Ethan Williams, left, and CJ Paxton work on perfecting wrestling holds and takedowns during practice on Tuesday. Both will be wrestling on Saturday at the Far West League district wrestling tournament. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
The noise levels during wrestling practice in the Gibney Center on the Brookings-Harbor High School campus have dropped significantly since the season began in early December, and not just because the number of attendees has dropped.
No, the reason for the quiet practice is because the levels of focus and dedication have gone up as the team prepares for the Far West League district wrestling tournament on Saturday.
“They’ve all got individual goals to meet,” BHHS wrestling Head Coach Dave Freeman said. “They’ve got legit goals to place at least fourth and make it to regionals.”
With the new OSAA state tournament format that was introduced in 2010, the district tournament not only offers the opportunity for bragging rights, but placing in the top four wrestlers garners a wrestler a trip to the regional tournament and a chance to advance to the state tourney.
“They are really focused,” assistant coach Ramón Nuñez said. “Not supposed to be learning a lot of new stuff, just drilling and getting ready.”
The team, which began with more than 25 wrestlers, has been winnowed down to just 10, but they are a dedicated bunch.
“From beginning until now are two totally different teams,” Nuñez said. “I hope that they can achieve what they want to do.”
The district tournament officially begins Saturday morning at 9 a.m., but for most of the Bruin wrestlers preparation is under way.
According to junior CJ Paxton, making weight is a big issue for all wrestlers unless they are wrestling up a weight class, and they use a high tech scale to keep an eye on their weight.
“I really want some Mountain Dew,” Paxton said. “I know I can’t have it, but I can still taste it in the water.”
Paxton is wrestling competitively for the first time in four weeks but feels ready for the tournament.
“I’ve been working hard to get ready,” he said.
Teammate Anthony Peterson is in the same boat, having not wrestled for more than five weeks after suffering a knee injury, but is excited to come back.
“I just want to wrestle,” Peterson said when asked why he would come back with only the district tournament guaranteed.
“I’ve got passion, and I’m committed to the sport,” he said. “It just makes sense that I would come back.”
Of the 10 wrestlers headed to districts, all have a chance to qualify for the regional tournament. For some, the road will be a little bumpier than for others.
“Sam (Strom) just has to win one match in order to qualify for regionals,” Freeman said. “He only has five kids in his bracket. He has a chance; he’s really gotten better since he decided to start working hard.”
Christian Hooper, wrestling at 152 pounds, will have to take the high road as he will have to win three matches to make it to regionals.
“I’m pretty sure that everyone that wrestles wants to be a champion,” Hooper said. “I just can’t put it into words what it would mean to be first.
“It would feel good.”
Tyler Marrington takes a surprising second-seed ranking into a first-round bye in the same class as Hooper and should qualify for the regional tournament with relative ease.
Cole Hannan is seeded first in the 138-pound bracket and is favored to win the tournament. The only question on wrestling fans’ minds is whether or not he will pin every opponent in the first round.
Brandon Holteen will start off the first round of the tournament in the 145-pound bracket with a bye, due to his second seeding.
Peterson will wrestle in the same class and will have a chance to wrestle his teammate in the finals if he can get past the first-seeded Gary Jansma of North Bend.
Adan Branbilla, 120 pounds, will face Brandon Rodriguez of Sutherlin in his first match and, if he can wrestle like he did in his season-opening match against Douglas, stands a chance of qualifying for regionals.
Ethan Williams, wrestling at 160-pounds, will have a first-round bye before having to face Aaron Wagner of North Bend in the second round.
Paxton will also ride a first-round bye into the second round where he will face Chance Wimberly of Douglas in the second round.
The lone senior on the team, Isaac Sanders, 220, grabbed a surprising second seed, and will face Colton Campbell of Siuslaw in the first round. Sanders’ only real test of the tournament should come in the finals when he will most likely face Sonny Tupua of Siuslaw.
While the team has little chance of winning a team title, Freeman is excited for each of his wrestlers to do the best they can and achieve their own personal goals.
“We’re gonna go out and have fun, and let the wrestling take care of itself,” he said. “Then, we are going to start building for next year.”