WALDPORT — It took the Irish wrestling team some time to get healthy and into the groove of things, but once they did, Waldport showed they can wrestle with anybody.
The Irish recently had a strong showing at the Willamette Invitational. Kolby Albitz took sixth place, Mary Albitz finished second and Savana Eppinghaus won third.
“As always, we are seeing improvements in our wrestlers positioning, technique, and overall success,” Waldport head coach Joseph R. Chavez said. “Kolby has returned from concussion protocol, so we’re excited to see how things roll out for him.”
Kaleb Chavez initially fought his way back from injury earlier this season, but couldn’t overcome a second injury as his comeback attempt came up just short for this season.
“Kaleb returned to wrestling fairly well and was excited to see how his season would end up, unfortunately he will not be healed up to wrestle at districts,” Coach Chavez said. “Kaleb really started to show off some skills, adjustments in his wrestling and growth from moving up a few weight classes from 138 last season to 170.”
His comeback attempt is indicative to the Irish work ethic and toughness. Doesn’t matter who, you can expect the same type of fight when you line up with the Irish on the mat.
So far this season, Chavez has seen that as well. At this critical point in the year where districts and state placement are on the line, it’s important to have a team willing to do the dirty work in order to even get a chance at a title.
It’s even better when you have young wrestlers who fit that mold step up.
“Every one of them stands out for us. Their progress; achieving small victories or big goals. Josiah Burton is our lone freshman wrestler and he has turned some heads this season,” Chavez said. “We are very excited to watch him mature and grow on and off the mat. We can see him soaking it all in with having veteran and seasoned wrestlers surrounding him.”
The same can be said for Kolby as well. Until his injury, he was one of the stronger wrestlers on the team. He hoped for a state championship bid as well.
Chavez expects the best out of each and every kid on his team, including the girls, but they push each other already.
“Our girls really have been showing the technical side of their wrestling and pushing each other by being in the same girls brackets at most competitions,” Chavez said.
But as a whole, the Irish find themselves in a unique position.
How many teams have almost as many coaches as they do athletes?
Chavez calls it “The curse and the blessing,” but for him, the personal attention each wrestler gets is invaluable.
“Our wrestlers get plenty of one on one attention and plenty of critiquing on their wrestling that you do not find in larger schools or clubs,” Chavez said. “One of the struggles we really face is numbers, we really need to grow numbers to keep our wrestling tradition alive here in Waldport.”
However, a smaller team is more vulnerable to sickness and injury.
“Struggling with injuries seems to be something we have been dealing with since I took over the helm a few years ago, trying to keep kids healthy seems to be a struggle at times,” Chavez said.
That hasn’t stopped Chavez from growing the sport within Waldport since he's arrived. The lack of numbers, injuries and all the above are challenges, but in this sport, if wrestlers aren’t challenging themselves, they aren’t doing themselves justice.
“You know we’re always growing on and off the mat. We see daily and weekly progress from all our wrestlers from the classroom, in their homes, and on the mat,” Chavez said.
And with a bit of collaboration with Waldport football head coach Jeff Skirvin, Chavez expects the wrestling program to grow in the future.
“Our football coach, Jeff Skirvin, and I are in consistent conversation and update each other on our programs and he will agree wrestlers make great football players,” Chavez said. “We are in hopes of our collaborations that we will pick up some more athletes (for wrestling) and both programs can grow in hopes of beyond our expectations.”
For newcomers to the sport, Chavez will be hosting a spring wrestling camp to introduce the sport to prospective athletes.
“The family like atmosphere and support these wrestlers create and give each other is something phenomenal to see,” Chavez said.