Grizzlies head to district meet with high hopes

Best-case scenario: seven Ashland High wrestlers qualify for the Class 5A state meet. Worst-case scenario: two.

That's Ashland head coach Tony Champion's slightly biased opinion as the Grizzlies prepare for the District 4 tournament, which is set for Friday and Saturday at Bend High School.

The two Champion is referring to should come as no surprise to anyone who's followed prep wrestling in southern Oregon the last few years. Ashland senior Mason Montgomery is undefeated (22-0) and ranked No. 1 in the state at 220 pounds, while senior heavyweight Cody Frost-Eisenberg is 20-2 and ranked fourth. Montgomery was the state runner-up at 195 last season and has his sights set on finishing the job at a different weight class this season. Frost-Eisenberg placed fourth at 220 a year ago and looks like a serious contender at 285 as well.

Champion says Montgomery is still recovering from a strained left knee, but is close to full strength and is determined to win it all.

"My goal with Mason right now is I have to reign him back," Champion said of Montgomery, who heads into districts with 12 pins and one major decision. "Unless there's some super phenomenal kid we don't know about, which I doubt, he's probably not going to have the toughest regional tournament this year. So my goal is for him to have a good tournament, come out a champion and then concentrate on the real goal."

That's the goal Montgomery has been aiming for since his sophomore season.

"He's all there," Champion said. "I know him inside and out and he's 100 percent there. He understands. He knows who he has to beat and me's prepared. The toughest thing with athletes like him is you have to know when to peak them."

For Frost-Eisenberg, Champion believes the peaking has already arrived. The challenge will be sustaining that level for the next two weeks — this weekend at districts and two weeks later at state.

Frost-Eisenberg was ranked second most of the season, but dropped two spots recently. In his last nine matches, Frost-Eisenberg is 9-0 with eight pins and a major decision.

"Cody's got an excellent chance at winning the whole thing," Champion said. "Nobody's a lock, but if I had to bet, I'd bet on those two guys [Montgomery and Frost-Eisenberg]."

Besides those two, Champion is hoping the Grizzlies garner at least two more seeds when the 10 district coaches gather for the seeding meeting tonight — for senior Sam Gostnell at 152 and junior Max Montgomery, Mason Montgomery's younger brother, at 182.

Gostnell (20-6) has pinned his last four opponents and 11 overall, while the younger Montgomery (16-6) has six pins and is coming off a championship showing in the Sutherlin Classic.

Several other Grizzlies may also make some noise at Bend this weekend, where the top four in each weight class will advance to state. Ashland's top contenders include: junior Chris Bowland (15-9) at 138; sophomore Tarquin Daley (10-10) at 106; sophomore Chance Swenson (10-10) at 182; sophomore Lucien Farrow (12-9) at 120 and senior Sadie Bailey (12-10) at 126.

And if Bailey can't finish in the top four at Bend, she still has an opportunity to qualify for the girls state tournament, which will also be held at Portland's Memorial Coliseum in two weeks. The girls state qualifying tournament is slated for Sunday at Corvallis, and Champion is planning on driving Bailey and her four female teammates there following the District 4 meet.

"All five of my girls have a legitimate shot at making (the girls state tourney)," Champion said.

With every weight class but 195 covered, the Grizzlies also expect to be in the running for a top-three team finish this weekend, an accomplishment that would have been considered a pipe dream only a few years ago.

"I told them, 'I usually don't talk like this but things have kind of changed,'" Champion said, "'You've proven yourselves on many levels.' We're definitely in the race this year. I told them, 'Now, you have to start thinking and wrestling like champions.'"

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