Young Huskies eager to grow
The stands were packed to near-capacity at the North Marion High School gymnasium on Tuesday, Dec. 17, fans sipping on complimentary bottles of water and popcorn, buzzing in anticipation for the action to come.
After all, it was the home-opener for the Huskies' wrestling team, and a rare opportunity this season — one of only two home duals that the North Marion wrestling program will host.
Head coach Shane Sheppard wants to see that change in the years to come.
"This is just flat out fun," Sheppard said. "We had a blast, and that's what we're trying to bring back: the culture of wrestling."
The solitary light illuminating the mat was installed on the day of the dual, as the North Marion gymnasium continues its renovation transformation. While the match against Dayton would carry on no matter what, there's just something special about being under the light, all eyes on the two wrestlers going head-to-head, bracketed by their teammates and a crowd of enthusiastic onlookers.
"I tell the guys, it's time when you step out there, to show off everything you've been working on," Sheppard said. " Everyone's watching. I wanted to get the light, the one-on-one aspect, the crowd cheering, the benches going, and I feel like we accomplished that."
The Huskies ultimately fell by a 60-18 margin to the Pirates, a wrestling power that finished fifth in the 3A State Championships this past spring. But the final result wasn't nearly as important as building experience and learning from mistakes, something that Sheppard wants his athletes to continue to accomplish throughout the season.
While the North Marion roster has a fair number of seniors, the Huskies are relatively young in experience. They need plenty of reps on the mat to build their resume as they look to the district championships in February — as well as the seasons ahead for the returning wrestlers.
Of course, that flies in the face of the dual match, where athletes get just one opportunity to compete, compared to upwards of a half dozen matches on a weekend tournament. But Sheppard wants to balance those two experiences — building experience at tournaments while building community support for the program at home by providing an entertaining product that people look forward to seeing.
"I know, personally, people don't want to go sit at a tournament for eight hours," he said. "They want to come out and watch a high-intensity dual under the light with some popcorn and their buddies. They're in, and they're out in an hour and a half, and they're done."
Not that there isn't plenty of opportunities to learn from a single match. While Sheppard was pleased with the level of heart the Huskies showed against Dayton, he pointed to the stat sheet as a clear indication of where the team needs to focus. Of the nine matches wrestled on the mat, every single contest was decided by pinfall.
"Not one match went six minutes tonight. Every one was a pin," Sheppard noted. "That's our main goal for me: we've got to wrestle six full minutes and not give up those pins."
While Dayton was the victor in seven of those nine matches, many of them were tightly contested until the North Marion wrestler was put on his back.
"If you look at the statistics before we get pinned, we're right there," Sheppard said. "We tend to get put on our backs. We get there, and we fight, fight, fight, and then get pinned."
A perfect example of what Sheppard wants to see came in the 138-pound match between senior Oscar Olvera and Dayton's Kaiden Abell. Olver found himself down 5-1 early only to rally to even the score, eventually overcoming Abell with a pin 24 seconds into the final round.
"He was down, and you could see him up in his brain he was getting tired and starting to break," Sheppard said. "I looked at him, and I just said, 'Oscar!' and pointed to my head. He hits his head, goes out, focuses, and got the pin."
Fellow senior teammate Ronaldo Hernandez picked up the Huskies' only other win on the mat, a first-round pin over Bryan Zuniga in the 132-pound match. North Marion's final points came in a forfeit for Alex Farrens at 113 pounds.
From here, the Huskies return to the tournament schedule, beginning with a trip to Albany for the Northwest Duals that were scheduled for Friday and Saturday, followed by a trip to Stayton on Friday, Dec. 27.
The Huskies will, in turn, host Stayton on Thursday, Jan. 30 for senior night — North Marion's only other home dual of the season.
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