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Lions are shaping up into top physical form as the Class 5A postseason looms on the horizon

PMG FILE PHOTO - St. Helens wrestler Mavrick Rask and the Lions have enjoyed a stellar regular season. On three of the four walls of the St. Helens wrestling room, there is an abundance of hardwood plaques honoring past grapplers who have won district titles and placed at the state meet.

Dating back to the 1980s the Lions have won enough postseason hardware to cover three-fourths of their practice room from wall to wall including last year's Northwest Oregon District championship from Mavrick Rask. Dual meet decorations, however, are nowhere to be found. Trophies are not doled out for dual meet victories. But they are in the postseason, of course, and that's what St. Helens has chased after under the direction of head coach Greg Gadbois. The team Gadbois has now is good enough to add another prize or two or three come district tournament time.

Rask, Narcizo Garza, Tristian Buchanan and Ryan Burri are doing the extra work to earn those honors, putting in extra practice hours, going to Portland to wrestle for their club team. They're not alone in going the extra mile, either. Dylan Scott, Gavin Schaer, Blake Gohlmann, Justin Garcia and others have all enjoyed successful regular seasons and helped the Lions compile a nearly perfect record in NWOC duals with one more square-off against Scappoose to go in their season finale. They're using the duals as test labs, benchmarks to see how they stack up with the best in the NWOC and how they can improve come crunch time the next few weeks.

"Dual meets are a fan favorite, but the goal for us is always districts and state," Gadbois said. "Our focus is more on those two tournaments. Everything we do throughout the year is building toward those two events. Our kids have worked their butts off. Their success is a product of that. We preach confidence to these guys and I think that confidence is built in those practice rooms and extra lifting sessions."

PMG FILE PHOTO - St. Helens wrestling standout Tristin Buchanan and the Lions are shooting for a high finish at the district tournament. St. Helens' practice sessions are pivotal to where Lions currently stand and hope to be in the postseason. Every single day Gadbois pits his best wrestlers up against one another in the practice room be it Burri and Rask or Garza and Buchanan. Scott and Garcia also work in with these pairs. In the summer, Garza and Buchanan face off against one another every day as well. These are hell-bent competitors with high goals and dreams, but they've invested in making each other better and therefore have lifted the Lions' standard as a program.

"Those guys don't like to lose to each other any more than they don't like to lose outside the (practice) room," Gadbois said. "Nobody likes getting taken down."

Gohlmann and Schaer are close in weight class and ability. They too clash on the mat when it comes time to going live. St. Helens does a drill called "King of the Mat" where a lone wrestler will stand in the middle of the mat for five straight minutes while three other wrestlers rotate in on him or her until a takedown occurs. There are no breaks. Last wrestler standing stays and lives. The positions vary from top to bottom to on their feet. Once, say Rask gets a takedown, a fresher, ready-made wrestler instantly taps in and tees off on the district champ. St. Helens trains for a six-minute match, plus overtime. They factor in extra time sessions just in case the Lion grapplers happen to extend their matches beyond the allotted three periods. Forays such as "King of the Mat" are exactly the sort of mental and physical fortitude gut checks that make regular meets or matches seem like a piece of cake.

"It's brutal, it's painful but that competitive nature is part of what makes them good," Gadbois said. "The guys who are sitting on the side waiting are licking their chops because they know it's their chance to take down (Rask). At the end of five minutes, he can barely walk, but they're going at him left and right. But Mavrick has a lot of pride. He's just not going to let it happen. You have to have that in your (practice) room otherwise if someone doesn't care about getting better, they're never going to succeed."

Those sparring sessions are essential to each wrestler's success. Iron sharpens iron

"There is an old saying that 'Champs come in pairs,'" Gadbois said. "You need a good practice partner in order to produce a good wrestler. Usually, those guys will gravitate toward each other. It's the most important aspect of getting better and making those large jumps during the season."

Gadbois said the Lions are starting to reach their actual weight classes, be it cutting pounds or adding on muscle. They're healing up after beating down a little bit throughout the regular season with illness and injury. The rugged conditioning section of the season is over. Now is the time to sharpen skills and nuances in technique. Their minds are right. Their bodies are recovered and fresh as the Joe Stewart Invitational was the last tournament of the year nearly two weeks ago. In the last 10 days or so, St. Helens has only had one dual meet, a 56-21 smashing of Parkrose. At the tail end of the season, the Lions are in full form and prepared to peak in the final phase of the year.

They'll face Scappoose this week at home and then prepare for the NWOC district championship tournament next Friday and Saturday at Wilsonville High School.


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