They are short on numbers, but not on talent

by: JOHN LARIVIERE - In a photo taken at last years Tri-Valley Conference District Tournament, Gladstone junior Blake McNall puts the finishing touches on North Marions Adam Vega. McNall (126), who placed sixth at state a year ago, is off to a 16-0 start this season.With a new coach and a host of wrestlers returning from last year’s team that placed fifth in the 10-team Class 4A Region 1 Tournament, the Gladstone Gladiators expected to be much improved this season. And based on preseason results during the month of December, and last weekend at Cleveland, the Gladiators are more competitive.

In their first competition of the season, the Ranger Classic, the Gladiators were competitive despite forfeiting at six weights. In that tournament, they defeated Molalla 36-24, gave Banks (42-36) and Colton (36-30) tough dual matches in defeat, and lost to tournament host Estacada 60-24 and to Class 4A power La Grande 60-6.

They then finished out the month of December with victories in 10 straight dual meets, defeating opponents from Nestucca, The Dalles, Stayton, Yamhill-Carlton, Central, Philomath, Santiam Christian, Pleasant Hill and Yamhill-Carlton (twice) in dual-meet competitions at Gladstone, Stayton, Philomath and Yamhill-Carlton.

They placed second only to Rainier in a nine-team tournament with Rainier, Clatskanie, Gervais, Vernonia, Corbett, Molalla, Knappa and Neah-Kah-Nie at Clatskanie on Dec. 28.

Forfeiting at four weights for lack of a competitor, they defeated Central 40-39 in the championship final of a dual-meet tournament at Stayton, after advancing through dual wins over Yamhill-Carlton (55-18), Stayton (38-34) and Junction City (57-6).

“As far as I know, it’s the first time in a long time that we’ve won a tournament,” Gladstone coach Michael Hess said of his charges’ team win at Stayton.

Last weekend, wrestling in an 18-team, two-day tournament at Cleveland, Gladstone placed tenth, despite having only nine wrestlers entered. Pendleton, McNary and Centennial placed first through third in the tournament, which included mostly teams from Class 6A and 5A schools. Gladstone finished ahead of teams from Putnam, Wilsonville, Reynolds, Beaverton, Woodburn, The Dalles, Franklin and Molalla, and just back of Forest Grove.

“The guys wrestled great!” said Hess. “All of the teams that finished ahead of us had at least twice as many wrestlers. We had four kids place, two kids win titles, and every kid we took scored points.”

The Gladiators return six wrestlers who placed at last year’s regionals: seniors Michael Alger and Logan Good, and juniors Blake McNall, Kyle Kintz, Ryland Martin and Adam Taylor.

McNall, who won a regional title and placed sixth at state at 113 as a sophomore, moves up to wrestle at 126 this season. And he’s off to a great start, winning his first 16 matches of the 2013-14 season, including seven by fall. He pinned La Grande junior Seth Deviney, a wrestler ranked among the best in the state, in his first tournament of the season.

“Blake’s put in a ton of work in the offseason,” said Hess. “I expect him to be top three in the state.”

Wrestling at 106 and 126 respectively, Alger and Kintz placed fourth in regional competition and qualified for state last year. Alger is a defending Tri-Valley Conference champion.

Wrestling at 126, Alger won six of the seven matches that he wrestled in December. Wrestling at 132, Kintz sports an 18-2 record through competition last weekend.

“I expect Kyle be top six at state,” said Hess. “That’s his goal. I believe he has the ability to do that.”

Martin and Good just missed qualifying for state last year, both wrestlers placing fifth at the regional competition. Martin moves up from 145 to 152; Good moves up from 152 to 182. Good and Martin placed second and third respectively at the TVC league meet a year ago.

Good has wrestled 23 times this season, winning 19 times.

Taylor placed fourth in the TVC at 160 last year. He’s wrestling at 170 this winter, where he’s won 11 of his first 17 matches.

Among other top prospects for the Gladiator varsity this season are: freshmen Nathan Ward (106), Alvin Lopez (120) and John Bettger (220); junior Dijaun Davis (160), and senior David Ventura (145).

Ward went 6-2 in matches wrestled in December; Lopez went 8-5. Both are first-year wrestlers.

McNall (126) and Kintz (132) were both champions at last weekend’s 18-team tournament at Cleveland. McNall had only three matches. He won by injury default over Clackamas junior Johnny Nguyen in his final.

Kintz went 5-0 at Cleveland, defeating Michael Phelps of McNary 7-4 in his final, after winning by fall over Chad Smith of Forest Grove in the semifinals and defeating Eli Day of Wilsonville by major decision in the quarterfinals.

Good (170) won five of six matches and placed third at Cleveland; Martin won five of seven matches and placed fourth.

After dropping an 8-6 decision to Nathan Burnett of Sunset in the championship semifinals, Good bounced back with a first-round fall over Terrell Platt of Pendleton, and a first-round fall over Piper McCallum of Pendleton in the third-place finals.

Martin lost to Bahr Trayhorn of Reynolds in his third-place finals match.

With a turnout of only 17 athletes, Hess says that the Gladiators are likely to continue to forfeit for lack of wrestlers at 113, 138, 195 and 285 this season.

Still, he expects the Gladiators to have a good season.

“We don’t have the numbers yet to contend for a regional title,” Hess said. “But I if we wrestle to our potential, I expect us to be top four [at regionals]. The guys we do have, I expect them to be very successful.”

Hess added, “I would liked to have had a couple heavier guys stick with it. It would give us more success in dual meets. But I’m happy with the guys we have. They all work really hard, and I think they all have the potential to make state this year.”

Hess is counting on team captains McNall, Kintz, Ventura and Good to lead Gladstone to success at this year’s end-of-the-season tournaments.

Gladstone hosts the regional championship tournament Feb. 21-22, where the Gladiators will do battle with the top wrestlers from Tillamook, Scappoose, Estacada, North Marion, Molalla, Yamhill-Carlton, Astoria, Banks and Seaside.

Tillamook and Scappoose went on to place fifth and sixth respectively at last year’s Class 4A State Tournament, after going one-two at the Region I Championship Tournament.

Gladstone will face some stiff competition this Friday and Saturday, when the Gladiators travel to Seaside for the 17-team Pacific Rim Tournament, a competition that features many of the top 4A teams in the state.

The Gladiators host Molalla and Astoria in a home meet at 5:30 p.m. next Wednesday.

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