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PREP FOCUS: Cleveland formula adds up to PIL mat title

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO - The Cleveland Warriors and fans celebrate their 2104 wrestling city championship Thursday night at Marshall.The Cleveland Warriors have the formula for success on the mat down pat.

"The main approach," coach Jeff Zerba says, "is to wrestle our best every time we're on the mat, whether it's the first match of the year or the last one."

The Warriors wrestle a lot. Zerba, in his 25th season (24 as Cleveland's head coach) takes them anywhere and everywhere, week after week.

So, in one sense the PIL city championships, which took place Wednesday and Thursday at Marshall, was just another in a string of tournaments for Zerba's crew.

But it was that and a little more.

"The kids really look forward to it, because it's all PIL," Zerba says. "It's not real hard to get them up for that one."

The Warriors got up enough to score 409 1/2 points and win their third city title in a row. Second-place Roosevelt was well back, with 245 points. Franklin took third with 197. Wilson had 191, Jefferson 183, Lincoln 174, Benson 131 1/2, Madison 107 and Grant 12.

Going into the season, Zerba wasn't sure if the Warriors could put it together like that. The turnout for wrestling was down some at Cleveland, and "we had graduated a pretty strong group of seniors," Zerba says.

But the elder statesmen on the squad came through, as have a crop of younger grapplers.

That's another part of the formula: depth. It paid off handsomely for Cleveland at the city championships.

"We entered 26 wrestlers, and 24 of them scored," Zerba says. "That's how you win tournaments.

"And the senior leadership came through and did a really good job."

It all added up to a runaway team victory.

"There's no secret to what we do — we work hard and have a tough schedule," Zerba says.ZERBA

At the city tourney, the Warriors won five of the 14 weight classes and had six runners-up.

The champions were junior Thay Htoo at 106 pounds, sophomore Anteneh Demissie at 113, senior Dan Karter at 145, senior Kyle Hammond at 160 and senior Sailor Becker at 220.

Taking second place: freshman Simon Brown at 106, sophomore Junpei Hunt at 120, senior Carter Krevanko at 126, junior Bryan Gastelum-Plata at 132, junior Brandon Moyer at 170 and senior Joell McCool at 195.

Sophomore Isiac James placed third in a tough heavyweight division. Freshman Kio Lwae at 106 also took third.

More points came from the ranks of the young or less experienced members of the team. Freshmen Harper Lee (113) and Evan Kane (120) and Skyler Kek-Palakiko (152) "did a great job by placing," Zerba says, and first-year wrestlers Caleb Moyer and Cesar Badillo both placed at 138.

The 106 final was a reversal of sorts, with Htoo, the bracket's No. 2 seed, beating his top-seeded teammate, Brown, 6-4 — after Brown had won their other head-to-head meetings. Brown had a narrow lead in the city final, "but made a mistake," Zerba says. "He was turning Thay on his back, and Thay turned into him and Simon kind of slipped and got caught on his back and gave up five points.

"They're two of the best 106-pounders in the state."

Lwae is Htoo's brother, and 113-pound city champ Demissie easily could be wrestling in the lowest weight class, as well.

"He's really a 106-pounder, but we've needed him to go up," Zerba says.

Demissie won his final 17-2.

"He wrestled very aggressively and technically," Zerba says.

Karter, seeded second at 145, cut through a wide-open field that seemingly had numerous legitimate contenders. He capped off his tournament with a pin.

"He's been on the losing side quite a few times this year when he's wrestled well," Zerba says. "It seems like he makes one mistake and gets pinned or it costs him the match. So it was big for him to break through."

Hammond dominated his class, repeating as a city champion, and Becker pinned his way to the 220 final, then turned in a workmanlike, patient performance to defeat his foe 3-0.

"Sailor, Kyle and Simon have been kind of like our three big guns this year," Zerba says.

Runners-up Moyer and McCool had their chances in their final matches, although both wound up losing by fall.

"Brandon got put on his back, and McCool was ahead and got caught, too," Zerba says.

The Warriors were missing one of their regulars, junior 126-pounder Brandon Gastelum-Plata, twin brother of Bryan. Brandon is out for an undetermined length of time with a shoulder injury. "He'll meet with a physical therapist next week, and we'll go from there," Zerba says.

After tournaments this weekend at Oregon City and the following week at Clackamas, the Warriors will turn their focus even more on the regional tourney that decides who qualifies for state. PIL teams have to fight their way through wrestling strongholds such as Hermiston, Pendleton and Hood River Valley, which means many of the Portland league's best might not make the cut.

"Everything we do all year is to prepare for the regional and get as many kids to state as we can," Zerba says. "We try to go to the toughest tournaments and face some of the better wrestlers in the state. I like tough competition."