When the history of the origins of high school girls wrestling in Gulf County is written, Kaylee Easter’s name will figure prominently in the early chapters.
After a season of wrestling, taking on all opponents, some girls, mainly boys who weigh more than her, the Wewahitchka junior scored a fifth place in the girls state tournament Feb. 20 in Kissimmee.
Forty-one teams, from throughout the state, took part in the annual tournament, including four girls from a team coached by Tracy Malcolm that has put Wewahitchka on the map, a team that will be among the hardiest pioneers for girls wrestling when the Florida High School Athletic Association sanctions the sport next year.
For the past several years, Malcolm and assistant coach Jay Rushing, who will be the first coach of an official FHSAA Wewa girls team next season, have taken girls down to the state meet, and this year Easter, who has competed for three years, was joined by three teammates.
Easter and freshman Ashlynn Ake were each wrestling in the 128-pound class, while freshman Keely Roberts was grappling in 122 pounds, and sixth grader Kameron Easter, who had been at one other December all girls tournament, was at 100 pounds.
Kameron Easter got her first competition win, going 1-2, her win by pin against a Ponte Vedre opponent.
“She’s new to the sport and she will be our first six-year wrestler once wrestling is sanctioned next year,” said Malcolm.
The two other teammates also saw first-hand the menace that these Florida fresh-faced wrestlers pose on the mat.
Ake, who had toughened up during the regular season by wrestling against boys in the 126 pound weight classes, lost both her matches in the double-elimination tourney.
“She’s got that competitive spirit,” said Malcolm. “When the whistle blows, she flips the switch.”
For Roberts, who had wrestled boys in the 120 and 126-pound classes all year long. It was a first competitive win, as she pinned her Apopka opponent in the second period of her second match, the victory bookended by two other losses.
For Kaylee Easter, it was a matter of wrestling seven times in two days, that culminated in her win that put her as fifth best at the tourney.
She started the day off 2-0, winning both by pins, against opponents from Orange City University and Windermere.
Then, in the quarterfinals, Kaylee Easter had her bout against the eventual tourney champion, a wrestler from Green Cove Springs Clay. “She went a minute into second period, was attempting to stand, and she cradled and pinned her,” said Malcolm.
Now in the losers bracket, she pinned an opponent from Oviedo, and then scored a technical fall against a young lady from Riverdale, outpointing her 15-0 in the third period.
Now in the consolation semifinals, Kaylee Easter was pinned by last year’s state champion, from Miami’s Mater Lakes Academy, in the second period, bedeviled by the identical move that had cost her earlier.
She now had to battle for fifth place, and she earned it, pinning the Windermere wrestler she had downed on day one, with a pin about two-and-a-half minutes in the second period.
Kaylee Easter’s skills were sharpened by a busy regular season, as she went 26-22 against boys in the 132, 138 and 145 pound weight classes.
For maximum effectiveness, she whittled down over the course of four months to the 128-pound class she bested at Girls State.
Malcolm, a retired active duty military man who has directed the school’s wrestling program for the last 12 years, after succeeding Todd Johnson and his predecessor, the school’s first coach back in 2004, Dr. Knapp.
To shed the pounds, the coaches keep the wrestling room a little warmer than normal, and the wrestlers practice in long sleeve shirts and long jogging pants.
“One is for weight loss and the other is for disease transmission,” said Malcolm.
Easter managed a balanced record against the bigger boys, even though she was weighing in at 129 pounds, and opponents at 139-pounds plus.
“That a tough obstacle to overcome,” said coach. “She went out there, she was a competitor, she was in her matches and even when she lost the boys were having to work very hard.”
Her road to becoming Wewa’s first, and so far its best, girl wrestler began not in a singlet but in a gown. “She was a beauty queen, a cute little girl who did pageants,” said Malcolm. “She showed up to a practice and said ‘I want to try this and she never left. She’s been with it ever since.
“You have to pay your dues, it takes time, it takes experience,” said the Wewa coach. “Sometimes she’s successful, a lot of times she’s not, but she gains her experience with stronger opponents. She’s as tough as they come, and she’s just that much more advanced than they are.
“Her takedowns are her sweet spot,” Malcolm said. “Nine times out of 10 when she takes a shot, she gets it. She’ll get them in a near fall or go ahead and pin them.”
Rushing will be coaching this talented wrestler next year and he will be focusing on weightlifting.
Some questions still remain as to exactly how the FHSAA will handle the newly sanctioned sport. “This year they will go through and work out all the logistics and when it will run, all that will be done this year,” said Malcolm. “It is generally a winter sport, I’m hoping they will keep it winter, simultaneous with the guys.”
He said he is shooting for the stars with Kaylee Easter next year.
“I think she’ll be a state contender,” Malcolm said. “She’s got the experience, she’s paid her dues. It’s going to come back and pay dividends for her.”
The following is the weight class, name and grade, season record and post-season performance of the seven boys who rounded out the Gator wrestling team
106: Eighth grader Jake Parker, 21-10, did not participate in postseason
106: Eighth grader Jay Brown, 26-10, District runner up, a match away from state.
113: Freshman Hunter Brown, 21-20, District third place
120: Sophomore Justin Johnson, 20-21, District third place
132/138: Sophomore Conner Roberts, 18-20
138/145: Seventh grader Bailey Cox, 10-12, Did not participate in postseason
285: Junior Briceson Davis, 10-28, District fourth place
This article originally appeared on The Star: Easter springs into Wewa wrestling glory