It's the little things that make the difference for Ninilchik senior John Matson, both on and off the wrestling mat.
Matson, wrestling at 152 pounds this season, had compiled a 12-2 record heading into last weekend's Peninsula Duals at Nikiski. In the classroom, Matson has improved his grade point average to 3.1.
In both cases, success has come because Matson has been able to do the little things right.
"He's not only aggressive, but he's a good technician," said Ninilchik coach Kevin Zimmerman of Matson's style on the mat. "He seems to know when to come on with it. He's a defensive-type wrestler. He wrestles in a lot of close matches, which is not unusual for his style."
Matson, Zimmerman said, competes in a weight class where many of his opponents make use of their physical strength. Matson stays competitive with his technical skill, executing each maneuver to neutralize his opponents' strength.
Matson said the key to this year's success has been a boost in confidence that came with experience on the mat.
Matson attended two wrestling camps over the summer, one at Skyview and the Jay Robinson camp in Washington. He said the camps gave him the opportunity to focus on his fundamentals.
"It's just more repetition, doing the little things," Matson said. "It makes a big difference."
Matson hopes the difference will be a higher place at the upcoming state tournament. Last year, he finished sixth at 152.
"I just want to place better at state than I did last year," Matson said. "I haven't seen everybody yet, but after next week at (Anchorage Christian Schools), I'll have a pretty good idea. Last year, I just wanted to place at state. I know I can place now."
Matson's steady improvement on the mat has mirrored his improvement in the classroom.
"Last year, I made the 'A' honor roll," Matson said. "Freshman and sophomore year, I slacked off. Then I just realized how easy it was to do homework.
"Before, I just did the bare minimum."
Matson said it was a good lesson to learn, and brought home four A's and two B's on his most recent report card.
"He's done real well the last couple of years," said Matson's father, Larry. "Between that and wrestling, that's a lot of hard work. You don't always feel like hitting the books after you've been beat up for a couple of hours each day."
Matson said he'd like to go to the University of Oregon next year.
"I'm really not sure what I'd like to study, but if I had to pick right now, it would be political science or sports management," he said.
Matson said he took up wrestling in fifth grade after being inspired by his brother, 1989 Ninilchik graduate Egan Askay, and by seeing the entertainment version of the sport on television.
Matson said he wasn't disappointed to find out that the real thing was a little different than the television version.
"I like it better," Matson said. "You're competing by yourself. It's your fault if you mess up and no one else's."
Matson also plays basketball and runs track for the Wolverines.
Matson plays post for the basketball team, though he admitted he's a little small for the position at 5-foot-10. Still, Ninilchik has developed some exciting rivalries with the rest of the Class 2A schools the peninsula.
"Definitely the Cook Inlet Academy one," Matson said of the most intense rivalry. "We got them once last year, and if things work out this year, we should do all right."
Matson holds school records on both the long jump and the triple jump, and also runs the 100-meter dash for the track team.
Matson also is vice president of the student council. He said the council's task is to figure out how to make use of its budget this year.
"We want to buy something that benefits the whole school," Matson said.
Matson spends his summers commercial fishing with his father, set-netting in July and long-line fishing for halibut in June.
"I make him do all the hard work -- I'm too old for that," Larry said.
Matson's father said he was proud of the way his son has grown up.
"He's a lot more responsible than I was as a teen-ager," Larry said. "He's going to work awful hard -- I told him I wasn't going to feed him if he didn't, but we don't have to do too much to motivate him."
With a month to go in the wrestling season, Matson's current motivation is meeting his goal of placing higher than sixth at the state meet.
"He'll be somewhere in the medals for state," Zimmerman said. "He's very coachable -- that goes with being a technician. He's always trying to better himself.
"He self-coachable. He knows when he does something right, and he evaluates himself pretty well. Being a senior, he's got a lot of experience, and he's one of our leaders. He's always trying to help his teammates."
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