Falcon winter sports get little rest during Winter Break

Falcon head wrestling coach Jim Thompson demonstrates a hook maneuver on Tyler Russell during a recent practice.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Falcon head wrestling coach Jim Thompson demonstrates a hook maneuver on Tyler Russell during a recent practice.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

The season is getting shorter, and so is the Falcon boys basketball roster.

The boys team is just one of the three South Whidbey winter sports squads that had a long December of more losses than wins.

But the team is facing other challenges, too, with the departure of two players who quit. No one has been brought up from the junior varsity squad.

“We’re running with nine,” said Falcon boys basketball head coach Henry Pope.

“I told the boys basketball’s like everything else; if you’re not willing to put in the work you’re going to have a hard time. Basketball’s one of those sports that teaches you life skills.”

Though the high school is on its winter break, all three Falcon teams — boys basketball, girls basketball and the wrestling squad — held practices, which is tough stuff considering the distractions of the yuletide season.

“It’s the holiday break, they’ve got relatives in town and everybody’s out of school,” Pope said. “It’s kind of hard for teenage kids to focus on basketball.”

The sudden departure of two forwards leaves the Falcons with nine players on varsity. Pope took some of the blame for losing the two players. Playing a full-court pressure defense requires plenty of stamina and discipline, both characteristics Pope is trying to indoctrinate in the boys basketball program.

“Principles I’m preaching, offensively and defensively, are making basketball not fun to play,” Pope said.

A reduced roster hits the Falcons as they try to turn around a 3-5 overall record, with two victories coming from the Seaside Holiday Classic against prep teams from Oregon.

“We still need to work on controlling the ball on offense,” Pope said. “Our man-to-man defense is still not where it should be. Because of that, we’re forced to work through the holiday break. We have no choice.”

After the boys team returned to South Whidbey from its Oregon adventure, the Falcons had one day off. One day of rest was well-deserved after playing three games in three days, including an overtime victory against Central Linn.

Then it was back to the gym for two days, where Pope saw lackluster effort and energy in the two-hour practices.

“I thought that maybe they weren’t going at it because they were tired from Seaside,” Pope said.

The day after Christmas, the boys hoops squad was back in the gym at 8 a.m. for two-hour practices. Players’ efforts remained subpar for the coaching staff.

“We came back today to refocus,” Pope continued, “today’s practice wasn’t great either.”

South Whidbey had an early test of its short-staffed squad on Tuesday. The Falcons had three practices between the Seaside tournament and a cross-district game at Lynden. The Lynden Lions are 5-0 overall and average 62 points per game with two games of more than 70 points.

Defensively, the Lions stymie their opponents to less than 34 points per game, including a 72-38 victory against Mount Baker. The Mountaineers defeated the Falcons 80-46 at SWHS.

The Falcons, however, struggled thus far on offense. Turnovers limited their scores to 47 points per game (played in Washington) while allowing 57.4.

“It’s going to be epic for us,” Pope said. “We’re not going up there to lose but it’s going to be a tough game.”

The wrestling squad hit the mat room almost daily during the break, except the Friday before Christmas Eve and the Monday after Christmas. The South Whidbey School District began winter break Dec. 19.

“You have to keep practicing, because you will lose a lot of what you were working for if not,” said head coach Jim Thompson.

While other students slept in, the Falcon wrestlers were at the gym by 8:30 a.m. until 10 a.m. The coaches run the grapplers through conditioning drills and scrimmage wrestling.

Evan Thompson, a former Falcon wrestler, helps the head coach (also his dad) during the school breaks. He said practicing during winter break was important because it allowed more individual time with coaches, which led to better critique and technique.

South Whidbey’s grapplers sweat while having fun at practice, too. The team played a variety of games in the mat room, from war ball to fetch, for about 30 minutes every practice. Fetch is like king of the mountain, but with a ball, and a dozen people trying to tackle the person in the center ring.

War ball is similar to dodgeball — though played with volleyballs instead of foam balls — but without a center line.

“The games that we play in the mat room, they’re getting conditioning also,” Jim Thompson said. “When the games are done, they’re sweating profusely.”

The break provided ample time for the wrestlers this year, because they last competed on Saturday, Dec. 17 and won’t have another match until Jan. 6, a stretch of nearly three weeks. It also brought back former Falcon wrestlers who competed in college to teach different moves.

“We had like four different kids in here showing them new stuff,” Thompson said. “Some of it is new stuff, some of it is the same stuff explained differently.”

While the boys sports struggled in their conference matches, the girls basketball team has defied a coaches’ preseason poll that picked them to finish second-to-last. The Falcon girls are 3-0 in Cascade Conference games.

They also traveled to Seaside for the basketball tournament, but lost their first two games to finish in seventh place.

Falcon girls head coach Andy Davis gave the team last week off, though he said plenty of the players went to the gym anyway.

The Falcons have 16 days between their previous game (at Seaside) and their next bout.

The wait will be worth it for South Whidbey, as it hosts the island-rival Coupeville teams in a varsity doubleheader Jan. 3.

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