Eight first-timers lead Lions into state meet
From the first meet through a staggering third-place finish at the Northwest Oregon Conference tournament, St. Helens has surpassed all outside expectations this season.
The Lions, overlooked by many in the NWOC after finishing in the district basement the previous two years, have raised the bar. They will soon enjoy the spoils of being one of the up-and-coming programs in Class 5A, with many members of an underclassmen-heavy squad slated to return next season.
But for one final weekend in 2019, St. Helens won't mind playing the role of underdog.
With eight of their nine qualifiers competing for the first time at the 5A tournament, the onus is on taking it one match at a time and getting a couple of confidence-building wins.
Anything else that comes — hopefully, a state placer or two — would be gravy.
"We're happy to be there, and our whole goal is for each guy to win one match, because before you can win two, you have to win one," St. Helens coach Greg Gadbois said. "It sounds cliche, but for some of our guys, this is the biggest tournament they've ever been in. They're going to be kind of wide-eyed, so our mantra is just to win one and know that we can compete at that level and set our sights on what we need to improve."
St. Helens didn't get the best of draws when it came to tournament seeding, Gadbois said, but he said each Lion can come out on top in at least a match or two.
Sophomore Mavrick Rask is the third seed in the 182-pound bracket after winning his first district title last week.
Sophomore Tristin Buchanan is the eighth seed in the 120-pound bracket, and if he wins his first match he'll face Silverton's Kaden Kuenzi, the two-time defending state champion, in round two.
Lions freshman Narcizo Garza is the eighth seed at 113; should he win his first match, he'll be pitted against Crescent Valley's Chase Lamer, the top seed.
Sophomore Dylan Scott faces Thurston's Avery Jamarillo, the No. 1 seed, in the first round at 195.
Justin Garcia faces Crescent Valley's Legend Lamer in the first round. Gadbois said Lamer might be the best wrestler in the state, regardless of classification, at 152.
Seniors Rachawn Lee (160) and Ben Torres (285) also are first-time state qualifiers. Torres is the seventh seed. Lee is coming off his first district place.
Gadbois said he is not concerned about first-time butterflies plaguing his state rookies. Nerves, he said, mean you care about the result, which pleases the coach.
Freshman Gavin Schaer will represent the Lions at 106, while junior Ryan Burri (170) is St. Helens' only grappler with state experience.
"When it comes down to it, we're talking about the 16 best guys in the state at your weight class, so that's a pretty great accomplishment right there," Gadbois said. "We're not set up in a good spot, but moving past that, let's get a win, add some team points to it, and who knows what'll happen?"
Gadbois said he's had 20 to 25 wrestlers in the practice room pushing his state entrants to the brink this week. The coaches will pit a state qualifier in the middle of the mat and rotate in three or four fresh bodies to get a crack at live wrestling for an extended stretch. It's a grueling drill. The state competitor is always tired while his opponent is fresh.
"We have tortured them for a week," Gadbois said with a laugh. 'But they've had a great week of practice. I think they'll be as ready as they can be."