They’re a pair of unassuming, quiet high school sophomores. Just don’t try and steal their lunch money. Jake Powell and Joe Mitlin are two reasons that Swampscott High wrestling coach Mike Stamison sees a bright future for the program.
“If they both get in the gym, get strong, get faster, the sky is the limit,” commented the youthful coach who guides the combined Swampscott-Marblehead High wrestlers. “Jake has amazing leadership qualities, he’s just a natural leader, always talking up his teammates, encouraging, pushing. He knows what it takes to win. Joe leads by example.”
Despite their similarities, their paths to the wrestling mat differ. Though just 15 years old, Jake’s a veteran; he started wrestling in the sixth grade when he enrolled in a local youth wrestling program. After that program’s organizer Pat Cook moved to New Hampshire, Jake spent the next two years with a youth wrestling group in Danvers before arriving at the high school. Wrestling in the 103 and 105 weight categories, the wiry sophomore has compiled an impressive 35-18 record with 23 pins. Twenty-one of those wins and six of those pins have come this season.
Joe, at a more muscular 132 pounds, started wrestling just last year, following in the footsteps of his brother Matt, a 2010 SHS graduate. Despite being a relative newcomer, he sports an impressive array of moves. “Joe has a rather large arsenal,” remarked Coach Stamison, “most of which he learned during the offseason when he worked out with a former All-American Rick Wyman. Joe’s a good learner, with a good attitude, and he can be a force.”
The two wrestlers enjoy the competition and the individual challenge of the sport. “It’s you, the opponent, and the mat,” says Mitlin. He focuses on being the aggressor during a match, he says concentrating always on his next move. “Thinking about defense for me is unnecessary because it's more like an instinct.”
Jake’s experience is evident when he explains his approach. A member of the elite Greybird Wrestling Club led by Boston University Assistant Head coach Sean Gray, Jake approaches a match like a tactical commander. “Before a match I like wrestle it out in my head so I can keep my mind sharp and know how to react. I always go into a match with a plan that has a few options,” he says. He knows three keys to success: Know the Plan, Be Aggressive, and Stay in the Stance. “I try to look for my opponent’s mistakes. I’m constantly thinking through systems of attacks and finishes so the moves become automatic.”
Both wrestlers understand the importance of physical conditioning; they run cross country in the fall to develop leg strength and stamina. Every second of the three two-minute periods of a match is grueling in a sport that emphasizes one wrestler's control of the opponent on the mat typically by controlling the opponent's legs or torso. When a match reaches the third period, it becomes as much a survival of the fittest as it is a strategic dual. “Nothing tests a wrestler like a tough match that comes down to the final minute,” says Jake. “You’ve got to deal with fatigue you’ll be sore but you have to leave everything on the mat because if you don’t your opponent will.”
Coach Stamison points out that in those demanding moments of a third period as seconds tick away on the clock, heart will usually produce the winner. He notes qualities in both his fighters that make them potent combatants as the match nears an end.
But neither lack for talent, and their physical attributes augment their skills. Jake is a lean and strong, a rare combination in a weight class where most wrestlers are shorter and stockier. “He uses his body to his advantage,” notes Coach Stamison. “He has a great grip and is an expert ‘cradler’,” said the coach, referring to a move where the wrestler grabs the neck of an opponent with one arm and wraps the elbow of the other arm behind the opponent’s knee. Ironically, the move’s name refers to the way a person might “cradle” an infant in their arms—though presumably far less gently...
Coach Stamison describes Joe as “long and tough.” Joe plans to wrestle with the Greybird group this summer. “Joe’s a good learner,” says Coach Stamison, so next year’s prospects bode well.
As much as wrestling is a physical sport, it contains an underlying mental aspect that is often overlooked amid the sport’s brawn and brute strength. The simple object of each wrestler is to win the match by a fall, or pin, where one wrestler holds both his opponent’s shoulders to the mat for two seconds. Getting to that end, however, involves an understanding of moves, balance, and technique. So it’s no surprise that Joe and Jake are as solid in the classroom as they are on the wrestling mat. Jake’s favorite subjects are science and engineering, while Joe counts math as his preferred subject.
For all their ferocity on the mat, though, Jake and Joe are soft-spoken and eminently respectful in their demeanor and speech. Only after prodding will Jake reveal his medal count and accomplishments such as winning the 2010 Pentucket Holiday Tournament, the 2011 Dan Gionet Memorial Tournament in Pelham, NH, and his selection to the 2011 Northeast Conference All Star team. Maybe being a one of triplets has taught him to keep a low profile, or maybe he knows that there’s plenty of competition right in his own home. “My brother Scott also wrestles on the team at the 152 pound category.” Jake also has a younger sister.
Joe looks up to his brother, now a freshman at Northeastern. “He got me into wrestling.”
For these two young men, there’s school, there’s X-box, there’s friends and socializing, but most of all, there’s wrestling. And as they enter their growth years and expand their skills, they are important parts of a bright future for Swampscott-Marblehead wrestling. As for teaming up with students from Swampscott’s biggest rival, neither Joe nor Jake notice any dissension, and that’s the attitude that their coach instills. “Team transcends rivalries,” says Coach Stamison, a 2006 Marblehead High graduate.
With their potential, Jake Powell and Joe Mitlin will be wearing the Black-and-Blue wrestling singlets, and it’s quite likely that it will be opponents who leave the mat black and blue.