The road to the wrestling state championships is a long and arduous one. For South Whidbey’s grapplers, the journey may have just gotten tougher.
A shift in regional alignments has placed South Whidbey within a tough collection of wrestling schools, including three teams that placed in the top 16 at this past season’s Class 1A state championships. Those schools include Granger (5th), Naches Valley (12) and Zillah (16th).
Jim Thompson, head wrestling coach, said even the Falcons’ toughest athlete, two-time state participant Hunter Newman, isn’t a shoo-in to the state tournament.
“It’s going to be tough as hell,” Thompson said. “I’m not going to say it for certain. Can they? Yes. It’s going to be up to them. They’re not going to be able to screw around.”
The Falcons return three state participants from last season, which includes Newman, sophomore Aryeh Rohde and senior Chase Barthlett. The rest of South Whidbey wrestlers are a mix of experienced varsity lettermen and inexperienced newcomers, Thompson said.
He expects Newman, Rohde and Barthlett to reach the podium in all six of the Falcons’ regular season tournaments, while he hopes others like senior Logan Madsen, junior Jack Nielsen and sophomore Owen Boram can break through for successful seasons as well.
Thompson is also hopeful that newcomers like Jesse Seely and Alex Turner will find success.
The Falcons likely won’t be a competitive tournament team due to a small roster, which is around 13 wrestlers, Thompson said. South Whidbey is also without any wrestlers in lower weight classes, making it difficult to match other teams during dual matches.
For Newman and Rohde, anything less than individual state championships in February will be considered a disappointment.
Newman nearly placed in the top eight at last year’s state tournament at 138 pounds, but let the deciding match slip through his fingers when he lost by one point. Newman said the biggest key to his success this year will be getting out from the bottom position. Failing to do so was what cost him a medal at the state tournament last season.
“It still comes down to getting out from bottom,” Newman said. “I just have a clearer mindset of what I’m doing this year.”
Rohde, whom Thompson considers to be one of the most dedicated wrestlers on the team, went two-and-out at state competing at 120 pounds. Rohde admitted that his aggression on the mat was detrimental to his wrestling, as he would often take on his opponents without a plan in mind. This year, he’s taking a step back and being more thoughtful in his approach.
“This is only my second year wrestling but I feel better than I ever have playing any other sports,” Rohde said. “I just feel healthier and more energized. I want to go to practice. I never want to miss practice.”
“I’m pushing myself to a higher level so I can go back to state this year,” he added.
Part of the duo’s drive and motivation this season can be attributed to the fact that it will be the final season of coaching for Thompson and assistant coach Paul Newman, who have led the program for over a decade.
The two promised each other that once Paul Newman’s son, Hunter, moved on from the program, they too would be done.
“It’s just time,” Thompson said. “I’ve wanted to retire for a few years and I end up getting reenergized after the state tournament.”
The Falcons open the season on Dec. 3 at the Returning of the Seahawk tournament at Chief Sealth High School in Seattle. Their first home match is at 6 p.m. on Jan. 11 against Granite Falls.