By Pierre Bibbs
Sports Editor 

Never been pinned

Justin Lamb's 136-3 wrestling career revisited

 

March 13, 2019

Courtesy Photo

Justin Lamb high fives Coach Pat Sargent at the 1994 All Class State Wrestling Tournament after Lamb won his first state title.

Malta's Justin Lamb has not missed a State Wrestling meet in thirty years since his older brother Travis Lamb competed in 1989.

But Justin isn't merely just a wrestling fan. He was arguably one of Malta's most dominant wrestlers in the mid-90's, winning two state championships in 1994-1995, and losing only three matches in his career. He never lost by pinfall. Lamb was 136-3 as a Mustang wrestler.

Lamb wrestled in the heavyweight class all four years, despite having four different coaches in those four seasons.

"I was also the smallest heavyweight in the state," Lamb told the PCN.

During his freshman season, he weighed 200 pounds and he weighed 225 pounds by the time he graduated in 1996. The 215 and 205 weight classes were not around during his time in high school. The heavyweight class went from 189 to 285.

"At wrestling time I was right around 215-220 (his senior season)," Lamb said. "You told the coaches what weight you wanted to wrestle and if you wanted that spot, we did wrestle-offs and whoever won got the varsity spot."

As for coaches, Scott King was the wrestling coach during Lamb's freshman year. Lauren Salsbery took the reins in Lamb's sophomore season. Pat Sargent coached Lamb in his junior season and Steve French coached Lamb during his senior season.

Lamb was asked if he had noticed a major difference between wrestling in the '90s and wrestling today.

"Toughness," Lamb said. "The attitudes were completely different than the attitudes in kids today."

Lamb expanded on his statement.

"My attitude when I was wrestling for those four years was it was six minutes that I could torture somebody and get away with it," Lamb said.

In Lamb's freshman season, he nearly had a perfect record, with only one loss to Mike Leinwand of Forsyth. Despite his stellar first season, Lamb became ineligible to participate during the mid-point of the season.

During his sophomore season, Malta welcomed Salsbery as the new head coach. Though Lamb only lost twice that year, his first loss came in the first meet of the season.

"In my sophomore season, I lost to the same guy, same tournament, in the first tournament of the year in Sidney in the semi-finals," Lamb said. "He beat me again my sophomore year by one point."

Lamb would go on to defeat every opponent he faced until he would lose again in the state tournament. He went on to take third place at the 1993 Class B State Wrestling Tournament.

He was matched up against Willie Maxwell of Deer Lodge in the semi-finals, when Lamb was struck in the face, affecting his ability to wrestle.

"Not even halfway through the third period, he head butted me in the bridge of the nose and swelled both of my eyes shut," Lamb said.

To add insult to injury, Lamb's nose was broken and he couldn't see.

"I told my coach, I'm done. I can't see anything," Lamb said. "he said, 'no, you're going to finish the match.'"

Lamb continued to plead his case, stating that he couldn't see anything.

"Coach said to get a hold of an arm and don't let go," Lamb said. "I lost by one point."

Lamb couldn't recall the end of the match, but he said he probably has the VHS tape somewhere. He wrestled two more opponents that day two qualify for the third-place match. He did so with both eyes still swollen shut.

"I ended up beating Scott Molvig in the third-place match by four points," Lamb said. "It was pretty sweet."

Molvig was one year ahead of Lamb, and the duo had clashed for years, often times at tournament championships.

Lamb went a perfect 34-0 during his junior season, that season included a state title win over Molvig, by a 6-3 decision. The title would be the first of Lamb' career and a spoiling moment for Molvig, who could've ended his high school career with a title.

"My junior year Molvig and I met just about every weekend for the championship," Lamb said. "It was a battle every weekend. We wrestled for a lot of championships that year and I won every one of them."

Lamb attributes his first championship campaign to great conditioning thanks to his third coach Pat Sargent.

"My junior year, I give about 90 percent of the credit to Pat Sargent," Lamb said. "It was his first year teaching in Malta and he had us in such good shape that it wasn't even funny. We ran, we jumped rope, we climbed rope. It was always something."

Coach Sargent's cardio training happened three times a week before the first period of classes. The athletes would run two miles or more despite the weather conditions.

The other ten percent could be chalked up to Lamb wanting to improve on his first two seasons of wrestling.

"It was the desire not to lose anymore," Lamb said. "It is not fun to lose."

Lamb was able to finish state without any catastrophic injuries his junior season. He defeated Dave Hutchins of Noxon in the opening round and then Boes Pflug of Huntley Project in the semifinals.

"Once you win your semi-finals match on Saturday morning, then it sets in that you are in for the championship and there are a lot of nerves," Lamb said.

During the introduction of the finals matches, Lamb looked up and saw over 8,000 spectators in the crowd. Initially, the nerves got to Lamb, keeping him near a garbage can.

"From the time that I was warming up to the time I went to the mat, I threw up in the garbage can seven times," Lamb said.

Things were different once he entered the arena. The nerves had all of a sudden left.

"Once the whistle blows it's just the two of you," Lamb said.

After the win, Lamb said despite the constant vomiting, he wasn't tired or winded even after going the full six minutes.

After his first title, Lamb went into the next season knowing that he had to wrestle hard to have a shot at repeating.

"You just get that attitude that you are not going to let anyone take that away from you," Lamb said.

Though Lamb would ultimately post a second undefeated season, he admitted that it was a struggle at times. Coaching would again help push Lamb to a title, this time by first-year coach Steve French.

"Midway through the season, I had some matches that were way closer than they should've been against kids that I had wrestled many time before and they were coming within one or two points," Lamb said.

Matches came down to within the last ten seconds and Lamb found himself in ties against wrestlers that he had beaten by several points in previous matches.

Noticing that Lamb wasn't wrestling as well as he did in his junior season, Coach French pulled Lamb into the coaches' room and asked him what was going on.

"We talked about it long enough and finally figured it out," Lamb said. "I was wrestling not to lose instead of wrestling to win. He said, 'we need to get you back to where you are wrestling to win, going through whoever is out there.'"

Lamb would go on to remain undefeated, earning him a distinction that not many can say during their high school career.

"I never did get pinned during my whole career," Lamb said.

Lamb was asked what wrestling has taught him.

"If you are willing to put in the work, there isn't much that you can't do," he said. "In wrestling, in life, it doesn't matter what you're talking about. Put work into your marriage. If you put in the work, you can do anything. If you do it halfway, you're not going to get the same results."

Lamb went on to say, that he had no idea how much it really affected him until his son Gerome started wrestling for Malta High School around 2010.

"Gerome was a freshman and Craig French (brother of Steve French) was his coach and Gerome didn't know if he wanted to go out for wrestling," Lamb said.

Justin and Gina didn't force Gerome to wrestle, but they encouraged it.

"Right at Christmas break, Gerome walked into our bedroom one night," Lamb said. "We had just gone to bed and he came in and said 'mom, dad, I just wanted to thank you guys for encouraging me to go out for wrestling. The stuff that I have learned, the life lessons and hardships are all there. Wrestling relates to life and I didn't know that by hanging around these guys, we have become family.'"

 

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