A daily grind with intense competition in the wrestling room has positioned Perrysburg to join the state's elite teams.
The Yellow Jackets had three individuals qualify to the Division I state meet last season, finishing 25th in the team standings.
Coach Sam Cotterman said he believes half of his 14 wrestlers could potentially earn a berth in Columbus this year, adding the ultimate team goal is “to be top 10 in the state.”
“We'd like to get six down there, maybe seven,” said Cotterman, who is in his third season. “I think we can surprise some people. We have high goals because of what we have back but also because we have others that have stepped up. This team has progressed even more than I thought it would. We try to tell them life is a competition and we want this year's team to be better than last year's team.”
Cotterman said the competition level in the room at practice bolsters his optimism.
“We have kids that compete hard every day,” he said. “They wrestle hard against the kid ahead of them or below them. They both have to do that for both of them to get better.”
Senior Ryan Roth was among the three state qualifiers last year. He placed eighth in the 138-pound weight class.
“We have a very dedicated group,” Roth said. “Top to bottom we put in a lot of time in the offseason. You want to come into a program and leave it better than when you started.”
Last year marked the first time since 2005 that Perrysburg had two place winners in Columbus. Luke Boff, who graduated, finished fifth.
“The change we've seen is a huge improvement,” said Roth, who has a 23-6 record at 145 this season. “Before we were just trying to get to districts. Now we're trying to get six or seven down to state.”
Rocco Caywood is a junior who transferred from Maumee, where he qualified for state last season at 170 and went 1-2 in Columbus.
The Yellow Jackets have not had an individual place among the top three since 1999, when Russ Davie took third in the heavyweight division.
But the Jackets have other contenders to reach the state meet — junior Kadin Llewellyn (182), junior J.P. Newton (152), freshman Mario Guillen (106), senior Alec Herhold (138), and sophomore Cale Bonner (285).
Roth said he routinely spars with the heavier weights — Newton, Caywood, and Llewellyn.
“It's pretty intense,” Roth said. “We have a lot of of live wrestling and cardio we mix in. Those are some of the top wrestlers in the area and if you compete against them every day, it will pay off.”
Caywood (23-3) said it can be very competitive even in practice.
“It's great every single day because we compete," Caywood said. "We all go super hard and do our best. No one wants to lose. But when we walk off the mat, we're good friends.
“We're grinding hard. But it's all worth it when you get your hand raised.”
Perrysburg will attempt to become the first school to win three straight Northern Lakes League titles since Springfield did it from 1998-2000. The tournament is Saturday at Springfield. The Yellow Jackets easily repeated by a wide margin last year.
“That would be huge just to show how far this program has come,” Roth said.
The Jackets won their own Perrysburg Invitational Tournament title for the first time since 1997 on Jan. 12. They had four champs in Guillen, Roth, Newton, and Caywood along with three runner-ups.
Caywood, who also won the title at the Maumee Bay Classic, started the season at 182 but has settled down to 170, where he is more comfortable.
“He works very hard and he is feeling good about himself,” Cotterman said. “He has high goals. He wants to be in the state finals. He's a great rider and can take anyone down.”
Llewellyn (19-7) is a two-time sectional champ but lost lost two matches at the district last year by one point.
“He's gotten better,” Cotterman said. “He just has to get over the hump. He has a motor. He's always going, going. He's up to 182 and feeling better and stronger.”
Roth, who has a 4.12 grade-point average and hopes to attend West Point, defeated Delta's Tyler Fahrer (who placed second at state last year) at the PIT.
“I get chills talking about him,” Cotterman said. “He never complains. He's a very nice kid. But he is like a snake out there. He is so hard to score on, guys get worn out. He is definitely our leader.”
Newton (23-6) was fifth at district last year and is an all-district football player.
“He can push our 170 pounders and he looks great in practice everyday,” he said. “Nine times out of 10 times he gets the first takedown. His best attribute is being on his feet. He's looking to make noise.”
Guillen (18-6) is a three-time state placer at the junior high tournament. He won the title at the PIT.
Herhold (22-11) could be a sleeper after dropping down to 132. Bonner (26-6), who also is an All-NLL football player, was second at sectionals last year.
Senior Brady Clayton (19-8 at 195), who was second at PIT, is a standout lacrosse player. Senior Mark Delas (12-9 at 220) also is a standout in football and baseball.
Freshman Brock Jones (24-10 at 113) and Will Waltermeyer (22-11 at 160) make the roster even more competitive.
The Yellow Jackets must first get through a brutal district tournament that includes 25-time state champion Lakewood St. Edward.
“We have guys that can out of our district, which is a meat grinder,” Cotterman said. “And they can place high.”
Caywood said coming into the Perrysburg he quickly realized the team had the capability of qualifying a large group to state.
“We can send six or seven. I think that's 100 percent attainable,” Caywood said.
Cotterman attributes a lot of the resurgence to strong junior high and biddy programs. He said nothing can replicate “mat time.” The top wrestlers have been in the sport for 12 or more years.
The staff designed a post-match “cool down” after the finals at tournaments that includes sprints and jogging. He said it lets the wrestlers know they can push harder at the end of a match.
“If they can do sprints after a six-minute match, they know they are in shape and can push anyone to the limit,” Cotterman said. “If their goal is to be a state champ those are the ones we push.”
Roth said he appreciates the new routine.
“The whole team is in great shape,” Roth said. “Guys don't gas out and lose in the third period. They know they have that extra push in them.
“This is what you train for all year. Now it's time to get down to business.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.