Falcons' depth gives coach optimism with the NWOC district tournament looming

Heading into the season, Liberty wrestling coach Eric Givens knew that Sandy was the team to beat in the Northwest Oregon Conference.

Givens was PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: PARKER LEE - Liberty's Rodrigo Garcia (top) takes hold of Sandy's Donovan Morrell during a Northwest Oregon Conference dual meet on Dec. 20.

The Falcons are 4-1 in league this season with their only loss coming to Sandy.

“We’ve had some highs and lows,” Givens says. “We’re still on pace to reach some of our goals. We’re in second (place) in league right now. We were worried about Sandy being too polished early in the season for us. They’ve proven to be a pretty strong team.”

Liberty has just one dual meet left this season, against Sherwood, before heading to the NWOC district meet. With both the Falcons and Bowmen going into Thursday’s meet at Liberty with the same record, the winner will walk away with second place in the conference.

Givens says that he expects his team to compete against Sherwood, but that the meet is not all-important for the Falcons.

“It’s a feather in our cap, but it’s not something that we’re holding all of our cards on,” Givens says. “Do we expect to come in and beat Sherwood? Yes we do. Will it be the end of the world if we do not? No. We’ll gather back up.”

When Liberty walks out of the gym against Sherwood, the Falcons’ attention will be laser focused on the district meet next weekend at Sandy High School.

This season, Liberty has been led by returning district heavyweight champion Juan Ocampo, who owns a 23-5 record this year; Hunter Dehlin, who has won 12 consecutive matches en route to a 30-5 record; A.J. Antillon, who is 23-4 with two of his losses coming to returning state champions; and Kevin Rivas, who is 18-5 so far.

But, Givens says that the Falcons’ real strength comes from their bottom 14 wrestlers.

“We’re a much stronger tournament team than dual meet squad,” Givens says. “One of our biggest strengths is our whole team. In a dual meet you only have access to 14 members of your team. In a tournament, you have access to 28 members of your team.

“Our second group of 14 is pretty strong. In their last two outings they won 84-0 and 72-6. We have a really strong second squad that compliments our team pretty well.”

Givens believes that will give Liberty a strong chance to overthrow Sandy and take the district title.

“We knew that it was going to be a challenge to beat Sandy’s best versus our best,” Givens says. “But we know that depth is one of our strengths and in a tournament setting we also know that at the end of the year we are a significantly better team than we were when we started the year.”

The Falcons began the season with lofty expectations for how good they could be. Heading into the last dual meet of the season and then the Northwest Oregon Conference district meet, Givens says that those expectations have not changed.

“Our goal has not wavered one iota from the beginning of the year,” he says. “We’d like to have seven finalists. Those expectations are high among the seven of them. As a team, we want to be District Champs at the end of the year. We would be disappointed in anything less than second.

“Our goal in the state meet is to be in the top ten. If we wrestle fantastic, it’d be great to take home a trophy, but we’d really have to wrestle above our heads.”

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