Sports

Grapplers focus on individual achievement

For six straight years, the South Whidbey wrestling team has been the Cascade Conference runners-up.

But 2008 is a rebuilding season for the team, and dreams of a league title have been put on hold.

While a team title may not be in the cards, individual glory is a real possibility.

“To be brutally honest, it will be very hard to win at the conference level, but we could easily be in the hunt for second or third as a team,” Falcon coach Jim Thompson said.

“We’re shooting for individual victories.”

Last year they placed second after Archbishop Murphy in the Cascade Conference, but key seniors James Schorr, Darrin Britton and Aaron Mannie graduated, so Thompson is concentrating on teaching skills while getting his top men to the Mat Classic state finals.

“We have a small, inexperienced team with lots of freshmen and sophomores eager to learn the sport,” Thompson said. “On the upside, that means a lot of kids will get lots of mat time.”

Another plus is the forfeiture ruling. The team automatically forfeits six points whenever they can’t fill one of the 14 standard weight classes; the more classes filled, the fewer points knocked off.

Thompson said that a lot of the classes will be filled at each meet, but he won’t put his athletes at risk by moving them up from junior varsity to fill out weight classes.

“I don’t want them overwhelmed; they need to learn and gain experience in the sport,” Thompson said.

Thompson and assistant coaches Paul Newman and Jason Mannie are encouraging the athletes to set goals, regardless the level of expectation: I’m going to get in a varsity match. I’m going to win a match. I’m going to get to regionals. I’m going to win at state finals at the Tacoma Dome.

“Goal-oriented kids are the ones who do well in this sport,” Thompson explained.

The coach encourages each wrestler to evaluate his capabilities and potential. Mental toughness is a key concept, coupled with the desire to reach a higher level.

Trapper Rawls placed fourth in the 285-pound weight class at state finals in February.

“It’s early days yet, but we’ve been drilling the younger guys to get them up to speed,” he said. “This sport requires lots of finesse, not just brute strength, and it takes time to build up a new guy’s confidence and skill level.”

Sophomore Van Morgen (135-pound weight class) is starting his second year as a Falcon grappler.

“I’m working on technique, thinking about how best to start a match and get the advantage. When I shoot in to an opponent, I always tended to go across him rather than straight in,” Morgen explained. “Going in straight puts more pressure on the guy as well as being a faster move, so that gives me an edge.”

For senior Kevin Kinloch (160), improving his takedown technique has been a major goal.

“That, and being able to last the entire match are what I’m working on,” he said. “Two minutes can seem like two hours if you aren’t ready for it.”

Unfortunately for Morgen, Trapper, Kinloch and the others, perennial winner Archbishop Murphy has just about its whole conference title team coming back. Both Sultan and Cedarcrest seem to always field teams to beat.

“It’s a tough wrestling conference, always has been,” Thompson said.

He said Rawls and David Monell have a real shot at a title in the heavyweight class.

“Trevor Romero at 189 pounds and Jordan Broyles at 160 have a real shot as well,” Thompson said.

He also mentioned Morgen, Evan Thompson, Colton Vaughn, Zeke Spalding and Dillon Parrick as demonstrating early potential for victory.

One new, and very unexpected, wrinkle for Thompson is the addition of senior Kimberly Pager (119) to the team. Pager is an exchange student from France and the barriers of language and gender are proving a challenge for all hands.

Roughly 7,000 girls are involved in high school wrestling programs nationwide and 508 are signed up in Washington so far this year. For the past two years, girls have had their own state championship, according to Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association director Jim Meyerhoff. How Pager’s presence will affect the team is a question Falcon coaches are, well, wrestling over.

The Falcons travel to Forks for their first tournament Saturday and won’t be on view to local fans until Jan. 8 when Cedarcrest visits.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or sports@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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