At 5-foot-11, 138 pounds, Jackson Sutherland may not be the most physically imposing person walking the hallways of Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln.
But put him on a wrestling mat, and the 15-year-old sophomore is about as good as it gets in Maine these days.
Sutherland heads to the 56th annual New England Wrestling Championships that begin Saturday in Methuen, Massachusetts, as a two-time Class B state champion and a two-time all-class state champion. He is undefeated against Maine competition.
His two-year record with the Lynx is 117-2, including 54-0 this winter.
“Jackson’s got a fantastic attitude,” Mattanawcook wrestling coach Matt Lindsay said last month after watching Sutherland win the Penobscot Valley Conference 138-pound title. “Not only is he there trying to make himself better but he’s constantly improving his teammates. He’s a very goal-oriented kid whether it be academic or athletically. He comes to practice to work hard.”
Sutherland’s only career losses to date came during a 1-2 finish at last year’s New Englands as a freshman competing at 113 pounds. He is considerably bigger this winter, having combined several inches in additional height with an off-season dedication to weight training to move up four weight classes.
“I definitely wanted to get bigger,” he said. “I grew a couple of inches, but I probably would have been at 126 if I hadn’t spent the time in the weight room.”
Sutherland said his physical growth has been complemented by his increased understanding of the mental side of the sport, particularly against elite competition.
“You’ve got to refuse to lose,” he said. “You can’t go in there thinking about keeping it close. You’ve got to go for it. Last year at New Englands I was very timid and nervous and I wasn’t thinking to win. This year I really want it.”
Sutherland took up wrestling in kindergarten as he followed in the footsteps of his father Josh Sutherland, who has worked with him throughout his career.
More recently, it has been teammate and workout partner Isaac Hainer, a freshman who was the Class B state runner-up at 145 pounds, who has helped Sutherland.
Hainer finished third at the New England qualifier and will join Sutherland at this weekend’s meet. The top three finishers in each weight class at the qualifier earn the right to represent Maine at the New Englands.
“Having Isaac to train with has helped so much,” Sutherland said. “A big part of getting better is having a tough partner.”
Sutherland also is an emerging baseball standout at Mattanawcook. Last spring he was a starting pitcher and middle infielder as a freshman, helping his team reach the Class C North quarterfinals.
The Lynx were ousted by eventual regional champion Orono 1-0 on an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Sutherland, a right-hander, pitched a complete game in defeat.
“I like doing the two sports because it keeps you athletic during the year but it’s doing different things,” said Sutherland, who plays travel baseball during the summer. “Baseball’s a little different than wrestling, a little more relaxed, chilled out, but it’s still very competitive.”
Sutherland’s ambitious wrestling goals include becoming a four-time individual state champion and a four-time all-class state champion.
He’s already halfway there, but this weekend he hopes to make his mark on the New England scene.
“Last year I lost my first match by a couple of points and I feel like if I had gone into that match thinking to win I would have won it,” Sutherland said. “I want to place in the top six [All-New England]. That’s been my goal since last year.”