Despite finishing season with state scoring record Crook County is still looking for more

The 2013-2014 wrestling season was epic for the Crook County Cowboys.

The team won their second-consecutive state championship, obliterating the state scoring record in the process, scoring 406.5 points, more than 100 better than the previous state record. Five Cowboys won individual championships, 11 reached the championship round and 20 placed in the top six at the LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Trayton Libolt attempts to control Colin Purinton of Banks in the 113-pound championship match at this year's state tournament. Libolt, a junior, went on to win the match and is one of four returning champions for the Cowboys.

“It was a historic year,” said Crook County Head Coach Jake Huffman. “Not only was it a great year because of the attitude of the kids, but we stayed healthy and the skill level of the kids — I mean some of the best wrestling we saw this year was in our own wrestling room.”

In addition to the team’s success on the mat, Huffman was also pleased with the team’s performance in the classroom.

“They were a team that we could really be proud of just because of the kind of people they were,” he said. “We had the highest cumulative GPA for any wrestling team in the 4A. Not only that, we had the most team points ever scored in the state tournament so what else is there to say other than the fact that it was a stellar year and it was a year that I won’t soon forget.”

In addition to the team’s success, senior Tyler Berger was named 4A athlete of the meet at the state tournament, and Huffman was named 4A coach of the year.

“I would just say that the coach of the year award really should be called the coaching staff of the year award because by no means was I the coach of the year,” Huffman said. “I think our coaching staff together did a good job and it took all of them. Also, the kids performing well makes us look good. It’s an honor to be picked as coach of the year by your peers, but at the same time that doesn’t happen unless you have a tremendous coaching staff that’s very supportive and kids that are doing the right thing.”

Although it will be hard to duplicate the success that the Cowboys had this season, the team still has big goals for next season.

“The plan is not much different than the plan has been for the last five or six years that I’ve been coaching,” Huffman said. “That is to continue to grow and build and continue to try and improve those individuals who are interested in getting better. We want to increase our numbers for spring wrestling and come back next year with a better approach. I’m excited because I know that we are going to be better next year. We’re going to train better. We’re going to train smarter, and it’s exciting to think about what that might produce.”

The Cowboys are the clear favorites to repeat as state champions again next year. However, the road to the state tournament has changed.

The Cowboys lose seven state placers to graduation. In addition to Berger (first at 152), Jason Williams (second heavyweight), Grayson Munn (third 132), Johnny Avina (third 113), Aaron Swindle (fifth 182) John Crites (sixth 152), and Curtis Crouch (sixth 220) are gone.

“They will be missed,” Huffman said. “I mean these guys were eighth-graders when I was a first-year head coach. I spent a lot of time with these kids and watched them coming up through the middle school and on into the high school. These kids represented our program as well as anyone and they brought a lot of success to the program. They are going to be hard to replace, but at the same time I know that they are going to be successful in whatever they choose to do after wrestling.”

Still, the Cowboys will still be loaded with talent next season. Defending state champions Trayton Libolt (113), Kurt Mode (120), Colbran Meeker (145), and Trevor Rasmussen (220) all return along with second-place finishers Brent Bannon (126), Hayden Bates (132), Brendan Harkey (160), Clark Woodward (170), and Gunnar Robirts (182). Also returning are Ryder Shinkle (third 138), Cole Ovens (fourth 145), Terran Libolt (sixth 106), and Zach Smith (sixth 195). In addition, the Cowboys return several wrestlers who just missed qualifying for state this season.

However, that doesn’t mean that it will be easy to repeat as state champions. The Cowboys move into a new regional tournament next year. Instead of competing in a region that includes Baker, La Grande, McLoughlin, Ontario, Madras, La Pine, Sisters, and Ridgeview the Cowboys will move to the Tri-Valley League, which will be paired with the Cowapa League for their regional tournament.

Teams in the new region will include Scappoose (third this year) and Tillamook (10th) as well as Banks, Astoria, Seaside, Yamhill Carlton, Gladstone, Madras, Molalla, Estacada, and Corbett.

Still, Huffman expects his team to be at the top of the standings when the season ends.

“That’s the goal,” he said. “Once you are able to be the top of the state it feels so good that you don’t really want to stop being the top of the state, so you are willing to work and do all the things that you need to do in order to be successful. So, yeah, our goal always every year will be to win the state championship.”

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