Come Friday morning, the Hermiston wrestling team will make history as the first non-Washington athletes to participate in a WIAA state event.
The Bulldogs are sending seven guys to Mat Classic XXXI at the Tacoma Dome.
“It will be pretty cool,” Hermiston athletic director Larry Usher said. “We are pretty excited about it.”
Competing at state for Hermiston will be Jon Lee (220 pounds), Sam Cadenas (195), Hunter Dyer (120), Gage Shipley (126), Jordan Franklin, (132), Trevor Wagner (160) and Dustyn Coughlin (285).
“We are excited as a coaching staff,” Hermiston coach Kyle Larson said. “The guys are excited to get there and be the first team to step into a WIAA state event. We’ll go out and wrestle to the best of our ability.”
Mat Classic will be held Friday and Saturday. Action begins at 8:30 a.m. Friday, and at 9:45 a.m. Saturday. Finals are scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday. Doors will open to the public one hour prior to competition.
With the 3A Region 4 Tournament, and other regional tournaments canceled throughout the state last weekend because of inclement weather, the WIAA was forced to go a 32-man bracket.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time ever that we have had to do this,” WIAA Sports & Activities Information Director Casey Johnson said.
The tournament also will have a different format than in the past, with the six classifications split between morning and afternoon sessions.
The 3A, 2A and 1B/2B teams will compete between 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday, with the remainder of the teams hitting the mats at 2 p.m.
All classifications will compete starting at 9:45 a.m. Saturday.
“We got lucky with that format,” Johnson said. “It was going into place this year any way. This way, it will go faster because we can use more mats per round.”
The draws for the Hermiston wrestlers don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. None have faced their first-round opponents before.
“I take the approach that you aren’t wrestling a name or a seed, just the man in the singlet,” Larson said. “The winning and losing will take care of itself. When we show up, we want people to worry about wrestling Hermiston.”
Dyer will face Gage Nelson of Yelm in his first match. Nelson, ranked No. 11, finished seventh at state last year at 106 pounds.
Shipley will take on Ryan Davis of Yelm. Ranked No. 4, Davis placed fifth at state late year at 126.
Franklin’s first opponent is Sam Smith of Peninsula, while Wagner will face Stone Anderson of Gig Harbor. Wagner is ranked No. 12.
Cadenas, a freshman, will battle sixth-ranked Jake Flynn of Gig Harbor in his first match.
Lee, who is ranked fifth, will wrestle John Scott of Yelm in his first match. He is the only freshman ranked in the top 16 in his weight class.
Rounding out the group is Coughlin, who is ranked 12th. He will wrestle William Christman of Gig Harbor.
“Our guys are good enough to compete at a high level,” Larson said. “They will go out and do their best.”
While the wrestlers are raring to go, Usher said they have been monitoring road conditions in Washington and Oregon to find the safest way to get the athletes to Tacoma.
The main road to Tacoma is I-90, which was closed Tuesday after more than 4 feet of snow fell over the span of two days on Snoqualmie Pass. The route through Portland is no safer with I-84 reporting icy conditions.
“Hour by hour, that is our job right now,” Usher said of scouring road reports. “I’m just about to get online and see what it will be to fly our guys there. That might be the safest thing to do. Some of the MCC teams are thinking of sending their guys on Wednesday. It might be the little window of time to get them through the pass.”
The WIAA also is monitoring the roads in an effort to advise teams from the east side of the state of the best routes to take.
“We are talking to people from around the state,” Johnson said. “People are trying to find a way to make it work.”