Leading a squad, even with the help of other captains, presents unique challenges. Being a team's sole, unequivocal leader takes a special individual.
Lynden wrestling coach Randy Anderson feels he has one in senior Christian Mouat.
There was a time when Mouat's affinity for soda and gummy worms took precedence over proper dieting, when his carefree attitude overruled sheer desire to be the best, when settling for a Mat Classic berth was good enough. Those decisions and thoughts no longer exist.
"Finally for the first time I see him taking the whole preparation, from his eating habits to his sleep habits to the weight he's losing," Anderson said in a phone interview. "He knows this is his last shot. It has made him more focused, and he's matured a lot. He sets the tone and guys look up to him."
And for the first time in his career, Mouat is the one his teammates turn to for advice and guidance.
Mouat witnessed two years ago the leadership Whatcom County state champion Jeremy Korthuis displayed during his miraculous run to claim a 182-pound title. Last year, he learned from a cast of seniors that included standouts Caleb Newman, Ryan Meggison, Nick Iaconetti and Ryan Mouat.
As one of three seniors this winter, and the only eligible one with an extensive wrestling background, he's taken ownership of leading the Lions and has gone all-out in his final year.
"Well last year was kind of a rough year for me," Christian explained. "I ended 14 and 14, which was the worst I've done since middle school. I went to state at the end of the regular season, but last year we lost a lot of seniors, and I had no one to look up to. That's why I stepped up."
Christian is 21-4 through two-thirds of this season. He hasn't lost a single Northwest Conference dual match. His only defeats occurred during the Battle at the Border and at the Panther Classic in Snohomish. He won at the Graham Morin Invite, and his worth to the Lions was never more evident than during his Northwest Conference Tournament win on Jan. 18 at Sehome High School.
Christian faced Blaine's Caleb Frey on Sehome High's Mat 3, one of two mats closest to the gym's entrance, while championship matches were run four at a time.
There was hardly any room along the mat's outskirts thanks to a large contingent of Lynden wrestlers tightly gathered around to see their senior leader vie for a league title.
Christian was congratulated for several minutes and took pictures before he had time to grab his gear and head off the mat. He'd never even placed in the tournament before.
"Sometimes it can be stressful," said Christian of leading the Lions. "Everyone looks up to me when stuff isn't going right. There's a lot of pressure, but it's rewarding when we do good, because there is a lot of congratulations thrown out. Everyone expects me to win, and they're surprised when I don't. It encourages me."
Christian's increased wrestling maturity, which Anderson said started toward the end of last year, extends to his preparation for matches and ultimately his performance.
He used to get burnt out once the third period began. Now Christian is winning matches in the final moments and using his mental ability to beat opponents.
"I used to be that guy in the third round, in previous years, that could hardly breathe," he said. "I've gotten into really good shape. Before matches, instead of just bouncing and warming up, I think of how I am going to attack. It helps me out in the match."
Christian considers chaining together sequences his largest improvement this year. He's become a much more fluid wrestler because of it.
Anderson directed plenty of superlatives toward Christian, but said one of the senior's most exceptional traits is his mental game. His ability to turn the page on losses has always been a strength, Anderson said.
"He is not one to mentally beat himself up," the Lynden coach said, "and if something happens it's, 'Well, I have to work harder and get better at it.' He doesn't dwell on things. He just gets going and gets after it."
Now that Christian has combined his strong mental game with his increased dedication to the sport, he's confident in his ability to get to the Mat Classic and venture into the medal rounds.
Christian earned his first career Mat Classic berth last season. He lost in a 14-4 decision in his first match, and his tournament was over after he dropped his second match 5-3.
"I wasn't worried about winning," Christian said. "My goal was already accomplished. I didn't care once I got there. This year it's a different mentality, and this postseason my goal is to place at state."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates. Visit http://www.bellinghamherald.com/sports-blog/index.html for blog posts on the latest county sports news.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.