Some people, most of them with ties to the Lakeridge wrestling program, would like to pretend that the 2006-07 sports season never happened.

It wasn't just the fact that the Pacer grapplers (the ones who weren't injured) got pounded every time they took the mat. They barely had enough wrestlers to justify fielding a team.

Well, a lot has changed since then. The Pacers can now fill up a school bus when they travel to meets, and they're no longer pushovers when they get there.

It helped a lot when nearly a dozen freshmen, many of them with promising talent, turned out for preseason practice. It helped even more when the Pacers landed two prize transfers - twin brothers Tyrell and Tyree Fortune - from Parkrose.

Then there's Bret Stamper, whose youthful appearance has undoubtedly left some opponents wondering why he doesn't suit down for the matches. Instead, he's the team's new coach, equipped with an unparalleled amount of enthusiasm.

After serving as an assistant for last year's team, where coaches nearly outnumbered wrestlers, Stamper knew he would have his work cut out for him in his first year as the head coach.

His first order of business was to visit Waluga Junior High and convince as many kids as possible that wrestling was a cool sport.

'In the past, a lot of talented eighth graders decided not to go out for wrestling. So, we decided to go over there and pump them up,' Stamper said.

'We've got 10 or 11 freshmen out (this year), and maybe a couple more are thinking about coming out,' the coach added. 'So, if we can keep these guys on board and keep them improving, we're going to turn things around in a couple of years.'

At least Stamper is being realistic. Considering where the team was, he knows it would be virtually impossible to turn the Pacers completely around in one year.

So, it seems peculiar that the Fortune brothers, with the credentials they have, would join a program that is rebuilding. Tyrell is the defending 5A state champ at 215 pounds. He's also ranked No. 1 in the nation at that weight. His goal this year is to go through the season without giving up a point. Tyree is hoping to be a contender for the 6A title at 285 pounds.

Those two seniors give the Pacers some unbelievable top-end talent. But Stamper is probably wishing that the Fortunes' mother had given birth to sextuplets instead of twins, because most of the other Pacers are just learning what it takes to compete at a high level.

'The big variable is all these freshmen and how good can we get them in one year,' Stamper stated. 'I know in two years they're going to be great. But how good can we get them in one year?'

That's this week's $64,000 question.

Some of the other coaches in the Three Rivers League are predicting that Lakeridge will finish just ahead of Lake Oswego at the bottom of the standings. But the Pacers could surprise some people.

The Putnam Kingsmen nearly found out the hard way last Wednesday when they were fortunate to squeak out a 36-33 victory over the Pacers. Lakeridge would have won the match if Tyrell Fortune had wrestled, but he's not certified to compete yet at 215 pounds. Lakeridge wound up forfeiting at that weight, which spelled the difference between winning and losing.

But there were a number of bright moments for the Pacers.

The night started with the 285-pound match and Tyree Fortune proved that he's going to be a force at that weight when he pinned Saul Aguilar at the halfway point of the second round.

Another strong performance was turned in by Carter Cohn at 112 pounds. He started his match against Kyle Lane with a quick takedown, then turned that move into a pin that the referee missed by being out of position. It hardly mattered, though, as Cohn registered an official pin at the 3:07 mark.

Myke Tavarres, a 145-pounder, also showed a lot of promise. There was little question that he was quicker and stronger than Putnam's Eric Rau, and Tarvarres turned that advantage into a 12-5 decision.

The closest contest of the night came at 152 pounds, where Lakeridge's Jeff Saporito and Putnam's Nate Dutson were locked in a 0-0 tie for half of the match. Dutson wound up scoring a 3-2 decision, thanks in part to a penalty that was assessed to Saporito. Either way, it should be interesting if those two wrestlers lock up again at the district meet.

The 171-pound match was another tough battle between the Pacers' Taylor London and Putnam's Troy Empey. London led 3-2 through two rounds and it looked like the match would end that way. But, with approximately 40 seconds remaining, London worked his way into a superior position and managed to pull off a pin.

The Pacers also picked up a pin from Ryan Bliss at 189 pounds. In fact, he had the quickest fall of the night, needing just 95 seconds to pin Chase King's shoulders to the mat.

Bliss' victory pushed Lakeridge into the lead at 33-30. But the celebration was short-lived and the meet ended in anticlimactic fashion as Lakeridge forfeited the 215-pound match and, in the process, handed Putnam the team victory.

The Pacers will be even tougher once Tyrell Fortune is qualified to wrestle at 215 pounds. Plus, Phil Rogers is expected to be a solid competitor at 130 pounds, but he was unavailable last week because of a dislocated shoulder. And Ben Shipley looked good in an exhibition match at 135 pounds, where he pinned his opponent in 3:43.

So, it's easy to see why Stamper is excited about the future of Lakeridge wrestling.

'There's a lot of buzz about this wrestling team,' the coach said. 'I expect us to do really well. We're going to wrestle with a lot of heart in every match. We're going to try to (give) 100 percent every time, and I think good things will happen if we do that.'

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