Brothers fuel Oak Harbor athletic teams

Wildcat wrestlers Jahleel Vester, left, and Jeremy Vester are one of three sets of brothers who star on Oak Harbor winter sports teams this year. - John Fisken / Whidbey News-Times
Wildcat wrestlers Jahleel Vester, left, and Jeremy Vester are one of three sets of brothers who star on Oak Harbor winter sports teams this year.
— image credit: John Fisken / Whidbey News-Times

Team chemistry is a key to success for athletic squads, and coaches try to cultivate a family atmosphere to bring their teams together and to form a bond to help succeed in competition.

The Oak Harbor High School boys winter athletic teams have a built-in advantage in their quest of kinship; each is powered by a set of brothers.

The leading scorers on the Wildcat basketball team are brothers senior Mike Washington Jr. and sophomore Drew Washington. Two of the top wrestlers are sophomore Jahleel Vester and freshman Jeremy Vester. The best times on the swim team are consistently set by senior Jacob Jepsen and junior Josh Jepsen.

The Washingtons have been playing basketball since childhood, introduced to the sport by their father, Mike Washington Sr., who is the Oak Harbor High School coach.

Mike Washington Jr. is a four-year starter who has earned all-league honors and is one of the conference’s leading scorers. He will play for Princeton next season.

Drew Washington saw spot duty last year as a freshman and has worked his way into the starting lineup this winter. While his brother is more of a slasher, he specializes in the long ball, recently hitting eight three-pointers in one game.

Drew Washington said getting to play along-side his brother makes the sport “more enjoyable.”

Mike Washington Jr. said, “It’s nice to play with your brother and with your dad as the coach.” Then he turned to his father and said with a smile, “Although we might get into it sometimes.”

He said he doesn’t really see himself as a mentor to his younger brother, and in typical sibling fashion, Drew Washington initially resisted advice.

Mike Washington Jr. said, “At first he didn’t listen to me, but he does now. I try to be the best I can be, and I try to help him be the best he can be.”

Drew Washington said he pushes himself “to get better,” and they are not driven to improve by trying to compete with each other.

Mike Washington Sr. said, “It’s fun coaching your kids, but it is triple bad when you lose. I’m blessed to have two kids who are so talented, but it can be tough. I’m harder on them than the other players.”

With that final comment, his sons echoed, “Yah.”

Jahleel Vester started wrestling in the eight grade and persuaded his brother to join the seventh-grade team.

Jahleel Vester said it is “pretty cool” to have his brother on the team: “If he gets beat, it makes me mad. If he wins, it psyches me up.”

Jeremy Vester said his older brother is a positive influence: “He helps my mindset when I get nervous. He also teaches me moves and we run together.”

The presence of a brother in practice motivates each to work harder, and they trade trash talk to break up the tedium. However, Jahleel Vester said, “If I push Jeremy more than he wants to be, he gets annoyed.”

There is no doubt who is the best wrestler. “He is,” Jeremy Vester said without hesitation.

Jahleel Vester, who is competing in the 120-pound class this year, placed eighth in the state tournament last winter  at 112 and is looking to take the title. Jeremy Vester (113 pounds) said his goal is to qualify for state.

They said the support of their parents has helped them succeed, and Oak Harbor coach Mike Crebbin concurred: “They have great parents and have really strong family values.”

He added, “They are good kids. They drill hard together. When you have brothers, they just seem to go harder.”

The Jepsens started swimming at the same time when Jacob was 11 and Josh 10, and now they are veterans of several state meets.

Last winter at the Washington high school championships, Jacob Jepsen was ninth in the 100 breaststroke and 10th in the 200 individual medley, while Josh Jepsen placed 12th in the 100 breaststroke and 13th in the IM. They swam together on relay teams that placed sixth and ninth.

When they first started swimming, the younger brother was the fastest.

Jacob Jepsen said, “He beat me all the time; it was both frustrating and motivating.”

Josh Jepsen said, “I never really thought about it much until he started beating me.”

Today they use their sibling rivalry as motivation.

Josh Jepsen said, “It definitely pushes you harder; we expect more out of each other.”

So who is fastest now?

Jacob Jepsen said it depends on the stroke and event.

He is focusing on breaking the school record of 1:48.31 in the 200 freestyle. His best time as a Wildcat is 1:49.7, although he has clocked a 1:48.24 in a club meet.

Josh Jepsen is aiming at the district 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley titles.

North Whidbey Aquatic Club coach Neil Romney said, “The Jepsen boys are competitive with one another in a friendly, positive way. When one swims faster, it spurs the other on to try to beat that time.

“I have not seen their rivalry become negative or antagonistic the way it does with some brothers…Their relationship has helped them each be better without either feeling overshadowed.”

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