By BILL STEWART
The bitter memories of a brutal 2006-07 season are fading fast for the Lakeridge wrestling program.
It was just a year ago that Lakeridge failed to score a single point at the district meet. One year later, at last week's district meet held at Oregon City High School, the Pacers rebounded to score 133 points. Eight of their wrestlers placed in the top six of their respective weight brackets, and five of them qualified for a trip to state this week.
It would be hard to ignore the turnaround that has occurred during the last year with the Lakeridge program. Even three instances of misconduct at last week's tournament weren't enough to overshadow the team's collective efforts.
'We've taken a big step, but we're just getting started,' Lakeridege coach Bret Stamper said of his team's progress. 'We're putting the pieces in place.'
In recent years, it would have been unthinkable for the Pacers to qualify five wrestlers for state. They barely had that many kids on last year's team (the number was seven by season's end).
Of course, it helped immensely when twin brothers Tyrell and Tyree Fortune decided last summer to transfer from Parkrose to Lakeridge. Both of them qualified for state and Tyrell is expected to win a title at 215 pounds. Stamper believes Tyree also has a shot at the 285-pound crown.
Tyrell Fortune was a pinning machine at district. It took him just 17 seconds to pin his first opponent, Christian Cubbage of West Linn. Tyrell followed that with a 32-second fall against Lake McKay of Oregon City in semifinals. Then, it took 76 seconds to pin Khashi Jafari in the championship match.
Stamper expects to see more of the same this week.
'I think he can do that all the way through state,' the coach said.
It's easy to see why, too. He's too quick, too powerful and too explosive for everyone in his weight class.
'He's just phenomenal,' Stamper said of Tyrell. 'My confidence in him is because of how good I know he is…. He's a step above and beyond where he was last year (when he won a class 5A state title).'
Like his brother, Tyree was hoping he would win a district title, too. But that dream got derailed in the 285-pound semifinals when he lost in double overtime to Mitch Gaulke of West Linn. For a while, it looked like Tyree had the match in hand but Gaulke made a late rally in regulation to send the match to overtime.
Even though he led the match after the first overtime period, the match (by rule) was extended an extra minute and Gaulke came back to win. Afterward, Tyree couldn't believe he had lost the match and vented so much anger that coaches and his brother had to restrain him.
Some of the people in attendance believed Tyree should have been disqualified for his outburst. Instead, his team was docked one point and Tyree was allowed to continue into the consolation side of the bracket, where he eventually came back to beat West Linn's Zach Sramek by a 10-1 major decision to claim third place.
Afterward, Stamper didn't make any excuses for his wrestler's behavior.
'It was a bad thing. It was horrible…. It's something I never want to see,' the coach said.
Stamper called Tyree's loss to Gaulke 'a test of character,' and was proud that his grappler 'came back and wrestled well' after the incident.
The Lakeridge coach also had to deal with two other outbursts during the tournament, including one that got a wrestler disqualified. In that instance, the 140-pound Meiyk Tavarres had just lost a tough 11-9 quarterfinal decision to Devan Schiewe of West Linn. After the match, Tavarres lost his temper and uttered some profanities that the referee overheard. And Tavarres was promptly disqualified.
It was unfortunate because Stamper believes Tavarres had a good chance to qualify for state.
'But he threw that all away because of his temper,' the coach said. 'I hope he learned his lesson.'
For a while, reports were circulating that Tavarres' brother, Iyke, had also been disqualified for a similar outburst. In fact, after a tough 9-8 loss to Jake Levy of Milwaukie, the referee noted on the match sheet that Iyke Tavarres had been disqualified. However, after a review by tournament officials, it was decided that Lakeridge would instead be penalized a point and Iyke Tavarres was allowed to continue. But he wound up losing his next match.
On a much brighter note, Lakeridge had several shining moments during the tournament, including impressive runs by Phil Rogers at 125 pounds, Ben Shipley at 130 and Taylor London at 160. All three of them advanced to the semifinals with solid performances in the quarters.
Rogers got the next-to-last round by registering a 10-2 major decision over West Linn's Tony Chay. Shipley moved on by beating Oregon City's Vince Williams by a 6-3 score, and London advanced with a late second-round pin over Jean-Claud Guadiz of Oregon City.
Rogers then kept the magic going when he earned a hard-fought 4-2 decision over top-seeded Zach Wallace of Oregon City in the semifinals. And Shipley followed suit when he pinned West Linn's second-seeded Travis Schultzler.
Unfortunately, both of them lost their championship matches. Rogers' loss was a heartbreaker when he fell 8-6 in overtime to Anthony Rhemrev-Field of Oregon City. Rogers led two times in regulation only to see the Oregon City wrestler rally each time.
'He had that match (in the final),' Stamper said of Rogers. 'But it was a great learning experience…. I think Phil learned if he wrestles his match for six minutes, he can beat anybody.'
'It was a great match,' Stamper said of the 125-pound final. 'It was probably the best match of the night.'
Shipley, meanwhile, proved he could bounce back and beat a wrestler who had beaten him during the regular season. That was the case with the match against Schultzler. Just like the earlier match-up, Schultzler got the early lead. But this time, Shipley managed to rally.
'He was down initially, but he stayed in good shape,' Stamper said of his wrestler.
Then, Shipley caught Schultzler by surprise with a hip roll that the Lakeridge wrestler turned into a pin.
'That (move) was a little unorthodox, but it worked,' Stamper said.
London, meanwhile, entered the tournament as the No. 4 seed at 160 pounds, which meant he wasn't favored to advance to state.
'But we knew he had a shot,' Stamper said. 'He just had to wrestle his match.'
London did that when he pinned Guadiz. Then, after losing in the semis, London bounced back to win two more times in the consolation bracket. His final win - a late-match pin of Clackamas' Derek Dykeman - was obviously the most important. That earned him a trip to state.
'He's a great kid,' Stamper said of London. 'He's worked real hard for it, so I'm real proud of him.'
The Pacers had three other wrestlers who placed in the tournament. Jeff Saporito took fifth place at 152 pounds and Ryan Bliss did the same at 171 pounds.
And Carter Cohn finished sixth at 112 pounds. Saporito was hoping to duplicate what London, his good friend, did. But it wasn't to be.
'It would have been sweet to see both of them go to state together,' Stamper said. '(Saporito) has always been a stand-up guy. He wrestled like a champ.'
The Lake Oswego wrestling team, meanwhile, qualified two wrestlers for state. That represented the team's best showing in seven years.
Carrying the torch for the Lakers will be Max D'Annibale, who finished second at 152 pounds, and Khashi Jafari, who was unseeded at 215 pounds but also wound up finishing second.
The Lakers certainly didn't have the kind of depth that other teams had at the tournament. But coach Chad Smith was still proud of the way his wrestlers performed.
'I'm really pleased with how well they did,' the coach said.
D'Annibale, whose nickname is D'Animal, has been the team's leader by example all season.
He entered the tournament seeded No. 2 at his weight and everyone expected big things from him.
With that kind of pressure, it was understandable that D'Annibale was nervous before his semifinal match Saturday morning. To help calm his nerves in situations like that, D'Annibale likes to sing improv rap songs. On Saturday morning, he asked Smith to help out by laying down the beat. Smith doesn't look like a rapper but he was willing to help out.
'I'm a little old for that stuff, but I'll do whatever it takes,' Smith joked. Then, '(D'Annibale) just threw down a little tune and that got him ready.'
Indeed it did as D'Annibale went out and beat Doug Jahn of Oregon City by a 5-2 decision to advance to the title match. Unfortunately, in the championship round, D'Annibale ran into Milwaukie's Sean Scott, who has been unbeatable almost all season, and Scott registered a pin late in the third round.
But the D'Animal/improv rapper was still headed to state, and that's all that mattered.
'He wrestled his heart out all season,' Smith said of D'Annibale. 'He did what he had to do (at district)…. Now, I think he has a good chance to place at state.'
No one showed more heart, though, than Jafari. It's difficult for an unseeded wrestler just to place at district, but Jafari did a lot more than that.
Jafari won his first match by a 7-4 decision over Rob Brady of West Linn. Then he beat third-seeded Bryan Cooper of Clackamas 6-4 in the quarterfinals.
That set up a semifinal match against second-seeded John Frost of Oregon City and Jafari won that match by an 11-7 score. The magic ended when Jafari lost to state-tournament favorite Tyrell Fortune in the championship match, but there was nothing to be ashamed of there.
'The way he wrestled (in the tourney) is the reason why he's been a captain all season,' Smith said of Jafari.
'I kept asking, 'Are you ready?' And he said, 'Heck yeah, I'm ready,' ' the coach said.
'This is a sophomore kid who's just going to keep getting better and better,' Smith said.
One of the things that Smith likes about Jafari is the fact that he stays every day after practice and helps with the kids program.
In fact, Smith is seeing similar commitments from everyone else on the team. Even though most of them failed to qualify for state, the coach said the entire team showed up for practice on Monday to help the two qualifiers prepare for the state meet.
'They could have taken off, but they're all here,' the coach said.