High aspirations

Glad grapplers plan a return to the glory days

'We still have a couple of holes to fill, but I think we'll battle with anybody,' Gladstone first-year head wrestling coach Jon Wolf said of his Gladiators' prospects for the 2011-12 season. 'We've got a lot of kids back, and they're a year older and a year better.'

The Gladiators weren't bad last year. They placed a close third to Estacada and North Marion at last year's district tournament and qualified 13 wrestlers for regional competition.

Eight of those regional qualifiers are back, and they plan to move up a notch or two this year.

'We've had a complete renovation of our program,' said Joey Yeaman. 'A new coach, new practices, we've got twice as many kids out as last year….

'It's a new sport. Gladstone's finally a wrestling school again.'

The Gladiators were perennial state powers in wrestling in the 1970s and 1980s, when they won three state titles (1976, 1979, 1982) and finished second twice (1978, 1988).

'[Our goals are to] win district, win regionals and place high at state,' said Gladstone senior Connor Finch.

The Gladiators had a couple of huge confidence-boosters last week. They battled from behind to drop Yamhill-Carlton 39-36 in dual meet on Wednesday, and on Saturday they scored 215 points and finished a close second to Class 4A power Tillamook in an eight-team tournament at Nestucca.

'It was the first home win of our entire high school career,' Finch said of the Yamhill-Carlton dual.

'It feels so good….,' said Gladstone senior Nick Hernandez. 'We've still got a lot of work to do, but we're headed in the right direction.'

Trailing 30-15, the Gladiators earned the win when seniors Nick Bell (160), A.J. Prom (160), Hernandez (182) and Yeaman (220) recorded consecutive falls.

One of the biggest wins of the night came at 120, where Finch upset 2011 state place-winner Joe Middaugh, winning in a takedown-fest, 18-9.

'We knew Connor could do it,' said Yeaman.

'Connor works hard,' said Hernandez. 'He's one of the hardest workers on the team.'

Connor Finch (120), Prom (170) and Yeaman (195) won titles at Nestucca. Freshmen Blake McNall (106) and Kyle Kintz (120), and junior Wyatt Finch (113) earned runner-up honors.

Wyatt Finch (113), Prom (171) and Yeaman (195) return with the top credentials from last season. All three were district champions.

Other top returnees include sophomores Michael Alger (106) and Logan Good (145); junior Jacob Luce (182); and seniors Bell (160) and Connor Finch (120).

Alger, Bell and Finch placed third at district in 2011, while Logan and Luce both finished fourth.

Wolf says he also likes what he's seen from Hernandez (182), juniors Kyle Betnar (160) and D.J. Williams (152), and McNall (106).

Hernandez, who was one of the Gladiators' better wrestlers as a sophomore, missed last season because of a football injury. He had some misfortune while wrestling in the semifinals of Saturday's meet at Nestucca when he dislocated a collarbone.

'He was wrestling quite well,' Wolf said of Hernandez. 'He's seeing a specialist on Monday. Hopefully we don't lose him for the season….'

Williams, who was the backup quarterback in football, is a first-year wrestler. But Wolf said he's a good athlete and a quick learner.

'We've got five or six guys that could place at state,' said Wolf.

'My personal goal is to win district, win regionals and place high at state, if not win state,' Connor Finch said.

'First at district, first at regionals and place at state,' Yeaman said of his goals. 'I wrestled four matches [at state last season] and almost made the place rounds. I lost by one point in overtime at the buzzer, or I would have [made the place rounds].'

Hernandez said, prior to Saturday's injury, 'I want to win it all. That's my goal.'

Wolf says the Gladiators will once again be matched up with some of the top teams in the state in league and regional competition. North Marion, Madras and Molalla were all top 10 teams at last year's state tournament. Scappoose and Estacada placed 12th and 14th respectively at the 2011 Class 4A State Tournament.

Gladstone begins league dual competition on Wednesday, Jan. 4, when the Gladiators square off with Estacada on the road.