The old saying that suggests there is “strength in numbers” doesn’t apply to Philomath High’s wrestling squad this winter. Only 15 boys and two girls signed up to battle on the mat this season.
But does it matter? Not according to veteran coach Troy Woosley, who has been teaching skills to wrestlers since the Reagan administration. No, the Warriors might not have the numbers but they do appear to have a competitive level of strength and experience among those who will be suiting up.
“Our numbers are down but we are pretty experienced for a younger group,” Woosley said about his roster, which includes just one senior. “I’ve got one of the most polished groups of freshmen that I’ve had in recent years and they’ll make an impact for sure.”
Many of those freshmen will see varsity action right away with 14 weight divisions to fill.
“Believe it or not, we’re going to be able to cover most, if not all, of the weights,” Woosley said. “It kinda spreads out just right.”
Among the returnees is a group of five wrestlers that placed among the top five at last season’s district meet with two of those soaking up experience at state. Junior Issiah Blackburn had a notable season in 2018-19 with a runner-up finish at districts. Sophomore Blaise Pindell was the other underclassman — he was only a freshman — who went to state last year with fourth at districts.
“This year’s sophomores and juniors, they had some success last year,” Woosley said. “It’s a very young but very coachable and fun group.”
The three wrestlers that finished fifth at districts last season — which is one placing away from advancing to state — were Blake Niemann, Connar Kohn and Matt Workman.
Niemann, who is now a sophomore, returns at 106 pounds but he’ll be challenged for time on varsity by freshman Chase Ringwald, who comes in with a lot of experience in youth wrestling.
Others from the freshman class will have an impact on the lower weights with Isaac Harris at 113, Ben Hernandez at 120 and Caleb Blackburn at 126.
“That’s the good thing about our freshmen this year is they all spent years in the Mat Club,” Woosley said.
Those weights aren’t set in stone with Woosley adding that out of that group, one will probably be bumped up to compete at 132.
Sophomore Jake Williams and another freshman, David Griffith, will vie for time at 145 pounds. A slot is also available at 138. Then at 152, Pindell brings back his experience with Cooper Latz also in the picture as the team’s lone senior. Pindell went to state last season at 126.
“One of those will probably wrestle 160 as well,” Woosley said.
Junior Austin Murphree is also in the mix in the 160 to 171 range.
Matt Hamlet, a junior, appears to be the team’s top option at 170 pounds. The 182-pound spot will likely be filled by Workman, a junior who had that fifth at districts last year wrestling up at 220.
The 195- and 220-pound divisions will feature Issiah Blackburn and Kohn. Woosley said whoever goes at 195, the other will compete at 220. Blackburn went to state last year at 170 and Kohn competed at 195 at districts.
In the heavyweight, or 285-pound division, sophomore Joseph Choi will return.
“There are some very familiar names there and those freshmen are pretty good,” Woosley said. “It’ll be pretty fun ... of course, we’re in a tough district.”
Woosley got his start as a wrestling coach in 1987 with Alsea. Asked if the sport has changed much over the years, he said not really.
“Basic moves win — singles, doubles and half nelsons,” he said. “As long as you’re in better condition, you’ll be all right.”
The program has a full slate of events this season. The tournament lineup includes trips to Cascade (Dec. 7 at Perry Burlison Classic), Banks (Dec. 11 at Hank Schmidlin Invitational), Molalla (Dec. 21 at Molalla Mayhem), Corvallis (Dec. 28 at Benton County Championships), Pleasant Hill (Jan. 4 at King of the Hill), Adair Village (Jan. 11 at Screamin’ Eagle), Redmond (Dec. 17-18 at Oregon Classic), Albany (Jan. 24 at Mid-Valley Classic), Cottage Grove (Jan. 31-Feb. 1 Cottage Grove Invite) and Newport (Feb. 6 at Oregon West Conference Duals).
Other dates are filled in with a four-way meet and duals.
“Our schedule is full. We’re allowed 14 dates and we have 14, which will be pushing the limit for some of these guys,” Woosley said. “You’re also allowed 50 matches in a year, no more, and we’ll be right at 50 on some of them.”
It’s a bit of a different schedule this time around with those trips to Banks and South Albany among the new ones. The team will not wrestle Dec. 14 with the athletes volunteering at the annual youth tournament, which serves as a fundraiser.
The district tournament will run Feb. 21-22 at Stayton. The Oregon Wrestling Forum’s 4A preseason rankings predict Sweet Home at No. 1, Cascade at No. 5 and Junction City at No. 8 out of Special District 2.
Individually, the OWF rankings show Blackburn No. 5 at 170 and Pindell No. 13 at 126. Preseason rankings are largely inaccurate, however, because of unknowns with where various teams will plug in their wrestlers.
Girls wrestling enters its second year as an OSAA-sanctioned sport and Philomath entered practice with two athletes on its roster.
Sophomore Reynece Ryan, who goes to school at Alsea but competes with PHS through a co-op agreement, returns after a notable freshman season. A newcomer to the program will be freshman Taylor Mussatti.
“We had four girls in the Mat Club last year and I thought they’d all come out and only one did, so I’m a little surprised by that,” Woosley said. “But we still have a couple in the halls that are trying to recruit.”