EL DORADO HILLS — While his school friends are making fun plans for this weekend, Oak Ridge wrestler Keaton Subjeck is in Bakersfield for two days of battling some of the toughest grapplers in the state.
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Today and tomorrow at Rabobank Arena, Subjeck and California’s top wrestlers are fighting for a spot on center mat Saturday night or, at the least, one of eight medals in each of 14 weight classes.
The Trojan junior, who has just two losses all season, weighs in at 160 pounds. Seven returning medalists from 2011, including Keaton, who finished eighth last year, are in this bracket.
“His weight class is probably the toughest one in the state. The top seven are returning state placers — a state champion, a second, two thirds, a fourth and Keaton. He has his work cut out for him but I wouldn’t put anything past him,” Oak Ridge coach, Casey Rhyan said.
Although Keaton headed to Bakersfield as the No. 2 seed from the Sac-Joaquin Section after losing a narrow 5-3 decision in last week’s Masters finals, the slate is wiped clean. The state brackets are done via a blind draw and his loss to McNair’s Jim Wilson, a two-time All American who took third at state last year, is in the past.
“My approach this week is just to go out confidently and not be hesitant,” Keaton said. “I can’t hold anything back; I can’t be hesitant. Sometimes guys wrestle not to lose — but I plan to keep attacking and try not to make mistakes. I’m definitely an offensive rather than a defensive wrestler — that’s when I’m comfortable.”
Keaton has plenty of experience in big matches. A friend introduced him to the sport when he was 10. He gave up baseball and karate to join the El Dorado Hills Wrestling Club and eventually won the junior high state 122-pound title. He was a national champion in sixth grade. He and Trojan graduate Vince Waldhauser, who now wrestles for the University of Virginia, have been buddies ever since.
His high school highlights include winning three league titles — once while Oak Ridge was in the Sierra Valley Conference and twice in the Delta River League. He took fourth in Division II as a freshman and won the Division I title as a sophomore and a junior. Keaton took second at both the 2011 and 2012 Masters tournaments. He counts among his career highlights a 6-4 victory last year at the state meet against Bakersfield’s Cole Hammond, a win he had to have to avoid elimination and advance to the medal rounds.
One of his losses this year also ranks as a major career disappointment. Ahead by a point in the semifinal match of the Doc Buchanan, Keaton gave up a takedown to an Oregon wrestler with 10 seconds left and lost by a point.
His trademark moves, double-leg takedowns and arm bars to pin his opponents, have resulted in a number of falls this season, but Keaton’s dedication to training will help him withstand the rigors of going the distance — three, two-minute periods — against opponents with the same goal — winning.
“I’ve seen the bracket but I haven’t really paid much attention,” Keaton said. “I know I have to beat some good people to get to the finals but I’m ready. I’ve had my share of long matches this year.”
Having a good coach ringside is another key to success and Keaton has one of the best in Rhyan, who has guided wrestlers to the center mat four times — a rarity for high school coaches — including Kyle West, Jordan Williams and Waldhauser (twice). Rhyan credits his athletes.
“Keaton has a great work ethic and a dedication to the sport,” Rhyan said. “He’s mentally tough and doesn’t make excuses.”
The feeling is mutual. “I love coach,” Keaton said. “He’s been through everything and knows so much. He gives advice well and all he cares about is us giving it our all and not giving up. He helps us learn from bad matches and reassures us. He’s the perfect coach.”
Whether Keaton medals or comes away with the top prize this weekend, he won’t give up. And his priorities are straight. A 4.0 grade-point student, Keaton’s goal is a college education — preferably at Stanford — although he’s also drawn interest from Princeton, Harvard, Virginia, Cal Poly and Columbia in New York.
But that’s the future. For now Keaton’s focus is on winning in Bakersfield and hopefully bringing home Oak Ridge’s first ever state championship.