SOU wrestling team looks to make splash at nationals

Three Southern Oregon wrestlers are ranked in the top four in their respective weight classes and the Raiders are ranked No. 8 as a team heading into the NAIA National Championship in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The meet begins Thursday and wraps up with the championship matches Saturday night at the U.S. Cellular Center.

SOU, which finished 9-5 in dual meets and won its third straight Western Qualifying Tournament on Feb. 19, will be a long shot to claim its fifth national title but could bring home some individual hardware.

"We're a team that needs to perform," SOU head coach Mike Ritchey said. "We just don't have a bunch of highly-ranked guys. I think there are guys with (national championship) kind of aspirations no our team and I think they can achieve those goals. I think we're ready to go."

Southern Oregon junior Austin Vanderford is ranked second in the 174-pound weight class and, with 28 wins (28-3), is in great position to secure his second straight 30-win campaign. Vanderford's biggest road blocks may be top-ranked Chris Chionuma of Lindenwood (Mo.) and third-ranked Glenn Rhees of Grand View (Iowa).

At least two other Raiders also have All-American potential: juniors Kyle Wirkuty (141 pounds) and Tommie Hooper (157) both are ranked fourth.

Wirkuty is 20-12 and may eventually have to face No. 1 Brett Freeman of top-ranked Notre Dame (Ohio), No. 2 Tommy Pretty of Campbellsville (Ky.) or No. 3 Drew Smith of Morningside (Iowa).

Hooper, who placed fifth last year, is ranked behind No. 1 Tyler Chang of Embry-Riddle (Ariz.), No. 2 Corey Bleaken of Cumberland (Tenn.) and No. 3 Thomas Straughn of Notre Dame.

The brackets are expected to be released today at

"I'm not going to limit this team," Ritchey said, when asked about his expectations. "They've already surprised the whole west region. We'll see what happens.

"It's one of those teams you don't want to put any expectations on, high or low. You just say, 'Let's go wrestle, let's go have some fun.'"

Three other Raiders are also ranked in the top 15 of their respective weight classes: senior Jared Dalgeish is ranked 10th at 133 pounds, sophomore Derek Rottenberg is ranked 11th at 184 and sophomore Jimmy Eggemeyer is ranked 12th at 149.

Ritchey said 197-pound senior Ron Lee also could make a splash for the Raiders in Iowa. Lee is 14-12, but most of his losses have come against highly-ranked opponents. "I wouldn't want to draw him," Ritchey said.

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