Top wrestlers, teams flock to Valley for Best of the West tourney

Many of the top wrestlers on the West Coast will convene in Central Point on Saturday for the fifth-annual Best of the West Tournament at the Jackson County Fairground's Compton Arena.

Event organizers are anticipating 800 participants, who will range from age 5 on up and will include 16 college wrestling programs. There are three divisions in the tournament &

a youth division, a junior division (mostly high-school age) and an open division, which includes the college athletes but also a few ambitious high school wrestlers such as Crater's Brock Gutches and Sprague's RJ Pena.

The 16 colleges attending include Pac-10 Conference powers Oregon State and Boise State.

"Oregon State being in the tournament changes the whole complexion of it," SOU wrestling coach Mike Ritchey said. "That's going to add some new elements to it. And Boise State had a really strong showing as well last year. They had some pretty tough individuals.

"Those two teams are coming in full force, and there is lots of energy behind their programs right now."

Southern Oregon will also send its top wrestlers in junior Trevor Lofstedt, the top-ranked 125-pounder in the NAIA, sophomore Ricky Farrell, ranked No. 8 in the 174-pound division, and Medford-native Jimmy Ulrey, a senior ranked No. 6 in the 165-pound weight class.

There's ample talent competing in the youth and junior divisions as well, which gives college coaches in attendance an opportunity to scout some of the top grapplers in the region.

Ritchey signed two former Burns High School standouts, Levi Root and Tommie Hooper, after seeing them both for the first time at the Best of the West last year.

"There have definitely been state champions and national champions that have wrestled in this," tournament director Dave McFall said. "There are some good-caliber wrestlers."

McFall and organizers implemented a new bracket format for the youth division this year. In an effort to incorporate wrestlers from different skill levels, this year's tournament will include a four-man bracket with the winners of each bracket entering pool play against other bracket winners.

The format guarantees at least three matches for each wrestler.

"Our whole philosophy is to teach young kids to enjoy wrestling and use that in life," McFall said. "We wanted a concept that would reward everyone for competing, but also you can end up with an ultimate champion for a division."

The junior and open divisions are normal pool-play tournaments with double elimination.

The final day to enter the tournament is today by 5 p.m. The cost is $15 for the youth and junior divisions and $30 for the open division. The one-day event begins with open-division weigh-ins at 7 a.m.

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