Just a girl? Just an athlete! - Islander wrestler Jean Laschever goes for her 12th varsity letter

By Matt Phelps

Right or wrong, society draws a line for sports. Boys on one side, girls on the other. Very few sports allow male-female one-on-one competition.

Islander senior Jean Laschever has crossed that line for the past four years in one of the most physical high school sports: Wrestling. She is not the first female wrestler in the state, or even at the high school, but she is one of the most successful in both categories.

``It's not set up for girls,'' said Laschever. ``I don't think I would have been able to do this if not for the support of my teammates.''

``She is amazing,'' said Mercer Island wrestling head coach Paul Jackson, who noted she received one of the biggest awards any Islander wrestler can get during the end of season banquet: Most Inspirational. ``She does it all with desire.''

Laschever said that she didn't realize how well she had done during her career and how good she had it until she wrestled and dominated the girls exhibition at state last month.

``I don't feel that anyone has ever been disrespectful of me,'' said Laschever. ``I know a lot of girls that have had problems. At the girls tournament, they were like, `You wrestled matches and beat guys?' They were really shocked.''

The senior dominated during the state tournament, pinning every female opponent she faced to take first for the second year in a row. Laschever said that some girls she has met didn't even get to participate with male athletes.

``Wrestling is pretty tough in general and she has done really well,'' said Islander Jesse Johnson, who took third at 215 pounds at state in wrestling this year. ``She is a really hard worker.''

Laschever has always shied away from the accolades and deferred to other wrestlers on the team, such as Johnson, for their talent and what they have accomplished.

``I am not the best on the team and I get the press because I am a girl,'' said Laschever. ``They deserve the accolades for what they accomplished. At M.I. it is more about how the team can win than anything. I could not have asked for a better team.''

But Laschever experienced some hesitation by her teammates when she started.

``There was one guy who wasn't as welcoming,'' said Laschever. ``He has come around. I think it was a good thing, though, because I may not have been able to handle some of the stuff if not for that experience during my freshman year.''

Jackson recalled a situation this season where another coach was concerned what weight Laschever would be wrestling at because he had two boys refusing to wrestle her.

``I felt like saying, `Tell me what weight they are -- I'll put her there,'' said Jackson. ``I often wonder how many guys she made quit because she beat them. The fact of the matter is that she is a good wrestler, period.''

Another difficulty for Laschever was weighing in last before meets. Boys and girls can't be weighed at the same time, so Laschever would have to wait until after all the boys had weighed in. Because the lightest weights usually weigh in and wrestle first, Laschever would have less time to warm up for her match than her opponent.

Laschever began wrestling her freshman year. Then team captain, Grant Guidinger, told her to try out after watching her perform in cross country.

``I think he saw what we all saw,'' said Jackson. ``How much heart she has.''

The seed was planted. She wrestled junior varsity during the regular season of her freshman year because one of the team's best wrestlers was in her weight class. But Laschever's success and dedication not only won over her teammates and coaches, it earned her a spot at the 3A KingCo tournament.

``I think it took part of the season for the guys to get used to me,'' said Laschever. ``Once they realized I was serious, they began to accept me.''

Laschever thrived at the tournament, eventually placing sixth and earning a varsity letter.

But her sophomore year was her most impressive, finishing second in 3A KingCo and earning an alternate spot to state.

Spraining her ankle just before KingCo her junior year meant finishing fourth and still qualifying for districts. But her season ended there.

``I hate losing,'' said Laschever. ``Losing sucks. But a real wrestler learns from it.''

Laschever, like most wrestlers, battled to stay in her weight class.

``She has had some difficult things to go through,'' said Jackson. ``One of the most difficult was the strength and weight issue.''

Laschever chose to stay at 112 pounds this year and ended up regretting it.

``It has always been frustrating,'' said Laschever. ``I will go and run with one of the guys, come back and weigh ourselves. They will have lost a pound and I will have lost just a half a pound.''

That battle led Laschever to go for four days without eating during this season.

``I didn't put anything into my body,'' said Laschever. ``I shouldn't have done that. But you live and learn. I should have wrestled this year at 119 pounds instead of 112. My body, like any girl in high school, went through a lot of changes and it is tough to balance that with keeping weight in a mentally and physically demanding sport like wrestling.''

Laschever is in her second year in club wrestling and plans to attend Pacific University in Oregon, where she will wrestle for the division III school's all female team.

The senior has accomplished a lot in her four years at Mercer Island High School. In an environment that has become increasingly difficult to be a successful multi-sport athlete, Laschever is thriving. The senior has a varsity letter for every single season that she has been eligible, also competing in cross country and track and field. Following spring season, she will have her 12th and final varsity letter.

``It is pretty amazing,'' said Johnson. ``Not a lot of people have that opportunity.''

``Wrestling is my passion,'' said Laschever. ``I do the others because Erica (Hill, Islander cross country coach) is a big role model for me. With those sports, it comes down to the coaches and teammates.''

Laschever's best season in cross country came during her sophomore year, as the team took first at state and she finished 24th overall.

Sports are not Laschever's entire life. She participates in Safe Ride, a program that gives Island teenagers a safe way to get home after a party. She follows in her father's foot steps by playing trumpet in school since the fifth grade.

``It gets pretty hectic,'' said Laschever. ``Both my parents have been infinitely supportive.''

That includes when she told them she wanted to wrestle.

``My mom was a sailor in high school, and back then it was a male-dominated sport,'' said Laschever. ``She was a bit more reluctant, but I think ultimately she understood it.''

Laschever is not worrying about getting into Pacific University. Afterall, she has been state academic champion in her weight class and has a 3.6 GPA.

``I think high school would have been empty without wrestling,'' said Laschever. ``I have really found my passion. I can't imagine not wrestling.''

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