Kyle Knudtson and Hunter Mode are only Cowboy placers at Reno Tournament of Champions

CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - Hunter Mode, shown at last year's state tournament, lost his first match Friday at the Reno Tournament of champions, then fought his way back through the consolation rounds to finish eighth in the 153-team tournament.Crook County High School head wrestling Coach Jake Huffman likes to challenge his team with tough competition.

"We want to see top competition so that we can expose our weaknesses and then work on those," he said Saturday following the Cowboys' latest tournament.

This weekend was the ultimate test as the Cowboys competed in the 153-team Reno Tournament of Champions.

The tournament bills itself as the toughest tournament in the country, and this year it absolutely lived up to its billing.

"Since we've been coming there, that's probably the toughest field that has been there," Huffman said of the event. "There were eight top-20 teams there, including Buchanan (California), who is ranked number two in the country. That's a pretty crazy field. You have teams from Oklahoma, California, Idaho, Washington, Nevada, Utah and all over the place, and we were able to go there and hold our own."

The Cowboys managed just two placers in the tournament but still finished 20th in the tournament with 97 points.

Sophomore Hunter Mode, who wrestles at 106 pounds, lost his first match of the day Friday morning, then fought his way through the consolation rounds, winning seven consecutive matches as he battled back to finish in eighth place.

"It was a tough draw for him to get that guy right out of the gate," Huffman said of Mode's first match. That guy just took it to him, but to be able to bounce back like he did shows a lot about Hunter's character and how he competes."

Fellow sophomore Kyle Knudtson, 170 pounds, was the other Cowboy placer. After winning his first two matches, Knudtson lost in the round of 32, then won six consecutive matches as he worked his way back through the consolation matches to a fifth-place finish.

"He found himself digging a hole — scoring points for the other guys," Huffman said of Knudtson's performance. "But at the end of the day, he competed, and that's what it takes in tournaments like that. You have to win the close matches, and he was able to do that."

Although the Cowboys had several other wrestlers who survived to the second day of the tournament, no other wrestlers were able to place.

Pacer Quire (senior, 126 pounds) also wrestled well, but just missed the placing rounds. Like Mode, Quire lost his opening round match, then won six consecutive matches before finally being eliminated from the tournament.

Cole Morgan, 132 pounds, Tyler Fioravanti, 138 pounds, Colton Burkhardt, 160 pounds, Jaxson Rhoden, 182 pounds, and Cal Wilcox, 195 pounds, all went 2-2 at the tournament. Tannon Joyner, 113 pounds, Turner Austin, 145 pounds, and Mason Cooley, 152 pounds, all finished the tournament with 1-2 records. Mario Hanson, 220 pounds, also wrestled in the tournament, but failed to win a match.

The Cowboy had just 12 wrestlers compete on their A team as they did not bring wrestlers at 120 or 285 pounds.

Crook County has been battling illness and did not take a full contingent of wrestlers because several were sick. Most noteworthy of those was heavyweight Caleb Parrott, who Huffman said was expected to finish in the top eight in the tournament. On top of that, some of the wrestlers who did attend the tournament got sick after arriving in Reno.

Still, Huffman wasn't one to make excuses about the team's performance.

"I think we came up a little bit short." he said. "We would have liked to finish in the top 10, but to compete and have a chance at the top 10, I think, was pretty impressive."

However, the team did take three extra wrestlers, who competed as the Crook County B squad. Those three wrestlers, freshmen Steven Ware and Trevor Martin and sophomore Zachary Mauras did well enough to score 25 team points, good enough to tie for 82nd place in the tournament.

The 106-pound Ware had the most successful tournament of the three, reaching the quarterfinals as he finished 3-2 in the tournament.

"That kid is a gamer," Huffman said of Ware. "He lives to compete, and you put him in those situations, and he's going to shine. I don't think that it ended the way that he wanted it to, but at the same time, he showed a lot of promise, and I think he's going to be better the next weekend because of that."

Both Martin, 113, and Mauras, 126, finished with 2-2 records.

Poway, California, upset Buchanan, winning the tournament with 238.5 points to Buchanan's 227.5.

Choctaw, Oklahoma, finished in third with 176.5 points. Alba High School, California, was fourth (172.5), with Oakdale, California, fifth (148.5).

Rounding out the top 10 were Pomona, California, 148.5, Pueblo County, Colorado, 142, Gilroy, California, 134.5 and Curtis, Washington, 123.

Buchanan showed just how much depth they have as a team when their B team finished 10th with 122 points.

Other teams to finish ahead of the Cowboys were Monarch, Colorado, 117.5, Vacaville, California, 117.5, Spanish Springs, Nevada, 110, Wasatch, Nevada, 109, Box Elder, Utah, 107, Cibola, New Mexico, 105, Clovis West, California, 100, Roseburg, 98.5, and Ponderosa, Colorado, 98, also finished ahead of the Cowboys.

"The tournament was kind of a grinder for sure," he said. "The way I would describe it is lots of mistakes, but lots of grit and lots of fight. But at the same time, we have a lot, I mean really a lot, to work on."

All the teams finishing ahead of Crook County are much larger schools. Most have school populations of more than 2,200, and even Roseburg, the smallest school to finish ahead of Crook County has more than 1,600 students.

The Cowboys have more than a week off before they compete again. That should give them a chance to get healthy before their next match, a dual meet against Roseburg on Saturday, Dec. 30.

The two teams meet annually, with Crook County winning two years ago and Roseburg returning the favor last year.

"The Cowboys and Indians dual will be a fun one," Huffman said. "Don't miss that one."

Wrestling is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. with the JV match, while the varsity match will follow at approximately 7 p.m.

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