In the Bleachers with Billy

When Culver wrestling coach J.D. Alley told me the Adrian Irwin Memorial tournament was the first tournament other than districts the team has won in more than a year, I was a bit surprised, to say the least.

After thinking about it for awhile, the surprise started to wear off because of the incredibly tough schedule the Bulldogs routinely have. Winning is nice, and Alley was certainly happy with the team’s convincing victory at Ridgeview High School on Saturday, but when it comes to high school wrestling, the focus is on two tournaments — districts and state.

For the teams that compete in the Oregon Wrestling Classic, the state’s unofficial dual meet championships, that could be a third tournament thrown in there, but for the majority of teams, the two tourneys at the end of the year are where they want to perform their best.

Going through the gauntlet the Bulldogs do during the regular season, where they are competing against Class 5A, 4A and 3A teams almost exclusively, team wins don’t exactly pile up — and that’s OK.

The Bulldogs have gone to the Reser’s Tournament of Champions, Crater Classic, their own Culver Invitational, a dual with 4A juggernaut Crook County and other top flight tournaments that other small schools simply can’t go to. The reputation Culver has built with its wrestling program is, without a doubt, at the top of the 2A level and is one of the top programs in the state, as far as state championships go.

It has been the tough schedules that have allowed the Bulldogs to win every district tournament they have entered since 2002, and eight consecutive Oregon Wrestling Classic dual championships.

Of course, we can’t forget the six straight Class 2A titles the Bulldogs have won since the beginning of the six-class system in Oregon high school athletics. Until Lowell picked them off last season, Culver was the only school to win a 2A title since the state went from four classes to six.

If you’re not impressed by that, check your pulse and make sure you are still alive.

The win at the AI tournament was great for the team, Alley said. They put six wrestlers in the finals and scored nearly 300 points to win it. They outscored runner-up Redmond by more than 40 points and topped Class 6A Clackamas and Gresham as well.

I’m not going to crown the Bulldogs yet, though. There is still more than half the season left, and strange things can happen. That’s why sports are so much fun; there is no sure thing. Just ask Seattle Seahawks fans about what happened on Sunday.

I will say, though, the Bulldogs have an outstanding team right now, and they will get better as the season goes on and guys get down to competition weight. Once the Oregon Wrestling Classic gets here, which is in about a month, Alley and his coaching staff should have his guys relatively close to competing at their district tournament weight.

Of course, that will involve state champs Bolt Anglen and Tucker Davis being at different weights, and Alley is unsure who will move up, down or stay in the same class. Both advanced to the 138-pound final at the AI tournament, but didn’t wrestle each other in the final. Davis won by forfeit, as a result of a coin flip by the coaching staff. There was just no sense in having them wrestle each other, but it sure would have been fun to watch.

Winning tournaments is part of a team’s overall success; there’s no doubt about that. But, at least to me, winning the team title at tournaments before districts and state aren’t as important from a strictly win-loss standpoint. Those tournaments are about building each individual wrestler’s skills, mentally and physically, and getting as much mat time as possible in such settings to qualify for state.

If a team wins a tournament, that’s just icing on the cake, and I think a lot of wrestling coaches would agree with me there. Teams aren’t seeded in state competition, the wrestlers are. Developing the skills in each wrestler is crucial in the regular season tournaments, but winning sure is fun, too.

Switching gears to a little professional sports, can anyone else believe how well the Portland Trail Blazers are doing this season? I’m blown away.

I thought maybe, maybe, they would be able to sneak into the playoffs with a No. 8 seed, get bounced by someone like Oklahoma City or San Antonio in the first round and that would be it.

The way things are looking, however, they might a top seed ready to pound on a bottom feeder come playoff time.

The entire Western Conference is full of talented teams, while the Eastern Conference has Indiana and Miami, and then everything falls off a Grand Canyon-esque cliff.

It will be a shame when the Western Conference has teams with winning records not make the playoffs, while the Eastern Conference will have two, maybe three, teams with losing records get in. It might not seem fair, but let’s face it folks, life isn’t fair. Winning takes care of everything.

Looking at how the Blazers are winning games, it all starts with the play of power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and point guard Damian Lillard.

Aldridge is now the guy every Blazers fan thought he should have been the past three seasons. His midrange jump shot is nearly indefensible, and he’s been more active and physical on the defensive end than he has ever been. He’s finally started to shred the reputation of being a soft big man, and actually playing like everyone expected him to. He had a 31-point, 25-rebound game Dec. 12 against Houston, more than Rockets center Dwight Howard, and had a season-high 38 points against Oklahoma City.

He’s vastly improved his all-around game, but having a true center in Robin Lopez has undoubtedly helped his game, too. He no longer has to be the guy that does everything in the paint for Portland, and having that pressure not exist allows him to played more relaxed.

In addition, Lillard is proving to be one of the best point guards in the NBA, and it’s just his second season in the league.

The NBA has turned into a point guard-driven league, so the smallest guy on the floor needs to be one of the biggest players. Lillard, especially this season, has shown an uncanny ability to hit a big shot when the Blazers need it. Watching Sportscenter is like watching a Damian Lillard buzzer-beater highlight reel most of the time. It’s astounding how much he finds himself in those situations, and yet delivers with an attitude and body language like he’s been in the league for 10-plus years.

Through 27 games, the Blazers are 23-5 (best record in the NBA) and have the league’s top scoring offense with a 108.4 points per game average. Some people (Charles Barkley, for example) don’t think the Blazers can keep it up since they shoot so many jump shots, and I certainly have my worries, but until they can’t keep it up I’m just going to enjoy it.

They aren’t playing real stellar defense, either, and that worries me a bit, too. Once the jump shots don’t fall, the Blazers might be in a bit a trouble. But, like I said earlier, until it happens I’m just going to keep telling my friends that hate on the Blazers to be quiet.

That might backfire on me down the road, but I certainly hope it doesn’t.

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