Edgar Jimenez attempts to take down Jeremy Lowe in the Blue/Gray wrestle off. (Photos by Jim Sweigart)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

In past seasons, McNary High School wrestling coach Jason Ebbs has had a fairly accurate forecast for his team’s future. This season, the future is foggier but no less invigorating.

“If things go the way they’ve been going, I don’t know where the top end is for this team. It may be eighth in state, it may be a state championship,” Ebbs said. “We would need some really big things to go our way, but it’s in the realm of possibility.”

McNary returns a legion of wrestlers with experience in the state’s biggest tournaments and more than a few he expects to surprise opponents.

“It’s impossible to think that you’ll just keep growing every year, but we have managed to be a steady, improving program and our challenges are taking new shape,” Ebbs said.

Seven wrestlers with experience in the state tournament will hit the mats again for the Celtics: Devin Reynolds, Andy Downer, Edgar Jimenez, Jeremy and Justin Lowe, Tyler Brown and Anthony Flores.

Of that contingent, Reynolds, a junior at 126 pounds, and Jeremy Lowe, a senior at 145 pounds, are top-ranked wrestlers in a recent preseason survey of statewide talent.

“I get confidence from it, but I want to work hard and keep that spot,” Jeremy said.

Reynolds, who rapidly made a name for himself as a sophomore, is hoping to build on the lessons he learned from the 2010-11 season. He lost to rival Peter Russo of Newberg High School in the final round of state competition, a match which saw him docked for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“I let my emotions take hold of me. So, I’ve been working on my mental game and knowing what I have to do to become that better wrestler,” Reynolds said.

Other ranked Celtics include junior Hector Maldonado, No. 19 at 120 pounds; Downer, No. 8 at 126 pounds; Justin Lowe, No 6 at 132; Jimenez, No. 8 at 138; Ajay Urban, No. 12 at 152; Grant Gerstner, No. 12 at 160; Flores, No. 4 at 195; and Brown, No. 5 at 195. McNary’s team was ranked fifth in the state.

“As a senior, I’m really just hoping to influence and motivate the team to be able to get our attitude where it needs to be to for us to be a top team in the state,” Jimenez said. “In order for us to be one of those top teams, we need to fight hard, keep our heads in the game and give up one point not two.”

Skillwise, the team members need to get to the point where taking shots is a reaction rather than a gameplan that may, or may not, unfold as they expect, he added.

McNary hosts a seven-team tournament Friday, Dec. 2, beginning at 4 p.m. The Celts will face some of the top talent throughout the state with teams from the 6A, 5A and 4A divisions attending.

Leading up to the tournament, senior Joel Hunter said, “We all need to just work hard. Our varsity and junior varsity squads are looking pretty tight and the freshmen are really stepping up. I think we just need to drill harder and drill faster.”

Hunter hopes to place in the the team’s big tournaments at Reser Stadium and Cleveland High School and cap the season with an appearance in the state tournament.

Looking at the bigger picture, Downer wants the team to be the one to bring back a trophy from the state tournament – only the top four finishers take home trophies.

“We’ll know more after this week,” he said. “Our cardio needs to get better and need to be able to go three rounds with everybody, but right now it’s just getting our technique down.’

Ebbs is trying not to overreach with goals at the moment, but he gets a gleam in his eye when talking about that foggy future.

“We got a couple of secrets in our bag,” he said. “We have some snakes in the bushes.”

He singled out Rob Phelps, who got off to a promising start last season but succumbed to injury before the regional tournament, as one of them.

“He should have been in the state tournament and there’s a guy nobody knows about and if he’s working hard and doing the things he needs to do, he’ll make his presence known real fast,” he said.