By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Many wrestling programs wouldn’t invite some of the top contenders in the state to their house for the first tournament year after year, but Jason Ebbs, McNary head coach, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There’s only one way to get better and that’s to wrestle the best out there,” Ebbs said. “We invite Roseburg High School to the tournament every year, and I think it says a lot about what they think of us in that they accept the invitation each time.”
The Celtics host Roseburg, Cleveland and Dallas high schools for a varsity tournament Friday, Dec. 5. The action begins at 4 p.m.
“It’s is exciting to have a three-way dual meet right off the bat,” said Celt Sean Burrows, a 126-pounder. “I’m kind of hoping to get the chance to wrestle Bennett Mesa from Roseburg.”
Mesa was last season’s state champ at 106 pounds and Burrows heard he’s shooting for 126 this season. Burrows placed fifth at the district tournament last season.
McNary’s state placers all graduated in June, but Elite 8-finisher Michael Phelps is back for his senior season and looking to impart the McNary legacy on the new faces in the Celtic line-up.
“I look forward to working with them and helping them reach their potential. We were regional champs my freshman year and I want them to believe they are part of one of the better programs in our conference,” Phelps said.
He said getting on the mat to practice with younger brother Jon and teammate Jordan Cagle were high on his list of priorities.
Fellow seniors Alvarro Venegas and Taran Purkey said resurrecting the team atmosphere of their freshman year is something of a goal.
“When Alvarro and I were freshmen, we thought the program was finished when Devin (Reynolds) graduated, but we’ve carried on. Now, we’ve got younger guys like Isaiah Putnam and Hunter Lucas who have improved a ton and prove that McNary wrestling isn’t going down after we graduate,” Purkey said.
Venegas said that means amping up the pressure within the program.
“We really want to see the team return the sense of family we had a couple of years ago and work on our competitiveness within the program and bring everyone closer together,” Venegas said.
If they’re successful in their pursuit, Venegas said opposing teams are going to know it.
“Some of our guys might lose, but we’re damn well not going to give it to the other team easy,” he said.
With a slightly larger group of seniors, competition within the program is likely to be high, especially when one considers that two of the team’s freshmen, Brayden Ebbs and Sam Partida, have already achieved great heights wrestling as part of the McNary Mat Club.
As far as more immediate goals, Purkey said beating Sprague High School topped his list. He specifically has his eyes on matches with Oly Corson Davis. Davis was one match from placing in the state tournament last season and took third in the district tournament.
“I beat him and he beat me last season, but I want to go to the mat knowing I can beat him this year,” Purkey said.
Ebbs said the journey to getting better begins Friday.
“We have a unique group of kids who have grown up in this room, our job now is to get better and let the wins and losses take care of themselves,” he said. “If we do that, the sky’s the limit.”