Kaden Ebbinga hasn't lost much during his senior year, just three times in 29 matches. The first two setbacks came during a two-day tournament in December, a time he says he felt drained.
The week going into Corona del Mar High's holiday break, Ebbinga wrestled four days in a row. During the stretch, he competed in eight matches. The first three went well for Ebbinga, as he earned wins against wrestlers from Irvine, Newport Harbor and Estancia in dual meets over a two-day span.
The next two days, Ebbinga entered the Mann Classic. In his first match in the tournament at Santiago Canyon College, his opponent manhandled him. For some reason, Ebbinga opened against Alta Loma's Brad Pearce, the No. 1 seed in the 152-pound division. That isn't how it should have played out, Ebbinga seeing a CIF State qualifier from a year ago right away.
"I was seeded incorrectly because the computer system messed up," Ebbinga says.
The next thing that was ruined was Ebbinga's undefeated record. He couldn't blame a machine for that, just Pearce, who pinned Ebbinga late in the first period. Ebbinga dropped into the consolation round, where he won three straight, before he bounced out of the tournament by losing his first match on the second day.
Over the holiday break, Ebbinga vowed to come back stronger than ever. He first needed rest and Coach Mark Alex accommodated him and the rest of the Sea Kings, giving them a week off.
"That really helped me get my mindset back," Ebbinga says.
Ebbinga returned last week to the mat with a winning mentality. He competed in another tournament, his third of the season.
Ebbinga regained his winning form. He put himself in position to claim his second tournament, advancing to the finals of the Asics Southern California Challenge at Tustin High.
Ebbinga went 5-1, with his only loss coming against Trabuco Hills' Chandler Gryske, 14-4, in the championship. The lopsided result isn't what Ebbinga envisioned, but he'll take his overall performance during the two days.
Before the finale, Ebbinga scored two impressive victories. His third match put him up against the No. 3 seed, Brad Boorstin of Palisades. Triple overtime decided the winner and Ebbinga prevailed, 6-4, to reach the semifinals.
In the semis, Ebbinga faced the No. 2 seed, Blake Vasquez of Fountain Valley. Ebbinga pulled a reversal and held on for a 5-4 win. Beating opponents like Boorstin and Vasquez, who is ranked No. 3 in Orange County, bodes well for Ebbinga's chances of qualifying for the CIF Southern Section Masters meet for the first time.
Alex, in his first year as CdM's coach, doesn't doubt Ebbinga will make it that far. He has big goals for Ebbinga before Ebbinga joins the CdM boys' lacrosse team in the spring.
"We expect him to compete for a CIF [Southern Section Central Division] championship," Alex says.
The tournament Alex is referring to is on Feb. 21-22 at Norte Vista High in Riverside. Ebbinga remembers the last time he appeared in that gym. He fell short of placing in the top five to advance to Masters, the precursor to the CIF State finals.
"I was [a couple of wins] away from going to Masters last year," Ebbinga says. "My goal is to win CIF, place [in the top nine] at Masters [to] make it to state."
The road is one Alex has taken, albeit 30 years ago as a senior at El Dorado High. As a 132-pounder, Alex won a Masters title and went on to place third at state in 1983.
Alex believes Ebbinga can take a similar path in his final year.
"I'm already planning ahead," Alex says.