Vitals: Senior, 171 pounds
Need to know: Captured his first CIF state championship with a 7-2 victory, finishing as one of only 21 four-time medalists in the event’s 38-year history. Went 41-2 with 27 pins this season and 143-27 over his career. Placed seventh in the state at 152 pounds as a freshman, second at 152 as a sophomore and fourth at 160 pounds as a junior.
Up next: Considering a scholarship offer from UC Davis while still eligible to take four more recruiting visits.
Even after accomplishing the ultimate goal for a California high school wrestler, James Cook wasn’t quite satisfied.
Now don’t misunderstand, the Madera High senior was elated to end three years of near-misses when he captured his first CIF state championship on March 6 at Bakersfield’s Rabobank Arena.
It’s just that Cook had a very specific path he wanted to take to that title.
Cook’s goal was to pin all of his opponents in a bracket of the state’s 39 other toughest 171-pounders, wrestlers who are used to winning, not getting stuck on their backs.
The Bee’s Wrestler of the Year settled for one pin, a major decision and three regular decisions while going 5-0, beating wrestlers ranked fourth, sixth and eighth in the state along the way.
“I’m glad I won a state championship, but it wasn’t a perfect tournament. I kind of wish I had another chance to wrestle it,” said Cook, who defeated Tri-River Athletic Conference rival Zach Nevills of Clovis, 7-2, for the fourth straight weekend in the final.
“I let the pressure get to me. I wrestled real cautious. … It doesn’t bug me super bad, but it would have been nice if I could have accomplished that.”
Cook couldn’t participate in a do-over now — even if it were possible. He had surgery two weeks ago to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee suffered during the California vs. Oregon exhibition, that latest in a series of freak injuries Cook has endured since breaking on to the state wrestling scene with a seventh-place finish at 152 pounds as a freshman for Clovis West.
Cook overcame a torn ligament in his ankle to finish second at 152 pounds as a sophomore in his final season at Clovis West, battled through a broken foot to place fourth at 160 pounds last year for Madera and didn’t allow a torn hamstring and strained ACL from slowing him down during a 41-2, 27-pin senior season.
“It’s a good thing this one happened after state,” said Cook, who went 143-27 during his career and became one of 21 four-time medalists in the 38-year history of the state tournament.
Madera coach Joe Romine knew he was getting a state contender when Cook arrived on campus in 2008 after initially trying to transfer from Clovis West to Clovis — with a full family move — only to have his athletic eligibility denied by district administrators.
What Romine didn’t know was the kind of leader he was getting in Cook, whom he described as a de facto assistant coach in a singlet.
“There was some apprehension there: How well would he fit in with out team chemistry? But within 5 minutes of the first practice, I became his biggest fan. Within 10 minutes, he was a team captain because of his charisma,” Romine said.
“And never once did he have to tell you how good he was. When you’re that good, everyone already knows.”
Romine said Cook was so good that he received calls from coaches around the state each of the past two seasons wondering which weight division Cook would settle to.
“James is one of those guys who would cause people to either go up or drop down a weight,” Romine said. “People would run from him because he was that devastating. I might coach another 15 years and not get another one like him.”