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Spartans will field another talented squad this season

As always, the bar for the Hillsboro wrestling team is set high this winter.

Hilhi is coming off of a season in which it produced a school-record seven district champions, narrowly finished second to Aloha at the district tournament, and capped the year with yet more hardware — a fourth-place trophy at the Class 6A state meet.

Little surprise then, that this year’s group has coach Adam Reese thinking big — as in making another successful state run.

Reese loves to keep track of program history, and he has recorded every state meet placer since 1950 on the walls of Hilhi’s wrestling room. As might be imagined for a program that has produced two state titles and a number of other trophies, that list of names is a pretty lengthy one.

“Your job is to get on that wall,” said Reese, referencing the wall of names, “or get your year on that wall (for team state championships). That’s what we shoot for. We’ve gotten some names up there, but we haven’t done that yet (a year). That’s what we’re constantly shooting for, but that takes so much luck and staying healthy, just like any sport.”

That second wall that Reese showed off bears the years of Hilhi’s championship teams in big, bold numerals. Reese was a sophomore on the 1990 title-winning team. The program’s first state title came in 1952, and the ever-competitive Reese would no doubt love to make sure the gap between two and three is less than 28 years.

“We’re talking about winning a state championship,” Reese said. “The main goal is hardware. We’ve got to be in top four, but the ultimate goal is that state tournament and what can we get done. Everything’s practice ‘til then. We’ve got to keep working hard, keep practicing, keep banging.”

Whether this is the team to do it will not fully play out until March 1, but the Spartans are well-heeled for another season of success, at the least. They added seven more names to that lengthy list of state placers last season, and four of those wrestlers return.

Perhaps preeminent among the returners is Joey Rodriguez, a senior who was third at 120 pounds at state earlier in 2013. Also back is senior Andy Downer (fourth, 132), as are juniors Matt Peterson (sixth, 106) and Ben Kociemba (fourth, 195).

The graduates are 182-pound state champion John Morin, as well as Dauki Willburn (fourth at state at 113 pounds) and Alex Harnsberger (fifth, 138).

But upper weight T.J. Cavender and mid-weight Alex Hada also return with state meet experience, giving the Spartans a veteran group that could make more runs at district and state meet success. Sophomore Riggo Saenz has been fighting an early-season injury but also made it to state last season.

Adding to the team’s stable of talent, Reese said, are some promising freshmen who have spent time in the Hillsboro youth program. A couple of them, Peyton Bell and Ruben Rodriguez-Saenz, are even seeing time in the varsity light weight classes already.

This past weekend, the Spartans put themselves through an early-season test against some of the toughest competition in the state — programs from southern and central Oregon — in the North Bend Coast Classic.

Hilhi produced two finalists and two more semifinalists at the competition. Rodriguez finished second to Thaddeus Nelson of Class 4A Marshfield at 126 pounds, while Kociemba lost an 8-3 decision to David Douglas’ Osawaru Odighizuwa in the 220-pound final.

Additionally, Hada (152) and Cavender (195) both made the semifinals of their divisions — and both lost to eventual meet champions — before finishing third and fifth, respectively. And Jonathan Rodriguez got off to a rocky start in the 285 division by dropping his first match, but he rattled off victories in five of his next six to rebound for fifth place.

The Spartans will continue their tough early-season schedule with a trip to the Lebanon Invitational, which begins today and finishes on Saturday. After Christmas, Hilhi will compete in the Northwest Duals, a massive invitational in Beaverton featuring 24 teams from Oregon and Washington.

Century Jaguars

The 2012-13 season was another successful one for Century, which lost only three dual matches all season, placed in the top four as a team at the district level and produced three top-six wrestlers at the state meet. The Jaguars lost Carlos Mendez (third at 160 pounds) and Aaron Beadle (fourth, 220) to graduation.

The good news is that though this year’s group is varied in experience, it is not short on talent.

“We’re looking OK,” longtime Century coach Guy Takahashi said. “We’ve got a lot of kids that have been wrestling and some experience down low. In the upper weights, we’ll be fairly young.”

One of the team’s strengths is its depth, said Takahashi, adding that he is hopeful the team can produce another several state placers this winter.

Century starts with Amari Sengsavanh. He is the program’s only returning state meet placer (fifth at 126 pounds), but he is a good one — and a wrestler already in fine form. The senior won a 43-participant bracket at the Pacific Junior Open tournament in November, before the start of the high school season, Takahashi said.

“He’s looking really tough,” Takahashi said. “He should be in the finals.”

Junior Brennan Baccay is a talented mid-weight who made state last season, while senior Ryley Bilderbeck is a returning two-time state qualifier. Upper weight Lucas Scott is another returner Takahashi said to watch, mid-weight Elias Baxter is showing great progress in his sophomore season and freshman Terrel Jackson has a lot of promise.

Like the Spartans, the Jaguars traveled to North Bend this past weekend for the Coast Classic. Sengsavanh bested all comers in the 138-pound division, topping Tyler Thomas of Grants Pass in the final. Both Bilderbeck and Baccay advanced to the semifinals of their respective classes, with Bilderbeck taking fourth at 145 and Baccay fifth at 132.

Century will also participate in the Northwest Duals, which run from Dec. 27-28.

Liberty Falcons

Similar to Century, Liberty is youthful and inexperienced this season but counts some promising wrestling talent among its ranks.

“We’re a really young team from the standpoint of we have four guys on our varsity lineup that this is their first year wrestling, so obviously that’s a lot of challenges,” Falcons coach Eric Givens said.

Liberty graduated state meet placers A.J. Antillon (fifth at 145 pounds) and Juan Ocampo (sixth, 285) in the spring, but return a great wrestler around which to build in current senior Hunter Dehlin, who was third at 152 pounds at last season’s Class 5A state meet.

Collectively, the Falcons finished third in the Northwest Oregon Conference duals, second at the district tournament and then 12th at state in 2013.

This season’s team certainly does not stop with Dehlin, though. The Falcons also return several wrestlers who saw success at the conference level a year ago, including senior Kevin Rivas, who returns after winning a district championship at 113 pounds last winter.

Both senior Michael Feltman and junior Alexio Martinez were district finalists last season as well, at 138 and 285 pounds, respectively. Junior Rodrigo Garcia is another returning state qualifier.

“Those are kind of our core kids,” Givens said.

Freshman lightweight Ethan Wendell shows great promise, and first-year wrestler Angel Rodriguez offers another great wrestler in the heavyweight division for Givens. Javier Picard, a football star for the Falcons, is new to wrestling this winter but has already seen time in the varsity lineup.

Said Givens earlier this month: “We’re raw and untamed at this point, but we were raw and untamed last year, and we continued to progress, and we ended up second last year.”

Liberty will host a tournament on Saturday, with matches starting at 9 a.m.

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