Gonzaga High School's wrestling team recently completed a successful season thanks to two athletes who spent "a living hell" last summer in Iowa, another who taught a friend the sport, and an "unlimited" sophomore.
Since 1981, when wrestling was started at the District prep school, the program has quickly gained area respect with the Eagles finishing 12-7-1 this winter and taking third in the Metro tournament.
"Most of the kids we get are first-time wrestlers," said Gonzaga Coach Ken Laureys. "Many of the kids are novices. We have to teach them from scratch. But, we have a good tradition of athletics at Gonzaga , so you have smart kids who are well-disciplined."
Included in this year's results was a tie with Metro champion DeMatha and a five-point loss to second-place O'Connell.
"We got what we expected," said senior Kevin Douglas. "But we wanted more."
Gonzaga's wrestlers payed the price last summer to make themselves competitive. Seniors Mike DiLorenzo and Kevin Douglas went to camp near the University of Iowa, which is to college wrestling what the Boston Celtics are to the NBA. Being out there is an experience Douglas will never forget.
"It's a living hell," said Douglas, who was 28-6 with 24 pins in individual matches this season. "They just work you to death for 20 days, four times a day, including Sundays. Then there was Red Flag Day at the end of the week, in which they work you all day. There would be about an inch of sweat on the mat. Some guys couldn't take it and had to leave in the first week. No refunds."
Douglas, who will attend West Point next year, and DiLorenzo stayed and returned home better for it.
"It was physically draining, but they taught us a lot about psychological preparation," DiLorenzo said. "They taught us about working hard in practice and how not to get nervous about getting tired in a match. I wrestled a guy from Florida who was supposed to be pretty good. He was undefeated. I had no problem with him."
"I felt like a superman," Douglas remembered when he left Iowa. "I felt pretty proud."
" Douglas came back with a tough body and a tough mind," Laureys said. "He's the epitomy of a physical wrestler."
Another senior, Scott O'Donnell, was Gonzaga's most improved wrestler. After a .500 season last year, O'Donnell also attributes this year's better record (21-10) to rigorous summer workouts. No camps were involved, just constant running to increase endurance, "which usually works out over muscle," O'Donnell said.
But, O'Donnell really got going after he taught his friend, Peter Crowley, how to wrestle.
"It wasn't like I made him a great wrestler or anything," O'Donnell said. "He was 30 or 40 pounds bigger than I was. It helped a lot."
Laureys' sophomore class is headed by Shawn Berger, "the unlimited." Berger weighs 240 pounds. He started wrestling only last year, after he and a friend became interested in the sport from watching the 1984 Olympics. The hip throws and shoulder throws thrilled him. Now, he can't wait to get his opponents in a headlock.
"Yeah!" said Berger, who finished 26-7.
"It's tough making an opponent carry all of Berger's weight," Laurey said. "He realized he could [wrestle] and he's done pretty good. I don't think very many people at all will beat him next year."
Laureys expects Berger to anchor future teams. However, Berger immediately responds: "It's all of our responsibility."
The Eagles still have a ways to go before being compared with a team such as Bullis, which many consider the best in the area. Bullis won the recent 30-team St. Albans tournament. Gonzaga placed 11th. And, as of now, Douglas finds a Bullis wrestler a little different.
"You sort of feel outclassed," Douglas said.
Laureys thinks Gonzaga wrestlers will remedy that feeling in time.
"We'll be somebody to watch in upcoming years," Laureys said. "We're just starting to set the name of Gonzaga as a wrestler's school."