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Skyhawks are bringing back 'the old days' with recent run of Metro League success

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge heavyweight Nomani Liu won his bout against Beaverton to help the Skyhawks win their second Metro meet.

The Cage's creaky old wooden bleachers shook, as Southridge's section of parents, teachers and fans stomped its feet in perfect unison, creating a deafening din capable of being heard outside the gymnasium walls.

With a such a swell of support, with such positive reinforcement pushing him through the meet-your-maker final seconds of a must-win match against Beaverton, there was no way Nomani Liu could lose.

Battling through a lingering fever but needing to at least get a decision victory with Southridge trailing Beaverton 35-33 heading into the last match of the night, Liu defeated Hector Cazares with a 9-8 triumph to send the Skyhawks home with their second dual meet win of the season.

"Pushing myself is so hard but getting up and knowing that many people were cheering for me is a great thing," Liu said with a smile. "I knew I could push myself even more with that whole section of fans out there supporting me. I work hard in the wrestling room for these moments and I'm glad to have teammates by my side to push me through this match."

"That's heart," Southridge senior AJ Peralez said of Liu. "He was sick for two weeks. He's willing to fight through anything. I'm proud of him for that. And our heavyweights came through. We need those guys. They're working the hardest in the room. They know they have it in themselves to win our matches."

The crowd, maybe 150 people at maximum, sounded like five times that many in the final stages of Liu's outlasting. The Skyhawk wrestlers watching from the bench ran toward their section of patrons, shouting, waving their arms above their heads, encouraging the crowd to make as much noise as possible as Liu and Cazares traded near falls and takedowns. The throng of red, black and yellow was more than happy to oblige. The decibel level in the building mushroomed even higher with each Liu move. That kind of affirmative backing from the stands was a constant backdrop all night long.

"When you got your (opponent) on his shoulder, you could feel the crowd rumble," Peralez said. "You could hear the screams from every single person. We had people freaking out over a single point. It almost gives you goosebumps. No part of your body wants to give up. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not everyone is going to experience this, and I love it with all my heart."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Beaverton 220-pound Miguel Solares won by fall against Southridge to give the Beavers a slim lead.

In the recent past, Southridge was the Beaverton area's hotbed for wrestling. Their home meets felt like movie productions with the hovering white-hot spotlight, crammed stands, intense, passionate grappling junkies in attendance and a team that won constantly. Their introductions were a sight to behold, as the Hawk wrestlers raced out of the locker room, sprinted around the mat at full speed and then shuffled around the circle as ACDC blared through the sound system and the public address announcer screamed above the clamor. That vibe changed a bit over the years with attrition, coaching turnover and Mountainside's grand opening. But the buzz this season is back. The Beaverton match was living, breathing proof that the Skyhawks, under the direction of head coach Cam McFarland and his young coaching staff, that the best is yet to come.

"That was like the old Southridge all over again," Peralez said. "We're bringing back the old spirit and that's what I love about this new team, especially the new coaches. They're bringing the juice. We have (participation) numbers. We have kids that want to grind, that want to fight for those points. We're one of the hardest conditioning teams in Metro."

Beaverton jumped out to a big 30-9 lead going into the 160-pound bout. Reeya Tamang (106), Nathaneal Gonzalez (126), Connor Mauk (132) and Nathanyel Krissovich (145) all earned wins for the Beavers. But the Southridge crowd stayed locked in. Peralez, Isaac Kirk and Francisco Endi all won by fall, to put 18 crucial team points on the board. Brock Jacobson and Elijah Seamster won by decision, though Beaverton 220-pounder Miguel Solares came up with a huge pin in the penultimate match of the night to give the team lead back to the Beavers, 33-32. Liu, knowing his match would sway the balance of power between the crosstown rivals, strapped up his headgear, got the good juju from his teammates in the pre-match huddle and emptied the tank to ensure the Southridge triumph.

"I knew we were down, I just had to push myself to the limit and get that victory for my team," Liu said. "Everyone is there to push each other. We all work hard in the (practice) room. We're starting to come up as a team."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge star A.J. Peralez won his match versus Beaverton to help the Skyhawks win their second Metro meet.

The match took on an even more festive feel thanks to a moving gesture suggested by McFarland. Each Skyhawk wrestler invited a teacher that's impacted them in the classroom to attend the meet and not just watch but get an up-close look at their respective bout. For every match, that said summoned instructor came down the bleachers and sat in the corner coaching chair right next to McFarland. The wrestlers penned pre-written heartfelt messages to their instructor, explaining how their educator has aided them in their studies or helped them grow as a young adult, which was read by the P.A. announcer before their respective match. Be it math, science, health, these teachers were picked out by their grappling pupils for recognition. Peralez selected Monica Garcia, his physics teacher who is always willing to go the extra mile in seeing her students flourish.

"She's just so loving, she's always helping me study and helping me with the work I don't understand," Peralez said of Garcia. "She's always there for me. She's someone I can I look up to as a teacher and a normal human being. I'll never forget it. Those teachers deserve it. They go out of their way every single day to help us learn, to teach us, help us study. Seeing them smile as they had their name called, you don't see stuff like that."

Southridge, to the surprise of many, hadn't won a Metro League dual meet since 2016. Now, the Skyhawks have already knocked off Sunset and Beaverton with Westview and Mountainside still on the docket. Peralez said the biggest change occurred in the practice room. Gone are the days of over repetitive sprints and hours of conditioning. Now, Southridge uses instructional drilling to both learn new techniques and build that all-important physical and cognitive stamina level for matches. Former Skyhawk standouts Devon Martin and Corey Mills joined the coaching staff over the offseason, instilling youth and an understanding of Southridge's standard.

"We're constantly going during practice," Peralez said. "We have muscle memory with all these new moves that are coming in. (Mills) was here when Southridge was 'The Big Thing'. Having those two guys plus (assistant) (Sam) Marshall…I can't explain it. We're just bringing something new and it's only going to get better. We're bringing the heat and a lot of people are getting attached."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge wrestler Elijah Seamster won his match versus Beaverton to help the Skyhawks win their second Metro meet.

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