For the thrill of the pin

Kingston High School wrestling team has high expectations

“It’s a breathtaking but a relaxing moment,” Kingston senior wrestler Josh Bayne said.

“Before the match, it’s the heat of the struggle, but all the pain and preparation leads you down to that one final moment.”

Bayne, sweaty but determined Dec. 14, described the thrill of the pin — the driving force of what’s kept him practicing at high school and club wrestling for six years.

“The sport is tradition,” he said. “It’s interesting. It’s how you respect the whole team. Everyone encourages everyone. And it’s our phenomenal coach.”

In Kingston’s first double-dual match of the season, hosting both Port Angeles and Klahowya; the Buccaneer team of 12 challenged the visiting teams of upward of 40 members, testing their mettle on the mat.

Though the team racked up a 1-0 win against Klahowya but lost 70-9 to Port Angeles, coaches say the practice is priceless at this stage of the season.

“Wrestling is about evolution,” head coach Britton Johnson said. “We try to prepare the kids for the next level.”

Johnson said the team is “green,” with just four returners and few others with wrestling experience. But it’s a scrappy squad.

“It’s going to be rough,” he said. “We’ve got low numbers and unexperienced wrestlers.” But, “I expect success. Nothing else.”

The team ended last season 7-3 overall. This season, they are taking any opportunity to build strength and technique, confident that pure grit can make up for lack of experience.

Soon, the Buccaneers will take their practices to a new level of intensity in order to build stamina for the post-season.

“Next week, we’re starting in at 600-700 reps,” Johnson said. “In the next few weeks, it will be 1,000 reps each practice.”

But that’s not all. They do this “warm up” just in the first 15 minutes. From there, they work on technique for 2.5 hours, Monday through Friday — and if there’s no match on Saturday, they practice then too.

“We do what we can with what we have,” Johnson said. “I think we’re ahead of the curve as far as technique. We just modified a little, changed the it a bit, but we fit right in.”

The team has four coaches. Assistant coach Peyton Reece graduated from Kingston High School last year; she won the state title in 2015 and placed second in 2014. She said coaching is a great way to get back into the sport.

“Wrestling is a big scrap,” she said. “It’s a brutal sport — and you have to be tough if you want to make it. [Coaching] is about helping out kids and lending them my experience, it’s exciting to be apart of it all again.”

Johnson credits his start in wrestling to his high school football coach.

“He said I couldn’t play varsity football unless I wrestled … But the physical and mental [requirements] of this sport can’t compare to football. It’s hard. It’s technical. It’s mental. It’s no fun, but somehow players keep coming back.”

Johnson believes team bonding is a big part of that.

“Everybody is equal,” he said. “New wrestlers are welcomed and we treat everyone the exact same.”

Even the coaches preform the grueling workouts alongside their wrestlers.

“Today, kids have an out,” Johnson said. “They get a trophy for losing. They don’t know what it means to work hard for something anymore. But in wrestling, nothing is handed to you. You have to earn it. You have to scrap for it. This is a lifestyle.”

For the serious athletes — wrestling with a club and with their high school at venues like Northwest Washington Wrestling Club — a short three-month prep season isn’t enough to stay in the game, mentally or physically. Athletes expect to put in time in the off-season to be successful, and even then it’s a struggle.

“At club, they compete in roughly 150 wrestling matches per year. At the high school level, they compete in on an average of 32,” Johnson said. He said if a serious athlete isn’t wrestling by the time they’re 5, then it’s too late.

The Buccaneers have a small roster, and most are experiencing the first matches of their wrestling careers. Coaches say they have an advantage.

“Our low numbers give us more mat time,” Reece said.

Because of a large number of athletes on competing teams, Kingston wrestlers will have more time to practice as they wrestle in exhibition matches, perfecting split-second decisions and basic technical moves like the single leg, double leg, half nelson, arm bar, tight waste and bridge.

For some KHS athletes, like Bayne and sophomore Alex More, this season is about elevating to the next level.

More, a wrestler since third-grade, hopes to become the next state champion. She took sixth place at state last season, and wants to be a role model for other female athletes.

“I want to prove that I can dominate just as much as any boy can,” she said. “I like to prove people wrong. I see it as a challenge. It’s motivation to go through the grind even though it’s tough, and not give up.”

Bayne agreed as he walked off the mat. Although the senior doubled out during his first time at state last year, he is anxious for another shot.

“I’ve put in my time in the off season and I think I’m ready,” he said.