With the arrival of their senior seasons, Philomath wrestlers Joey Howell and Tony Rath have gained the type of experience that they hope will translate to more success on the mat. They've both been through the battles with the ups and downs while fighting their way to a spot in the state tournament.

As such, they've both developed the knowledge of realizing the sacrifices that are needed to secure a spot on the medal stand.

"You have to do more work than what you do up in the mat room during practice time," Rath said Friday. "You have to condition on your own, you have to diet on your own. You don't really get a lot of help just because it's such a hard thing to do for every individual person. You've just got to really work hard, not just physically but mentally also and that's a huge part of it."

Howell's experience through his underclassmen years have also contributed to his views on what he needs to do.

"I think I've learned that I need to balance both learning and teaching because it forces me to understand why I'm doing what I'm doing all the time," Howell said. "In that way, if I'm in a live situation, I can think 'oh, I tell them to do this, so I can do this.' It's just more experience for me, I guess. I just need to feel it and not think about it ... that's important to do."

Philomath High School's wrestling team will open the season Saturday at the Perry Burlison Classic at Cascade. Howell and Rath come into the season as athletes that are hungry to take the next step.

"With their state experience, they'll be guys to beat," PHS coach Troy Woosley said. "Their work mentality is just off the charts right now and they're our team leaders. That's good to have in our room because it helps everybody else out."

Rath said he came into wrestling practice a little heavier than he expected, but will probably compete at 132 most of the season "and see how things go from there." It's possible he could drop down to a lighter weight class later on.

"The first week, I was probably in the worst shape I've ever been in in my life," Rath said. "After that, we conditioned, I ran on my own and I'm in a lot better shape now and where I should be. Hopefully, I'll get in a little bit better shape and do exactly what I did last year and wear people down into the third round and win it there."

Rath had to work hard at last year's district tournament to overcome an early loss and qualify for state.

"Rath just lacks the word 'no' — that's not in his vocabulary," Woosley said. "He'll continue to work and find a way to try to get on that podium."

Howell, meanwhile, lost two of three at state at 152 and ended up 33-10 overall last season. He expects to go at 160 this year but no matter what weight class he competes in, opponents should expect a tough battle.

"I take pride in being in the best shape on the team all the time," Howell said. "I've done that every year. This year, I'm coming in in a little better shape and so I've got a better jumping off point to get higher up by the end of the season."

Howell said he's also stronger after putting in many hours in the weight room. Plus, he has the ability to think on the mat and mental strength can be the difference.

"Once you get into the third round and you start getting tired, if you still have the mental strength, you have the advantage at the end," he said.

From a team standpoint, the Warriors finished 11th in the district tournament last year with just the two going to state. Woosley believes the team can improve on that finish this season.

"We'll be right in the middle of the pack right now," he said. "It could be a little better than that. We have a lot of seniors and we should be improved definitely on that end and we're balanced. We don't have any little guys again this year so far, but from 126 all the way up, we have experienced kids."

The roster heading into the season includes seven seniors. Besides Howell and Rath, Woosley mentioned two other seniors who are "right there" and close to turning the corner toward success — Keltin Benson and Jared Minter.

Cody Chambers and Luis Vargas-Juarez are also back for the Warriors. And thanks to a OSAA-approved co-op agreement with Alsea, Dylan Donnell has returned to the Philomath roster for his senior season. A former PHS student, Donnell transferred to Alsea after the 2015-16 academic year. He did see some success with the Warriors as a freshman and sophomore.

"Our numbers are better; we have like 22 out," Woosley said. "Last year at district, we ended up with 13. We had a couple of injuries and everything else. So, we have a really good mix of youth and experience on the team with a couple of freshmen that are really good."

Connar Kohn, a name that should be familiar to those who follow PHS wrestling, and Austin Murphree are two freshmen that could have an immediate impact on the varsity lineup.

Philomath has seven boys from the junior class on the roster. Woosley said juniors Kane Rust and Hunter McCaskill are two that stand out heading into the season. Jayden Jensen is another bringing back good experience.

Woosley also mentioned another Alsea student, Noah Estes, who "might be a true heavyweight" to fill that spot in the lineup.

"It's a good group, a fun group," Woosley said. "We started conditioning this year the first week of practice where we left off last year and they've accepted that. If nothing else, we'll be the best-conditioned team."

The Warriors also have two girls on the wrestling team again this year. Jaime Chambers is back with the program along with newcomer Rio Jensen.

Howell and Rath, as any wrestler, have their own methods of getting ready for a bout.

"My family's always done this thing ... we just sit down and relax and it sounds weird, but we yawn," Howell said. "It just focuses me and it did the same thing for my dad and my uncles and stuff. It's like a tradition to do that, I guess, so I do that before my matches."

Rath stressed the importance of having your head in the right place.

"It's way mental, wrestling is one of the most mental sports out there," Rath said. "It looks a lot physical but you've got to be prepared mentally, or you're going to go into that circle and you're going to end up on your butt."

The ultimate goal for both wrestlers is to do something special on the state tournament stage.

"I want to get my name up on the wall," said Howell, referring to former PHS wrestlers whose names are remembered in the team's wrestling room. "It's been a goal every year. I should've had it last year, but I choked out at state."

Said Rath, ""I want to place at state — that's still my goal. I want to go there and not have happen what I did last year. I want to go and actually do something at state."

Howell also has a certain opponent in mind. Cascade's Kade VanDeHey placed fifth at 152 in last year's state tournament.

"It's going to be my goal this season to beat him. ... I only wrestled him one time but he pinned me in the second round and he broke my finger. It doesn't straighten out anymore," Howell said while illustrating his point with a crooked finger.

The season-opening Perry Burlison Classic at Cascade is known as one of the toughest in the state with 6A down to 2A athletes all competing.

"If you place there, you've got a pretty good chance to place at state," Rath said. "I'm looking to see how well I can do there."

Howell won't be able to compete in the season-opening tournament because of an academic conflict. Howell will be taking the SATs on the same day.


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