by: Tracie Krellwitz, Sophomore Sam Ihrig, above, looks to turn his opponent from Southridge last week. Ihrig is one of a slew of talented young wrestlers on West Linn’s team this year.

West Linn wrestling coach Doug Samarron has decided to quit kidding himself and admit that he's in the midst of the a rebuilding year.

That's the easiest way to explain how West Linn, which was the second-best 6A team in the state last year, could lose to approximately one-half of the state's top-10 teams during the first three weeks of this year's campaign.

To get back to the top, West Linn's inexperienced team will have to pay its dues. In the meantime, the Lions are enduring some humbling losses against teams they used to beat.

'If you're going to beat us because we've beaten you for several years, or several times, great for you,' Samarron said earlier this week. 'But we shouldn't even be on their focus list. If they're one of the quality teams in the state, we shouldn't even be one of the teams that they're training to beat.'

Some coaches will say things like that with the hope that opponents will overlook them. But Samarron has been around the block a time or two and he knows his team lacks the experience and the depth to be considered one of the best teams in the state this season.

That much was apparent when the Lions lost to top-notch teams like Newberg, Roseburg and Canby during the first two weeks of the season. Then there was last Wednesday's 41-28 dual-meet loss to Southridge.

But Samarron isn't giving up on the season, and he definitely won't let his wrestlers feel sorry for themselves. The veteran coach plans to work everyone just as hard as they always have. In the process, the Lions might shock a team or two.

Even though West Linn is a long-shot to knock off Oregon City for the league title, the Lions are still a good bet to finish second in the TRL while qualifying several wrestlers for the state meet.

'That's realistically what we can try to shoot for, to be in the top two in the league,' Samarron said. 'As long as we're shooting for something high like that, I'm pretty happy.'

But second in the TRL isn't quite the same as finishing in the top two at the Oregon Classic, the Pacific Coast Championships, the Crater Invitational and Reser's Invitational, most of which the Lions managed to accomplish last year.

'We've had the luxury of all of that for the last four years,' Samarron noted.

'But I'm not discouraged. If I have to start all over and build another powerful team, well, at least I get to do that.'

From the coach's perspective, it's hard not to look down the road. But Samarron is confident about his team's near future because of the nucleus of this year's team.

Just one glimpse at the depth chart, which is attached to the west wall of West Linn's wrestling room, shows that the coach is already counting heavily on some talented young kids.

'He's a freshman, he's a freshman, he's a sophomore, he's a freshman, he's a sophomore, he's a sophomore, he's a junior, he's a sophomore, he's a junior, he's a freshman, he's a sophomore,' Samarron proclaims as he points out some of the top competitors on that depth chart.

Yes, indeed, the Lions are young this year.

What's interesting to note is that some of those youngsters are already achieving at a high level. Sophomores Logan Krellwitz (at 135 pounds) and Donald Paulson (at 112 pounds) and junior Andrew Kim already have some significant state wrestling experience under their belts.

Devan Schiewe (at 140 pounds) does as well. However, as one of the few seniors on the team, he won't be back next year.

But the Lions are strong, and getting stronger, at a number of other weights. Juniors Mitch Gaulke and Zach Sramek are both contenders at 285 pounds.

Sophomore Michael McClanathan has been solid at 171. Sophomore Sam Ihrig will be tough to beat at 103 pounds. Juniors Ben Stoneking and Bob Brady are coming on at 215. And a number of freshmen, including Brian Schiewe (125), Peter Bonoff (130), Sam Huck (119) and Travis Schutzler (130), all have promising futures.

By the standards of most programs, West Linn still has an excellent wrestling team. But it's not on par with some of the great teams the Lions have fielded in recent years, and that's created a new learning experience for everybody.

'It's a rebuilding year and I've never had a rebuilding year before,' Samarron said. 'So, I'm not really sure what I'm doing wrong or what I'm doing right. So, I'm just doing.

'So, if we're going to rebuild, that means we have to rebuild at the individual level. We've got to rebuild the interest at the youth level and we've got to rebuild the interest in the middle schools.'

No matter how you slice it, it's a good bet that West Linn won't be down for long.

'I figure I have nine more years, at least, left in me as the coach,' Samarron said. 'After a second (place at state) in 2007 and a second in 2004 … with another nine years, I think I could fit another couple powerful teams in there.'

Heck, nine years is like a non-stop run for West Linn.

'It could be,' Samarron said. 'Once you get a nucleus of kids that are excited about being good, it's attractive to others.'

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