EAST WENATCHEE — This season is a good one to be in the Eastmont wrestling room.
Not only are the Wildcats stacked with a quartet of talented seniors eyeing postseason glory, they’re also stuffed to the gills in turnout numbers — not since the mid-1990s has Eastmont’s roster approached the over 70 wrestlers it has this year.
“The seniors did a great job of recruiting,” said 25th-year Wildcats coach Ken Hoyt. “We just banged the halls a lot, and this (turnout) is what I had from about 1989 to 1995-96. They’ve seen kids have success and been impactful in our program.”
As happy as Hoyt is to see the growth in numbers, he’s just as excited to see what his core group of seniors — Fabian Wickham, Camden Wheatcroft, Darin Hardgrove and Kyle Hoffman — can accomplish this season.
They all have unfinished business after a disappointing postseason that saw only Wickham advance to Mat Classic.
“We underachieved as a unit, and I underachieved as a coach,” Hoyt said. “That’s not the humble thing to say; that’s the truth. I think we were physically ready, but we didn’t accept second-round losses. They got close last year, so this team’s pretty hungry.”
Perhaps the most hungry is the 106-pound Wickham, the most highly-touted wrestler in the program and a perennial state-title contender who is coming off back-to-back third-place finishes at 3A state. He enters the season as the top-ranked 4A wrestler in his weight class on washingtonwrestlingreport.net.
“He’s looking pretty doggone tough,” Hoyt said of Wickham. “He’s been on the weights, and he’s about 25 pounds stronger on his bench, 50 to 60 more on his squat, and what really pleases me is 30 pounds more on his power clean. He’s gotten to be so much more explosive, and he’s focusing on the small things that killed him last year.
“Fabian is Fabian. He’s been prepared to be state champ since he was a sophomore, and he’s been close the last two years. He needs to not just be in the mix, he needs to be the stud, and that might take some getting used to.”
Hardgrove will once again be challenged at a tough-as-nails 182-pound class in Big Nine and postseason action.
“The big thing is making sure we have the right tournaments for (Hardgrove),” Hoyt said. “We have to make sure every single week is great competition for Darin. Last year he wouldn’t get quality matches until the semifinals.”
Along with Hardgrove, the 195-pound Hoffman gives Eastmont a dangerous 1-2 punch in the upper weights.
“Kyle Hoffman has always been a great kid, but he was too deliberate, so he doesn’t want to be too deliberate (this season),” Hoyt said.
Hoffman and Hardgrove lead a deep group of a dozen wrestlers in the heavier classes.
“In the four-weight category from 182 to heavyweight, you have 12 kids there that could be contenders on a lot of teams,” Hoyt said. “There’s no standouts besides Hoffman and Hardgrove, but they’re all solid. And being able to wrestle with those two physical specimens is upping their games.”
In the middle weights, Wheatcroft is expected to be as big a scorer as the rest of the senior leaders in tournaments.
“Those four guys are a pretty good quartet and should get us a lot of wins. They’ll get us in the mix of any tournament,” Hoyt said.
Several other wrestlers have Hoyt raving, including Dakota Aldridge, Dylan Fechner, Cory Monnot, Christian Hernandez, Michael Preston, Jeremy VanAssche and Jose Moncayo.
The Wildcats will also have a girls team this season, though the numbers weren’t solidified in the preseason.
Even with their frontline talent and a deep roster, the Big Nine championship still goes through legendary programs at Moses Lake and Sunnyside. Hoyt also expects the rest of the league’s members — Wenatchee, Davis and Eisenhower — to put up a good fight.
As for the postseason, it won’t be any easier than last season.
“It’s the same as it was last year — it’ll be harder than hell to get out of regionals,” Hoyt said. “Our regionals, it’s a mini-state.”