With five conference champions returning from a team that won its fourth straight team title and finished fifth among Ohio’s Division I teams, Clay is the odds-on favorite to repeat its Three Rivers Athletic Conference wrestling championship.
The Eagles have sustained some significant losses to graduation, including four of their six state placers.
Gone are 285-pound state runner-up Garrett Gray, as well as fifth-place finishers Mike Screptock (126), Jacob Conine (132), and Angelo Amenta (138).
But the cupboard is hardly bare for second-year head coach Ralph Cubberly, who has 30 letter winners included in his 56-wrestler program, which will again sport two full varsity lineups (Gold and Green squads).
“As long as we can stay healthy and get our athletes into the correct weight classes, I believe that this team has the capability to compete with some of the top teams in the state,” Cubberly said. “This is a very hard-working group of athletes who are goal-oriented, as a team and individually.”
The Eagles will be paced by their three returning state qualifiers — senior Jarred Gray (220), junior Jared Davis (113), and sophomore Richie Screptock (126). Davis and Screptock each placed seventh at state last season.
Along with Richie Screptock (42-7 record) and Jarred Gray (30-7), who won conference crowns at 113 and 200, respectively, Clay’s other returning TRAC champions are senior twin brother Damon Dominique (152) and Devin Dominique (170), who won at 152 and 160, and senior Eddie Silva (195), who won at 170.
Damon Dominique was 28-12 last season, brother Devin was 22-10, and Silva was 32-6.
Also returning to Clay’s top varsity lineup are seniors Brian Henneman (138), Carmelo Amenta (182), and Robert Rank (285), who were each TRAC runners-up last winter, and junior Nick Stencel (160).
Some top lineup newcomers for the Eagles are juniors Gavin Nelson (132) and Aaron Henneman (160), and freshman Matt Stencel (182).
If Clay does have any serious challenger for the TRAC team crown, it may be Central Catholic, which was runner-up in the first TRAC tournament last February. The Eagles posted 237.5 points in that tourney, Central had 160, third-place Whitmer 117, and fourth-place Findlay 102.
Clay’s prior three titles came in the City League, which was vacated by Clay, Central, St. Francis de Sales, St. John’s Jesuit, and Whitmer after the 2010-11 school year, and which no longer has wrestling at its six remaining Toledo Public Schools.
Central Catholic and second-year coach Antonio Guerra placed 15th in the Division II state tournament last year, and return two state placers from that team in junior Alex Mossing (138), who was third, and sophomore Nate Hagan (126), who was seventh.
Hagan is Central’s lone returing TRAC champion. Conference runners-up who are back are Alex Mossing, senior Matt Pool (113), who was also a state qualifier, and sophomore Josh Mossing (120). Another district qualifier a year ago was senior Shawn Murrey (170).
Guerra’s top newcomers are the freshman trio of Josh Portillo (106), Richard Jackson (145), and Josh Venia (106).
“It’s definitely been a slow start to the season for us, not having the football players on the mat because of their state championship run,” Guerra said. “I’m not looking for too much early in the season. After the first of the year I’m looking to have a full team that is full-go by then.
“If all the pieces to the puzzle fall into place, I think we’ll have a strong lineup from 106 to 285. I absolutely think we have a shot at a TRAC title.”
Fremont Ross and ninth-year coach Mike Mezinger may not crack the top two in the TRAC, but appears capable of making a climb from fifth to third in the conference this season.
Twelve of the 31 wrestlers in the Little Giants’ program lettered last season, including seven district qualifiers. One of those was junior Trey Grine (145), who was the team’s top TRAC placer with a second-place finish at 138 last season.
The other district qualifiers back for Ross are seniors Trevor Brown (182), Eddie Chavez (195) and Jalil Dolton (285), juniors Bailey Mezinger (120) and Peyton Geary (152), and sophomore Jordan Weissinger (138).
“We’ve got a lot of experience coming back,” coach Mezinger said. “We did not have a good TRAC tournament last year, but we should be a lot better this year. We’re really focusing on improving at districts.
“Our goal is to have four state qualifiers. The key will be having some of our younger guys step up.”
Findlay and ninth-year coach Ben Kirian shouldn’t lose much ground in the TRAC tourney standings this year, but may not have the personnel in place to make much of a climb either.
The Trojans have 26 wrestlers, including nine letter winners from last season. Heading that list of returnees are five district qualifiers — seniors Taylor Opp (170, 13-2 start this year) and Kory Knox (285), junior Ian Sillette (195, 10-2 start), and sophomores Justin Joliff (120, 13-2) and Jimmy Staschiak (132, 10-5).
Findlay’s other lineup returnees include seniors Matt Stockard (152, 11-4 start) and Tony Kalani (160, 11-4), and juniors Michael Kalani (132) and Marcus Molina (285). They are bolstered by three varsity newcomers — senior Tyler Harris (220) and freshmen Christian Sanchez (126) and Justin Eyerly (126).
“Our team has a number of good individuals who could have memorable seasons this year,” Kirian said. “I feel that we can get at least two kids down to state. Our only real drawback is the extremely low [program] numbers that we are faced with at this point.”
Whitmer has 35 wrestlers out for sixth-year coach Joshua Adams, including 10 returning letter winners.
Leading the way should be senior Dinny Moore (120), who was a district qualifiers last season, and junior Jacob Lapoint (195), who was a TRAC champion at 182 last February.
Other letter winners back include seniors Jad Rihan (132), Tommy Barnett (170), Nate Streeter (182), and Marquise Moore (285), juniors James Wingate (126) and Logan Cluckey (145), and sophomore Justin Lutz (113). Two new additions expected to perform well are junior Conner Jacobs (152) and sophomore Zac Sa (132).
“This is a very motivated team that’s working hard at achieving our goal to challenge for a top finish in the TRAC,” Adams said. “Finishing third the last two years is leaving us ready to take it further.
“We are confident that our hard work will pay off in the postseason. The key to our success will be our seniors.”
St. Francis and second-year coach Charles Dooley look to improve on last season’s seventh-place TRAC finish with 26 wrestlers in the program, including eight returning letter winners.
This group includes five district qualifiers, led by junior state qualifier Michael Irvine (120), who won 39 matches. Irvine begins this season out with an injury with no current timetable for his return.
Other district qualifiers are seniors Chris Schenk (138), Shelton Evans (182) and Sam Burns (285), and junior Zach Uram (195), who opened the season at 8-0. Junior Steven Welling (160) narrowly missed reaching districts, and another experienced wrestler is sophomore Kade Kanderski.
The promising newcomers are freshmen Kyle McGibbeny (113), Alex Shubert (145-152), and Hayden Brown (160).
“We definitely think we can have a strong and positive season,” Dooley said. “We just have to avoid injuries and mental distraction. We need to have strong performances from all the district qualifiers from last year, and from some of our newcomers.”
St. John’s and second-year coach Charlie Schoen look to improve on a sixth-place TRAC finish with 35 wrestlers, including seven returning letter winners.
Back to lead the Titans are seniors A.J. Rush (120, 17-12 record last season), Michael Reese (145), Andrew Bostdorff (170) and Peter Krull (220, 24-17), juniors Peter Nichols (126, 29-12) and Michael Farrar (132), and sophomore Andrew Jewell (182, 12-10). Krull and Jewell were each district qualifiers a year ago.
The biggest loss to graduation is last season’s TRAC 195-pound champion Ted Schoen.
“Our team this year is very young with half our lineup made up of freshmen and sophomores,” coach Schoen said. “This Titan squad is a hard-working, cohesive group building for the future.”
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.