By ADAM LAPIERRE
News staff writer
February 15, 2006
Wrestling is not a glamour sport. It is not pretty or flattering, classy, sophisticated, chic or trendy. In this sport, there are no cheerleaders, no pep rallies, no halftime shows and no live radio broadcasts. Wrestling is not the beauty of one’s body in motion, the quintessential coming together of a team on the field or a carefully calculated strategy sport.
When a wrestler strips down to a singlet and steps onto the mat, his team disappears with the crowd, noise fades, his heart pounds through his chest and the essence of the sport is revealed: Wrestling is 99 percent preparation and one percent performance. And win or lose … it’s all on you.
Most often, a wrestler’s pains and sacrifices go unnoticed. The sport is a whole lot of hard work for a six-minute match, if it lasts that long, on a mat laid and taped over a basketball court.
Stepping onto that mat with confidence is the key, whether it’s the first round of districts or the state finals. Confidence and poise are traits of a solid wrestler.
Wrestling confidence comes in two forms: genuine and delusional. Although the latter is easily achieved, only the former wins matches.
Genuine confidence comes when a wrestler steps onto the mat knowing he has trained and prepared as hard as possible for the opponent at hand. He has already won the match in his mind. You can see that kind of confidence on a wrestler’s face and in his eyes. The best matches, of course, are when both wrestlers have it.
And Saturday night, in the 2006 Intermountain Conference (IMC) district finals, Hood River Valley’s 112 pound senor Jose Ramirez had the look. He stepped onto the mat centered in the Crook County High School gym in front of an audience of several hundred, with an expression that read, “This match is mine.” His opponent, Garret Gentery from Mountain View High School, had a similar scowl. Six minutes later the two had battled to a 1-1 tie.
Overtime exposes how much heart, determination and will a wrestler has. His body says let go, give up, get some water and rest. At that point, the victor is almost always the one who has prepared more to overcome those feelings.
With both wrestlers on their feet, the match went to a sudden-death overtime period. Ramirez hooked an outside single, Gentery gave up the takedown, and the Eagles added another district champ to the ranks.
“My strategy was that I was going to win no matter what,” Ramirez said after the match. “I just wrestled hard and tried to make him wrestle my match, not the other way around. I think I could have done better but it still feels good … All the hard work paid off. I’m proud to actually do something my senior year.”
And Ramirez will not make the trip to state alone. Teammates Alex Titus and Leo Gonzalez qualified with second and third place finishes, respectively.
“We’re super proud of Jose, Alex and Leo for making it to state,” Coach Rich Polkinghorn said. “That’s tough to do in this conference.”
Titus, who was seeded first in the tournament, won his first three matches, two by pin, to advance to the heavyweight division finals. His match against Guy Hamm of Pendleton came down to the last minute of the third period. Behind 3-1, Titus needed a takedown to stay in it. He tied up and attempted a double-overhook toss, which Hamm anticipated and avoided. Titus was forced to give up a takedown and a 5-1 loss for a second place finish.
“You have to give the Pendleton coaches credit,” said Polkinghorn. “Last time the two wrestled Alex threw him twice for five points each. They did a good job of coaching their guy on how to wrestle Alex this time.”
The IMC’s 135 weight class was stacked this season, and Gonzales had a tough road to qualifying for state. He won his first two matches by pins to advancing to the semi-finals Saturday morning. Winning in the semis is key because it automatically secures a wrestler a trip to the finals, a trip to state, and a trip somewhere quiet to rest for most of the day. Losing means the tough road, which Gonzales took to the consolation finals, where he faced a Hermiston wrestler.
Gonzales wrestled more intense and focused than he had all season. He was a man on a mission, and he dominated the match.
“Of course it feels good,” Gonzales said afterwards. “But I’m tired and I want to go home and sleep. I still have a lot of homework to do.”
Of the 25 Eagles that competed in the tournament, 11 had podium finishes. The team finished with 146.5 points, which put them in sixth place. As expected, Hermiston took the IMC title by a decent margin, followed by Crook County in second and Redmond in third.
“The tournament went about as we expected,” Polkinghorn said. “Districts is an eye-opening experience for some wrestlers. The competition is surprisingly tough and I think our young guys did a great job for us. I have to keep reminding myself that we’re such a young team. Our future is looking good and we’re excited about next year … I had a great time with the boys and I think it was a fun weekend for everyone. They’re nice kids, they work hard and they’re truly fun to be around.”
The three state-bound grapplers have only today to catch up at school before heading to the three-day state tournament, which starts Thursday morning.