Cooper French knows a lot about style. Wrestling styles, that is.
The local wrestler recently became a state triple crown winner at the 16U level while competing at 120 pounds, winning titles in folkstyle, Greco-Roman and freestyle in a single year during the in-state season.
Before entering the in-state season and completing the esteemed feat, French won the a state title at the middle school level as an eighth-grader. He had to make sacrifices along the way, missing school activities such as dances in order to spend more time on the mats and in the weight room. He also benefited from sparring with his Northern Arizona Grapplers teammates.
And they have benefited from him as well.
French is teammates on the wrestling club with Anthony Escalera, Pedro Billups, Nick Phillips and Tony Hernandez. While Escalera has also just graduated from middle school, the others, including Michael Woods, have wrestled for the Coconino Panthers during the high school season.
Only about 10 pounds separate the studs.
“Those guys have all raised their game by wrestling against each other," said NAZ Grapplers head coach Mike Schmieder, who is also the Panthers varsity head coach.
"It's a dream come true for me as a coach to watch," he added.
Schmieder also enjoyed watching French become the triple crown winner. It's an accomplishment that shows the signs of a high-level, all-around wrestler.
Schmieder said French has become an aggressor while locking horns with opponents, growing out of the reactive wrestler he was a year ago around this time.
“One thing during this freestyle season that he has learned is to score points," Schmieder said. "In all of his matches he is scoring a lot of points. In the matches that were close, his opponents scored high, but he scored higher, and that’s big because we are all about being offensive, aggressive, and that’s the thing he has transitioned to. I would say a year ago he was more of a defensive wrestler."
French finished the triple crown on Saturday, May 18, by winning the freestyle title at Desert Vista High School. He edged his opponent by one point in the semifinal round and went on to dominate in the championship round. Along the way, French was up against opponents from his grade, some freshmen and even some sophomores.
Now, French, Billups and Escalera will focus on competing for the national freestyle Arizona team that will compete in July in Fargo, North Dakota, at the junior nationals.
Billups was injured for the freestyle championships at Desert Vista, but had qualified for the Arizona team previously. Meanwhile, Phillips and Hernandez came up one match short of making the cut for the national team last Saturday, as both finished in fourth place in their respective age divisions and weight classes.
But Schmieder said he's seen the growth in those two despite them missing the roll call.
He's also waiting to see how much Escalera developed as a wrestling while training outside of the United States.
AWAY IN INDIA
There to learn the style of Takhti, Escalera was in India last week while his teammates were at the freestyle state championships.
Escalera was selected to a tour team that went to the country after he applied for a spot. The travel team spent two weeks in India working on the Takhti style as well as Greco-Roman. His dad joined him for the trip.
Schmieder said he can't wait to pick their brains about the trip and the style, as Escalera and his father just got back to town early this week.
"I'm very intrigued with it. I saw some videos of them wrestling on the dirt, and was impressed," he said.