SPORTS PREVIEW | Young Falcon grapplers face long odds this season

Falcon wrestling coach Jim Thompson - Jeff VanDerford / The Record
Falcon wrestling coach Jim Thompson
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

LANGLEY — Falcon wrestling coach Jim Thompson has some serious opinions about the sport he’s coached for five years.

“This is an incredibly tough sport, much more so than people think — including other athletes here at South Whidbey,” he said.

“Even those who were involved in football in the fall season are often not prepared for the rigors involved in wrestling,” he added. “The cardiovascular requirements alone during a match (consisting of three two-minute rounds) are extraordinary.”

Thompson stressed that, similar to golf and tennis, after the coaches have done their best to prepare their athletes, when they finally cross the edge of the mat they’re on their own, one-on-one.

“But unlike any other sport at South Whidbey, year after year they face grapplers from bigger 3A and 4A schools, the best in the state.”

It’s been a somewhat rocky road for the former Marine.

In 2007, Thompson was named Coach of the Year by the Cascade Conference.

That honor was based on his Falcon team coming in second in the league, winning their first tournament (and never placing below the top five), plus taking five grapplers to the Mat Classic state finals at the Tacoma Dome.

But last February, only one Falcon, Trevor Romero, made it to state finals, placing sixth. Three others, all returnees this season, made it to regional competition — Colton Vaughn (130-pound weight class), Van Morgen (145) and Evan Thompson (140).

Vaughn has the most experience, having wrestled since the eighth grade. Thompson said Vaughn, Morgen, Jeff Kunellis, Dillon Parrick and Evan Thompson also have a chance to go all the way, provided they can develop that special combination of skill, strength, endurance, technique and luck that any state champion must have.

“They all have the raw talent, but the fact is this is by far the most inexperienced team I’ve had,” Thompson said as he watched the boys practice takedowns and reversals. “We’ll be short 102-, 112- and 215-pound guys, and that will hurt us during matches.”

The team automatically forfeits six points whenever they can’t fill one of the 14 standard weight classes.

“At this point, we’ll forfeit in several classes,” Thompson said.

Morgen said he’s begun a two-pronged training regimen, building strength in the weight room and perfecting his technique.

“I perform a minimum of 50 takedowns each practice,” he said. “Good technique will beat strength every time; no one can stop you if you do it right.”

For Thompson and assistant coaches Paul Newman and Jason Mannie, the hardest part of the job is the relentless strain as a meet progresses.

“The guys wrestle six minutes and it’s over,” Thompson explained. “But we’re exhausted by the time a tournament ends. And we lose Saturdays altogether from now until February.”

This weekend, for example, the team faces its initial endurance road trip with an almost 10-hour round trip to the Forks Tournament on the Olympic Peninsula.

Another area coaches must deal with is injuries. Thompson noted a series of laws recently enacted that relate to concussions suffered by high school athletes.

“We now have one of the toughest concussion laws in the nation,” he said.

Anyone suspected of suffering a serious injury must visit a special doctor for treatment and evaluation, Thompson said.

“And that’s a good thing, because it takes the decision on whether a youngster can come back out of the hands of coaches and parents,” he added.

Though he’s not too happy that there’s only three scheduled home appearances this year — Lakewood, Sultan and Archbishop Murphy will each make an appearance — he appreciates the sacrifices made by the boys and their families.

On Dec. 17, Erikson Gym will go dark as a special high-intensity light descends from the ceiling over the huge wrestling mat, its beam focused on the Falcon grapplers as they begin their warm-up routine to a rock beat. “That’s the moment, the one I wait for all year,” Thompson said. “You gotta love it.”

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