PLEASANT HILL – Creswell, Cottage Grove, Pleasant Hill and Springfield all competed at the King of the Hill Invitational at Pleasant Hill on Saturday. While Oakridge won the boys tournament and Siuslaw won the girls, the area coaches understand it’s a long season.
“My wife calls it the January blues, it’s a grind. So as an older coach now who’s been doing it for a long time, at times, I have to back off and give them some rest days,” said Jeff Cardwell, Creswell head coach. “Really we try to peak for the regional and state tournament, so it’s a balancing act. The kids get sore, they get tired, they’re trying to keep up with school and social life and relationships and all that. So it’s a hard balancing act.”
The January blues means that for any wrestlers with state aspirations, it’s all about peaking at the right time.
Wrestling is a physically demanding sport, and with a season as long as it is, it’s important not to ramp up too early or too quickly. For the coaches, each one has their own balance they strike.
“We’re doing what I ask of the team, which is each week we go out and we make different mistakes, because that means we fixed the ones that we had before,” said Rich Herzog, Cottage Grove head coach. “So I said make different mistakes, and that just exposes new mistakes. And then we’re fixing those, and then again the next week, right? So then we’re not doing the same silly stuff, and by the end of the season, the team should be pretty rock solid.”
“Part of it is to let them wrestle where they naturally are weight-wise so they can feel comfortable. Get all the joints stretched out, get the conditioning, but slowly so that we’re not making this a full time job,” said Dahn Nikitins, Pleasant Hill head coach. “Then we can slowly elevate the amount of work we do and the intensity of the work we do to try and peak right at regionals. I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, but that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Cottage Grove has already had to balance three waves of sickness that swept through the team, so the challenge for Herzog is to push his athletes when they get healthy again.
“I try to run them hard, but not into the ground. We push these kids to do things they didn’t think they could do,” he said. “I tell them all the time, their body will do what their mind tells it to do. But they listen to their body more. You can see the growth though, and then you get that ‘aha’ moment.”
That ‘aha’ moment isn’t exclusive to Herzog. The other coaches see it too, when something clicks and a wrestler finally translates something from the practice mat to the competition mat.
“I like working with the kids in the practice room, showing them something and they’re like, ‘wow, I never have seen that before.’” Cardwell said. “Then you see it click for them. I think for me, that’s really satisfying to see them figure a technique out, be able to do it in the practice room, and then it translates over into a real match.”
As coaches gear up for the meat of the season, they need to deal with goals and expectations differently.
“We shoot for eight to state. We’re a team of about 21 or 22, depending on the day, but we want to get eight to state, and get some to place.” Herzog said. “We’re a young team … we’re a building team.”
Cardwell’s in his first year as head coach, and is trying to keep his expectations a little lower.
“We would like to have two or three state qualifiers in the boys division, and two or three in the girls. Just getting to the state tournament is an awesome thing for these kids. It’s back in Portland at the Memorial Coliseum, a big, big event,” he said. “They need to go to that and wrestle in it, and experience that. And then they take that experience home, back to other people and say, ‘Hey, that was really cool.’ It’s a lot of fun, a lot of people and a little bit of a different experience for a wrestler that’s not used to wrestling in front of big crowds.”
On the Pleasant Hill side, Nikitins is dealing with a unique situation in his 24th year at the school, a team that he says is split between veterans and newcomers.
“You need to practice to the level of those best kids, but then that leaves those new ones behind. We just don’t have the personnel to have two practices, so it’s been a little bit frustrating that way. Those new kids keep coming back though, and they have good attitudes, so we can build on that,” he said.
While setting goals and expectations for a team like that can be difficult, it becomes a little easier if you break it down on the individual level.
“For me, the focus tends to be more of an individual goals type focus. So those real veteran guys, we want them on the podium at the end of the year,” Nikitins said. “Some of those brand new kids, if I can see them get their hand raised and the smile on their face, the satisfaction that they did that work, and they earned that. That’s good enough. I like that. I’ll take it every time.”
CG – Allison Palluck (115 girls) in 1st, Nathan Abrams (285 boys) in 5th, Daniel Hernandez (220 boys) in 5th, Malaky Barr (170 boys), Alex Neiss (106 boys) in 5th.
CHS – Tylyn Bowles (190 girls) in 1st, Antonio Zavala (220 boys) in 2nd, Kaleb Sanders (138 boys) in 2nd, Jennalyn Kruger (130 girls) in 2nd.
PHHS – Gavin Hoellrich (152 boys) in 2nd, Boone Marquess (126 boys) in 2nd, Athena Spraue (155 girls) in 4th.
SHS – Lydia Stewart (120 girls) in 1st, Diego Medina (285 boys) in 1st, Nathaniel Williams (285 boys) in 2nd.