Holiday break, illness and injuries have kept Gervais from full strength through the first month

by: PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais' Darren DeLeon (facing front) scored a victory over Creswell's Skyler Tidwell in the opening round of the 126-pound bracket at the 2013 Eagle Classic hosted by Harrisburg High School Friday.The Gervais wrestling team closed the chapter on 2013 when the team traveled to Harrisburg Friday to participate in the Eagle Classic, where the team took fourth place.

Nikita Kalugin and Ricky Diaz had the best showing for the Cougar wrestlers, with each wrestler finishing in second place.

Kalugin took Harrisburg’s Shane Bearden to overtime in the 152-pound bracket, while Diaz lost to Jacob Elmore from Corbett.

Gervais brought just 11 wrestlers to the tournament, hardly full strength for the team, said head coach Gil Miller.

“Christmas break is always hard for us, because people are on vacation,” he said. “We’ve been struggling with some injuries and stuff like that, so we haven’t been at full strength so far this year.”

Even without a full team, the Cougars have been a handful for opposing teams. Gervais took the meet title at Nestucca on Dec. 21, and that was without five wrestlers.

“We’re working on trying to be all together at one tournament,” said Miller. “We don’t have a really good idea of what we can do as a full team yet, because we haven’t had one yet.

Once the team is at full strength, Miller has his eyes set on a pair of lofty goals at the end of the season. He wants the team to be dual meet champions and district champions, something the Cougars were able to accomplish in 2012.

Last year, the Cougars repeated as dual meet champs, but lost the district title to Rainier — a team that will be the biggest obstacle for Gervais this year.

“My team is real senior heavy,” said Miller. “We have some big expectations that I knew were coming this year. This is a group of guys that started wrestling as freshmen, and I kind of knew it would be a good team this year.”

Much of the Cougars’ success on the mat can be attributed to the team’s strenuous conditioning program.

“We pride ourselves in being the best in-shape team around,” said Miller.

Endurance is key to Gervais’ annual success, as Miller seeks to get his athletes in peak physical condition. The goal is to keep the Cougar wrestlers at a high level of competition in the third round while the opposing wrestler tires out from exhaustion.

“Being in good shape and being able to outlast an opponent,” said Miller. “That’s the thing we’re working on in that third round, being able to turn it up to the next level and bring it to the other guy.”

In the short-term, Miller is looking to get his team to be more assertive on the mat.

“We’re just working on being better on our feet and more aggressive,” he said. “We’ve been kind of tentative on our feet, in my opinion.”

The Cougars travel to Willamina Saturday to take part in the Bob Bishop Invitational.