Grant Union wrestling head coach Andy Lusco said this year’s team is something to be excited about and has been a long time in the making.
He’s seeing growth in numbers this season as well as experience, plus the weight classes are stacked up.
There are 25 wrestlers out for the team this year, compared to 20 last season.
“We look good in terms of breadth, so that’s encouraging,” he said. “We’re starting to see some quality wrestling. I think we’ll be pretty competitive.”
Grant Union took the 2A/1A-SD4 Special District 4 championship title last season, and four Prospectors qualified for the state tournament.
Clay Johnson, who graduated, won second place in the 138 weight class. Drew Lusco, now a sophomore, placed fourth in heavyweight.
Now among the nine seniors on the team, Dillon Maley and Toby Boatwright also competed in the 285 weight class at state, Maley falling to Lusco and Boatwright falling to the top-seeded wrestler.
Maley said the team has a goal to repeat their district championship win, and his personal goal is to return to state.
Boatwright reached state last year as a first-time wrestler. He said he likes the competitive nature of wrestling.
“It’s a tough sport,” he said. “I’m looking forward to winning districts and making it to state again.”
This is Lusco’s sixth year as head coach, and his assistant coaches are Tye Parsons, who also coaches the junior varsity team, and Guy Johnson.
Coach Lusco said the three returning state qualifiers should earn a trip back to state with hard work.
“Dillon has worked very hard for years and is a high-quality wrestler who has a great chance of a medal at state,” coach Lusco said. “Toby also has an excellent chance to medal and is working hard in practice. Drew is looking to make the finals and win a championship. It will take a lot of hard work to make that a reality for a sophomore.”
Coach Lusco said a few of the other wrestlers he and the assistant coaches see working their way to a state qualification include junior Braden Spencer, sophomore Eli Sheedy, sophomore Russell Hodge, senior Elijah Humbird, senior Ely Carniglia, senior Cameron Hallgarth, senior Hadley Boethin and sophomore Damion Young.
Young wrestlers who could surprise everyone include freshmen Quinten Hallgarth, Logan McCluskey and Ben Henry, the coach said.
“We really believe any of our 25 could qualify for state and are excited to see them compete and grow,” he said.
New seniors to the varsity team are Josh Carpenter and Savannah Wyllie.
Senior Collin Harvey wrestled through middle school and his freshman and sophomore year.
Spencer is the sole junior, and there are eight sophomores and seven freshmen.
Grant Union will face nine opponents in their district: Adrian, Crane, Elgin, Enterprise, Heppner/Ione, Imbler, Joseph/Wallowa, Pine Eagle and Union/Cove.
“Crane and Enterprise are usually the toughest team competition, but all teams have pretty talented individual wrestlers,” Lusco said.
On Friday, Grant Union will have their first test at the Woodfin Tournament in Burns.
Lusco said it’s hard to say, this early in the season, how it will go.
“We’re excited to get going and see where we stand,” he said. “We have kids excited for the season and chomping at the bit. It’s taken some time to get a good program together.”
Boethin said he enjoys the team’s fun trips together.
“I like the hard work it involves and all the funning around we have,” he said.
Cameron Hallgarth is back for a third year. An injury kept him from wrestling last season.
“I’m glad to be a part of the team with great coaches and being able to have a family, like football,” he said.
Carniglia, in his second year, said he hopes everyone makes it through without injuries and sticks with the program.
Humbird, in his fourth year on the team, said he’s confident about this year’s team.
“We’ve got a really good group of heavy, middle and lightweights,” he said. “It’s great all around the board.”
Coach Lusco said right now the team is working on fundamentals, drilling skills and conditioning as they prepare for their first tournament.
“For us, it’s about learning a few things, but doing them exceptionally well,” he said. “We’ve had a nice team for a number of years, this is an enjoyable group to coach, and I’m excited.”
Grant Union wrestling schedule
Dec. 1: @ Woodfin Tournament in Burns at 1 p.m.
Dec. 8-9: @ Calhoun Classic in Nyssa at TBD
Dec. 15-16: @ Elgin Tournament in Elgin at 1 p.m./10 a.m.
Dec. 29-30: @ Pendleton Duals/Tournament in Pendleton at TBD
Jan. 5-6: @ Jo-Hi Wrestling Tournament in Joseph at TBD
Jan. 12-13: @ Oregon Classic in Redmond at TBD
Jan. 19: Grant Union Tournament in John Day at 12 p.m.
Jan. 20: @ Bank of Eastern Oregon Tournament in Heppner at 10 a.m.
Jan. 23: Burns/Crane Dual in John Day at 5 p.m.
Jan. 27: @ Pine Eagle in Halfway at 10 a.m.
Feb. 2-3: District Wrestling Tournament in Imbler at 8 a.m.
Feb. 16-17: State Wrestling Tournament in Portland at TBD