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Central Kitsap High wrestling team gears up for new season
Shaq Blair can’t stop thinking about his name, and team, on a gold plaque.
Blair, a senior wrestler at Central Kitsap High School, thinks about it at least 10 times a day. It’s the prospect of Blair and the Cougars placing at the Class 4A state tournament that motivates them for the upcoming season.
Blair, who finished as a state alternate last season, walks by the wrestling plaques next to the school’s gymnasium every day.
“Walking by those plaques makes you think about how far you want to go, how much you want to achieve,” he said. “Having my name engraved with the team would mean a lot, and I think we’re ready to go the limit.”
Central Kitsap head coach Mike Harter is entering his eighth season with the wrestling program, and has the team working long hours in the weight room to prepare.
Teamwork is the first and foremost lesson right now, he said.
“We make all of our guys accountable for everything,” Harter added. “The whole team takes responsibility for what happens on that mat.”
Harter has more help with his team this season than ever before, which now includes two paid assistants, John Cooke and Bob Zornes, and a collection of volunteers. Both young and veteran wrestlers will have ample face-time with coaches on a daily basis, Harter said, and there are five to six coaches at the school every day during practice.
“I can only divide myself so much,” Harter said. “It just makes us a better team to have a deeper coaching staff this season.”
The team is returning several wrestlers with various levels of state and regional experience. And for the first time, the Cougars may fill every weight class. Sophomore Drew Guertin is also vying to wrestle in three different weight classes, which Harter hasn’t seen in years.
The team’s goals for this season center on sending more athletes to the state tournament, and dethroning South Kitsap High School from the upper echelon of the league. The Wolves have won 170 consecutive league matches dating back to 1992, including a 44-18 win against Central Kistap last season. The Cougars believe this year’s squad may be the one to finally break the their rival’s dominance.
Senior Tyler Kahl, who placed sixth at regionals last season, said he’s tired of hearing about the Wolves. The two rivals will face off on Jan. 25 at Central Kitsap, its only home league match of the season. It’s also Senior Night.
“I’ve been beaten by South Kitsap every year,” Kahl said. “It’s my senior year, and I think it would be really cool to beat them, especially on Senior Night.”
Senior Joey Troyer said he’s ready to start the season, but his blood is still boiling over two points. Troyer, who earned a spot at the state tournament as a sophomore, missed a return trip to the Tacoma Dome last year when he dropped his final match by two points. He said he wants nothing else but to end his career with the Cougars at the Dome.
“I’m pretty motivated because you want to be there with your team on that podium, and parade around the stadium with the other champions,” he added.
Troyer, Blair and Kahl are the three senior leaders on the squad with the most postseason experience, while juniors Joel Eklof, Joseph Sanchez and Kyle Lanoue add depth. Sanchez and Lanoue were alternates to regionals and state last season, respectively.
Eklof missed a trip to state last season by one match.
“It was the one match that I should have won,” Eklof said.
The Cougars open the season at the Timberline Invitational on Saturday, Dec. 4. The postseason starts in February, when the entire team will be thinking about the gold plaques resting in the school’s hallways.
Dec. 11 - Olympic Duals at Kitsap Pavilion
Dec. 16 - Olympia/Shelton at South Kitsap
Jan. 7 - Battle of the Bay at Olympic
Jan. 15 - Matman Classic Tournament at Central Kitsap
Jan. 25 - South Kitsap at Central Kitsap
Feb. 4-5 - League Tournament at Foss
Feb. 12 - Regional Tournament (location TBA)
Feb. 18-19 - State Tournament at the Tacoma Dome