MILTON-FREEWATER - Fifteen grapplers are representing the Mac-Hi Pioneers at the Oregon Class 4A Wrestling Championships that began Thursday and run through Saturday at Portland's Memorial Coliseum.
Only Sweet Home with 17, and Tillamook with 16, have more wrestlers representing their schools at the state tournament.
"We finished second in state last year," Mac-Hi coach Beau Chester said. "Eight kids placed and we hope to improve upon that this year.
"If we can get eight or nine wrestlers to place in the top 10 this year, we'll be right there for the championship."
Each weight class has 21 competitors, representing 39 schools from seven geographical districts throughout Oregon. That adds up to almost 300 wrestlers.
Despite all of that competition, Chester expects Mac-Hi to do well.
"We have the most seeded wrestlers. They rank in the top six for placement in the brackets," Chester said. "We have a good draw in the brackets, so we should be successful."
Mac-Hi senior Nick Watts (215 pounds), who placed fourth in state last year, recently returned to the mat from a neck injury suffered in football. This will be only his third tournament after his return.
"If Watts has his conditioning right already," Chester said, "then he should be right there competing for the state title against some tough opponents."
Just as inspirational is Brandon Kralman (171), who finished sixth last year but is coping this winter with deteriorating eyesight. He is now legally blind with 20 percent vision in one eye.
"He can see figures - he can tell a body is in front of him," Chester said. "He doesn't have any depth perception, so the rule requires that his opposing wrestler stay in contact with him throughout the match. "
Chester said that Kralman takes his condition in stride and works as hard as anyone on the team.
Two of the more talented wrestlers on the team are senior heavyweight Angel Palacios and 189-pound freshman Victor Perez, Chester said.
"Angel was the runner-up last year and is seeded No. 1 going into state this year," Chester said. "He has been in the finals at every meet and tournament this year or at least wrestling for third place."
Perez is an anomaly in his weight class.
"It is incredibly rare to see a freshman in that weight class doing so well," Chester said. "I'd bet that he is one of very few freshman in that weight class (189) at state. Usually, if a kid makes it to state as a freshman, it's as a 103-pounder."
Mac-Hi does have two freshmen, Chandler Fortune and Eric Rayo, at state this week in the 103-pound weight class.
Other Pioneers making a return appearance at the state tournament after placing a year ago include senior Wyatt Law (145) and sophomore Ryan Bullock (125), each of whom placed fourth. Jesse Sargent (119), a junior, was fifth.
Wrestlers competing in state for the first time are sophomore Patrick Sheets (130), senior Joey Paez (140), junior Josh Rutherford (160), sophomore Francisco Saldana (160), junior Pablo Grimaldi (171) and junior Lawrence Timmons (215).
Chester has confidence in all 15 of his state wrestlers.
"Every one of them has the ability to go on a good run at state, get into the semifinals and possibly even the championship round," he said.