Grapplers hope to shake rust before big meet

West Linn wrestlers try to gain some momentum for league foes

It's catch-up time for the West Linn wrestling team, which returns to action tonight after a lengthy layoff.

It's been three weeks since the Lions competed in a dual meet; and only a handful of wrestlers were available for last weekend's Pacific Coast Championships in Vancouver, Wash. Other team members were either away on vacation, nursing injuries or scrambling to make weight.

With just eight capable wrestlers on hand for the Pacific Coast tournament, it wasn't too surprising that the Lions finished 29th in a field of 32 teams.

It shows how things have changed this year for the Lions. They won that prestigious tournament in 2004 and finished fifth the next two years (including last season).

This year's team lacks the depth and experience of those previous squads. So, head coach Doug Samarron knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, to bring home another trophy this time. But he was hoping that his team would represent itself a little better than it did.

The coach certainly can't fault the eight kids that competed in the tournament. Some of them performed well, including Zach Sramek who earned an eighth-place finish at 285 pounds. Unfortunately, he was the only wrestler who placed for the Lions. However, Sam Ihrig (at 103 pounds), Andrew Kim (119), Logan Krellwitz (135), Michael McClanathan (171) and Emerson Helbling (189) all won at least one match during the two-day tourney.

Several others probably would have fared well, but they were unavailable. Donald Paulson was seeded No. 2 at 112 pounds, but he failed to make weight for the start of the tournament. Mitch Gaulke would have been a force at 285 pounds, but he was out of action with an injured shoulder. And Brandon Aye was still out with a dislocated elbow. A few of the other top grapplers were away on vacation.

'It's kind of tough when you don't have enough kids,' Samarron said.

Samarron knew this would likely be a rough season, but his biggest concern is an apparent lack of commitment among some wrestlers who had shown a lot of early promise.

'A lot of kids don't understand the level of commitment that is needed,' the coach said.

'Another thing that is frustrating … is a lot of them are so young they don't know what it takes to compete at this level.'

There's no question that the Lions have a strong nucleus of wrestlers. But that group is noticeably smaller than previous years. So, Samarron is looking for some kids to step up and fill some holes.

But there's not a lot of time for people to prove themselves. The Lions' next big test will come tonight (Thursday) against Clackamas. The Lions have dominated the Cavs in recent years, but Samarron fears that tonight's match could go down to the wire since the Lions will be rusty after a long period of inactivity.

The Clackamas meet will be important because it will help determine seedings for next month's district tournament. Then, the Lions will be severely tested when they take on highly touted Oregon City next Wednesday.

In fact, the whole month of January is brutal. This month's schedule also contains a tough dual match against Milwaukie and three difficult weekend tournaments.

To prepare his kids for that grueling month, one can bet that Samarron will increase the intensity of many of his practices.

'I want to have these kids in the best possible shape and be their best by districts,' the coach said.

That probably doesn't sound like a lot of fun since many people believe that wrestling is already the toughest and most physically demanding high school sport around. That's probably the biggest reason why it's so hard to get kids to turn out for the sport.

'It's such an individual sport. And it all comes down to how hard you train,' Samarron said. '… You can't just show up for the (meet) and perform.'

Samarron certainly knows what it takes to perform at a high level. He was one of the top competitors on a national championship team at Southern Oregon College; and all of his assistant coaches have achieved at a high level as well.

All of them have spent a lot of time on the mat trying to instill that winning spirit in West Linn's young grapplers. The week before the Christmas break, Samarron said he was beginning to see some of the improvement he was looking for. But now he feels the team has lost some of that ground.

'I feel like we took three steps forward from the beginning of the season, and then we took one and a half steps back,' he said.

But Samarron is not the type of person who would ever give up on anything or anyone.

'I think there's a lot of light at the end of the tunnel,' the coach said. 'But I guess we still have some things that we need to teach them.'