A week after blowing through the Oregon Wrestling Classic field in Redmond, the Hermiston Bulldogs will join fellow Columbia River Conference institution Pendleton in Hillsboro today and Saturday for the midseason climax: The Reser’s Tournament of Champions.
“The Reser’s is one of the toughest in the state of Oregon, well probably the toughest because it’s all levels,” Hermiston assistant coach Rob Berger said. “It’s one of those tournaments we look at on paper as one you definitely want to win.”
The Bulldogs won the OWC with relative ease last week, adding to their growing tournament victory total this season. Tyler Berger swept his competition in Redmond and is as hot as ever heading into a tournament he’s already won twice. The junior is 37-1 on the season and a serious contender for another Reser’s title, this year at 138 pounds.
Other Bulldogs Isaac Aguilar (120 pounds) and Abraham Rodriguez (160 pounds) have also had success at the tournament, which kicks off at 11 a.m. today at Liberty High. Aguilar was second at last year’s meet and Rodriguez third in helping the Dawgs to a fourth-place overall finish.
Usually there’s a week of down time between the OWC and the RTOC, but not this year. It’s an unfortunate circumstance for Hermiston, Berger said, because a few of his boys could use a week to recuperate. Wrestling season coincides with flu season and several athletes have missed both days of school and tournaments recently.
Even as the Bulldogs get wrestlers back into action — like Wyatt Scribner, a junior at 120 pounds who missed the Classic because of illness — they’re replaced by others on the sidelines. Berger said Hermiston will probably be without fellow 120-pounder Aguilar this weekend because of the same sickness.
“Basically we’re just trying to get healthy,” said Berger, whose team is free of serious maladies outside the recent bug. “Our schedule doesn’t give us a lot of opportunity to take breaks. Our schedule is set up to get us ready for the end of the year.
“Our ultimate goal is to get that state title back,” he added, referencing Hermiston’s third overall placing last season that snapped a five-year run of 5A titles. “We want to win these tournaments. When healthy, we’re probably the top team going into (state).”
Healthy is an ideal that Pendleton has only dreamed of reaching this year.
For the Bucks, it’s been a season of tumult. Haywire is the word Pendleton coach Fred Phillips likes to use.
Two of the team’s three returning state third placers, Dylan Holcomb and PJ Schubert, have been bogged down this season by injuries. Holcomb, a 145-pounder this year, missed significant time to start the season with a leftover football injury to his thigh and heavyweight Schubert has been in and out of action because of a lingering tailbone issue.
Add onto that some other injuries, low turnout and the dismissal of one athlete for internal reasons, and the Bucks are lucky to fill 80 percent of their weight classes each time out.
“This year’s been a year where if it can go wrong, it has gone wrong,” Phillips said. “That’s despite some great kids on the team that have worked hard.”
The goals are a little different this time around for the Bucks, who placed second as a team at last year’s 5A state finals with seven placers and 13 qualifiers.
The trip to the Tournament of Champions will be to benefit a handful of wrestlers that could make a state push individually. Phillips said four or five Pendleton boys have the opportunity to make some noise at the state level — maybe more if the injuries clear up in the season’s final month.
Schubert and Holcomb were each third placers in last year’s Reser’s event, the first at heavyweight and the latter at 132 pounds. They should have another good showing, along with Tristan Holcomb (106 pounds) and Colton Skeen (120), Phillips said. The Bucks as a whole will have a hard time repeating last winter’s ninth-place finish, though.
“We want those kids that have done the right things through the year, not given in to peer pressure and been good, hard working human beings, we want to get them to the state tournament and be state placers and maybe be state champions,” Phillips said.
And that can all start with one big performance, perhaps at this weekend’s Reser’s Tournament of Champions.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.