Jonathan Canchola (left) placed second in the 138-pound division at the MVC District Meet last season (File).
After losing only three seniors and filling a roster with more than 60 athletes, the McNary wrestling program has a ton of depth heading into the 2021-22 season.
In the shortened spring season, the Celtics had 15 district placers and nine state qualifiers — all of whom are returning.
“We have the most kids I have ever had in my four years here. I am pumped. We have an experienced lineup. Most of these kids have been here two or three years now. They are excited and hungry and have their own set of expectations,” McNary head coach Sam Martin said. “I would argue that we have a lot of depth that other programs don’t have. Every single one of those kids that qualified for state had some sort of success.”
Sophomore Max Blanco was McNary's top finisher at the state tournament last season, placing fifth in the 106-pound division. Martin expects Blanco to make the podium at state once again this year.
“He now has that expectation to take it a step further,” Martin said.
McNary has two other quality wrestlers who will be competing at 106 pounds in Joey Barros and Jackson Wainwright. Barros qualified for the state meet last season while Wainwright, who transferred in from Crook County, made it to the 4A state meet last season.
“Most schools forfeit at 106 in duals, and here we are with three really good ones. It's definitely a good problem to have because it’s a problem that no one ever sees,” Martin said.
On the back end, senior Layne Runyan and Aldo Villalvazo will be two of the top heavyweights in the Mountain Valley Conference (MVC) after both qualified for state last season.
“Both of them are ready to take that next step,” Martin said.
Even though he hasn't wrestled in a state tournament, senior Jordan Orr is arguably the most experienced wrestler in the Celtics mat room. The 126-pounder has been in the varsity lineup since his freshman year, but the combination of injuries and wrestling in a highly competitive division has kept him from reaching the state tournament. This season, Martin is hoping that Orr's fortunes will change.
“Jordan definitely has taken up the mantle as the leader in the room. He sets the example for hard working as well as the tone and intensity of our practices,” Martin said. “He is ready to get over that hump. He has got his eyes on the podium for sure.”
Senior Damian Hernandez is another four-year kid who has been wrestling in important matches since his freshman year. After placing third at districts last season (132 pounds), Martin believes that Hernandez is poised to perform even better this year.
“I have never seen Damian work so hard in his life. Just in week one, I can see that tunnel vision. He is ready to work hard and have some success this year,” Martin said
Wrestling up a weight class last season (170), junior Hunter Ruberto still was able to reach the podium at the district tournament, placing fifth. Martin says Ruberto will wrestle at 160 this year, which will give him more opportunities at success.
“Hunter will be at a weight class that fits him a little bit better. He was not happy with how last year ended. He wants to make a deep run at districts and state,” Martin said.
Josh Friesen (145), Luis Cortez (195) and Jonathan Canchola (138) are the Celtics other returners that made the state meet last season.
On the girls side, senior Kaylynn Villalobos is the top returner for the Celtics and has the goal of qualifying for state in her final season with McNary.
“She has come to every single preseason workout. She has taken the mantle of the girls leader and she has developed into one of the leaders of the whole team. She is ready to be wrestling in the state tournament,” Martin said.
Alex Stanton, Delia Hernandez and Kaliyanei Hill are also expected to have big seasons for the Celtics girls’ team.
McNary has taken third in the MVC team standings each of the last two years, finishing below Sprague and Mountain View. But Martin believes that his team has what it takes to contend for the district title.
“These kids have their eyes set on getting past that third-place point. They want to get up a little higher in the team standings,” Martin said. “I think this team can hang with anyone in the state. I wouldn’t want to walk into a wrestling meet with any other group. This group is tough, mentally and physically, they have bought in. They know what it’s like to be a wrestler.”
“We have five or six guys that have a legit shot at being on the podium. They want it. They know what it takes to get there. They will be ready to go.”
The Celtics host the Jerry Lane Invitational on Friday, Dec. 3. Matches begin at 4:30 p.m.
Matt Rawlings: [email protected]