It seems that nothing will come easy for the West Linn wrestling team this season.
A perfect example was last Thursday's league meet against Lakeridge. Before this season, the Lions had a long string of 50- and 60-point victories over the Pacers. But the gap narrowed considerably in the latest meeting.
This time the score was 47-26 in favor of West Linn. However, it very easily could have been 41-32 if Lakeridge's Tyrell Fortune, the nation's top-ranked 215-pounder, had decided to wrestle. Instead, Lakeridge gave up a forfeit at that weight as Fortune mourned the recent death of his grandmother.
Any way you slice it, the victory was too close for comfort for a young West Linn team that seemed to be taking Lakeridge for granted at times. Afterward, West Linn coach Doug Samarron told his team as much, but with considerably more emphasis.
'I thought we were kind of flat and didn't use our conditioning,' Samarron said. 'Maybe we were going, 'oh, it's Lakeridge.' Even though the coach is saying, 'you got to get up for everybody the same, you can't take anybody lightly,' these are bunch of 15-year-olds…. It was a good wake-up call for us.'
In previous showdowns with the Pacers, if you call a walk-over a showdown, the Lions usually pinned their way through the evening. But in last Thursday's match-up, the Lions settled for just three pins - one by 103-pound Sam Ihrig, one by Thomas Rassmussen at 140 pounds and one by Michael MacClanathan at 171 pounds. In addition, West Linn also got a dominating 15-0 technical fall from 135-pound Logan Krellwitz.
In the other matches, the Lions had to scramble to earn decisions. Sometimes, the West Linn wrestlers wound up losing their matches, including two times by pins.
Part of the problem was the flu or cold bug that seems to hamper every sports team this time of year.
'I had three kids with temperatures over 100 degrees,' Samarron said.
Most noticeably absent because of illness was Donald Paulson, a defending district champ who would have been favored in his match at 112 pounds. That opened the door for Lakeridge's Carter Cohn to win a 17-2 tech fall over Conner Kennedy.
After that, the Pacers managed to stay within striking distance until forfeited matches at 189 and 215 pounds put the outcome out of reach. If you take away the forfeits - and West Linn also got one at 119 pounds - the meet was much closer than it seemed.
West Linn probably would have won two of those forfeited matches anyway, but Lakeridge deserves a lot of credit for turning its program around, or at least getting it turned in the right direction.
'Kudos to Lakeridge,' Samarron said after his post-match pep talk with his wrestlers. 'That's a 180-degree turnaround from what they've been like the last couple of years…. Hats off to those kids. They competed. They wrestled us tough.'
In addition to Cohn, the Pacers showed that they are strong at 125 pounds, where Phil Rogers earned a third-round pin over Brian Schiewe; and Jeff Saporito was solid at 152 pounds, where he earned a 6-4 decision over Austin Cerny.
The two most surprising matches of the night came at 145 and 285 pounds.
There were stretches of the 145-pound match where West Linn's Devan Schiewe appeared to be clearly superior to Lakeridge freshman Myke Tavarres. But whatever the wiry Tavarres lacked in skill, he made up for with determination.
After falling well behind, Tavarres somehow got Schiewe into a near-pin situation late in the second round. Fortunately, the second round buzzer put a temporary stop to things and Schiewe still had a 15-8 lead. Then, Tavarres managed to register another near-fall late in the third, but Schiewe was able to slip out of trouble en route to a hard-fought 15-11 decision.
Then, in the 285-pound match, West Linn's Mitch Gaulke had a surprisingly tough time against Tyrell Fortune's twin brother, Tyree. Gaulke was the one who was taking all of the chances in the match, but Fortune was able to side-step every one of Gaulke's takedown attempts.
The match remained scoreless until the final 30 seconds of the second round when Fortune was penalized for an illegal hold. Then, late in the third round, still clinging to a 1-0 lead, Gaulke attempted one of his patented football tackle moves.
But Fortune managed to slip away from Gaulke's grasp and was able to spin the West Linn grappler onto his back in the process. Fortune then dove on top of Gaulke and held on to earn an unlikely pin.
'We took all of the risks in that match and often the guy that takes all of the risks is the one who ends up paying for it,' Samarron said.
After Fortune's pin, some of the Lakeridge fans in attendance celebrated as if their team had won the dual meet. Obviously, that wasn't the case. But it was a pretty good indication that the Lions have lost some ground to a team that was the league's doormat just a year ago.
While the night's events were still fresh in everyone's minds, Samarron herded his wrestlers into the downstairs wrestling room for a much-needed pep talk.
'They got to hear the truth from me,' the coach said.
'But tomorrow's another day. That's the bright spot,' Samarron added afterward.
Despite the fact that the coach was upset with his team's overall effort, there were some individual bright spots.
'Michael MacClanathan, I'd say, is hands down, the hardest-working kid in the room' Samarron said. 'He's the one that wants it the most. He's showing a lot of desire and it's starting to show (in matches).'
MacClanathan won the team's T-shirt award for his showing the weekend before at the Oregon Classic. But Andrew Kim, a 119-pounder, was a close second in that award competition after winning three of four matches at the Classic. His only loss came against a two-time state champion.
Samarron also likes the way Ihrig is coming on at 103 pounds.
'Even though he only weighs a hundred pounds (when he's) wet… I call him my Steady Eddy. He's slowly getting better,' Samarron said.
'And Logan (Krellwitz) is real solid. And he's on track to get down to 130 (pounds), which is his real fighting weight… He's definitely a silent leader that's doing all of the things right.'
So, it's not like the well is empty for the West Linn wrestling program.
But some of the Lions' recent teams had so many stars that it was impossible to fit them all into the lineup for a varsity dual meet.
Now, the Lions have some holes to fill. But no one expected Lakeridge to be one of the teams that would point that out. It shows there's still a lot of work to be done between now and the district meet.
'I can only do so much in two hours (of practice),' Samarron said. 'This sport is a 24-7 sport. You've got to go out and condition yourself…. If you really want to be a champion and perform to the best of your ability, you're not going to get enough out of a two-hour practice.
'I've been trying to get them to go running on their own, and I don't think I have anyone that's doing that.'
Maybe it's time to lace up the sneakers.