PEMBERVILLE — After garnering 50 wins and a fifth-place finish at last year’s Division III state
tournament, Eastwood wrestler Gavin Owens is seeking to up his game his senior year.
Owens, ranked No. 2 in the state going into Defiance’s Tri-State Border War Dec. 28-29, went 5-0 to
improve his record to 14-0, and beat the No. 1 wrestler in the state, Wayne Trace senior Gavin Long
(9-1), 3-2, at 138 pounds.
That earned Owens the event’s Most Valuable Wrestler award. Not bad, when you consider the tri-state
event draws 45 teams primarily from Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.
“Owens is my best wrestler. He went to state all three years, placed twice and he would have placed the
third time, but we didn’t have it (due to the coronavirus),” Eastwood coach Joe Wyant said.
Last year, Owens finished 50-6, winning a sectional title at 132, and Northern Buckeye Conference
championship at 138.
Even though Owens was a district runner-up, he ran into some hefty competition in Legacy Christian junior
Camron Lacure (35-2) and Long (45-4) at last year’s state meet.
Owens started great, winning a 17-0 technical fall over Norwayne senior Jarrison Moore (25-7) and then
pinned Greenon junior Arlie Benson (39-5) in 3:23 to reach the semifinals.
There, he lost a 13-5 major decision to the eventual state champion, Lacure. In the consolation semis,
Owens fell to Long, 3-1. For fifth place, Owens defeated Edison freshman Kohen Horvath (44-13), 4-2.
What helps Owens, and his teammate Xavier Escobedo, the only two seniors on Eastwood’s roster, is they
are practice partners. Escobedo was 44-4 last year but did not qualify for state.
“He had a great year but just didn’t wrestle well at districts last year,” Wyant said. “Three kids he
beat during the season went to state and he didn’t. He just had a bad week, but he’s doing really well
Escobedo (14-1) took third at Defiance, winning a 6-3 decision over Findlay sophomore John Paul Smith
(15-5) in the 144-pound consolation final.
Watching Escobedo and Owens go at each other in practice is like watching a state tournament match take
place daily in Eastwood’s wrestling room.
“Their practice partners are only a weight apart. Xavier is actually a little lighter and Gavin is 138,
but Xavier is a light 144, but those two are wrestling all the time together,” Wyant said.
Junior Bryce Hesselbart returns after going 42-12 a year ago at 160. Hesselbart took fourth at the
Tri-State event at 175 pounds and is 11-3. He is basically wrestling up a weight class.
“It’s early yet, but he’s wrestling better than last year. He’s wrestling 175, but he’ll probably go down
to 165 — we’re debating,” Wyant said.
“He’s caught right in the middle of those two. He may go down, but he’s doing OK so far.”
Wyant took four wrestlers to Defiance, including sophomore Caiden Maize (9-6), who took fifth at 132, so
all four placed.
Beyond his top three, Hesselbart, Owens and Escobedo, Wyant has a full roster with plenty of youth
filling starting spots. He can fill every weight class except one, but is starting four freshmen at 113,
126, 157, and heavyweight (285).
However, there is one surprise, and that is junior Jaleel Rayford, the younger brother of former Eastwood
football standout Jaden Rayford. The 6-0 Rayford is close to 200 pounds.
“He’s a first-year junior who was never wrestled before, but he’s another starter doing well, though,”
“He’s always been a basketball player and good football player. He decided to give up basketball and
decided to give this a try,” Wyant continued.
“I’ve never seen a wrestler more natural. He’s 12-6 right now so he’s doing pretty good. He’s a specimen,
he looks good and he’s very athletic.”
As Wyant and his wrestlers continue NBC dual meet action against Elmwood and Rossford Wednesday, the
Eagles are getting a look at what the league meet may look like.
“I think we have a shot to win. We’re right there. I really mean this — I think we can get anywhere from
first to sixth, because I think anyone of six teams have a chance to win the league this year,” Wyant
“It is really close. We are all pretty even. All of the dual meets have been pretty even so far that
we’ve wrestled in the league. Everybody is just about the same. Everybody has some injuries right now
and everybody has some kids who may not wrestle.
“Elmwood was supposed to have the best team and they are picked to have a good team, but two of their
best kids are out of wrestling due to football injuries for the season and they don’t think they will be
back,” Wyant continued.
“Otsego has one or two injuries, so they’ve lost some. Every team has like three very good kids on their
team, so it will be what everybody else does with their second level kids and how they perform that day,
on who wins the league.”
This weekend, Wyant is sending Owens and Escobedo to the Perrysburg Invitational Tournament (PIT) and the
underclassmen to Woodmore’s “A” Classic.
For Wyant, this is a labor of love. He is head coach of three varsity sports, football at Gibsonburg and
wrestling and softball at Eastwood. The 68-year-old has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
“I’ve been retired for 10 years, so I have nothing else to do. I feel better now than I did 10 years
ago,” Wyant said. “I like being around the kids. They make me feel younger, they keep me competitive,
and I enjoy seeing kids winning and getting better.”