Call it a carrot. Call it a stick.
However you define it, Coach Tayne Pyle appears to have an exceeding effective motivational tool to prepare the Wolverines for the season ahead.
“I keep telling them that their mirror image, the person they’ll be on the mat wrestling against, that when they’re done with their practice and go home, well, then they have to go out and shovel snow or chop some wood,” Pyle said. “I think that’s gotten their attention. Everybody’s working real hard.”
Pyle is referring to the Lions and Loggers, of course, of Concrete and Darrington, respectively. Though smaller is size than many opposing schools, the foothills of the northwest Cascades are home to a pair of wrestling programs that year-after-year produce top-notch teams, individual award-winners and many of the region’s fiercest competitors.
Division 2B competition has meant significant change in regular-season opponents and post-season prospects for many of Friday Harbor’s athletic teams. Not so much for the Wolverines wrestlers.
“We’re still grinding it out with Concrete and Darrington,” Pyle said.
That grind gets under way Wednesday, Dec. 10, as Friday Harbor opens the 2014-15 season by hosting the first of its six regular-season “dual” matches, featuring grapplers from no fewer than four different teams. The Wolverines will also compete at two invitational meets, along with more than a half-dozen teams, as well as at a Darrington-hosted tournament and an end-of-the-regular-season league tournament hosted by the Loggers as well.
The Loggers and Lions, and the Braves of La Conner, will square off against the Wolverines in the Dec. 10 season opener, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in Hall Gym.
For about half the team, the season opener will offer a first-ever taste of competition at the high school level. The Wolverines seasoned veterans, like senior Alejandro “Fez” Orozco (172), juniors Ben Ware (132) and Thomas Synoground (138), and sophomore James “Mr. Clutch” Guard (113) and Chris Hallock, will be joined by a corps of newcomers making a debut on the mat.
Pyle, now in his second year of sharing coaching duties with longtime wrestling guru and fellow coach Neil MacDiarmid, sees more than a few diamonds in rough and plenty of raw talent in the roster’s new additions. Agile, athletic and aggressive, freshman Noe Lopez (145) has already shown that he’ll be a force to be reckoned with, Pyle said, and sophomore Hunter Rustad, fresh off the grid-iron and battle-tested on the football field, is expected to make an impact in the 195-pound weight division.
A total of 19 athletes turned out to compete on this year’s squad, a tally that includes three female wrestlers, senior Haley Pyle (160) and Sara Rist (152), both of whom wrestled for the team a year ago, and newcomer Angela Hoke, a freshman targeted to compete in the 145-pound weight class.
On the eve of the season opener, the Wolverines, even if slightly fewer in number (the roster totaled 22 a year ago) somewhat short on experience, are missing competitors in only two weight categories, including the 120-pound slot.
And, for the first time in recent memory, the Wolverines will be a heavyweight, at 225 pounds or more. Football standout Nate Steenkolk competed in the top weight category a year ago, in a senior-year wrestling debut, and before that Willy Dunn, one of the most highly decorated Friday Harbor wrestlers ever, ruled the region’s heavyweight division during his four-year tenure on the team.
Nevertheless, the infusion of new faces and enthusiasm for the sport has Pyle excited for the program’s future.
“We’ve got lots of little ‘9s’ and ‘10s’,” Pyle said about the number of freshmen and sophomores. “I guess you’d call it a growing year for us. But they’re all working real hard. And, in wrestling hard work pays off.”
– Scott Rasmussen