Jackson Sutherland and Isaac Hainer began wrestling in kindergarten as Little Lynx.
Twelve years later there’s nothing little about either grappler, including their aspirations for the Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln wrestling team.
“We’re looking to win everything,” said Sutherland, a senior whose team looms as the heavy favorite to win Saturday’s Penobscot Valley Conference championship meet at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft. “This is definitely the best team I’ve ever been on, the hardest-working team, and our goals are pretty straightforward, to win everything.”
Everything would include the Class B state championship, which would be a first for Mattanawcook Academy, but in Sutherland and teammate and training partner Isaac Hainer the Lynx have a combination few if any rivals can match.
Sutherland won state titles at 113 pounds as a freshman in 2019 and at 138 pounds in 2020 before COVID-19 wiped out the 2021 season and his chance of becoming a four-time state champion.
The lost season hasn’t slowed Sutherland’s pace, as the senior scored his 150th career victory and 100th pin in the same match during the team’s Senior Night meet against Bucksport on Jan. 27.
Now competing at 170 pounds. Sutherland remains undefeated against Maine competition during his career, with his only four interscholastic losses coming at the 2019 and 2020 New England championships.
“I’m wrestling the best wrestler in the state in practice every day,” Hainer said about competing against Sutherland. “No one I meet is going to be better than him.”
Hainer finished second in Class B at 145 pounds as a freshman and like Sutherland is undefeated this season and one of the favorites statewide at 182 pounds.
It’s a partnership that began at age 5, when Hainer joined the Little Lynx youth wrestling program developed by Josh Sutherland, Jackson’s father and now an assistant coach at MA with head coach Matthew Lindsay.
“I just became friends with Jackson back then and he’s like ‘I wrestle, why don’t you try it,’” Hainer said. “The first year I was not good at all, but I just kept going and got a little better each year.”
Both wrestlers had considerable success at the youth and middle-school levels, and nothing has changed in high school despite Sutherland, Hainer and their wrestling brethren around Maine missing out on the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19.
Instead, both wrestlers used that respite to get bigger and stronger in the weight room, though Sutherland did compete in the annual Maine-Nebraska wrestling exchange last summer and went 5-0, including one victory over a Nebraska state champion.
Hainer said it took some time to work back into wrestling condition after a year off, though his timeline was accelerated by the challenge he faced in practice each day.
“There was some rust for the first week or so,” he said, “but with having Jackson as a partner you can’t have much rust for long because you aren’t going to be able to compete in practice if you’re too rusty.”
What also has grown quickly is the stature of the Mattanawcook program, with this year’s seniors (Sutherland, Deegan Tidswell and Alex Munson) representing the first graduates from the Little Lynx.
Mattanawcook finished second at the 2020 Class B state meet while Wells captured its fourth consecutive championship, and the Lynx served further notice on the rest of Maine’s high school wrestling community in late December by winning one of Maine’s prestigious holiday tournaments, the Noble Invitational in North Berwick.
Mattanawcook edged Class A South power Massabesic by tiebreaker to finish atop a 21-school field that included other Class A contenders such as host Noble, Mt. Ararat/Brunswick, Bonny Eagle of Standish and Wells.
Sutherland, Hainer and freshman Cole Albert (120 pounds) each won their respective weight class at Noble, while Tidswell finished second at 113, Munson fourth at 195 and sophomore James Dube fourth at 220.
Mattanawcook also won the Nokomis Warrior Classic in Newport last month with 10 different Lynx scoring top-four finishes, representing depth that Sutherland and Hainer believe can carry their team over the top as the tournament season begins.
“Most of our team is underclassmen so a lot of them haven’t gotten to experience states and regionals and the all-class meet,” Hainer said. “I think this is the best wrestling team we’ve had as a school in the quality and quantity of wrestlers, so for us as a team it will be really nice to go to those tournaments and compete knowing we can.”