'Cat grapplers ready for anything

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SNOQUALMIE - Mount Si has a long tradition of top wrestling teams. From the days of coach Bruce Caldwell, to the current tenure of head coach Jeff Newcomer, wrestling has been a Wildcat sport. Newcomer, in his second year of coaching, brings a new level of intensity to the team and makes sure that practices focus on conditioning.

"Basically we teach character building and then what hard work and sacrifice can do for you," said Newcomer. "We also try and instill life skills. Anytime they lose is like a situation in life, how you deal with that is important. We don't judge a person on how hard they fall but how quickly they get up from the fall, that shows character," he added.

Newcomer understands that once an athlete has self confidence and dedication, they can achieve their goals.

"At the beginning of the year, they make goals," said Newcomer. "Some of these wrestlers may want to win a match, considering we have seven new wrestlers. Some goals may be to be on varsity, or to place at state. Whatever the goal may be it's what you did and, at the end of the season, can you hold your head high and say I did everything possible to reach those goals."

Mount Si finished second in Kingco behind Mercer Island last season. Newcomer thinks the team will finish in about the same spot but adds quickly.

"We really are shooting for first. We have to work really hard and we have an opportunity to do that. It's going to take a lot of work and dedication by these guys to do it," Newcomer said.

Leading the league this year will likely be Issaquah with a lineup of returning wrestlers but as always Liberty and Mercer Island will also be tough.

Top returning wrestlers for Mount Si include Kyle Heath at 103 pounds, Joe Taklo at 119 pounds, Mike Montgomery at 125 pounds, Jordan Sypher at 130 to 135 pounds, Pano Dreves at 160 or 171 pounds and Trevor Moore at 215 pounds.

Dreves, a senior, has stepped up the intensity of his work ethic, realizing this is his final year.

"I want to get to state and do the best I can there," said Dreves.

Dreves came to Mount Si prior to last season from Japan where the wrestling is quite a bit different.

"I know it's my last year in high school so I have to get things done," he said.

Dreves also tries to instill his knowledge on the younger wrestlers.

"As long as they are tough physically and mentally, they should do alright here. We should do well, and our goal is to win Kingco and that is possible," he added.

Moore, another senior and four-year starter, also knows how important his final season can be.

"I've had previous years to make mistakes so this year I want to be smart about it," said Moore. "It's an enjoyable sport but practice is not fun. So I try and keep it light around here and have some fun, be serious when you need to be but keep the wrestlers here," he added.

He also respects Newcomers approach.

"Coach conditions us really well and that's one of the reasons, I think, that we went so far last year," said Moore. "We aren't necessarily better wrestlers but we are in better condition than most."

Taklo, a sophomore, is also expected to tear things up this season. Taklo made it to districts last year and has his eyes on going to state.

"This year I am going to practice on training harder," said Taklo. "I want to be tougher than my opponents mentally and physically."

A definite loss to the lineup this season is junior Seth Merrit, who would have likely wrestled in the 189 pound slot. Merritt hurt his knee during the football season and recently had reconstructive surgery. He will be out for the wrestling season but Newcomer has plans for the athlete.

"He is going to be our trainer and we are going to train him to help coach," said Newcomer. "He can be our third coach of the season. That way when we have three tournaments going at once, Seth can step in and help."

In addition to the returning talent, there are several younger wrestlers showing promise.

"Jacob Lund, a freshman at 112 pounds, is really showing a lot of skill," said Newcomer.

Another wrestler, Dallas Liebe, is also showing good skill and technique.

"Darrick Hannaman, a sophomore, has great technique and skill; he is an animal," said Newcomer. "He didn't wrestle last year but he has wrestled in the past. He has great strength and good basic techniques. He reminds me of David Szczepanik a little bit, [with his] raw strength. He doesn't match the intensity yet of David."

Other wrestlers filling in the ranks are returnee Mac Donnell, a sophomore who will fill the role at 160 pounds, and Jeff Lewis, a senior, who hasn't competed in a few years.

"This is a great group of kids really, it's a fun group and I really enjoy them," said Newcomer.

Back this year with Newcomer is assistant coach Kyle Jacobsen.

"He is going to have more of a role than he did last year now that he has his feet wet," said Newcomer. "He is very capable of doing a lot of teaching. I am going to break these guys up and Kyle will be working with the beginners more. That's a lot of responsibility."

Newcomer will be thankful to have the added help.

"For me as a coach, I think it's important to remember what your strengths and weaknesses are. I've been wrestling since the second grade. It's hard for me, at times, to break the skills down and teach them to a new wrestler. I've been doing it so long that I do it many times, without thinking of each beginning step. There are a lot of little things, and that is something he is really good at," Newcomer said of Jacobsen.

In addition to conditioning and skill, Newcomer wants to make sure his wrestlers are positive and show a high level of sportsmanship.

"I would love to win the Kingco sportsmanship award," said Newcomer. "Especially when you see the stuff in pro sports."

Mount Si takes on Newport, Friday, at home. Start time for varsity is 7:30 p.m.

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