In just its fourth year under head coach Greg Gadbois, the St. Helens wrestling team is starting to separate itself as one of the top programs in the Northwest Oregon Conference district.
For the second straight season, the Lions took third at the NWOC district tournament, finishing with 209 points behind Hillsboro and Scappoose, who took first and second, respectively at Wilsonville High School. Gavin Schaer (106 pounds), Tristin Buchanan (132) and Mavrick Rask (170) all clinched district crowns in their respective weight classes as the Lions ended the weekend with seven Class 5A state meet qualifiers. Narcizo Garza (113), Dylan Scott (195), Ryan Burri (145) all punched tickets to the state championship tournament as well.
"We preach 'Whatever your best is, do it,'" Gadbois said. "I tell the kids it's possible to lose a match but still do the best you've ever done. That's the goal, by the end of the year: be the best you've ever been. I was really happy with a lot of our kids' effort."
The 5A state tournament is Friday and Saturday at Veterans' Memorial Coliseum. And while the Lions have two fewer competitors than a year ago, Gadbois feels each competitor is better equipped to win a few state matches and possibly get on the podium come Saturday night. Crescent Valley and Crook County are the 5A favorites in the team standings, but Gadbois hopes his three district champs who have lofty goals can bring home medals. Burri is the only senior who stayed with Gadbois when he took over the program years ago, the lone holdover from the past regime. He stayed loyal to the Lions and the grind of the sport.
"We call him 'Neo', he's The One," Gadbois said with a smile. "He's the one that started it all, the one that helped create the program to where it is today. He's a captain to the captains, the leader of our captain group. When we started offseason workouts it was just me and him, that was it. We were the only ones lifting. We were the only ones at practice. This being his senior year, I really hope he does well and comes through."
Rask has adjusted to his new weight class after dropping down to 170 pounds and felt better than ever at the district tournament. Every single Rask pin occurred in the first round. He was named "Outstanding Wrestler" of the upper weights. Buchanan battled through nagging knee injuries and used his superiority from the "top" position to power to first place. Schaer has been superb all season, winning every league match by a landslide. He was the Lions' lone top seed and dominated the tournament just as he has all season.
In a handful of matches where perhaps the Lions weren't favored to win, St. Helens was able to pull off several upsets that chipped into the team's total. Veterans who didn't place at districts in the past grappled their way to the podium. Up and down the ledger, the Lions found sources of success.
"Our kids are proud of how they condition, and they go out there with the knowledge that they're in shape and can win those close matches," Gadbois said. "Wrestling is a weird sport. You have to confidence, strength and endurance all to go together when it's just you out there by yourself. Everything you do prepares you. It's not a team sport. Our guys have a lot of pride in their work ethic and it worked well for them."
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