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La Jolla Athlete of the Week: Wrestler Caden Kestler pins down Eastern League title

La Jolla High School senior Caden Kestler pins an opponent during a recent wrestling match.
(Stephanie Montion Marquez)

The La Jolla High School senior is wrapping up his fourth year with the program, but he still has more chances to ‘show what I can do.’

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La Jolla High School wrestler Caden Kestler is closing his last season as a Viking on top. The senior — currently the only member of the team who has been with the program all four of his high school years — recently won the Eastern League title for his weight class and is looking forward to championship matches in coming weeks.

But getting there has taken years of building mental and physical strength, despite challenges along the way.

Kestler said he started wrestling for La Jolla in his freshman year because “I liked the toughness and grit that [the sport] requires of you. I also like that wrestling is a solo sport; you have no one to back you up.”

But when he started, Kestler was timid and created roadblocks for himself, he said. “I was so focused on how good the other person was, but I had to find it within myself that nothing else matters besides the match you are in and how you perform.”

Over time, he built confidence — and muscle — by continuing a physical regimen to keep himself in top form. He also developed a speed-centered style that he made his own over the years.

“My style is centered on quick, snappy moves to get the other person down and control the match from there,” Kestler said. “I learned to focus on what I needed to do to get my opponent down.”

But in his junior year, Kestler had ACL surgery that slowed him physically and, for a time, mentally.

“I couldn’t do anything for months starting in March 2022,” he said. “I was super bummed out for like a month, maybe more, just sitting at home. But I realized there was nothing I could do except get better and exercise my upper body, which tested my mental toughness.”

Kestler said he used the experience to grow as an individual. “It got me into physical therapy, and I had to do a lot of work to get my body back to where it needed to be,” he said. “That allowed me to get right back into wrestling and start where I left off the year before.”

“The things I want the team to be good at, he’s good at. He shows enthusiasm for the sport, and the other athletes see what he has gotten out of the program.”

— Kellen Delaney, La Jolla High School wrestling coach

In the Eastern League, La Jolla High School is one of six teams, with 14 weight classes. The last match was Jan. 18.

“I only had one actual match in my weight class in the competition [for the Eastern League championship],” he said. “The other teams would forfeit the matches when they didn’t have someone in my weight class.”

In the one match in his weight class in which he competed, Kestler won. Furthermore, he competed against a wrestler in the next weight class up and won that match as well. As a group, the Vikings won the most matches and therefore the league title.

La Jolla High coach Kellen Delaney and wrestler Caden Kestler
La Jolla High coach Kellen Delaney and wrestler Caden Kestler have been working together for all four of Kestler’s high school years.
(Stephanie Montion Marquez)

Kestler’s coach Kellen Delaney said Kestler has provided consistency and leadership for his fellow wrestlers throughout his seasons.

“He’s been special to coach because we have four years of history together and he is someone who I can really tell that the things he has learned are sticking,” Delaney said. “The things I want the team to be good at, he’s good at. He shows enthusiasm for the sport, and the other athletes see what he has gotten out of the program.”

Kestler said there are more tournaments ahead to close out the season. Next up is the City Conference tournament that includes 20 teams from across San Diego, followed by the CIF divisional championships. If all goes well at CIF, La Jolla will compete in the Masters Championships, the qualifier for the state tournament.

“I’m feeling good and excited,” Kestler said. “This is my time to have fun and show what I can do.”

La Jolla Athlete of the Week features athletes from all sports in high school (La Jolla High, The Bishop’s School, La Jolla Country Day School) and other local youth sports. We’re looking not only for the stars of competition but also for student-athletes who set an example for teamwork, academic achievement and/or community involvement. Please email your nominations, and a way to reach your nominees, to Editor Rob Vardon at robert.vardon@lajollalight.com.