The 2018-19 high school wrestling season has just gotten underway, and the Lebanon Warriors have established themselves among the contenders in the 5A classification.
Lebanon has a 5-0 record in dual meets and has performed well at three tournaments. Despite those impressive results, varsity coach Michael Cox said his team is still a work in progress.
“We’re not clicking on all cylinders yet. We have a lot of talent and high expectations,” said Cox, who is in his 13th year leading the program. “We have some kids that aren’t wrestling yet, so we’re not full strength.”
The Warriors opened the season with a pair of dual meet victories over Tigard, 48-30, and Woodburn, 66-10.
Lebanon then competed in the Perry Burlison Wrestling classic which was hosted by Cascade High School. Senior Lane Blisseck was second at 195 pounds and junior Tucker Drummond was third at 138.
Their next tournament was the Rose City Championships, where sophomore Keith Brown took first place at 220.
Brown repeated that performance on Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Liberty High tournament, winning his bracket at 220. Senior Chase Miller took top honors at 152, while junior Rian Howard (113) and senior Wyatt Richardson (132) each placed third.
The Warriors dominated a four-team meet on Thursday, Dec. 13, with visiting North Eugene, South Albany and West Albany.
The Warriors opened the event with a 66-18 victory over North Eugene, defeated South Albany 70-6, and downed West Albany 66-18.
For Richardson, the home meet was his first action of the season. He injured his knee before the season began and underwent an arthroscopic procedure to clean up his meniscus.
He went 3-0 in the 132-pound class during the four-team event, winning two matches by fall and one by technical fall.
“I feel pretty good. This is my first meet back,” Richardson said. “I wanted to go out and get after it.”
Richardson placed fifth at state last year at 120 pounds. As the season progresses he plans to compete at 126 pounds and he has one goal in mind.
“To win a state championship,” Richardson said.
Miller wrestled well above his actual weight in the dual meet, competing at 170. He won the Liberty tournament at 152 two days later and will be at that weight for the district meet and state championships.
Despite wrestling up two classes, Miller pinned all three of his opponents.
“I’ve got some things to work on, but you’ve always got things to work on,” Miller said.
The victories over the Rebels and Bulldogs give the Warriors a 2-0 mark in the Mid-Willamette Conference. Lebanon has placed in the top two in league for each of the past eight seasons. Their primary competition this year is expected to be Dallas, the defending 5A state champions, and Crescent Valley.
Cox said Crescent Valley returns two state titlists and has two other wrestlers who are favorites to win their divisions this season.
“They’re not quite as deep as us, but they’ve got the studs,” Cox said of the Raiders. “Dallas has the studs and they’re deep.”
The Warriors are confident in their lineup as well. In addition to top returners Blisseck, Brown, Howard, Miller and Richardson, Lebanon has also incorporated talented freshmen Austin Dalton and Brayden Burton into the lineup.
“We have a really good middle school program and these kids came up through that program,” Cox said. “We’ve got such a winning tradition in Lebanon. We’ve had five coaches in 70 years. There’s an expectation that if you’re going to be the wrestling coach you’re going to win and you’re going to do things the right way.”
Cox said there are about 50 wrestlers in the community mat club and 45 wrestlers in the middle school program.
“You keep filtering them in and reloading,” Cox said.
The Warriors will compete on Wednesday in a three-way league meet at North Salem.