Cougar grapplers staying focused this season

Cougar wrestlers Christian Justice, Patrick Monell and Jake Leonard take a break during weight training at South Whidbey High School on Monday. Because there
Cougar wrestlers Christian Justice, Patrick Monell and Jake Leonard take a break during weight training at South Whidbey High School on Monday. Because there's just one mat at the middle school, the team's 21 members often travel to the high school for practice.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

LANGLEY — In any sport, you gotta’ start somewhere.

For the 21 athletes in the Langley Middle School wrestling program, that means the high school mat room and the tender tutelage of Cougar coach Jim Thompson.

“The biggest difference between high and middle school is the amount of teaching involved,” Thompson explained.

“The first thing we talk about is positioning on the feet. All kids have a hard time adjusting their elevations so that when they attack, they’re in the right spot to make the penetration and finish the shot.”

Hopefully, most seventh-graders on this year’s team will have mastered the arcane terminology of the sport by the time the next season rolls around: falls, takedowns, elevations, switches, sit-and-turns, half-Nelsons and pins.

“They need to get low at the start and that’s a hard discipline to master,” he said.

When they’re on the bottom position, newbies like to reach for the head, a no-no, and Thompson tries to get them to slow down mentally.

“If they do what we teach, they’ll be fine,” he said.

The man knows of which he speaks.

Thompson has been coach of the Falcon wrestling team since the 2005 winter season, and had coached for several years at the middle school before that. He gives a lot of credit to assistant coach Jason Mannie.

“Jason works hard with the kids, they respect him and he’s been very effective,” Thompson said. “His dedication as a volunteer coach has been one of the keys to the program’s success.”

Above all, Thompson hopes to make the wrestling team a fun experience.

Fun? There’s method to his madness; he has hopes that roughly 50 percent of the kids will go on to the Falcon program he runs at the high school level.

Since there’s just one mat in the school gym, most of the Cougar training occurs at the high school, so the boys — no girls, so far — are becoming quite familiar with the feels, and smells, of varsity wrestling.

Thompson said that since kids from other schools have more experience, the revised dual-meet system has allowed all his wrestlers to get two matches per meet. This season, the Cougars have faced off against middle schools from Anacortes, Oak Harbor, La Conner, La Venture, Haller, Granite Falls and Sultan.

“The bottom line is a lot more wrestling,” he said. He added that youngsters at this level are enthusiastic, open to new ideas and motivated to do well.

“And when we’re on the road and the kids are wearing their Langley jackets, they know they’re representing their parents, school and the community,” Thompson noted. “This bunch is always well-behaved and it’s a rare pleasure to be associated with them.”

He said he also stresses the importance of students keeping up their grades; tough to do when the boys get home from a match after 8 p.m. twice a week.

This year, his eighth-grade grapplers have improved a lot. Patrick Monell hasn’t lost a match, Christian Justice is always tough on bigger kids and Jake Leonard recently lost only his first match in two years.

Monell became interested when older brothers David and Chris did.

“They told me it was a tough sport but it sounded good to me,” he said.

Justice added that it was a great way to stay in shape, but Leonard had a different take.

“It’s one of the only sports where I only have myself to rely on,” he said. “If I mess up, I only have myself to blame and that’s how I get better.”

Also showing great promise for the future are seventh-graders Beck Davis, Scott Campbell, Wyatt Schuchman and Nick French.

After a road meet in Anacortes this week, the team will wrap up the season with league finals at Granite Falls on March 26.

“The teaching never ends. On Wednesday and Friday we’ll go over all the mistakes they made the day before to get ready for the next meet,” Thompson said. “Then we drill and drill some more and slowly, the guys get better and better.”

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or

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