Though the bulk of South Whidbey’s wrestling team has just two and a half weeks to prepare for the season, junior Aryeh Rohde has hardly taken a day off over the past year.
The third-year wrestler is on a personal crusade after failing to reach state when he finished sixth place at the class 1A Region 2 tournament in February 2017. Rohde qualified as a freshman, but was upset not to have made it again as a sophomore.
“Last year was devastating, not making it through,” Rohde said. “I cried for days, honestly. I cried coming off the mat and for three days straight after that. Wrestling is my love.”
Rohde has some physical ailments to overcome in his quest to win a state title, having suffered a torn shoulder labrum at the regional tournament. He’s confident physical therapy has helped repair it, while he’s also made his body stronger with a steady regimen of weight lifting. He also regularly practices on a mat at his house with his dad to improve his skills. Rohde is optimistic that all of this will add up to make his junior campaign successful.
“For as long and as hard as I can, I’ve been training for this,” Rohde said. “I feel like this season is going to be my season.”
Junior Alex Turner can empathize with Rohde; he went two-and-out at the regional tournament in 2017. And just like Rohde, the second-year wrestler has lofty goals of winning state.
“That hurt really bad not getting a win up there,” Turner said. “I’m going to use that for my focus and try to win state. I honestly think I can do it this year.”
A new face is at the helm of the Falcon program this year. Robbie Bozin took over the reins from longtime coach Jim Thompson, who stepped away after leading the grapplers for 13 years. Bozin was quick to admit that he still has a lot to learn in his first year coaching. Though he helmed the Langley Middle School program for two years, he said it’s a different beast at the high school level.
“My coaching is still the same, but middle school and high school are completely different,” Bozin said.
Despite his inexperience, Bozin wants to hold the Falcons to high a standard.
“I want to put South Whidbey on the map,” Bozin said. “I want people to go, ‘Hey, where did this team come from?’ That’s kind of a goal. And, I want these kids to just have success really — in the classroom and on the mat.”
He’s relied on longtime assistant coach Paul Newman to help show him the ropes, while Thompson has also lent a hand. Bozin said the focus this preseason has been finding a middle ground between teaching the basics for newcomers and elaborating on more advanced moves for the veterans. He’s also instituted a new morning conditioning program, which involves the team meeting up about an hour before school to run on the track. In addition, he’s also established a study hall after Saturday practices.
Bozin said the wrestlers hold each other accountable when their teammates don’t attend.
“I want everybody to be a family and take care of each other and call each other out when they’re not showing up or working at their best,” Bozin said.
The Falcons have a healthy turnout of about 20 wrestlers, including three girls. Sophomore Nicole Helseth is among them.
Her father Wes coached the Falcons in the early 2000s.
“Well, there was quite a few guys who said, ‘You should come out and wrestle, it’d be fun,’” Helseth said. “It’s definitely different than most sports.”
“I actually got home and asked my dad like, ‘Hey, can I do wrestling?’ He’s like, ‘Sure, but it’s going to be way different. Are you sure?’”
Helseth said her dad helped her learn some of the basics, but the learning curve is steep.
“But it’s fun, I’m enjoying it,” she said.
Bozin said the Falcons’ number should help them fill out almost an entire lineup with the exception of the 106-pound weight class — a rare commodity for the program which has typically struggled in numbers.
South Whidbey opens the season this weekend with the Return of the Seahawk tournament on Saturday, Dec. 2, at Chief Sealth High School.