Coaches Troy Woosley and James Kohn, far right, talk while wrestlers work out on Wednesday afternoon in the PHS wrestling room. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath High wrestling appears to be in a good place.

That’s what veteran coach Troy Woosley believes with a roster that features not only five of his eight state qualifiers from a season ago, but a strong crop of underclassmen coming up, including one freshman that he anticipates will have an immediate and major impact.

Woosley has more athletes than ever out for the team this season — 26 boys and four girls — and there might be a couple of latecomers to bring that number up even higher. State tournament medalists returning include seniors Ben Hernandez, David Griffith and Chase Ringwald. In addition, state qualifiers Caleb Blackburn, another senior, and River Sandstrom, sophomore, are back on the mat.

“For the third year in a row, we have an amazing group of seniors that have had a lot of success in the past,” Woosley said, the fifth being Ty Olsen, who just missed state last season with a fifth place at districts.

The Warriors as a team placed fourth at state and Blake Niemann, Blaise Pindell and Joseph Choi were medal winners lost to graduation.

Philomath brings in an 11-student freshman class, including an exceptional competitor in Riley Barrett. Said Woosley, “He wrestles all year round … he’s really good.”

Overall, several of the freshmen and sophomores on the roster have little experience on the mat. Woosley estimated that nine out of that group are newcomers to the sport.

“We got a lot of friends of friends, got a lot of people from the football team that were talking to kids — most of them are football players,” Woosley said. “Just super kids, really excited for the future.”

Senior Ben Hernandez is the team’s top returning starter with his past performances including a state title as a sophomore and third place as a junior. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

A closer look at roster

Running through the boys roster, Woosley believes he has varsity-level competitors throughout.

“We can fill every weight this year and we’re stacked two or three deep in several of them,” he said. “It’s going to be fun — it’s going to be fun for the JV tournaments, too.”

Starting at 106, Sandstrom made weight and will be penciled in there. Sandstrom was in the zone at last year’s district tournament to qualify as a freshman and then picked up valuable experience on the bigger stage.

Hernandez may go 113 or 120. After a state title at 113 during the pandemic season, Hernandez placed runner-up at districts and third at state at 120 this past season.

“Ben Hernandez can go 113 but he might wait for the weight to go to 115 in mid-January for the weight allowance — he might, we’re still debating,” Woosley said. “We have the option so we’ll see where that goes.”

Blackburn could be an option at 120 although Woosley believes he’ll be starting out at 126. Freshman Brayden Williams and sophomore Cameron McConnell could factor in.

A couple of freshmen appear to be set up at 126 and 132 with Barrett and Porter Compton. Ringwald, who placed third and districts and fifth at state last season at 126, could take the mat at either 132 or 138 depending on whether PHS is in a dual or tournament setting. Freshman Lukas Hernandez could go at 126.

Sophomore Lucas Bourguois and freshman Mathew Ropp could go 145 or 138. Junior Jonathan Doig and sophomore Ryder Zitlau figure to see time at 145 or 152. Olsen will get a late start on the season but figures in at 152. Junior Gradin Fairbanks could go at 160 or 152 and freshmen Dillon Osborns and Liam Bennett are around 152. Sophomore JJ Lewis is likely looking at 160 or 170.

Griffith placed fourth at districts and fifth at state at 152 last season and it appears he’ll start competing this winter at 170, although that could change.

“We’ve got three or four studs in the league, including state champs, that are right around that area, so we’re going to shake that out and see how that goes,” Woosley said. “But he’ll probably start at 170 and we’ll see if it’s worth going to 160 or not. There’s a lot of time left to figure that one out.”

Junior Jared Gerding and freshman Tyler Smouse are both in the mix for 182 or 170.

Woosley said the team then has a group of newbies competing for time at the upper weights. Freshman Derick Kohn could start at 195 and drop to 182. Sophomore Brady Russell and freshman Ben McGovern will compete at 195.

Freshman Lake Mulberry could be looking at 220 to start and junior Jacob Hamlet returns to go at either 285 or 220.

Tough schedule ahead

Philomath will throw its wrestlers into the fire right away at Saturday’s Perry Burlison Tournament at Cascade and a tough schedule follows throughout the season.

Barrett, the standout freshman, will miss the opening tournament as he works through a medical issue. Olsen will also not compete and Gerding’s status is questionable.

Philomath will host an invitational at 4 p.m. on Dec. 9 with Crescent Valley, Junction City, Molalla, North Eugene, Springfield and Taft coming to the local gym. The program’s big fundraiser on Dec. 10 — which involves working at a sizable youth tournament — doesn’t allow the team to leave town that weekend.

“It was hard for us to take Saturday off because we have our whole high school team run our fundraiser,” Woosley said. “So we’re busy that day and sometimes I try to pick up a midweek dual.”

But with the gym available for use on Dec. 9 and with the athletic director’s blessing, the tournament was arranged. Woosley believes Philomath should do well against the competition coming in. Wrestling powerhouse Crescent Valley will send a group that does not include its top varsity talent, the coach mentioned.

Philomath will also host the Benton County Championships again this season — that set for Dec. 21.

The state tournament returns to Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland on Feb. 23-24 after it had been held in Cascade the past two seasons.

Returning as assistant coaches this season are James Kohn, Jeremy French, Joey Howell and Jeremy Smith. Also joining the staff are Blake Woosley and Xander Eikelenboom.

Morton returns for the girls

Philomath High’s girls wrestling team has four members heading into the season, including the lone returnee in junior Ellie Morton.

Morton missed qualifying for last season’s state tournament by just one placing, coming up short in the third-place match at the District 2 Tournament at Cottage Grove after making a run up through the consolation bracket.

“She’s going to be at the same weight she was last year, between 100 and 105,” Woosley said. “She’s right there, she picked it up last year … she came back, I think, after she thought about it (coming close to state) all offseason.”

Among the newcomers, freshman Brielle Hagen will wrestle in the 115 to 120 range. Sophomore Sadie Francis, who splits time between wrestling and basketball, looks to be in the mid-120s. Junior Emmalyne Robinson appears to be set for competition in the 150s.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.