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Celt mat men have chance to four-peat

Celt Cody Ratliff takes down a teammate in the Blue/Grey Wrestle Off held last week. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

Last season, the McNary High School varsity wrestling team climbed to the top of the heap and laid claim to its third consecutive regional title, only to watch the wheels come off when 13 wrestlers found a way to the state tournament.

“That Friday night in the state tournament, we had eight kids wrestling to place in the state tournament and we only won one of the matches,” said Jason Ebbs, McNary head coach.

He’s now hoping the bitter end to the that season becomes a springboard to something better.

“Last year we had a lot of talent. We don’t have quite as much talent, but we have the clay to mold into a competitive team come January and February,” Ebbs said.

Thankfully, it’s not as though the team is starting over from scratch. While 14 seniors graduated from the program, six wrestlers are returning with state tournament experience and one of them is a defending state champion.

“It’s nice to be back on the mat with all my teammates, I just need to start winning the big matches against high-ranked guys–wrestle hard and take lots of shots,” said Mason Ross, a returning senior joining Rob Phelps, Cody Ratliff, Grant Gerstner and Devin Reynolds.

Reynolds claimed the state title in the 132-pound division and added a world title to his resume at the Cliff Keen Reno World Championships

in April of this year.

His most recent accomplishment was a third-place finish at NuWay Freakshow competition last month. He was knocked out of the running early by an opponent from California, taking a 3-1 loss. Reynolds climbed back into the mix from consolation brackets to beat the same wrestler 1-0 for third place in the tournament.

Aside from trying to make a play for college scholarships, Reynolds doesn’t plan to make much of a change in his strategies for the 2012-13 season.

“I don’t think I’m approaching it that differently. People will be coming after me, but I feel like I’m still gunning for them,” Reynolds said.

As far as the team goes, Ebbs said there was a dip in registration for the support, but the 70 he got would likely be the envy of most programs in the state.

“We’re going into our second year without a solid middle school program which means some of our newer wrestlers aren’t up to the level they’ve been in the past, but we’ve got a lot of good hard-working kids that will tackle the things they know need to be done,” Ebbs said.

Ushering new faces into the McNary wrestling family is one of the things Gerstner was looking forward to most.

“It’s going to be interesting to teach the younger guys what it’s like to be part of a team like this. We want to pass our standards down to them. When I first started I was a novice and you have to be dedicated and give up some personal things, but it’s worth it in the end once you’re on the podium at any tournament,” he said.

As for whether one of those podiums will represent a fourth regional title, Ebbs is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“If we pick up this season where we left off and don’t challenge ourselves we could be a second- or third-place team. It’s not going to be quite so easy for us this year, but that doesn’t mean we’re not up to the challenge,” Ebbs said.

The Mat Men face their first test of the season beginning Friday, Nov. 30, at 2 p.m., in a tournament hosted by the high school. The returning state champs from the 4A, 5A and 6A divisions will be in attendance.