By AARON MANAGHAN
This isn’t how Laurice Gerig expected it all to end.
The Olympic senior wrestler stepped off the mats at Mat Classic XIX, the state’s high school wrestling championships, last season after getting pinned by Auburn’s Garrett Rutledge to finish in fourth place. At the time, Gerig was actually quite ecstatic about taking fourth at 189 pounds after a tough state tournament his sophomore year.
“It felt so awesome,” Gerig said, sporting a Mr. T-esque mohawk and a protective facemask, moments after last-year’s placement. “Especially after (my sophomore) year. That hurt so much.”
While at the time Gerig was elated with his tournament, little did he know that what lied ahead might make this the last high school match he’d ever wrestle.
ueled by the success of his junior year, Gerig, who also has competed at the club and national levels, was determined to have an even stronger senior season, one in which many thought he could challenge for a state title. Gerig had been working hard in the offseason, performing well for Washington’s junior all-star team at the national level.
“He never really dwelled on it,” Oly coach Tim Aiken said of his last match at state. “He’s always looking forward. He was looking forward to next year.”
But all that preparation came to a screeching halt just days before his senior season would officially begin with Oly’s own Olympic Duals Team Tournament. While grappling during practice at Oly with alumni Clyde Fisher, Gerig’s senior season would take a turn for the worse.
uring that sparring session, Fisher caught Gerig’s left leg in a single-leg maneuver, holding Gerig’s extended leg outright while his right leg was planted, a move typical in wrestling. Gerig tried to turn out while Fisher tried to trip him simultaneously. The resulting pop in his right knee would change the trajectory of Gerig’s high school wrestling career.
But even then, Gerig remained positive about the injury. It’s seriousness would remain unknown for several weeks.
“Since it happened so early, I knew I’d be out the first couple matches,” Gerig said. “I was optimistic about coming back.”
Gerig would tell his coaches, “I’ll be back Friday,” or any day, as he was just waiting for doctor’s confirmation. But as more and more time passed, the realization of just how severe the injury was began to set in.
“I really had to get over the fact that, ‘Hey, I might be done wrestling,’” Gerig said.
More time passed, and along with it more Trojan dual matches and tournaments, each taking place with Gerig on the sidelines. That trend continued until two weeks ago, when Gerig found out he’d need surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
“I just wanted to know what was wrong with it,” Gerig said. “It really hit home for me when the doctor said I’d need surgery.”
Gerig remained active with Olympic, showing up for moral support at many of the matches and even helping coach at tourneys when other coaches were occupied.
“His attitude is incredible,” Oly assistant Erick Kendl said. “This year, it’s just nothing but, ‘What can I do for you?’”
With aspirations of wrestling collegiately, and with college coaches expressing mutual regards, Gerig, a kid known for his sense of humor, sportsmanship and kindness, found it increasingly difficult to stay positive in the face of this newest adversity that threatened to tear down the world he’d built around him since beginning wrestling as a Ridgetop Junior High student.
“That’s when I just pretty much gave up,” Gerig said. “Honestly, I thought I had nothing else going for me.”
While his thoughts remained focused on the future, he saw that future shifting from one on the mats and in the classroom to one in the workplace.
“I started to focus on finding a good job,” Gerig said, admitting that he thought his college opportunities were numbered along with his wrestling career. “I didn’t think about other colleges. A torn ACL; who’s gonna want me?”
he answer was one Gerig didn’t expect.
Not only was he still wanted following the discovery of the seriousness of his injury, but he realized how much he still wanted to be there himself. Gerig is in talks with both Scott Miller, head men’s and women’s wrestling coach at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., and Yakima Valley Community College coach Mike Schmitt about continuing his wrestling career at the college level, with grades pending.
“(Miller) said he was interested in having me wrestle for him,” Gerig said after Miller saw him at the Pacific Junior Open tournament. “That’s when I thought, ‘Maybe it’s not over. Maybe I still have a chance.’
“Either one is a foot in the door.”
ith a renewed sense of optimism, Gerig had another goal at task. With the realization that his last high school match had been him getting pinned, Gerig set out to take to the mat one more time before his high school career was said and done.
Gerig began calling his doctor, trying to get cleared to go one last time.
“At first they were reluctant to let me wrestle,” Gerig said. “I was like, ‘I know I’m responsible.
I’m gonna have to take that liability on myself. This is my senior year. I really want to wrestle one more match before my senior year is over.’”
A half-hour later, Gerig got a call giving him the go-ahead for his return to wrestling — albeit for a short duration.
“I was running through my house, yelling, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes! It’s not over!’” Gerig recounted. “I don’t know if anyone else was home, but if they were, they heard, ‘Thump, thump, thump!’ I was jumping around; just excited.”
Eager to share the good news, Gerig started calling anyone and everyone he thought might be interested, with some notable exceptions: the people who have watched him grow as a wrestler and person during his years within the Washington wrestling community.
“I didn’t tell too many people here,” he said. “I wanted it to be a surprise.”
While Gerig could have come back sooner in an earlier trip to Sequim, he had one date and one date alone circled for his comeback: the 28th Battle of the Bay, which took place Wednesday at Klahowya.
“If I would have come back any other match — I could have come back in the match against Sequim — it wouldn’t really have mattered,” he said. “These are the people that want to see me wrestle. It felt good to be around the people I know and feel comfortable with.”
Now Gerig’s career will end taking on Central Kitsap School District rivals Central Kitsap and Klahowya along with fellow rivals Bremerton, which joined the fray for the first time.
“I know he was pumped up about it,” Aiken said. “He worked hard basically all week. And just, his caliber of wrestler, if he can get after someone in the first round or two rounds, it’s not going into the third round. So we didn’t have to worry about conditioning.”
CK and Oly opened the double-dual, going head to head and setting up Gerig’s official return at 189 pounds against CK’s Howie McDonald.
Gerig said he and McDonald shared a joking war of words after he found out he’d be back for the Battle.
“Howie and I, ever since day one we joked around,” Gerig said. “He’s talking to his team, they’re telling me, ‘Howie says he’s gonna beat you.’ My team says, ‘Oh yeah, well Laurice says that…’ It’s fun though. I’ve got nothing but respect for Howie.”
The match would be a good test for Gerig, who relies on speed, finesse and technical proficiency to outwrestle opponents. McDonald, known for having powerful core and upper-body strength, posed some challenges for Gerig tactically.
“I knew right off Howie would be strong,” Gerig said. “But everyone knows I’m quick. I like to wrestle quick and with technique. It was difficult wrestling someone with that much strength. I just had to do what I know how to do.”
The match began quickly, with Gerig looking like he never missed a beat even with all his time away from competition, getting a solid take on the way out of bounds for a 2-0 lead. With Gerig in control, McDonald nearly escaped for his first point before Gerig scooped him up and took him back down to the mat for a three-point near fall. At the end of the first period, Gerig led 5-0. To start the second, McDonald had control. Gerig slipped out however and about a minute in caught McDonald, pinning him in 3 minutes, 21 seconds for a win.
“Honestly, I forgot about it,” Gerig said of how his knee held up against McDonald. “There was one point in the match I felt it kind of wiggle, get a little loose, but I shook it off.”
While he would draw a forfeit win against the Knights, who were without Andres Garcia because of a shoulder injury a week prior, Gerig got his second — and last — high school match in against Klahowya’s Sam Harris, a 14-year-old Eagle freshman.
And while Harris was able to keep Gerig from completely dominating the match, Gerig still built an 8-4 lead before getting another second-round pin in 3:10. After the pin, Gerig sat on his knees with fingers and eyes pointing upwards, pumping his fists in triumph.
“That’s the way to end your senior year,” an elated Gerig said after the match to anyone within earshot. “How many seniors can say they finished undefeated?”
While he enjoyed the victories, Gerig was just gracious for a chance to end his high school career on his terms.
“I’m just glad I was able to get those matches under my belt,” Gerig said. “It would have just killed me to tell everyone my last high school match I got pinned at state. I’d rather tell everyone I pinned my crosstown rivals with a torn ACL to end it.”
“It’s great,” Aiken said. “He’s going to go out with a bang. As a coach, all you can hope for is success for the wrestlers as they move on.”
CK coach Mike Harter, who has also coached Gerig outside of high school wrestling in the past, was among the many who enjoyed seeing Gerig back for one last jaunt.
“I was really glad to see Laurice back on the mat,” Harter said. “He’s such a nice kid. He’s a good wrestler, he works hard.”
And while the hardest work still lies ahead — typical recovery from the surgery, which Gerig will undergo in two weeks, ranges from six to nine months — at least Gerig put one set of voices in his head to bed for good.
“That had always and will always be in the back of my mind,” Gerig said of that junior-year loss at state. “But if you always wonder, ‘what if?’ would-of’s, should-of’s, could-of’s will kill you.”