As Steve Simpson begins his fifth season as head coach of the San Juan High School wrestling team, he is “enthusiastic.” The program has struggled recently, with just three wrestlers placing at the state tournament in the last five seasons.
But Coach Simpson said he expects that to change in 2019-2020. The last four years have basically been “building” years, Simpson said, but he believes the team is gaining momentum.
“We had a very young team [in 2018-19] and I was working on building a solid base with some of the younger kids. I feel this year that they have their base and we’re going to see a lot more progress.”
The 2018-19 team was made up of three freshmen, three sophomores, and one senior. All but two of them return this season, and the team will put three seniors, five juniors, six sophomores, and two freshmen on the mat in 2019-20.
Simpson said, “I think this is the best team San Juan High School has had in quite some time in terms of raw potential.”
He said that if all the wrestlers stick with the program – and there’s no reason to suspect that they won’t – “it’ll be a good season, we’ll have a lot of fun, we’ll make a lot of progress, and I think the boys will do just fine.”
When it comes to coaching, Simpson’s modus operandi is solid. He doesn’t gauge success based on wins and losses alone. His primary goal, he explained, is to help his wrestlers “grow into quality individuals, quality adults.
“I certainly appreciate it when they win,” he said, “but when they leave the program I want them to be better equipped to compete in the larger world.
“I think we’re accomplishing that,” he continued. “I’m really proud of the quality of kids we have this year. I’m proud of how they support each other, how they work together, and I think they’re a really good group of young people.
The 2019-20 San Juan Bronco matmen are seniors Brigham Castellon, Corbin McPherson, and Kash Shumway; juniors Landon Burke (6th in the 2019 state tournament), Kaileb McNiven, Dresden Seely, 2019 state qualifier Seth Spackman, and Victor Whaley; sophomores Tyler Bayles, Landon Black, Eoin Kaer, Zach Palmer, Jeter Perkins, and Tyler Winn; and freshmen Treshon Billie and Callen Burke.
When asked who he expects to stand out for the team this season, Simpson said he hesitates to talk about specific wrestlers. “I don’t want to leave anyone out,” he explained.
“There are a lot of kids who may in one sense have limited success, but it could turn out to be very great success for them in terms of just getting on the mat and sticking with it.
“Sometimes winning only two or three matches is more important than placing at state,” he stated. If the wrestlers “learn tolerance, patience, goal setting, sportsmanship, and a love of the sport,” it will have been a successful year.
Just like on the mat, creating a quality program takes a team in the coaching and administrative departments. Assistant coach Richard Kaer is a new addition this season. Simpson said Kaer has been instrumental in getting the team into productive video analysis following matches.
He said Jens Grover and Ken McDonald have also helped him a great deal and will continue to do so throughout the season.
Simpson’s “right-hand man,” is Heather Howell. She handles all the administrative duties for the team, including fundraising, finances, rosters, and many other chores the position demands.
Simpson explained that he and Howell decided on that arrangement when he agreed to coach the team in 2015.
Simpson liked what he saw when the Broncos opened the 2019-20 season in Monument Valley on November 26.
He explained that Monument Valley traditionally schedules that event on the first day wrestling is allowed, not necessarily to decide who has the best team, but to get all the wrestlers some time on the mat.
The team gets their first real test at the Red Rocks Invitational in Moab this Friday and Saturday, December 6-7. Simpson said it’s a good opportunity to watch the kids and see what adjustments are necessary to help them succeed throughout the year.
“It’s going to be a good season,” he stated. “I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far. I think these kids are going to do a lot of good things this year.”