LEBANON — Opening the season with fierce competition is important to Casey Horn and Michael Cox.
Instead of scheduling early confidence boosters, the wrestling coaches opted to challenge their kids right out of the gate in a three-way endowment meet at Lebanon High.
Visiting Redmond flexed its muscles during Thursday’s duals, defeating Lebanon 47-22 and West Albany 58-22. The Warriors ended the evening by knocking off the Bulldogs 51-27.
“I always look for the best competition,” said Cox, Lebanon’s coach. “The more we put our kids in adverse climates and conditions, the better they are going to be. And when they get to the state tournament, they are ready to compete.”
Horn, West’s coach, agreed with his former district rival.
“Lebanon and Redmond are two very quality teams,” he said. “I think that it’s pretty fun to come out and watch that, compete against that and then come back to practice and say ‘this is where we are at. We just wrestled two of the best teams in the state. That’s what we need to get to and this is what we need to work for.’”
The Warriors, who won the Mid-Willamette Conference district title a season ago, entered Thursday ranked No. 6 in the Oregon Wrestling Forum’s 5A rankings. Redmond checked in at eighth while West was unranked in the 6A poll.
Ten Lebanon wrestlers are working their way back into shape after helping lead the Warriors to the state football championship last weekend, the school’s first title in the sport.
“Some of these kids have only been here for a week, but they are out there competing,” Cox said. “Conditioning is the biggest thing. We haven’t knocked the rust off, they haven’t wrestled in six months. Football conditioning and wrestling conditioning are two totally different things, but they are in a great spot. Their morale is really high, winning a state title in football. They are believing in themselves. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Senior Tanner Sallee is one of the late additions.
Sallee, a three-time state competitor, had seven carries for 26 yards in Lebanon’s 34-17 title game win over Wilsonville.
“Not one time after football I’ve ever been in as good of shape as I need to be for wrestling,” said Sallee, who was the state runner-up at 160 pounds last year. “It was a great win at state for football, and now we’re looking for one in wrestling.”
Teammates Cameron Alley, Mitchell Alley, Cody Kleint, Joseph Blisseck and Jakeb Cripe all have state experience. Cripe, Kleint and Cameron Alley are also football players.
Lebanon will be without returning state competitor Chase Miller, who suffered a knee injury during football season.
Despite Miller’s injury, Sallee believes the Warriors have enough talent to defend their MWC championship. Dallas had won the last six titles before Lebanon broke through.
The Warriors went on to place fifth at the state meet.
“The league is going to be tough,” Sallee said. “How we place in league is going to show a lot. We worked so, so hard for it last year, and this year we are going to try and go out and capture it again and show everyone that we’re not the underdogs anymore.”
The Bulldogs have five returners with state experience in Wyatt French, Sawyer Myres, Chandler Villarreal, Mitchell Sorte and Bobby Chavez.
French placed sixth at 106 last year while Myres is a two-time state competitor.
“We have a young team,” said Myres, who pinned Redmond’s Davin Curry (3 minutes, 21 seconds) and received a forfeit victory against Lebanon. “We are grinding hard in practice and things are looking good.”
Horn said the Bulldogs have shown a quality work ethic in practice.
“It’s a smaller team than we’ve ever had in the past, but they are eager to learn and it’s a fun team to teach and work with because of that,” Horn said. “We are going to take some lumps, and we are going to come back and do some good things by the end of the year.”
A season ago, West finished fourth at the Greater Valley Conference championships and placed 22nd at state.
French won the 106 district title.
“We are going to give a run at some district titles and we have a chance to win some district titles,” Horn said. “We have some kids that are hungry for that, and we have some kids that are very hungry to go to the state tournament and not just get some wins, but get some medals.”