'Next year' might arrive sooner than expected for the Lakeridge wrestling team.
Last year, the Pacers barely had enough wrestlers to warrant sending them to matches. But, in less than a year's time, the 2007-08 team has made some incredible strides towards turning the program entirely around.
Last Thursday against defending league champion West Linn, the Pacers proved that they're anything but pushovers this year.
The meet ended up 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.
'Kudos to Lakeridge,' West Linn coach Doug Samarron said after the meet. '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.'
The most notable efforts on Lakeridge's side came from Carter Cohn, who registered a 17-2 tech fall over Conner Kennedy at 112 pounds; from Phil Rogers, who earned a third-round pin over Brian Schiewe at 125 pounds; from Jeff Saporito, who claimed a 6-4 decision over Austin Cerny at 152 pounds; and from Tyree Fortune, who fended off a number of takedown attempts by Mitch Gaulke before picking a fall late in the 285-pound match. In addition, Myke Tavarres made a gallant comeback in the 145-pound match before losing a 15-11 decision to Devan Schiewe.
'I liked the intensity … and we battled hard. I think we're on the right track,' Stamper said.
It's certainly a far cry from some of the recent years when West Linn routinely beat Lakeridge by 50 points or more. Now, the Pacers are gaining the confidence they need to actually hang with the Lions.
After losing the 103-pound match by a pin, the Pacers needed a strong performance from Cohn and they got it. After forfeiting away the 119-pound match, Lakeridge again trimmed the Lions' lead to one point (at 12-11) when Rogers, who rebounded from an early-season shoulder injury, pinned Schiewe at 125 pounds.
The Pacers had a chance to take their first lead of the night in the 130-pound match and they got a fair showing from Ben Shipley. But Shipley lost his best shot at victory when a near-pin in the third round was denied because of an illegal hold.
The Lions then got all the breathing room they needed when they won the next three matches, but the 145-pound match between Tavarres and Schiewe was probably the most entertaining match-up of the night.
After falling behind by a large margin, Tavarres rallied impressively and twice came within an eyelash of pinning his opponent, but he couldn't quite finish those moves and wound up losing a 15-11 decision.
'He's proven all year that he can make a match out of anything,' Stamper of Tavarres' comeback. 'He's a freshman, and little by little he's learning what works.'
Lakeridge made things interesting again when Saporito registered a hard-fought decision in the 152-pound match, and then the Pacers received a forfeit at 160 pounds to close the gap to 29-20. But West Linn got a pin at 171 and two forfeits, at 189 and 215, to put the meet away.
In the 285-pound match, Gaulke made several lunges in an attempt to get at Tyree Fortune's legs, but the Lakeridge grappler fought off each attempt.
By late in the third round, the only point that was scored in the match was one that was awarded to Gaulke for an illegal hold on Fortune.
Then, Gaulke tried to seal the outcome with a final attempt at a takedown. But Fortune side-stepped the move and managed to spin his foe onto his back in a surprising turn of events.
That led to a pin by Fortune with 31 seconds left.
'That was a great battle,' Stamper said. 'Those guys are probably going to be duking it out at districts.'
That individual victory set off a huge celebration among the Lakeridge fans. They were not only celebrating Fortune's good fortune but the team's turnaround as well.
'We're turning things around,' Stamper said. 'Our goal is not to be close. Our goal (eventually) is to dominate.'