Wrestling: Woodburn ready to take on 4A classification
The 2018-19 wrestling season officially begins this week, but for the Woodburn Bulldogs, the wrestling program has been preparing for this season the day after the conclusion of the state championship tournament in February.
Much has changed in the nine months since the end of last season, chiefly the opponents that Woodburn will be competing against this season. The Bulldogs enter this year facing a new classification of teams and wrestlers after moving from 5A to 4A, and the coaching staff is approaching this year with the same fervent dedication that they seek to bestow upon the athletes on the mat.
"(We're) excited to kick off what is going to be a very exciting season with some returning state placers, state qualifiers, and an army of kids that are hungry and working hard," Woodburn head coach Dusty Price said. "We are working hard though to instill integrity on and off the mat with academic success."
The Bulldogs welcome back a wealth of talent on the mat this season, led by state placers Wesley Vasquez and Giovanni Bravo.
Vasquez returns for his junior season a year removed from making a surprise run to the state championship match as an unseeded entry in the 5A 113-pound bracket last season. And Bravo — a three-time state qualifier who placed fifth in the 138-pound bracket in February — looks to make a title run of his own in his final season with the Bulldogs.
Woodburn also returns state qualifiers Sergio Mendez (120 pounds), Freddy Hernandez (126) and William Sandoval (132), but the strength of the Bulldogs under Price has long been the sheer number of athletes the program puts out every season.
The wrestling team boasts more than 50 athletes this season, often putting four or more kids on the depth chart in each weight class, creating a strong internal competition system that shines best when the Bulldogs descend on big tournaments throughout the year.
Such a large team requires an equally large and dedicated coaching staff, which features three-time national champion Larry Owings, Jose Hernandez, volunteer coaches Zeke Valverde, Edwin Garcia and Eddie Cruz and new coach Amanda Bell, who brings professional MMA experience to the mat room where she will help hone the program's expanding roster of girls.
"The commitment and love of these coaches for our wrestlers can be seen in the room," Price said.
And Price's commitment to academic success is not just empty bravado. A teacher at Woodburn's Wellness, Business and Sports School, Price is challenging his athletes to make it a team goal to place in the top 10 GPA in the Academic All-State competition at the 4A level this season, an ambitious goal for a program that has struggled academically in past seasons.
But Price has long sought to use the wrestling success not as an end goal, but as a byproduct that comes from instilling the kind of work ethic it takes to become a championship-caliber athlete. He sees academic success in the same light — athletes who can dedicate themselves to self-improvement in the gym, can do so in the classroom as well.
"We are committing as a team to help each other get there," Price said. "This is bigger than sport though. I echo what the legendary Dan Gable said, 'Once you've wrestled, everything else in life is easy.'"
The Woodburn Bulldogs open the wrestling season Wednesday at Lebanon High School before ending the week with a trip to Oregon City on Saturday.