Luis Palos tries to escape from Michael Phelps in a practice match. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Luis Palos tries to escape from Michael Phelps in a practice match. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

The McNary High School varsity wresting team lost a stable’s-worth of senior talent to graduation in June, but a pair of returning regional champs and and high-caliber incoming athletes have Head Coach Jason Ebbs eager to get the team on the mat.

“There’s not as many new faces as I would like, but they’re starting at a higher level than we have in recent years,” Ebbs said.

McNary posted seven regional champions last year, but only two return. Luis Palos (120) and Zach Hammerschmith (182) are ready for bigger and better seasons as seniors.

“I’m shooting for the state championship,” Hammerschmith said. “It’s a big goal, but I think it’s achievable.”

Palos said he wants to reach the state finals and see what happens.

“We’ve had someone in a finals match almost every year, and Coach Ebbs and I have been talking about what I need to do to be the one,” Palos said.

Rounding out the team’s senior leadership is Caleb Connor, who placed sixth in the junior varsity regional tournament.

“Going to state has been my goal since I first stepped on the mat,” Connor said. “I’d also like to be in the top five at the Reser’s tournament.”

Alvarro Venegas placed high enough in the regional tournament last winter to earn a berth at the state competition as a sophomore. He’s looking forward to helping shoulder some of the leadership responsibilities in his junior year.

“Everybody thinks wrestling is an individual sport, but we can do more to work as a team and support each other, make us feel like a family,”  Venegas said.

This season, Venegas is looking to place in the state tournament, after being crowned regional champ.

While Ebbs was disappointed that more freshmen didn’t turn out for the team, the incoming group all have substantial experience as part of the McNary Mat Club.

“There’s a lot of talent in those eight kids,” Ebbs said. And he likely won’t turn away an late-comers to the party.

While the team is starting out at a higher level from the outset, the large group of seniors last season kept them from getting some of the varsity experience those same seniors once received.

“Our No. 1 goal is going to be getting some of the younger guys the experience they’ll need,” Ebbs said. “They’re going to need it because our league is looking to have about five or six good teams.”

The Celts hosts their first tournament of the season Friday, Dec. 6. The fun begins at 4 p.m.