Grant Union Prospector head coach Andy Lusco sees a promising season for his wrestlers, even though potentially difficult battles lie ahead.
Three state-qualifying team members and several others are returning, and five girls are joining the team of 21.
Junior Drew Lusco, who won the state title last year in the 285-pound bracket in triple overtime, is back as well as Russell Hodge and Ethan Moore, who wrestled their way to the state semifinals at 182 and 106, respectively.
Last season was Drew Lusco’s second visit to the state competition — he placed fourth at 220 as a freshman.
Coach Lusco, who is in his seventh year leading the 2A team, said, although they’re a younger team and “a little bit raw” in experience, the discipline they’re showing in their work habits is going to pay off.
“We want our wrestlers to be physically and mentally tough,” he said. “We believe that all success on the mat stems from these attributes.”
He said their practices and conditioning are designed with development in these areas in mind.
The coaches continue to emphasize to the wrestlers: “Learn a few things, and do them exceptionally well,” the coach said.
“I enjoy the opportunity to help our wrestlers learn to work harder than they thought possible and become high quality people who contribute positively in our community,” he said.
Tye Parsons is the assistant high school coach, and Nate Barber coaches the junior high team and is an assistant high school coach. Kyle Erickson is assistant coach for both the high school and junior high teams.
A new team in the 2A/1A Special District 4 this year is Culver (2A). Echo will also combine with Stanfield (1A) this year.
Other district opponents include: Adrian (1A), Crane (1A), Elgin (1A), Enterprise (2A), Heppner/Ione (2A), Imbler (1A), Joseph/Wallowa (1A), Pine Eagle (1A) and Union/Cove (2A).
“Culver makes things more difficult,” coach Lusco said. “They’ve won the state championship for more than 10 years in a row.”
He said the Culver Bulldogs have a quality program and lots of wrestlers on their team.
Grant Union will have an early look at Culver as they compete at the Bulldogs’ invitational and girls tournament Friday-Saturday, Dec. 7-8.
“Crane is another competitor,” he said. “Our conference is always consistently tough. We’re going to test ourselves and rise to the challenge.”
He said the goal for the team is to place in the top three at the district tournament and, like last year, send six wrestlers to state.
Another plus for the team this season is having several wrestlers in varying weight classes.
“We should be able to fill almost all the weight classes, so we’ll have a pretty solid lineup in terms of dual meets,” the coach said.
He said he believes several of his returners will be strong competitors.
“Drew (Lusco) has a shot if he works hard and does his part,” he said. “I think Russell Hodge, a state qualifier last year, is going to be tough. Ethan Moore, he’s going to be tough, lightweight again.”
Other wrestlers the coach said he expects will do well this season include juniors Damion Young, Quinten Hallgarth, Logan McCluskey and Frank Douglass, as well as sophomore Ben Henry and freshman Justin Hodge.
Three senior wrestlers are new to the team, Trinity Hutchison, Sydney Brockway and Grant LeQuieu.
Five juniors, five sophomores and eight freshmen round out the roster.
Drew Lusco said he’s impressed with the guys and girls out for wrestling this year.
“Everyone has a good work ethic and good attitude, and I’m glad to be a part of this wrestling family,” he said. “This season, I’d like to be state champion again and be undefeated. For the team, I’d like to see at least five guys go to state and some of the girls.”
Brockway said she decided to go out for wrestling after learning her sister, sophomore Sophie Brockway, signed up.
“I thought I’d give it a try my senior year,” she said.
She said she’s been learning takedowns, drills and the basics in practice.
“It’s good conditioning,” she said. “I hope it turns out to be a good season, and I want to watch my teammates improve too.”
Trinity Hutchison made a switch from basketball to join the wrestling team.
“I wrestled when I was little, but this is my first year in high school doing it,” she said. “I’m really enjoying it so far.”
She said she’s inexperienced but hopes to be successful.
“I’m listening, learning and working hard,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the year.”
LeQuieu, who also made a shift from basketball to wrestling, said his goal is to learn the fundamental moves and techniques.
“This is by far one of the hardest high school sports I’ve ever played,” he said. “We have really great coaches teaching us, and we’re definitely one big family.”
This is junior Russell Hodge’s third year on the high school team, and he’s been wrestling for 11 years. His goal is to place first at the district tournament and advance to state and place well there.
He said what he enjoys most about the sport is “the fact that you can’t blame anyone else” if you lose.
“If you really want it, you have to put 100 percent into it,” he said. “It’s physically demanding, which makes it fun.”
Grant Union wrestling schedule
Dec. 7-8: @ Culver Tournament, TBD
Dec. 14-15: @ Elgin Tournament, 1 p.m., 10 a.m.
Jan. 4-5: @ Jo-Hi Wrestling Tournament in Joseph, TBD
Jan. 15: @ Burns/Crane Duals in Burns, TBD
Jan. 18-19: Oregon Classic in Redmond, TBD
Jan. 25: Grant Union Tournament in John Day at 12 p.m.
Jan. 26: Hood River Tournament (girls only), TBD
Feb. 1-2: State Qualifier (girls only) at Thurston, TBD
Feb. 2: Bank of Eastern Oregon Tournament in Heppner at 10 a.m.
Feb. 9: Pine Eagle Tournment in Halfway at 10 a.m.
Feb. 15-16: District Tournament in Halfway at 8 a.m.
Feb. 22-23: State Tournament in Portland, TBD