Forest Grove will have to replace two-time state champ Jake Bennett and three-time state placer Kyle Vanderkin

The Forest Grove wrestling program has enjoyed unprecedented success in the last five years, crowning six state champions and annually qualifying a number of wrestlers for the Class 6A state tournament.

That success will be tested this season after the graduation of four state qualifiers, including two of the most decorated wrestlers in Forest Grove history.

Last year, senior Jake Bennett became only the third repeat state champion in school history, winning a 170-pound title to go with his 160-pound championship from 2010, and senior Kyle Vanderkin finished an outstanding career with his third consecutive fifth-place finish at the state tournament. Also lost to graduation are state qualifiers Jeremy Sullivan and Joey Guerra, plus sophomore Joe Rodriguez, who transferred to Hillsboro.

The Vikings will look to fill the void with returning seniors Jake Kemper (145 pounds) and Ivan Mojica, who earned a trip to the state tournament as a 120-pounder last season. Also returning is senior Tanner Aust, a 138-pounder who had a tremendous freshman season but missed all of his sophomore campaign with a collapsed lung and then didn’t wrestle last year.

Among the newcomers to keep an eye on are a pair of twins — seniors Mariano and Nathaniel Calderon, who will split time between 170 and 182 pounds, and juniors Chad and Cody Smith, who will wrestle at 138 and 145, respectively.

Another new face will be freshman Matthew Johnson, the youngest son of head coach Frank Johnson, who will wrestle at 113 and 120 pounds this year.

“We’ve got more kids than we’ve had the last eight years, and we’ve got a great freshman class,” Frank Johnson said. “We have a lot of new guys in the upper weights who are inexperienced, but my observation so far is that they have great work ethic.”

Several football players — including Stephen Izquierdo, Christian Rincon, Luis Fernandez and Catarino Rodriguez — will fill out the upper weight classes.

“We have a number of upperclassmen who are turning out for the first time. Despite their limited mat time, it is a group who should be able to make significant gains throughout the season,” Johnson said. “If their attitude and work ethic to date serve as indicators, they will surprise lots of people during the postseason.”

Johnson is also excited about his coaching staff, which includes Hall of Famer Mike Clock, plus former Viking greats Justin Marble and Brian Hendrickson.

“We have less experience but more wrestlers than we have had in eight years, so this will be a building year. At the same time, we will see some very positive results as the season progresses,” Johnson said.

“The coaching staff is energized. Given the depth of the freshmen class and the work ethic of the new big guys, the coaches have more to work with than they have in quite some time. We’re looking forward to an exciting season.”

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