Forest Grove and Banks will both have lots of new faces this wrestling season

Last season ended on a sour note for the Forest Grove wrestling team, which went from one of the best regional tournament performances in school history to one of the program’s most disappointing state tournament showings in the span of a week.

The Vikings had 11 placers at the regional tournament and qualified five wrestlers for state, but none of them made it to the awards podium and Forest Grove finished with its third-lowest team point total in three decades.

This year’s team features six familiar faces, but most of the rest of the roster is dotted with newcomers.

“We’ve got 44 guys out,” Forest Grove coach Frank Johnson said. “There’s really not a lot of wrestling experience among them, but they’re working hard and they’re all becoming more athletic.

“It’s not going to happen overnight for them. Somebody’s going to rise up, it’s just a question of who.”

Among the more experienced wrestlers are four state qualifiers from a year ago, and two others who placed at the regional tournament.

Twin brothers Chad and Cody Smith return this year and bring a strong sense of team leadership. Cody Smith qualified for state at 138 pounds last season and will stay at that weight, while Chad will wrestle at 132.

“They’re our team leaders,” Johnson said. “They run our warm-ups and they’re the guys who shout out at the end of practice. They’re both very athletic and wrestle full-speed ahead. They’re exciting to watch.”

Another returning state tournament qualifier is junior Christan Guerra, who will once again wrestle at 106 pounds.

“He has really risen up as a leader this year,” Johnson said.

Sophomore Matthew Johnson returns after one of the most successful freshman seasons in school history, which ended with a 38-7 record, plus district and regional championships (see story, page B1).

Two other returning varsity wrestlers are 220-pounder Catarino Rodriguez and 285-pounder Christian Rincon, who will not be eligible until late January.

“They were both first-year wrestlers last season and they made remarkable strides,” Johnson said.

One youngster to keep an eye on is freshman Lucas Higginbotham, who will wrestle at 106 and 113 this season.

“I think he might make some waves this year. He’s improved a ton,” Johnson said. “The other day he was in the wrestling room looking at the list of all the (Forest Grove) state placers and he said, ‘I can’t imagine graduating and not being on that wall.’

“He’s an incredibly hard worker and I’m expecting good things from him.”

At Banks, numbers are up in the wrestling program, but the Braves return only two wrestlers with state tournament experience.

Luckily, both of those returners have their sights squarely set on a state championship this year.

Junior Collin Purinton won a state title at 106 pounds last season, and he will be the prohibitive favorite again this year even as he moves up to 113 (see story, page B1).

Fellow junior Travis Thompson doesn’t have a state title for his trophy case yet, but he is a two-time state placer, finishing fifth at 145 pounds as a freshman, then taking fourth at 152 last year as a sophomore.

“The goal going into the season, from both his and my standpoint, is to win a state title,” Banks head coach Dan Herb said. “He’s a two-time state placer as a junior. He has the chance to become only the third four-time state placer in school history.”

Elsewhere, seniors Cole Hendrins (120 pounds) and Bennett Roberts (145) have high hopes in their final seasons, while the rest of the Banks roster is relatively untested.

Despite his team’s inexperience, Herb said it’s a blessing to have a pair of wrestlers like Purinton and Thompson leading by example.

“It’s good to have them in there leading the room,” Herb said. “The young guys are watching them and looking up to them. I’ve been happy with the way things are going.”

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