POULSBO — Last year, the North Kitsap wrestling team faced an uphill battle every match, coming out 12 points behind versus every team due to forfeits. Such was life for that squad, which had only 19 grapplers to its name.
That shouldn’t be a problem for this year’s Vikings, a team whose sophomore class of 20 wrestlers is bigger than its entire 2003-2004 team.
“We have a lot more people,” commented junior wrestler Matt Grimes. “I think we can take the league championship if we work hard enough.”
In total, 23 more wrestlers came out for the team this year, a fact that amazed second year coach Jon Cooke when he was given the initial roster.
“When they had the sign-ups at lunches, (athletic director) Al Gleich said, ‘You got a bunch of kids,’ and I said, ‘A bunch of kids compared to last year, or really a bunch of kids?’” Cooke commented. “And I saw the list — and it was a bunch of kids.”
One reason for the increased numbers was a successful season on the mats last year from feeder team the Poulsbo Panthers, Cooke added.
“We’ve always got a good group of Kingston kids coming in,” he said, “But it helped a lot that Poulsbo had a great year last year.”
The new wrestlers aren’t the only fresh faces on the mats this year, as Cooke hired a new assistant coach, Troy Reynolds, during the off-season. Reynolds, who Cooke coached when he was an assistant for Central Kitsap High School’s team, is to be one of the squad’s biggest motivators, Cooke said.
“He has that fire and desire to win,” Cooke commented. “Whereas I’m more technically oriented and want to see the kids improve, he wants to win. I figure the combination should work really well.”
A core group of 11 seniors will lead the way, and Cooke said he sees them as not only the squad’s role models but also its top wrestlers, many of whom have been wrestling all summer with club teams. But with 11 juniors and 20 sophomores to boot, the team’s primary strength may still lie in numbers.
“No matter what, if you’ve got numbers, you’ve got people pushing others for a varsity spot,” he said.
Still, there will be a few sophomores who will have to wrestle varsity, but Cooke said he expects them to be prepared when they get the call for the team.
“They’re just learning but we will be expecting a lot out of those guys,” Cooke said. “When they’re in there, they’ve got to pull it up.”
Grimes, one of the team’s most successful wrestlers from a year ago, said he’ll be shooting for top four at state this year.
“My off-season was pretty tough,” said Grimes, who placed fourth at regionals in the 112 lbs. weight class last season. “If I work hard in practice, I can do the same and hopefully go farther.”
Grimes will likely increase to the 119 lbs. class this year and attended the prestigious Washington Intensive Camp in Spokane this summer. Combined with his tournaments with local club teams, he said he’ll be closer to achieving one of his dreams as a wrestler.
“My dad was a top four state placer,” he said, “So I’m hoping I can do the same.”
Senior Curtis Travelstead, who has also increased in weight class from a year ago to the 171 lbs. spot, also attended the camp and wrestled all summer at the club team level. He agreed the team’s numbers, combined with strong leadership, can see the Vikings have a chance to beat perennial favorites like South Kitsap.
“You’ve just got to realize that they’re people, too and if you wrestle hard enough, you can beat them,” he said.
The team will wrestle in tournaments for all of December and begin individual match competition in January, starting with Port Angeles Jan. 4.