Connar Kohn wrestling
Connar Kohn made it through the regular season with a perfect 17-0 record. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

On the mat in the third period in a tough match against an equally-talented opponent, the wrestler that comes out with a victory often ends up having an edge when it comes to conditioning. Skill, technique and even intensity also play a role, of course, but strong conditioning can be the “X” factor that leads an athlete to the medal stand.

“That’s what it’s about — that conditioning, especially at the end of the year,” longtime Philomath High School wrestling coach Troy Woosley said Tuesday as the team prepared for Thursday’s district meet. “They’re a little bit better than midseason form right now, but everyone else is the same way.”

PHS senior Issiah Blackburn described the transition from football shape to wrestling shape as hitting a wall.

“We were hitting it really hard the first couple of weeks as we should if we’re going to have any sort of cardio advantage this year with the shortened season,” Blackburn said.

Another football player who wrestles, senior Connar Kohn, believes the multi-sport athletes we’re in pretty good condition coming in, but added, “If you weren’t at least in a little bit of shape, you’re not going to get to the same point that you do in a regular season, there’s just not enough time.”

Issiah Blackburn heads into state as one of four No. 1 seeds for the Warriors. He enters districts with a 17-1 record. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Three-sport athlete Blake Niemann, a junior, added, “It was all just a heck of a whirlwind but I managed to get in shape pretty well and over the course of these five weeks, I’ve worked really hard at it and I feel really good.”

Sophomore Ben Hernandez said cross-country and track served him well as far as conditioning.

“I feel like I’m in phenomenal shape being able to go those three rounds as opposed to some of these other kids that are just trying to get back in shape,” Hernandez said. “I’ve had a couple of matches where it came down to the third round when that stamina matters.”

The Warriors enter Thursday’s district tournament with four No. 1 seeds — Hernandez (113 pounds), Pindell (170), Issiah Blackburn (195) and Kohn (220). Joseph Choi (285) was seeded No. 2.

Philomath also has a pair of third-seeded wrestlers in Niemann (120) and Caleb Blackburn (126) along with a pair of No. 4 seeds in Chase Ringwald (132) and David Griffith (152).

The top four in each weight division will qualify for the 4A state tournament, which has been scheduled for June 25-26 at Cascade High School.

Woosley said he feels comfortable with his lineup heading into the tournament and in fact, described it as “uncharted territory comfortable.”

“On paper it looks really good,” he said. “You still have to perform.”

Blaise Pindell, 16-2 during the regular season, is a top seed in his weight division. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Warriors will actually be performing in its first tournament of this shortened season. Because of restrictions, few tournaments were organized with schools going up against one another in a series of duals. Woosley said it somewhat concerns him with an entirely different procedure that wrestlers go through for tournaments, but he added, “I’m pretty confident with the veteran group we have; they’ll get through it fine.”

With districts reduced to a single-day tournament, there could be situations when a wrestle-back wouldn’t occur because wrestlers reached their OSAA-mandated daily limit of five matches. 

Kohn would like to finish his high school wrestling career with a state title, of course, but he knows he can’t be overconfident despite his record.

“I have a chance at it but you’ve got to take everybody seriously,” Kohn said. “I’ve seen it happen when first-ranked kids get tossed and pinned. You have to take it seriously.”

Blackburn would also like to add champion to his high school wrestling resume. He keeps somewhat of an eye on the competition.

“I pay attention to the dudes higher in the rankings, I like to know when they’re wrestling and just see how they perform against each other and compare that to how I’ve done against them,” he said. “Every now and again, it’s really easy to get too caught up in it and not worry about wrestling.”

Niemann moved up three weight divisions from 106 to 126 for most of the season, but has dropped back down to 120 for districts. He heads into Thursday seeded behind two Sweet Home wrestlers.

“It was a little strange not wrestling first coming out of the gates during the duals, feeling like the little one to start it off, but I’ve adjusted,” Niemann said. “For my first match of the season wrestling at 126 where I had no idea how the weight would affect me to now, I feel like I’m the same wrestler I’ve always been.”

Pindell feels like his season has gone pretty well except for a few matches. He’s also gone up in weight and has been competing this year at 170.

“It’s just slightly different at the heavier weight with wrestling technique and stuff, but it’s been pretty similar,” he said.

Ben Hernandez takes a 15-3 record and No. 1 seed into districts. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Hernandez has gone at 120 most of the season but will compete at 113 from here on out. He’s just glad to be wrestling at any weight.

“During track season, we had to wear masks and there were all these strict rules. I was surprised we were allowed to wrestle,” he said.

For the regular season, the PHS wrestling team compiled a 146-63 record in individual matches, which means the Warriors won 70% of their bouts. Ten wrestlers had winning records and the nine that earned top-four seeds at districts have a combined record of 127-32.

In other words, consistency has been pretty good for PHS while moving forward through a challenging schedule. Blackburn believes he and his teammates have avoided the mental pitfalls that can negatively impact performance.

“I’d say you pretty commonly see wrestlers throughout the season get in funks and stuff like that but we’ve done pretty good at avoiding them,” he said. “We’re pretty focused on wrestling.”