One thing is certain entering this weekend’s Mid-Willamette Conference wrestling championships: Dallas High is the team to beat.

A season ago, Lebanon unseated the Dragons to win its first district title since 1993. Dallas was the six-time defending champion.

But the Dragons, who are poised to battle Hermiston, Crater and Mountain View for the 5A state title, are back with a vengeance in 2017.

“I think it’s going to be a race for second,” admitted Lebanon’s Michael Cox, last year’s 5A coach of the year. “Dallas is tougher than nails. They are deep, they are tough and they have a kid seeded at every weight but two. South Albany is tough. Woodburn is tough. Crescent Valley, they don’t have as many kids but the guys they do have are tough. But I think if we wrestle the way we have been, we have a very good shot at coming away with second.”

South coach Andrew Peterson isn’t quite ready to hand Dallas the trophy.

“In our room, we are talking like we want to give Dallas a run for their money,” Peterson said. “We feel like we have that second lineup where we can contend with them. On paper they are the favorites, but we feel like we are in a pretty good spot and if we compete like we should, I think we’ve got a shot.”

The two-day, eight-team MWC championships begin at 11 a.m. Friday at Corvallis High. Wrestling will conclude Saturday with the top four placers in each weight class qualifying for the 5A state championships, held Feb. 24-25 at Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

Twelve Dallas wrestlers received a top-four seed at the MWC championships. Lebanon (10 top-four seeds) and South (eight) aren’t far behind.

Full brackets and seeding information are sealed until Friday morning.

The Dragons won all seven MWC duals while South went 6-1 with a 44-19 loss to Dallas. The Rebels defeated Lebanon 35-27 in late January.

“I think that has been a big boost for us,” Peterson said of the Lebanon win. “We are finally kind of realizing that we are a contender and we can wrestle with anybody. To have just one loss to Dallas and that’s it, I’m hoping that will help keep our confidence up.”

South junior Angel Huerta-Carrera and seniors James Logan, Austin Wimer, Lane Hersha and Matt Roeser all qualified for state last year. Logan was the MWC runner-up at 182.

The Rebels did not have a district champion in 2016 while finishing fourth in the team points race. Peterson is expecting better results this time.

“The biggest thing we have been talking about as a team these last two weeks is relentless wrestling,” the coach said. “The biggest spot where we’re losing some of these matches is when we take tiny breaks in the middle of the match. And that’s something that’s completely fixable. We just have to take that mantra where we’re going to wrestle for the entire six minutes, no breaks, and that’s what it’s going to take.”

Lebanon’s Tanner Sallee won the 160 district title a season ago. He went on to place second at state.

Now a senior, Sallee’s only loss of the year was to Roseburg’s Austin Harris in the 182 finals at the Reser’s Tournament of Champions. Harris is 6A’s top-ranked 182-pounder by the Oregon Wrestling Forum.

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Sallee was the 182 champion at the Sierra Nevada Classic in late December.

“He’s been just awesome and come along really well,” Cox said of Sallee.

The Warriors were hit with a big loss before the season began when sophomore Chase Miller, a returning state competitor, tore his PCL during the state football playoffs.

Lebanon suffered a few other causalities along the way, leading to a thinner lineup than Cox anticipated back in November.

“Right now, I think we are wrestling the best we have all year,” Cox said. “The kids are peaking at the right time, and that is always our goal as coaches. I think the kids are responding, especially considering we’ve got a lot of holes and injuries that we weren’t planning on.”

4A

Philomath is the host of this year’s Special District 2 championships.

The two-day, 12-team tournament runs Friday and Saturday with the top four placers in each class qualifying for the 4A state championships.

Sweet Home is the district’s two-time defending champion.

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