As a sophomore at Peninsula High School, Luke Golden wasn’t even sure he’d make the varsity wrestling team.
Not only did he make the squad, but by season’s end, Golden fell just one match shy of reaching the Mat Classic state tournament.
“It was frustrating but it really helped me grow, figure out what I could do better in the offseason,” Golden said. “When my season ended there, it was the worst thing in the world at the time. Looking back on it now, it probably helped me more than anything.”
Being so close gave Golden some clarity and focus.
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“It really showed me what my goal was,” he said. “I wanted to get to state. I wanted to be a state placer. I wanted to be a state champion. Having that match to show me what I was striving for. It showed me that I was so close, even though at the beginning of the season, I was nowhere near that level. It kind of helped me realize that during the offseason, that’s when I really wanted to hone in on my skills, push and make it to the state tournament this year.”
This season, Golden has turned into one of the team’s top and most consistent wrestlers in the 182-pound weight class. Golden, who played running back and inside linebacker for the Seahawks, credits football for helping him grow as an athlete.
“It really helped me grow in athleticism,” he said. “Football helped me to just get more competitive and tougher.”
And it’s where he spent plenty of time alongside linebackers Isaac and Nolan Casey, two of the team’s top wrestlers, also. This year, Isaac Casey has been Golden’s primary practice partner in the mat room.
“(Isaac) is just a mean, tough dude,” Golden said.
Golden was a bit nervous before the season when he realized he’d likely be paired up with Casey in practice.
“I just knew he would go at it really hard,” Golden said. “So the first day of practice, getting paired up with him, he was just teaching me through leading, not even saying anything. Just how to be more intense, be tougher and just wrestle all the time.”
Golden has posted a 21-14 record this season, and his growth has been evident to anyone who’s spent time around him, said coach Mark Nickels.
“Luke has really been working to get to that next level,” Nickels said. “I think he’s really started to buy in to what you need to be doing off the mat, too, to get himself to where he needs to be. He’s doing the weight training, ‘Champ Time’ (voluntary workouts). He takes care of his nutrition. He looks for opportunities to wrestle, comes to camps with us and does all that work.
“He’s putting the time in and it’s starting to pay off for him.”
And on the mat, Nickels doesn’t see him repeating the same mistakes that sometimes cost him in matches a season ago.
“He’s growing and learning every dual and every match he wrestles,” Nickels said. “He’s getting that mat sense. He’s really coming into a guy that we can count on to be a force in the lineup.”
Golden said his biggest growth on the mat is just being more comfortable with his strategy.
“Even if you try to do something you want to, and then it gets shut down, to just keep going with something different,” Golden said. “Chain wrestling, going from one thing to another and not thinking about it as much. Letting yourself kind of go.”
Golden is contemplating a bump up to the 182-pound weight class prior to the state tournament, but hasn’t made an official decision yet. Whether he goes up to 182 or stays at 170, reaching the Mat Classic is the goal.
“That’s what we’re working toward all season,” Golden said. “We’re going to the toughest tournaments we can, just so we can prepare for the state tournament. To get to state this year, I’ve just been talking to my coaches about positions I need to get into and what weight class would be best for me.”