Immediately after the Arlington boys wrestling team won the 3A state championship last February, Eagles coach Rick Iversen announced his retirement. He wanted to devote more time to his real estate business, and he felt as though he’d done all that he set out to do in his five years in Arlington.
But one day, Iversen had somewhat of an epiphany: He hadn’t quite accomplished everything he wanted to accomplish at Arlington.
“I love coaching girls,” he said. “I went to Arlington and said that I’d coach their girls program (for free), but after (its boys coach resigned), I took over the boys team, and the girls program never developed like I wanted it to. When I resigned, the girls coach, Jim Smoots, told me that he’d step aside (so that I could take over), but I said, ‘Jim, you love it too. I’ll go somewhere else and develop another (program).’”
Iversen found what he was looking for at Everett, which was seeking to bolster its fledgling girls program by hiring a coach. His “retirement,” if one could call it that, was short-lived indeed.
Iversen’s departure from Arlington created an interesting job opportunity — after all, it isn’t every day that coaching jobs for defending state champions open up. But the Eagles believe they’ve found somebody who has the potential to have a distinguished coaching career like the one Iversen’s had. Jonny Gilbertson has extensive wrestling experience, including a decorated prep career at Cascade. After three stints as an assistant coach, he’s ready to make a mark on his own program.
“I told the kids and the parents at the start of the year that I know that Rick Iversen did some awesome things with the program, but I’m not Rick Iversen and I’m not trying to be Rick Iversen,” Gilbertson said. “I’m going to try to do things the way I know how to do them. I’m excited to establish the vision and the expectations and the core values of the program.”
Iversen and Gilbertson have known each other for some time (Iversen’s son, Sherm, was Gilbertson’s coach at Cascade) and think highly of each other. Iversen is relishing the opportunity to build a program from the ground up, and similarly Gilbertson is relishing the opportunity to take an established winner to the next level.
Giving girls a chance
When Iversen was hired as the Everett girls coach, the program had four wrestlers. Now it has 28.
“That’s the real thrill for me, building something out of nothing,” Iversen said. “At the start, they didn’t know much, so we had to teach them basic approaches, attacks and defenses. They pick it up at least as fast as boys do, if not faster. It’s very pure — we’re not coaching out, we’re coaching in, because the girls don’t have bad habits like the boys might have.”
Iversen, who also coached at Marysville Pilchuck, was inducted to the Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Washington State Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011.
“He works well with others,” Seagulls boys coach Brien Elliott said. “He’s good at helping the girls find small victories in what they’re doing, celebrate those victories and build on them. He’s better at that than anyone I know.”
Iversen said he believes he was one of the first — if not the first — college coaches in Washington to institute a girls wrestling program when he was at Western Washington University from 1972-77. His interest in women’s athletics dates back to his childhood. He was disappointed that his sister, “a better athlete” than he was, couldn’t receive the athletic opportunities he did.
“Every time I got a chance to get up in front of people and speak, I kept talking about girls wrestling and how I thought it was the future of the sport. Everybody thought I was nuts,” Iversen said. “I’ve always been a big Title IX proponent. My goal is to not just build a program at Everett, but convince coaches and athletic directors at other schools that (creating separate girls programs) is something they need to do. Girls wrestling has been the biggest growth sport in the state for the past 10 years, and it will be again this year.”
Ready for the top spot
After becoming a four-time state placer at Cascade, Gilbertson attended Central Washington University and was an assistant coach at Ellensburg High School. He then returned to Snohomish County, alternating a brief career in mixed martial arts with stints as an assistant coach at Cascade (2011, 2015).
Now he’ll take over an Arlington squad that is ready to defend its 2016 state title.
“The kids are working hard and are dedicated,” Gilbertson said. “They’re really buying into my philosophies. It’s been an awesome experience so far.”
Cascade head coach Brooklyn Obregon said Gilbertson is capable of maintaining the Eagles’ recent success.
“His knowledge of the sport is vast,” Obregon said. “He has a friendly, warm, inviting-type of personality. Kids love to work with him. He knows how to push kids to get in the right place mentally. Some coaches can’t pick kids up and make them strong when they feel weak. That’s something Jonny can do, and that’s a big deal, because it’s difficult to do.”
“I’m not sure if any people put expectations (on me), but I put high expectations on myself,” Gilbertson said. “We graduated a lot of seniors from last year, but there’s absolutely a lot of talent left on this team. Our motto this season is ‘One not done.’ Last year they won a state title, but we’re not done. We’d like to win multiple state titles. That doesn’t mean we’ll win one this year, but we want to build the program into a powerhouse for years to come.”