WALLA WALLA — Change is abundant this winter in the area prep wrestling programs.
At Wa-Hi new head coach Dallas Jones takes over, while Pomeroy and Mac-Hi’s wrestling programs have lost a pair of dominant state champions in Ryan Bullock (Mac-Hi) and Tory Knebel (Pomeroy).
Waitsburg-Prescott, in just the program’s second year of existence, has quadrupled in size from four to 16 wrestlers.
Jones coached wrestling at Pioneer Middle School for five years and at a high school in Weiser, Idaho, another three years, before taking the head job at Wa-Hi when current assistant Clayton Hudiburg resigned the post this spring.
He wants to get back to the fundamentals.
“We want our kids to go hard and wrestle hard for three rounds,” Jones said. “Doing that, developing that mental toughness you need to be a wrestler, that’s probably one of the tougher parts of being a wrestler.
“If you can teach them that, they’re going to be good wrestlers, the technique will come,” Jones said. “Just teaching the basics, the fundamentals, will win championships.”
Jones welcomes back a top-heavy lineup of seniors, some who have already made it to the state tournament: Luis Santana, Logan Reardon, Quin Piver, Zach Anderson and Zane Henderson.
“We have a pretty good gamut of seniors who can not only qualify, but do well at state,” Jones said.
Santana (wrestling at 220 pounds this season) is a hard-nosed, gritty wrestler, Jones said.
“He’s a grinder from what I’ve seen so far,” Jones said. “He never backs down and he stays with it — that goes a long ways.”
Also at 220, Jones described Reardon as one of the most aggressive wrestlers on the team.
“Logan is fundamentally, technically a very sound wrestler,” Jones said. “He’s also very aggressive and in your face.”
Piver reprises his role at heavyweight.
“He’s doing well,” Jones said. “It’s difficult to say until you get to your first competition. I expect big things out of all my seniors this year, and Quin is no exception.”
Anderson (160) did not make state last winter, but Jones is excited about his prospects.
“He’s aggressive, but he’s very calculating,” Jones said of Anderson. “He’s precise with his aggression. I’m pretty fortunate, all the seniors we do have are pretty fundamentally sound and aggressive, and Zach exemplifies that,
“Even though he hasn’t qualified for state, he can definitely get there and do some damage once he gets there,” Jones said.
Henderson did not qualify for state last season but is another wrestler Jones believes has a shot.
“Zane is also very aggressive, he’s very physical,” Jones said. “He’s paid his dues, and he’s another kid that hasn’t done it yet — gone to state — but the ability is definitely there.
“It’s just a matter of putting in the time and effort and believing you can get there,” he said. “The psychological aspect is definitely the harder part of wrestling.”
Groover Snell (145), Zackary Gilvey (160), Evan Frank (138), Jose Albarran (113) and Nigel Lugo (152) round out the senior class.
“I have high expectations for this year’s group,” Jones said. “They can definitely do well. This group of seniors, if they start believing it, they’re going to do well.
“It’s a matter of kids buying into our philosophy,” Jones said, “if they can do that, the talent is there, from what I’ve seen.”
Of the 14 juniors on the roster, Jones expects Wil Babbit (126) and Noe Gonzales (120) to be the likeliest candidates to get to state.
The Blue Devils return 12 sophomores and welcome 19 freshmen, for a total of 59 wrestlers.
“That’s a good combination, we’ve got a lot of variety,” Jones said.
The Blue Devils attend the Bob Mars Invite in Kennewick Saturday beginning at 10 a.m.
The Pioneers begin the 2012-13 wrestling season down a group of accomplished seniors in Ryan Bullock, Francisco Saldana, Taylor Hodgens and Patrick Sheets, but with more than 35 wrestlers in the program the Pioneers are hoping duel-meet losses due to forfeits piling up will be a thing of the past.
“I think this year, as far as a duel team goes, we’re going to be a heck of a lot better,” Mac-Hi coach Beau Chester said. “Last year, we had about five to six individuals that were really talented and placed in every tournament we went to, but we didn’t have enough to fill out a lineup.
“This year, the duel season is going to be a lot of fun because we are going to fill out a lineup and we aren’t going to give up so many points,” Chester said.
The Pioneers will also be younger than in years past, with 13 freshmen joining the team, along with seven or eight sophomores.
“It’s kind of a fun year for us, because you never really expect too much out of a freshman or sophomore,” Chester said, “but they are definitely capable of going to state because they are that talented. It will be fun to see how they do.”
Tavis Hodgen (132 or 138, senior) was one match away from placing at state last season.
“He was right there and the matches he lost at state were really close,” Chester said. “I honestly don’t think this year there’s anything stopping him from placing. It’s kind of just luck as to where he gets drawn in at the tournament.
“He’s looking just as tough as anybody out there,” Chester said.
Chandler Fortune (126-132, senior) won two and lost two matches at state last season, but suffered a knee injury during football season that will likely sideline him for most of the wrestling season.
“Before he got injured he was looking really good, too,” Chester said. “With Chandler, we’re hoping he can wrestle. We’re just doing everything the doctor says and hoping he gets healthy. He definitely has a shot to place this year.”
Senior Brayden Moller will start the season at 180 pounds and likely work down to either 160 or 170. He qualified for state his sophomore year, but did not last season.
“He is probably going to be at the top,” Chester said of Moller. “Brayden has a chance to be in the finals at state or even win a title at state. We’re excited for him this year.
“As far as the senior class goes, it’s probably the smallest senior class we’ve had,” Chester said, “But the good part about it is that the five seniors we have are all good leaders and most all of them have a good, legitimate shot at going to state.”
The Pioneers get a bit of a wildcard in transfer student Jeffrey Jones, a sophomore. Jones won the Nevada state championship last season as a freshman at Nevada’s 1A level.
“He looks very good,” Chester said of the newcomer. “He’s right there with Tavis and Chandler and all those guys, it’s going to be a fun battle between them all year long.”
“He’s (Jones) right there with all of our good kids,” Chester said, “but until I get to see him out there wrestling someone else, it’s hard to tell.”
Mac-Hi begins its season today when it travels to the Enterprise Tournament.
Pomeroy graduated perennial champion Tory Knebel last season and is returning from a fifth-place team finish at state.
Both Wyatt Jenkins and Austin Reisdorph return from second-place finishes at state.
Jenkins, who placed second at 160 pounds after falling to Liberty Bell’s Gunnar Doggett in the championship bout, will move up to 170 this season.
Doggett, then a senior, won two straight championships and put three of five losses on Jenkins’ record from last season.
“He had a really good year, there was really only one guy (Doggett) that stood in his way,” Pomeroy coach Brian Slaybaugh said. “Wyatt’s one of those kids that works really hard. He probably works harder than any of the other kids in the offseason. He’ll be pretty tough this year to beat.”
Reisdorph fell to Dalton Ginter of Pateros in the championship match at the 195-pound weight class and would be poised to make another run at a title, this year at the 220 class, but he suffered a knee injury in football that will likely sideline him until almost the end of the season.
As it is, Slaybaugh thinks he still has a shot.
“He does a lot of conditioning stuff — jogs, rides a bike — he just hasn’t been cleared to practice,” Slaybaugh said. “Austin is a very athletic, physical kid, so I think he’ll be able to hold his own even though he hasn’t been out on the mat a whole lot.”
Ryan Smith (160, senior) and Mike Wymore (220, senior) each went to state last season, but neither placed.
Smith, who went to state at 152, had to battle back from a poor showing at districts with a good showing at regionals before exiting the state bracket with one win.
“He (Smith) fights asthma a lot, so he kind of struggles with that,” Slaybaugh said. “He’s a tough, physical kid.”
Wymore also won a match at state.
“Mike’s just one of those kids that show up every day at practice and gives 100 percent,” Slaybaugh said. “Look for Mike to place at state this year, too.”
Despite having just 12 wrestlers last season, Pomeroy still managed a fifth-place finish at state last season. With 16 athletes turning out this season, the Pirates are eyeing a top-four finish.
Just two seasons into existence, Waitsburg-Prescott’s wrestling program exploded from four competitors in 2011-12 to 16 for this season.
“I think it’s safe to say we’re going to see a lot of growth,” W-P coach Lanny Adams said. “We’re going to be able to do a lot more drilling. I think we’re going to have some state contenders this year.”
Adams was part of a movement that helped start the athletic combine’s first-ever wrestling program after coaching the Matbirds (a youth wrestling program in Waitsburg) since 1985.
“I’m actually feeling pretty blessed to help get this program up and going,” Adams said. “It’s been a life-long dream of coaching at the high school level. There’s been a lot of support from the community — it’s pretty awesome.
“Waitsburg-Prescott is known for having a great football team and basketball team, we’re looking to get on the map for wrestling, too,” Adams said.
W-P has four seniors, six juniors, four sophomores and two freshmen.
Seven of those athletes come from the Jubilee Youth Ranch, a boys’ boarding school in Prescott which is allowing its students to compete in wrestling for the first time this year.
Adams is excited for the newcomers.
“What a great way to get out all that aggression in a controlled manner,” Adams said. “They’re really hungry for knowledge about wrestling. It’s actually really awesome that they’re out there.”
Although it’s only the second year of the program, many of the wrestlers have competed before, either at other schools or in the Matbirds. Nevertheless, Adams will be coaching a lot of fundamentals this season.
“My philosophy is you start with the basics and bring on some of the other moves just based on their abilities,” Adams said. “I think people are going to be pretty surprised by the caliber of the wrestlers that our program has this year.”
Dalton Laroue (160, junior), Trenton Kitselman (142, junior) and Gabe Escalante (118, senior) are returners from last season.
W-P kicks off its season Tuesday with a meet at Tri-Cities Prep beginning at 6 p.m.