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Auburn's West on top of school's season pin record list
The list reads like a who’s who of Auburn High School wrestling.
Three-time state champion Jake Swartz is on it. So is Shane Onufer, who won state titles in 2006 and 2007 and earned All-American status at the University of Wyoming. Even Auburn coach Dennis Herren – who won the state 178-pound title for Auburn in 1994 – is on the list.
There are more names on the list, like Trojan legends Mark Trott, Mike Mondt and Scott Tongue. But they’re all underneath one name, James West, Auburn wrestling’s all-time season pin leader.
At last weekend’s Mat Classic XXV state championships, West – a senior who finished seventh at 182 pounds – etched his name in history by garnering three pins in five matches, putting his season total at 29 pins.
“There are so many good wrestlers who come through Auburn, but I think James has the most uncanny ability to settle in for that pin,” Herren said. “He expends all his energy to go for that pin. I would compare it to a home run hitter or a knockout boxer, when they sell the farm to go for it. And so far James has been the best at that in school history.”
Not bad for a guy who first started wrestling five years ago as an eighth-grader at Olympic Middle School and had no significant club or offseason wrestling experience.
“I tried to start wrestling in the seventh grade, but I messed up my knee before the season snowboarding,” said West, 17.
Before West began wrestling, he played baseball, football and basketball. But once he hit the mat, it all fell into place.
“The other sports, I liked them, but I didn’t have as much fun doing them,” West said. “(Wrestling) kind of came naturally I guess. My dad used to wrestle in high school, so I wrestled a little with him.”
In addition to picking up tips from his dad and coaches, West said the tutelage of the Trojans’ upperclassmen was the key in his progression.
“They were all pretty big for me,” West said. “They showed me how to be committed and what it takes to be good. I kind of based all of my stuff off Dylan Rutledge. He was my high school idol in wrestling. I used to have to wrestle him as a sophomore.”
As a junior, West started off wrestling as a 195-pounder. Halfway through the season, however, his coaches urged him to cut weight to 182. Something clicked and West surged, earning a spot at Mat Classic, where he went two-and-out and did not place.
“It was really stage fright and the shock of all the people there,” West said. “It’s crazy. You’re overwhelmed. Usually you don’t even have half a gym filled watching, then suddenly it’s a dome full of people.”
After the end of last season, Herren was tallying up the season statistics when he realized that West had 17 pins for the season, ninth all-time for the Trojans.
“I think he became aware of his skill at it then, so I think he became hungry for it,” Herren said.
“I wasn’t even trying for them,” West said. “This year we thought that if I really tried, I might be able to break it.”
West again started off at 195 before making the decision to drop to 182, where he again surged toward the end of the season, taking first in league and at the regional tourney.
“I felt like I’d have the most success at 182, and I was right,” West said.
Despite his knack for the fall, West said he rarely goes into a match concentrating on pinning his opponent.
“I always try to go in thinking I’m going to wrestle all six minutes, all three rounds, maybe even overtime, just to have that mindset,” West said. “As soon as I get on the mat, whatever happens happens though. If you have a moment, you take it. You can’t pass up good positions.”
Even now, almost a week after he set the record, West said he’s still shocked when he things about his accomplishment.
“I never thought I’d be up there, but I guess just working as hard as I did I was able to accomplish it,” West said.
Auburn’s all-time season pin leaders
1. James West, 2013, 29 pins
2. Mark Trott, 2002, and Mike Mondt, 1996, 27 pins
3. Shane Onufer, 2007, and Dennis Herren, 1994, 25 pins
4. Scott Tongue, 1986, 24 pins
5. Jake Swartz, 2008, 23 pins