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Wrestling Preview: Coach will rely on athletes’ experience, endurance
Jim Thompson knows the limitations of his South Whidbey High School wrestling team.
Not his wrestlers, but his team.
Thompson, in his eighth year as the head wrestling coach, gives up points every match in the 103- and
112-pound weight divisions. He didn’t have wrestlers in those weights last year, and he doesn’t have them this year.
“We’ll never have that,” Thompson said. “I don’t have any small kids.”
More important, Thompson knows the strengths of his team. Endurance, depth and youth.
The former Marine explained the team was balanced between the grades. Half of his team are juniors (six) and seniors (four). The challenge is which weight class the grapplers will compete in.
“Like 171 and 160, I’ve got about five kids right there,” Thompson said. “In the 145, 140, 152, I’m going to have four or five kids there. So half the team is going to be struggling to make varsity in those weight classes.”
New regulations restrict Thompson from moving some of his wrestlers down a weight class. Washington Interscholastic Activities Association revised its wrestling weight management program in October.
“With the new weight management assessment program, which is a good thing, if you’re not a big team, it can sting you,” Thompson said.
Thompson continued: “Some of the weight classes I’m going to be filling with some inexperienced [wrestlers]. You’re either going to give up six points for a forfeit or you’re going to put in an inexperienced kid and let him fend for himself.”
Two newcomers Thompson mentioned are Jeremiah Robey and Steven Sutton, both new to South Whidbey.
“I’m seeing some really good things in the practice room out of those two,” Thompson said.
He also praised Avery Buechner and Christian Justus, two players familiar to Thompson because of his work on the football team coaching staff. Buechner played basketball the past two years, and Justus did not wrestle last season.
“They’re both tough kids,” Thompson said. “When you get tough kids in the mat room, they just bring the place up.”
The three senior co-captains won’t worry about lack of experience. Van Morgen, Ben Ross and Evan Thompson are all fourth-year wrestlers at South Whidbey. All three co-captains made last season’s all-Cascade Conference list.
“Two years in a row now I haven’t sent a kid to state, which is kind of rare,” Thompson said. “I’ve got four returning all-conference kids.”
Morgen is a four-year varsity letterman and set his individual goal as the state tournament. He missed out last year after breaking his arm in the district tournament. Thursday, Dec. 2 was the first time Morgan wrestled since the season began after he injured his shoulder.
“I feel like I have to work harder than everyone,” Morgen said.
His “state”-ly ambitions may be lofty, but he’s not alone — the whole team has set a goal to return to the state tournament in Tacoma.
“That’s every wrestler’s goal,” Thompson said. “There’s nothing else.”
The team breaks practice with a cheer about state. Wrestle tough, wrestle hard, get to Tacoma.
Hard work, dedication and weightlifting are the foundations to secure success for the Falcons. Thompson admitted his team didn’t hit the weight room as much as he wanted them to, but knows there’s something about Whidbey Island kids and offseason weight training.
“It’s a Whidbey Island thing for some reason that kids just don’t, and this is for all sports, that kids just don’t get in the weight room in the summer,” Thompson said. “Every other school in the conference, these kids get in the weight room, and it makes a huge difference. Just the physical appearance of my kids and our kids, opposed to their kids, it’s amazing.”
The wrestling team implemented a weight lifting program this season, and works out at the start of every practice.
The coach credits his assistants Paul Newman, Jason Mannie and Brandon Hern with preparing his wrestlers in the weeks leading to the first tournament on Saturday, Dec. 4 at Forks. Mannie and Hern were former wrestlers at South Whidbey, and are unpaid assistants.
“It’s invaluable the time [Mannie] puts in,” Thompson said.
The competition is daunting. Thompson knows most of the other Cascade Conference schools will return their top wrestlers.
“It’s going to be a tough conference this year,” he said.
The challenge is a factor in the team’s goal to win the Cascade Conference title this season. Conference matches aren’t the main course for the Falcons: Six weekend tournaments are on the schedule before conference and district championships in February, and those tournaments mean more to Thompson and his team.
The rigors of the season require his athletes to have plenty of endurance, mentally and physically, which he said they already possess.
“It’s pretty amazing. It’s almost like combat,” Thompson said. “You have this lull and there’s nothing going on, then all of a sudden you go out for six minutes and it’s freaking crazy. Then you rest again until your next match.”
“We wrestle all divisions when we go to these tournaments,” Thompson said. “We will wrestle state championship teams at 2A, 3A, 4A.”
Losing weekends is a sacrifice, Thompson explained, for both the wrestlers and their families. Saturdays can mean the wrestlers are up by 4 a.m. to catch a 7 a.m. ferry, with wrestling going until
“So when we have these kids that put up these incredible 30-3 seasons,” Thompson said, “like some of these kids do, that are against 4A, 3A. I don’t think people really realize how tough it is.”