First-year head coach Jake Gonzalez was pleased with team's performace, but expects more in the future

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Kyle Knudtson, shown raising his hands in victory at the state tournament, is one of three returning CCHS state champions. Knudtson won his state title at 182 pounds. Other team champions include Hunter Mode, 126, and Zach Mauras, 132.The Crook County High School wrestling team just missed earning another state championship this past season.

After moving up from Class 4A to Class 5A, the Cowboys showed that they are still one of the top programs in the state, regardless of classification.

Under the guidance of first-year head coach Jake Gonzalez, the team finished just 1.5 points behind Crescent Valley for the state championship.

In one of the closest tournaments in memory, the Cowboys had a slight lead heading into the final match of the night, before Crescent Valley's heavyweight earned a pin, giving the Raiders a come-from-behind victory.

"Overall, the season went fairly well," Gonzalez said. "We took second, which was not what we wanted, but it is what it is."

Gonzalez missed the state tournament because his wife was giving birth to his first child.

"Talking to the coaches, the guys that made it to the second day at state competed very well," he said. "It was hard to miss out on the meet, but my baby is healthy, and my wife is doing good. I'm proud of the team."

The Cowboys should be strong in the future as they were one of the youngest teams competing in the state tournament.

Of the 17 Cowboys to compete at the state tournament, just three graduate.

However, Gonzalez noted that those three wrestlers will be missed.

"I think the seniors meant a lot," Gonzalez said. "Caleb Parrott and Garrett Bond performed very well, and Colton Schlachter making it (to state) his senior year is huge, we are going to miss them."

Schlachter wrestled JV his entire career but still wrestled well enough at district to qualify for state at 195 pounds. Bond, who also spent much of his career wrestling JV, moved up to varsity this year, and surprised much of the state with a fifth-place finish at 170 pounds. Meanwhile, Parrott, a heavyweight, placed for the third consecutive year, finishing third for the second time in his career.

With 14 wrestlers returning who competed at state this year, including five placers, the Cowboys will once again be one of the favorites next season.

Those returning placers include state champions Hunter Mode, 126, Zach Mauras, 132, and Kyle Knudtson, 182.

Tucker Bonner and Steven Ware, who placed third at 106 and 113, respectively, also return.

Other Cowboys who qualified for the state tournament who will be back next year include Tannon Joyner, 106, Jace England, 120, Trentyn Maryanski, 120, Brayden Duke, 145, Victor Rodriguez, 145, Ben Sather, 152, Gavin McLean, 160, Hayden Hilderbrand, 220 and Tanklin Thomasson, 285.

In addition, several other Cowboys were competitive at district and nearly qualified for state this year, leaving the Cowboys with approximately 20 wrestlers who could potentially place at state next year.

However, Gonzalez said that the team still needs to improve if they want to win the state championship.

"I think the future is bright," Gonzalez said. "We have a lot of young guys, and if we continue to work, continue to get better up and down the lineup, we can win."

In order to make that happen, Gonzalez said that interested team members are planning on practicing twice a week during the spring as well as competing in tournaments during both the spring and summer.

In addition, Gonzalez said that much of the team is planning on attending at least one camp, and CCHS will host a couple of clinics during the summer.

"It's always work," he said. "Always working to get better. It takes time and effort."

In addition to returning wrestlers, Gonzalez said that the team expects to pick up some quality athletes from the middle school as well.

Still, there are a lot of teams in Class 5A that could compete for a state championship next year.

Although they lose two key wrestlers, Crescent Valley should still be strong.

In addition, third-place Dallas returns much of their team. Other teams that could be strong in the future include Thurston and Crater.

Still, Gonzalez is confident about what his team is capable of doing.

"It could be Crescent Valley or Dallas, maybe Thurston, I don't know," Gonzalez said. "I try not to focus on that. I try to focus on our guys and what we can do. Go Cowboys."

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