Cowboys just miss state title, still look strong for the future
It was a disappointing end to the season for the Crook County Cowboys' wrestling squad.
Although the team performed better than the experts expected, they still fell short of their goal — a fifth consecutive state championship.
Instead, the Cowboys finished one half point behind Sweet Home in second place.
"When you talk about a half point, you can look back at a million different scenarios about how we could have changed our fortune," Crook County head coach Jake Huffman said following the tournament. "But so could every other team that was here today. So to be within a half point of winning a fifth state title is something to be excited about, especially with the young group that we had."
Huffman added that losing always hurts, but that he was proud of how well his team performed.
Senior Cade Woodward was the team's lone state champion. Woodward cruised through the tournament, winning all four of his matches by fall as he dominated the 195-pound weight class.
Woodward, the lone Cowboy senior to place in the tournament, finished the season with a 39-6 record.
Freshman Hunter Mode also reached the championship round and looked like he was going to win a championship when he carried a 3-1 lead late into the third period.
However, Mode was taken down to his back late in the match, as he dropped a heartbreaking 6-3 decision, finishing the year with a 31-11 record.
Three other Cowboys, Pacer Quire (120), Colton Morgan (126), and Tyler Fioravanti (132) also reached the semifinal round.
Quire, a junior, lost to eventual champion Russell Stigall, of North Marion, but battled back to finish third in the tournament, finishing the year with a 45-7 record.
Fioravanti, also a junior, went on to finish fourth in the tournament and complete the year with a 23-13 record.
Morgan, the final junior on the Cowboy roster, wound up fifth in the tournament and finished the season with a 24-13 record.
In addition to Woodward, the Cowboys had just three seniors on their roster.
Zach Larson was ranked third in the state before going down with a knee injury midway through the season, while Wyatt Sigman finished the year with a 15-9 record at 220 pounds, and Robert Cobb (138) finished with a 19-17 record.
"I felt bad for Larson because he did everything right," Huffman said. "But I was happy for Cobb that he was able to come back from injuries his sophomore and junior years and finish on a high note. I was glad that Sigman decided to come out, and I think that he will remember this year as a positive experience."
The remaining 10 Cowboys who qualified for the state tournament were all either freshmen or sophomores, meaning that the Cowboys will have a lot of firepower back, not just next year, but for years to come.
Sophomores Jaxson Rhoden and Caleb Parrott both dropped their first match at state, then battled back through the consolation rounds to finish third.
Rhoden, who was moved from 170 to 182 the night before the regional meet, finished the year with a 27-15 record.
Meanwhile, Parrott, who at one time was ranked second in the state, finished with a 32-9 record at 285 pounds.
Five other Cowboy sophomores also gained valuable state tournament experience, although none of them placed.
Colton Burkhardt (152) went 2-2 at the state tournament and finished the year with a 22-22 record. Jesse Gore (113) and Mario Hansen (220) both went 1-2 at state and finished the year with 20-12 and 15-9 records, respectively.
Both Diego Smith (132) and Ethan Edgerly (152) failed to win a match at state and finished the year with 17-11 and 7-6 records, respectively.
In addition to Mode, three other Cowboy freshmen also competed at the state tournament.
Tannon Joyner wound up fifth at 106 pounds and finished the year with a 20-12 record, while Zach Mauras (120) and Kyle Knudtson (160) both finished sixth at state.
Mauras finished the year with a 28-18 record, while Knudtson was 27-19.
With so many underclassmen returning, Huffman believes that the team can become a powerhouse next season.
"I challenge you guys next year to crush these guys," he told the team following state, in reference to the Cowboys' 4A competition. "We can do it, but we've got to get better."
Last week, Huffman added that the coaching staff has already gotten together to start working on a plan for the 2017-2018 season.
"We evaluate everything at the end of each year," he said. "The first thing we look at is ourselves as a coaching staff, and we are going to make some changes. We have got to do a better job as coaches."
He added that the evaluation is part of an ongoing process to make the coaches more effective and the team stronger.
"We are constantly trying to improve the program," he said.
Huffman added that in addition to making some small changes during next season, the team is also going to make changes in the off season.
Although the coaching staff has always encouraged wrestlers to spend time in the mat room during the off season, this year the coaching staff is making the spring and summer wrestling seasons into more of a priority.
"We have got to be available as coaches and spend more time in the room during the off season," he said.
He noted that the team will still be young next year, and off season experience is invaluable.
"It's all part of a process," he said. "We want to challenge our wrestlers. That's why we wrestled the tough schedule that we do, and that's why the expectations are high."
However, Huffman was quick to add that he was extremely proud of the team's accomplishments this year.
"I think we overachieved in everyone else's eyes," he said. "I'm proud of the way we battled."
With so many battle-tested wrestlers back next year, the Cowboys should once again be a contender.