North Marion sends off senior wrestlers under the lights
North Marion High School senior Bryan Bravo Gonzalez suited up in his wrestling garb one last time under the home lights on Thursday.
Bravo Gonzalez went toe-to-toe with Stayton's Owen O'Connor in a junior varsity exhibition match prior to the main event against the Eagles.
Bravo Gonzalez fell to O'Connor in the first round, one of many losses the North Marion senior has tallied this year in his first and only season with the wrestling program, but head coach Shane Sheppard doesn't care.
Sheppard, too, is in his first year with the Huskies, and if every athlete on his team had the drive and commitment that Bravo Gonzalez brings to the mat each week, he'd be a happy man.
"I don't think he's ever done a sport in his life, and then he stepped up to wrestling his senior year, about the hardest sport you can try," Sheppard said. "It's just incredible the drive and determination he's had. Even though he's lost almost every single match this year, every time, he gets back up and keeps fighting."
Bravo Gonzalez was one of three seniors that Sheppard and the Huskies celebrated last week, closing out their final home dual this season in front of an enthusiastic crowd of supporters.
Sheppard has continued to stress the importance of bringing a strong wrestling culture to North Marion his year, built through community support on nights like these where Bravo Gonzalez and fellow seniors Ronaldo Gonzalez and Roberto Ibarra took center stage.
"It's cool to see the community here, see the support and get our culture back," Sheppard said. "That's just what we're trying to do. I think we'll get there."
In addition to the three seniors, the night carried significance for Sheppard as well, reuniting with the Stayton program, where he grew up wrestling as a high school student-athlete.
"It's a special night for me," Sheppard said. "A lot of the kids I know. One of them is my best friend's little brother, so it's a cool dual for me."
Sheppard got to know Bravo Gonzalez during the past school year and has seen first-hand the change that has taken place, going from more than 220 pounds when he first joined the program to where he is now.
"I guarantee by the end of this season he'll be down 45 pounds from the day before Thanksgiving," Sheppard said. "For a first-year wrestler to do that is pretty admirable. Changing his diet and his lifestyle."
It's that commitment that has impressed Sheppard so much over the short period he has gotten to know the senior. Bravo Gonzalez is one of 12 individuals on the North Marion roster to end the season, down from nearly 30 at the beginning of the year.
"It tells you a lot about the guys I have left," Sheppard said. "We're going to keep fighting, building and growing. I don't care if they lose every match, as long as they fight. That's what it's about."
Bravo Gonzalez and Ibarra suited up for the varsity dual against the Eagles, splitting their matches as the Huskies fell 51-12. Ibarra pinned his opponent a little over a minute into his 170-pound match, joining junior teammate Martin Pacheco (126 pounds) as the only North Marion wrestlers to pick up a victory.
Bravo Gonzalez fell in his 132-pound match but has seen a lot of growth his senior year from Sheppard, particularly on the cerebral side of the sport.
"He has just grown a lot mentally, getting more confidence in himself, and you can see it when he steps on the mat," Sheppard said. "In the beginning of the year, he struggled to make it out of the first round. Last night we wrestled in Seaside, and he made it a whole six minute-grind with the guy."
The Huskies have just a few matches left this season, beginning with a trip to Molalla on Wednesday, following by the White Buffalo Invite in Madras on Saturday. In between, junior Hellen Chavez will travel to Hillsboro for the girls North Regional tournament.
With a relatively inexperienced roster, every match is an opportunity to learn and grow, even this late in the season.
"We're getting there. We're getting better. We still have a lot of young kids — first and second-year wrestlers, making little mistakes," Sheppard said.
From there, the Huskies have one last dual at Sweet Home on Feb. 13 before hosting the district championship tournament on Feb. 20-21.
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