Thompson takes on young team with new wrestlers | FALCONS WINTER SPORTS PREVIEW

Montana Johnson tries to escape Jerimiah Robey’s clutches during a recent practice.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Montana Johnson tries to escape Jerimiah Robey’s clutches during a recent practice.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — The mat room at South Whidbey High School is empty. The lighting is low and the blue mats on the walls and on the floor give the white lights a soft blue hue.

In the corner sit the Falcons’ head wrestling coach Jim Thompson and his assistant Paul Newman against the wall, talking about the season.

Thompson doesn’t mince words, beat the bush or play public relations expert. His goal for the wrestlers is to get them to state, and that’s it.

Competing in the regional tournament is good, but it’s not enough, much like a takedown is acceptable but a pin is the goal.

“We’re not going to be a huge powerhouse,” Thompson said. “But it’s about getting kids to state.”

This season is a bit of a struggle, Thompson admitted. It’s the first time in years he hasn’t coached his son Evan, who was the only Falcon to qualify for the state Mat Classic last year as a senior.

“It’s tough, it’s really tough,” Thompson said. “I love it, and I’m fine once I’m here.”

The camaraderie of losing more than 15 pounds to make weight, doing wall sits, running, running and running again brings the wrestlers together in a way that no other sport does, said senior Avery Buechner. He was a vocal proponent of the football team’s tradition of “ohana” (Hawaiian for family), but the wrestling bond is even tighter than that.

The effect wrestling has on athletes translates to every other sport, Thompson said. From football to soccer, tennis to baseball, grappling, pinning, spinning and fighting for a victory helps his wrestlers.

“If you’re an offensive lineman and you’re not wrestling, you’re missing the boat,” Thompson said.

South Whidbey has only three opportunities to showcase its skills at home this season. Each dual meet is against one of the top teams in the conference: Granite Falls on Dec. 15, Cedarcrest on Jan. 12 and Archbishop Murphy on Jan. 19. One of the Falcons’ seniors, Steve Sutton, was nervous for the Cedarcrest match that’s more than a month away.

“They’re number one in the conference and their guy beat me last year, so I’m looking to beat him this year,” said Sutton, who is hoping to wrestle at 138 pounds.

He wasn’t alone in his hesitations to face the Red Wolves, a 2A state-ranked team. Junior Pat Monell wanted another shot at Archbishop Murphy, which narrowly defeated South Whidbey last season.

“I’m most worried about Cedarcrest,” said Monell, who expects to wrestle at 182 pounds. “I’m most wanting to go up against Archbishop because last year we only lost by one.”

The conference matches are fun, South Whidbey’s coaches admitted. The real progress will be evaluated and made at the seven tournaments the Falcons have scheduled.

“Tournaments are where you find out what your strengths and your weaknesses are,” Newman said.

The Everett Classic was the coaches’ highlight. Thompson looked forward to traveling to Everett High School because it’s a varsity and junior varsity tournament in the same building.

Other than the home matches, some of the Falcons eagerly looked forward to the Rainier High School tournament, the team’s main overnight excursion.

“It’s our big overnight one. We always have fun at the overnight ones,” Sutton said. “We all get on the mats and mess around. Last year, we got a thing of mat tape and played mat tape football.”

With almost 30 wrestlers, Thompson has his second-largest squad in 10 years as the head coach. Most of his wrestlers are new to the sport.

“We’ve got some good kids out this year who decided for whatever reason, ‘I’m going to try wrestling,’” Thompson said.

“They don’t know anything. You’ve got a bunch of kids in 10th and 11th grade, that’s neat and I think they’re going to be good, but they’re going to take their lumps.”

An increase in wrestlers, both underclassmen and upperclassmen, surprised him because there isn’t a South End youth wrestling program.

“You’ve got to have a feeder program,” Thompson said.

Instead of having young wrestlers impact the team, Thompson will rely on five boys who competed in the regional tournament last year. Steven Schille, Montana Johnson, Monell, Buechner and Sutton all went to the regional tournament, and Thompson wants to see them move past regionals and onto state.

“I remember the jump that Evan took from his junior to senior year,” Thompson said. “If we can see that jump with our seniors that would be really neat.”

South Whidbey will begin each match at a disadvantage. Once again, the Falcons won’t have wrestlers at some of the lightest and heaviest weights.

“We can fill out a roster with new kids, but do I really want to do that? I don’t know,” Thompson said.

Sutton wants to see his offseason work pay off on the mat. He was a little over his goal of 138 pounds last week.

“I know I’m going to have to work a lot harder to lift and in practice,” Sutton said.

The Falcon coaches believe in their wrestlers’ talents. They said “heart” is the difference between winning and losing to teams like Cedarcrest, Lakewood and Granite Falls.

“These guys know enough and have enough skill they can go out and do it (win),” Thompson said.

It’s up to the seniors and the team’s leaders to motivate and inspire the rest of the boys. Sutton already had an encounter in leadership.

“The other day at practice, one of our guys, Andy, was getting beat by a couple of heavier guys. He was beating himself up about it and getting frustrated. I was telling him, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’ve got another chance. Try harder next time.’”

With the season beginning Saturday, Dec. 3 at the Cleveland High School tournament, Thompson had reservations about his team’s preparedness.

“We’re not where I would like them to be,” he said.

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