When he first became Deer Park’s head wrestling coach, Matt Jorgensen wondered what he had done.
“Dean (Largent, the former longtime successful Stags coach) said I should put in for it,” Jorgensen said. “I answered, ‘Do you think I really should? It’s a little over my head.’ ”
The high school program had gone through four coaches in as many years. Jorgensen, who wrestled for Largent, had been an interested parent working for a youth program and lower levels at the high school and was testing uncharted waters.
So much for being in over his head.
All Jorgensen has done is coach Deer Park to the last four State 2A team championships.
He’s done so while fitting practice time around his job as a Spokane Valley fireman that necessitates driving 45 minutes each way to and from work.
He’s borrowed from successful programs such as Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) and then-coach Scott Jones, who thumped him his first year.
“It was where we wanted to be, how they carried themselves and how they wrestled,” he said.
And he insists he still has more to learn about the technical side of the sport.
“I feel I’m behind in that part,” Jorgensen said.
But what Jorgensen lacks in teaching advanced technique he makes up for by stressing the importance of basics and demanding hard work.
“He’s kind of a hard-ass,” said junior Jake Konzal, who beat teammate Cole Harris for the state 103-pound title two years ago and finished third last year. “He definitely makes us work hard.”
Deer Park has, as a result, gone from the pressure of changing a losing culture to the pressure of maintaining high expectations.
Jorgensen’s team doesn’t shy away from high-end competition as a result. This year the Stags have finished third at Central Valley’s Inland Empire Classic (behind big-school state title aspirants Mead and Post Falls) and the Tri-State Tournament (ninth behind Mead, Post Falls, Idaho state 5A contender Lewiston and such established Washington powers as perennial State 4A champion Lake Stevens and lower classification state contenders Tahoma and Orting.) They also travel to another big tournament, the Rocky Mountain Rumble in Utah.
Those kinds of tests, plus a youth program and summer involvement on the freestyle-Greco Roman circuit, make Deer Park the 2A program to be modeled after.
Konzal, Harris, senior Dylan Miller and sophomore Joe Grable are at the core of this year’s Stags team.
Two-time top-three state placer Miller is following the footsteps of his two-time state champion brother, Cody.
“I started when I was 5 years old,” Miller said. “My dad wrestled in high school and put me into it. I just followed what my older brother did.”
He said Jorgensen was a Marine who puts so much effort into wrestling, you expect it of yourself.
“Most of the time he’s reflective, but you don’t want to make him mad,” Miller said. “If you’re not working hard, he’ll bust you for it.”
Miller, third at state as a sophomore and second last year, is aiming for the 160-pound title in his final year.
Jorgensen said Grable is Deer Park’s most intense wrestler. He finished third in his state debut and last summer was a national freestyle All-American.
“(Matt) is a good coach and pushes us,” Grable said. “He teaches the simple moves that win tough matches.”
Konzal thinks he can win another title.
“I’d like to win state again,” he said. “I was third last year, but wasn’t really disappointed. I lost a heartbreaker in a close semifinal. But I’ve got to work hard for it.”
Hard work is the mantra preached by a coach who originally doubted if he was qualified for the high school varsity level. Those doubts have been erased.
“Work takes care of a lot of stuff,” Jorgensen said. “We were horrible that first year then it snowballed. We want to keep it going.”