It’s past the midway point of wrestling season at Esquimalt High School. Numbers are especially low at wrestling practice, mostly because it’s exam week. Just six of the team’s 28 members spar on the school’s wrestling mats, leftover from the 1994 Commonwealth Games.
One more wrestler, Grade 12 Dan Lebreton, is around the corner analyzing videos of his upcoming opposition. Mostly, Lebreton studies the province’s top wrestler in his 78-kilogram weight class, Jasmit Phulka.
When things are going right for Lebreton, which they are these days, Phulka is the only one in the province who can stop him.
“Lebreton goes on one undefeated streak after another, 10, 12 matches in a row, until he runs into Phulka,” Esquimalt wrestling coach Mike Thompson said.
When Lebreton was ending his Grade 10 year, his first as a competitive wrestler, Phulka was basking in the glow of a gold medal won at the Youth Commonwealth Games.
In the meantime, Lebreton has walked through everyone else in his weight class in the province. Lebreton won gold at the 2010 B.C. Summer Games over Phulka’s teammate, Rajin Gill. Phulka didn’t compete.
“There’s nobody else who I want to wrestle more (than Phulka),” Lebreton said. The differences between the two wrestlers are vast, but Lebreton is out to change that. Lebreton only came into the sport three years ago, after a modest four months of jiu jitsu training.
In September 2009, Lebreton and a buddy were wrestling on school grounds during the lunch hour. Lebreton’s friends videotaped the wrestling match, a spirited, back and forth tilt.
“With the buzz around former provincial champion Dylan Straus relocating from Nova Scotia to Esquimalt High, we showed it to Mr. Thompson one day, and that was it. We started the team,” said Lebreton.
Straus graduated last year, but was a big help in leading the team at practise.
“No one took any points from him all year. He was this puny little guy, but was he fierce,” Lebreton said. “When I finally got a point from him near the end of the year, the first one to do so, he was pretty upset.”
Phulka, meanwhile, trains at the Miri Piri wrestling club in Abbotsford and is on Team Canada, touring to different tournaments for better competition. For Lebreton to be in the same conversation speaks to his talent and dedication to the sport, Thompson said.
Lebreton’s latest win streak ended at the Port Alberni Invitational tournament on Feb. 5, but he got what he wanted – another shot at Phulka.
“(Lebreton) executed his plan very well, but Phulka showed his dominance, elevating his game and overtaking Dan in both rounds,” Thompson said.
“It will be a long road of training to get to the place where (Lebreton) will be able to compete against Phulka. But if he puts his heart and soul into his training, I have no doubt that he can be on the podium at the provincial championships (Feb. 24-26 in Coquitlam).”