PORTLAND — A year after finishing second-runner up at the Class 5A wrestling state championships, Hermiston is looking like a program with vengeance in mind.
The 2013 Bulldogs have drilled dual opponents and trounced tournament fields on their way to their regional wrestling tournament this weekend at Portland’s Marshall High School. Along the way, the Dawgs have picked up steam and the kind of state-wide attention that has the school favored for not only a district championship — an accomplishment that’s become commonplace around Hermiston — but a state title.
This year’s Dawgs could easily match the eight state qualifiers of yesteryear that got the team to third place overall, a number that was far below its 17 from 2011. That season, Hermiston clinched its final state championship in a string of five straight team titles.
Hermiston has state-title potential up and down its lineup, but Tyler Berger is the odds-on favorite of all the favorites. Berger, a two-time champion already, took just one loss bouncing between 138 and 145 pounds in his junior season while racing toward the postseason tournaments. He swept his way through prestigious tournaments like the Oregon Wrestling Classic and the Reser’s Tournament of Champions without a hiccup.
Now at 138 pounds, he’ll be far from alone when the Bulldogs’ bus pulls up to Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland for state action next week. Look for other top-ranked Bulldogs and reigning state champs Abraham Rodriguez, now at 160 pounds, and Isaac Aguilar, now at 120, to be close behind.
And with a bulging supporting cast of boys searching for that first championship, a list that includes lighter weights Andy Wagner at 106 pounds, AJ Garcia at 113 and Wyatt Scribner at 126, along with some big bodies like 170-pound Alec St. Hilaire, 192-pound Sammy Colbray, and the big Batease brothers, Caleb and Jake, Hermiston’s dominance at the regional meet is almost expected.
For Pendleton, the team that pushed the Bulldogs at last year’s regional tournament and surpassed them based on pure numbers at state for a second-place finish, a season of disappointment and bad bounces got even worse on Wednesday.
PJ Schubert, one of the Bucks’ three returning state third-placers, was lost for the season after a ranching accident tore off the tip of his right index finger just days before the regional meet. Schubert, a heavyweight senior, could only watch on Thursday as his teammates trained for the tournament, a neon green cast engulfing his hand.
The injury, the latest of many for Pendleton this season, leaves the Bucks with one fewer body. Pendleton will still have wrestlers in Portland for the state meet next week, though. Seniors Dylan Holcomb and Colton Skeen each won bronzes last year and are primed for a repeat performance, this year at 120 and 138 pounds, should they succeed at the regional meet.
And along with wrestlers like Ryan Skeen at 126 pounds, TJ Hancock at 132 and Tanner Yeager at 170, Pendleton should be well represented with state qualifiers.
“For most of those guys, every one of them with the right draw can be a state placer,” Pendleton coach Fred Phillips said. “It’s just a matter of doing the work this weekend, placing as high as they can to get there and letting the chips fall where they may next week.”
But there won’t be the same flood of Bucks like last February when Pendleton sent 14 boys to the state meet. With Schubert no longer in the equation, Pendleton can probably expect closer to half that number.
It’s a different world for Pendleton wrestling in 2013, Holcomb said. The boys that are left are working hard to make sure the Bucks leave their mark on the state ranks.
“We lost a whole bunch of juniors and seniors from last year and it just broke us a little bit down coming into this season,” said Holcomb, another Buck who missed large chunks of to season with injury. “... The rest of us state placers, state qualifiers are doing our best to help the team out.”
Following this weekend’s action from Marshall High, the qualifiers will reconvene at Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Thursday for the opening rounds of the state championships.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.