LINCOLN CITY — Taft’s Kadence James may be outgoing and funny when you see her out and about, but when she’s on the mat for the Tigers’ wrestling team, let’s just say James isn’t too keen on making friends.
“Kadence’s nickname is ‘Beast Mode’ because before some matches you can tell she is going to go out and attack and control the match,” Taft wrestling head coach Robb Ellis said. “She’s just competitive and willing to do whatever it takes to get better.”
Her steel reserve and grit on the mat didn’t come overnight for the multi-sport athlete (soccer, high jump, pole vault, javelin). Years of season-to-season training and a solid family foundation, along with some backyard fun, was key in her development.
“I got into wrestling in eighth grade. I grew up with a lot of guy friends, and we’d always wrestle around on the trampoline,” James said on her initial start.
It wasn’t long after that Ellis approached James about joining a Mat Club, an avenue for wrestlers of middle school and high school age.
Even though the sport itself is difficult, added to the fact that many athletes play different sports primarily, getting wrestling kids out was hard, but in James, Ellis saw something special.
“Wrestling just grabbed her. I see some people come in, and they will fight their way through the sport, but they don’t necessarily love it. Most kids in the wrestling program kind of dread to go through stuff, but Kadence was one that embraced everything about the sport,” Ellis said. “She just fell in love with the sport as soon as she started.”
Her freshman year was tough at first, but James wouldn’t give up. She dug in and worked not only for her spot on the team, but to better the team. As James has been at Taft, the wrestling team has grown into one of the biggest 3A teams in the state of Oregon.
She ended up liking it anyway.
“When I start something, I always finish it. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do,” said James. “It’s definitely the most physically demanding sport I’ve ever done. It’s been great to be a part of such a great growing program. We went from very low numbers my freshman year to now being one of the biggest 3A wrestling teams in the state.”
It didn’t matter whether it was a boy-dominated sport. It didn’t matter that James had to wrestle boys — getting her chance on the mat was she wanted, and she worked for it.
“Last year at districts, my first time competing at an all-girls tournament, my first match I upset a girl from Thurston High School, which was a big win for me considering that it was the first time Taft girl wrestling competed at girls districts,” James said of her freshman season last year. “One big moment this year was when I was able to cradle and pin a girl from YC (Yamhill Carlton). It has been a move I’ve been working on for a while now. It felt great to pull it off in a match.”
James might only be a sophomore, but she is an experienced wrestler within the team and overall on the girls side, every time she takes the mat, she makes history.
In coach Ellis’ recollection, there haven’t been many, if any, female wrestlers that have finished through an entire season. James is not only conquering on the mat, she’s blazing a trail for other girls in the sport.
“I think it’s great that I’m looked at as an experienced wrestler in the room, I love it when people come up to me asking questions about certain moves,” James said. “It’s also great being able to cheer on my girl teammates as they wrestle.”
But like most young athletes, her family played a big role not only in her development, but just being by her side through it all.
Her dad volunteered to coach wrestling and take the girls to wrestling tournaments even though he didn't know much about the sport. He did it just so the girls had a chance to wrestle.
They also spend their time in hot, sweaty gyms to watch her wrestle.
“My parents have played a big role in the athlete I am today. They always push me to do my best, take me to early morning practices, haven’t missed one of my games or meets,” James said.
She also had a special thanks for her Ellis.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank my coach, Rob Ellis, for getting me involved in wrestling and including us girls with the rest of the team,” she said, “Having the opportunity to wrestle with the boys at practice has really made us tougher on the mat. Thank you for supporting me and believing in me.”