January 23, 2002 11:00 pm
A LOT OF PRACTICE: La Grandes Levi Hug (right) works in practice against teammate Austin Zander. (The Observer/RAENELLE KWOCK).
A LOT OF PRACTICE: La Grandes Levi Hug (right) works in practice against teammate Austin Zander. (The Observer/RAENELLE KWOCK).

By Raenelle Kwock

Observer Staff Writer

After years of being one of the elite programs in the state, the La Grande High School wrestling team is firmly entrenched in the rebuilding mode.

But better things are on the horizon, especially with the re-establishment of the middle school program in recent years.

La Grande coach Miles Hancock said the team is not doing as well because of youth, inexperience and lack of participation.

Its not an easy sport for somebody to just walk in the room and say I want to learn wrestling, especially at the high school level, Hancock said. Because youre thrown in against kids that have higher experience levels than you, its a rough road.

Six years ago, La Grande dropped its middle school wrestling program, a move that factored in longtime coach Verl Millers decision to retire. About two years ago, the middle school program was reinstated. About 30 kids are participating this year.

Half of the high school varsity team has no wrestling background, Hancock said. Because there are not enough wrestlers to fill out the squad, the inexperienced are pushed up to varsity.

Hancock said he expects positive results from this years eighth-grade wrestlers, and that will lead the high school program to rebound.

Not that all is lost this year. A 39-36 dual meet victory Friday over Grant Union was a good start to the Greater Oregon League season. Hancock expects the team to win half of its dual meets, get more wrestlers to the state tournament and continue to improve.

The younger kids that are competing for our team this year have kept a real good attitude about the role they are being thrown into, the competition level they are being thrown into, Hancock said. And looking at the goals that we have, we are capable of winning some matches as we showed last weekend against Grant Union.

Attitudes have been upbeat, and the experienced wrestlers know what they want to accomplish.

We get along good, have fun together, said Travis Carson, a 152-pounder who expects to finish in the top three at the district tournament and go to state.

Levi Hug, a 125-pounder, said he wants to place at the state tournament. He became interested in wrestling because his brother did it.

Wrestling is totally individual, Hug said. If you want to be really good, its all up to you. You dont have to depend on anybody else.

La Grande does have two ranked wrestlers, and both of them placed at last years state tournament. Adam Kleck, a senior 160-pounder, is ranked third in the state at that weight; he was third at state a year ago.

Austin Zander, a senior 119-pounder, is ranked seventh this year; he was fourth last year.

Zander said it has been hard without enough guys, but those on the team come out and wrestle to the best of their abilities.

Its like 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical, Zander said. If you stay in it mentally and work hard, you can come out on top.

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