Wa-Hi grapplers prep for opener

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WALLA WALLA — The Walla Walla wrestling team is pinning down its varsity roster after graduating 15 seniors from last year’s squad.

The Blue Devils feature a wealth of youngsters on this year’s team, assistant coach Clayton Hudiburg said, which means this year’s crop of seniors must step up.

But Hudiburg said the upperclassmen are more than ready to be leaders.

“They are definitely important, particular in (practice),” Hudiburg said. “There’s a reason those older kids end up doing real well and it’s all development in the practice room. (Younger wrestlers) come in and watch how they drill, how they practice — the tempo they keep, the intensity they keep.”

Hudiburg said seniors Noe Gonzalez and Will Babbitt will be counted on to replace the void left by the graduating class.

Wa-Hi will be missing two key pieces from last season, in state competitor Logan Reardon and state alternate Zane Henderson.

But Hudiburg has high hopes for Gonzalez and Babbitt and said with the right attitude, both could reach the state meet this season.

“In lots of other regions, those two would have been state competitors for us last year,” Hudiburg said. “Both of them dealt with some injuries last year. If they stay healthy all season and (stay) on the right path, we’re expecting big things from them. They’ve definitely got state placer written on them, they’ve just got to make it happen.”

With so much overhaul from last year’s roster, Hudiburg said the Blue Devils are missing competitors toward the top of the 14 weight classes.

“We’ve got a few holes weight-wise, so I’m not sure if we’ll fill a full squad top-to-bottom,” he said. “We graduated a lot of bigger guys last year, so we’re a little thin on that top side.”

Luckily, the Blue Devils will only be docked points at dual matches for not filling out a full squad. As for tournaments, which the team is keying on, Hudiburg said the Blue Devils roster will be sufficient.

The Blue Devils boast a young roster this season with a plethora of talented sophomores. Lucas Rassbach, who placed fourth at district last season, Justin Evans and Andrew Granchukoff are three youngsters poised to make a splash, Hudiburg said.

“I think our core group of guys are a hardworking, eager to improve group of guys,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how those sophomores kind of develop throughout this year. They’ve got a year of high school under their belt to see if they can kind of take a step forward for us and show us some promise for next year.”

This weekend, the Blue Devils kick off the season with the Bob Mars Invitational in Kennewick. Hudiburg said the tournament offers his wrestlers a good chance to gauge their progress so far this season.

“It’s going to be a pretty tough tournament right off the bat,” he said. “It’s a good way to gauge where they are at and what kind of work they maybe need to put in.

“For our younger kids, I think it’s a good chance for them to see how they fit in at that varsity level,” Hudiburg continued. “Are they ready to compete and win some matches there (or) do they need to spend a little more time developing at the JV level?”

The Bob Mars Invite kicks off at 9 a.m. on Saturday and will feature wrestlers from Chiawana, Pasco and Southridge.

“Our conference is always tough,” Hudiburg said. “All four teams always have tough kids. If you make the state tournament out of region, you have a pretty good chance of placing.”

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