Cowboys will have good idea of where they stack up after eastern dual meets

by: TIM STUMM/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Mike Gast, on top, and the Cowboys head into this week's dual meets with a perfect 2-0 IMC record.

   Herman Hesse, one of the great literary giants of our time, published a book in 1932 entitled Journey to the East. The novel details a man's expedition east in search of the "Home of Light." After his epic, he comes out knowing more about himself than he ever thought possible.
   The Crook County wrestling team's trip to eastern Oregon this week may not be as deep or life-changing, but it could be just as telling. The Cowboys face Pendleton tonight then travel to Hermiston on Wednesday. It will provide them with their toughest challenge of the season, and when it's all said and done should give them a pretty good idea of their pecking order in this year's loaded Intermountain Conference.
   "It will probably be the most important meet we will have this year short of Redmond," said coach Mike Shinkle. "Anytime you travel that distance, plus add the caliber of competition they provide, you know it's going to be big. It will be our biggest challenge of the season so far and might be for the season as well."
   Pendleton will arguably be the toughest team the Cowboys face this season. Led by a strong group of wrestlers in their upper classes the Buckaroos will challenge the Cowboys in their least experienced weight divisions.
   Twins Justin and Joe Williams and senior Clay Wunder dominate Pendleton's top weights.
   To make up for the difference, Shinkle has shuffled around his lineup and has moved several wrestlers up a class. Among the changes he has made are putting Chase Raymond in at the 215 spot and moving Blaine Tocher up to 189.
   "We have juggled our lineup to match up with them a little better in the heavier weights," said Shinkle. "I think we match up good on the bottom side."
   State champion Ben Neasham and Ryan Smith, who finished third at state last year at 112 pounds, lead the Cowboys talented lower weights.
   Shinkle stated that one of the toughest obstacles facing his team this week will be focus. He cited the distance and the fact that the meets are occurring during winter break as possible disadvantages to his team.
   "Right now we have to get our heads in it," he said. "Physically I think we're ready. We turned the corner the other night."
    No matter the outcome, Shinkle is confident the effort will be there.
   "It's going to be tough, but we are going to be able to see what kind of character this team has," he said.
   "We have to really be aggressive and go right at them. Get the pins we can get and try not to let too many up."
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