. 7. They will host a home meet against Stayton, North Marion, Sutherlin and Molalla at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10.

Thorpe said fans can expect to see a typical, hard-working Husky squad on the mat.

“We’re going to be an in-your-face style of wrestling team,” he said. “We’re not going to focus a lot on slick technique, but rather on conditioning, physical wrestling – a high-paced match. I can’t teach a bunch of guys how to wrestle, so I have to teach them to be tough.”