Robert Husseman, The Triplicate

Eleven Del Norte wrestlers will compete at the HDN League Championships today

All season long, the Del Norte High wrestling team has fought uphill battles together. The Warriors have generally come out stronger for it.

The Humboldt-Del Norte League wrestling championships, held today at Eureka High School in Eureka, represent a final exam of sorts for Del Norte.

"This is why we did all the work," Warriors coach Aaron Schaad says.

Wrestlers are pitted in an eight-man bracket at each weight class, requiring three consecutive wins to become individual champion. Those who finish in the top three at their respective weight classes automatically qualify for the California Interscholastic Federation North Coast Section Wrestling Championships, held Feb. 22andndash;23 in San Ramon.

Del Norte is gunning for its third straight HDN team championship and the fourth in five years with a lineup that has been decimated at times by injuries, illness and attrition.

Seven of the 11 athletes representing the Warriors in Eureka will be juniors; Del Norte's lineup also consists of two sophomores (Kaleb Hurley at 134 pounds, Nicole Mattz at 108) and two freshmen (Justin Schrader at 115 pounds, Wyatt Duncan at 122).

The Warriors return two HDN league champions in juniors Robert Boulby, who will compete at 140 pounds, and Hawk Mattz (154 pounds). Juniors Eric Turner (162 pounds) and David Plechaty (197 pounds) posted runner-up finishes at the 2012 HDN championships.

"We're going to have quite a few placers," Schaad said. "I'd like to have guys have breakout performances. If we score points in weight classes where we're not expecting (points), we could close that gap."

Junior Jackson Evans, who won the HDN title at 134 pounds in 2012, will miss today's competition after suffering a knee injury at the Redwood Empire Wrestling Championships in Ukiah on Feb. 2.

Replacing Evans in the 147-pound weight class will be junior Hunter Mattz, twin brother of Hawk Mattz, who has wrestled sparingly at the varsity level this season.

"It's good for Hunter," Schaad said. "He's got an opportunity to score points for the team, to get mat experience."

Juniors Skiler Haddad (128 pounds) and Cristian Puente (222 pounds) round out the Del Norte contingent. The Warriors will not field a wrestler in the 172-, 184-pound and heavyweight classes.

For Nicole Mattz, Del Norte's lone female wrestler, the HDN meet serves as preparation for the CIF Girls Wrestling State Individual Championships, held Feb. 22andndash;23 in Lemoore.

Mattz finished in third place at 108 pounds at the CIF North Coast Section Girls Wrestling Championships on Feb. 2.

"She has a good possibility of making the finals," Schaad said. "She's wrestling about as good as anyone in the league. She can surprise some people."

Wonderful as another team title would be, Schaad pledged to "let the chips fall where the may." The real reward will be to see the fruits of the Del Norte athletes' labors pay off in a season fraught with difficulty and unpredictability.

"The kids that are here today have worked hard, stuck it out," Schaad said. "They've all grown up as wrestlers. They've improved. For that, I'm proud of them."

Reach Robert Husseman