By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
It may not have been the dominating performance of last year at the regional wrestling tournament, but the McNary High School wrestling program will be sending a small battalion of wrestlers on to the state tournament.
“We’re getting back to a little of what we’re known for. Last year was an extraordinary year and normally we’re used to spattering the podium across the board,” said Jason Ebbs, McNary head coach. “It was just a tough tournament.”
The Celts crowned one regional champ, senior Zach Hammerschmith, who also won the title last year. Junior Alvarro Venegas improved his fourth place performance last year to second in the region this time around, and senior Louis Palos captured a third place finish. Palos is a returning state placer.
In addition to those standouts, a number of Celts ended up in fourth place and will finish their season in the state tournament. Tanner Purkey, Caleb Conner, Jonathon Phelps and Michael Phelps all finished fourth. Celts Sean Burrows and Joseph Delgado claimed spots as first alternates.
Hammerschmith said he was proud of the repeat title as regional champ, but it wasn’t as satisfying as it was when he was a junior.
“I’m still hungry for more. I want to place at state and get on the wall of fame,” Hammerschmith said.
Hammerschmith, who was sporting a pair of black eyes on Tuesday, beat Tualatin’s Luke Gossens 6-3 in the final 182-pound match.
“I started using different set ups and they worked well. I was out for a while during the season, but I did a lot of strength conditioning and I felt stronger than I ever had before,” he said.
Hammerschmith is looking to meet Roseburg’s Max Hane in the finals at state.
“He beat me at Reser’s 9-6 because he tilted me. I’m going to be working on that all week,” he said.
Venegas lost his match in the finals 2-0, but he felt he could have beaten McMinnville’s Brian Barnes under other circumstances.
“I was feeling pretty beat up and tired by the time we got to wrestle, but I’d like to get another shot at him in the state tournament,” Venegas said.
After his sophomore year success, Venegas dropped some weight and molded what was left to propel him to higher goals this season.
“It put a fire in me. I started running and hitting the weight room and I’ve been putting in a lot of work in the practice room and trying to live up to the standards we set last year,” Venegas said.
For senior Caleb Conner, making it to state, even as a fourth place finisher in the region, couldn’t feel much better. Especially given the road he had to travel at the tournament.
After making it to the cusp of the top finishers, Conner was preparing to wrestle an opponent who beat him earlier in the year. Instead, tournament organizers pitted him against an opponent who had beat him on the first day of regionals. Conner was a minute into the match when officials caught the mistake and called it off.
Conner was given a new opponent, Newberg’s Carson Albo, and he had to wait 45 extra minutes for the match.
“I was thinking the whole time this is my time to shine. I knew I had to beat him and I gave it everything I had,” Conner said. “I was beat up, I was tired and all I could think about was getting my hand raised and reaching the goal I set since freshman year.”
Conner won 12-5 and made it to the finals to clinch his berth in the state tournament.
“Caleb is a good example of what we believe in. You don’t have to be a superstar to be a leader, it’s tied to your training ethics and your integrity and your character. Caleb is a model of that,” Ebbs said.