New classification, new coach, no problem for Crook County wrestling program

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Crook County heavyweight Caleb Parrott (grey shirt) looks to control 195-pounder Jaxson Rhoden during a recent practice. Parrott and Rhoden are both seniors. Rhoden was second at last year's state championships and is currently rated No. 1 in the state, while Parrott, who was fourth at last year's state tournament, is also ranked No. 1 heading into the season.

Following their fifth state championship in six years, Crook County head wrestling coach Jake Huffman resigned as head coach.

Then at the end of last year, the Cowboys were moved up from Class 4A to Class 5A. That move has proven challenging for some CCHS teams but has gone well for others.

Long-time assistant wrestling coach Jake Gonzalez has taken over for Huffman, and he says that the Cowboys are ready for whatever challenges may be ahead.

"It's gone smoothly," Gonzalez said of the transition. "Huffman has helped me out on the back side of things with paperwork and administration and stuff, but it's good. And I've been here. This is my ninth year, so I know the program. I know the system, and I was part of building that."

Gonzalez added that the team's recent Blue and Gold scrimmage went well and has helped prepare the team for the season, both from a wrestling and a financial standpoint.

"You can't describe the support this community gives back to wrestling," he said. "This is the best scrimmage we've had so far, since they've been running it. We raised a lot of money, and I'm just grateful that we have a community that supports wrestling."

Gonzalez said that there are about 40 people out for wrestling this year, and they are all working hard.

"I like the number that we have and that we've got committed kids," he said. "That's important. I'm a big guy on being in shape and working hard and that's what these kids are doing."

Crook County returns nine wrestlers who competed at state a year ago, including defending state champion Hunter Mode, 106, as well as Steven Ware, 106, Tannon Joyner, 113, Zach Mauras, 126, Kyle Knudtson, 170, and Jaxson Rhoden, 182, who all placed second a year ago.

Other returning state placers include Caleb Parrott, fourth at 285, and Trevor Martin, fifth at 113 pounds.

Mario Hanson, 220, also competed at last year's state championships.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Zach Mauras, top, and Hunter Mode work on technique at a recent practice. Mode won an individual state championship last year, while Mauras finished second. The Cowboys open their season tonight at Crescent Valley. Expect several of last year's state placers to step up at least one weight class from a year ago.

Other wrestlers to watch for this year include Tucker Bonner, 106, Kyrie Willis, 113, Jace England and Wyatt Wood, 120, Conner Rash, 126, Yuya Yamaguchi, 132, Gage Hanson and Gage Perry, 138, Brayden Duke and Victor Rodriguez, 145, Elijah Becker and Benjamin Sather, 152, Gavin Mclean and Gabe Saenz, 160, Clayton Berman and Garret Bond, 170, Colton Schlachter, 182, Nicholas Katzenberger, 195, Haydn Hilderbrand, 220, and Joseph Miller, heavyweight.

The Cowboys, who are ranked third in the state, open their season with a dual meet at eighth-ranked Crescent Valley tonight.

"I don't look at the polls, but I've heard from the kids," Gonzalez said. "It's good. They use it for motivation, and I do too. I don't look, but they tell me, so I hear it through the grapevine, so we will see where we are at."

The team will then compete Saturday in the Perry Burlison Invitational at Cascade High School in Turner.

Teams expected to compete in the tournament include No. 1-ranked Dallas and No. 4-ranked Thurston as well as ninth-ranked Lebanon.

Also expected to compete in the tournament are Marshfield and North Marion, which are ranked fourth and fifth in the Class 4A rankings.

"There will be quite a few of the top 5A teams there," Gonzalez said. "We have been working pretty hard for three weeks, and I think that they are ready to get ahold of someone else that's not wearing a Crook County singlet. We have been working on just getting better every day, and if they do what we are preaching in practice, the results will take care of themselves."

While the Crook County varsity team will be at Perry Burlison, the JV team will also be busy, competing in the Central Oregon Officials Tournament, which is expected to include varsity teams from Bend, Summit, Mountain View, Redmond, Culver, La Pine and Sisters as well as the Cowboy JV squad.

"I think it's hard to split teams up, but wrestling is kind of individual, so I can send my varsity somewhere and send my JV to a tough tournament for varsity teams," Gonzalez said. "That gets them good competition and helps us get better, so there's a reason that we split our team up. Go Cowboys."

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