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Winter prep preview | Oak Harbor wrestling
With five state qualifiers returning and a deep senior class, it is not unreasonable to think the Oak Harbor High School boys wrestling team can equal its lofty performance of last winter.
The Wildcats placed 10th in the state 3A tournament after going 15-2 during the regular season and winning the Wesco North title.
Topping the talent list is senior captain Jahleel Vester (138/145 pounds), a three-time state qualifier who placed eighth twice.
Also returning with state experience are Christian Bertram (113), Jeremy Vester (132/138), Mark Johnston (145/152) and Jackson Constant (285).
Seven other returning letter winners add to the talent pool: Ray Quinday (195), who qualified for the regional; captain Nate Stanford (152/160), who missed much of last year with an injury; Garrett Stahl (106); Sebastian Ceaser (145/152); Jacob Dugin (195); Kenny King (220) and Kekai Tarrant (152/160).
Bertram, Constant and the Vester brothers placed second at the regional meet in 2013, and Johnston was fourth.
Tarrant and Dugin placed in the top six at the subregional.
Jeremy Vester was a first-team all-Wesco selection.
Key newcomers, according to first-year coach Peter Esvelt, are Gage Eccleston (170), Stephen Dixon (160), Matt Zafra (182), Mike Laningham (182/190) and Blaine Coleman (220).
The girls team returns four letter winners: captain Becca Holloman, Tricia Desquitado, Olivia Hunt and Alexia Mobley.
Hunt finished fifth and Desquitado sixth in the subregional last winter.
Key newcomers are Meredith Bain, Amber Cramsey-Behnke and Caitlin Woodworth.
Cramsey-Behnke, a transfer, qualified for state last year for Nooksack Valley.
Oak Harbor’s strengths, Esvelt said, are the “great group of senior leaders” and depth.
“(The seniors) have experience in regionals and state and a strong sense of team,” Esvelt said.
“We have big numbers (73 at the end of week one), with a ton of ninth graders to build on in the future,” he added.
One of the problems, according to Esvelt, is finding enough room for his large team. The current mat room is too small, so practice spills over to the cafeteria.
The club needs as much mat time as possible to “get the new wrestlers up to speed,” Esvelt said.
Esvelt’s expectations include seeing “young men and women challenge themselves and become better and stronger people for it.”
He also expects his boys team to compete for the league, subregional and regional titles and be competitive at the state tournament.
None will be easy, Esvelt pointed out, because Marysville-Pilchuck and Stanwood have “a lot of tough returners” and Everett and Marysville Getchell are competitive each year.
A rugged schedule won’t help matters as the Wildcats are on the road for the first 12 competitions. They won’t host a match until the final two, Jan. 28 and 30.
They open the season at Arlington at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10.
An intrasquad scrimmage is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5; admission is free.