With one of the best closing lineups in the area, the upper weights give Genoa the upper hand in the fight for the Northern Buckeye Conference title.
The Comets won both the NBC dual meet and tournament titles last season and eight starters return.
Junior Jay Nino (220 pounds), senior Cody Buckner (285), and junior Tyler Baird (182) form a formidable back end to the Comets' lineup.
Nino and Buckner are returning state qualifiers. Nino holds the single-season school record for pins with 35 and has 111 career wins. Buckner posted a 33-11 record last year. Baird is off to a 14-1 start.
“We have experienced upperclassmen, coupled with hard-working youngsters,” Genoa coach Bob Bergman said. “We have one of the best closing lineups in the state with Baird, Nino, and Buckner. They are dominating against quality opponents.”
Comet senior Max Reeder (138) is a two-time NBC champ and three-time district placer.
Genoa, which captured four individual NBC titles last season, earned six of seven first-place votes in a preseason coaches' poll. Woodmore was picked to finish second followed by Otsego and Lake.
“As a team we have the potential to do some great things, contending for the NBC is certainly within our grasp,” Bergman said. “But we will need to stay healthy, humble, and driven as the conference is bubbling with talented wrestlers and upcoming teams.”
Woodmore finished third as a team in the Division II sectional last year and has five of the seven district qualifiers returning. The Wildcats have 12 letter winners back led by NBC champs senior Evan Ulinski (106) and junior Thomas Schnittker (113). Ulinski placed second at state and has a career record of 133-12.
The Knights, who received the other first-place vote, have five district qualifiers back led by juniors Trenton Soto (132, a state qualifier) and Buddy Limes (126, a state alternate).
The Flyers are experienced in the lower weights with district qualifiers Damon Keister (106/113), Matt Church (113/120), and Marcel Bryan (145 /152 ).
Here's a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Genoa (43-6 overall, 7-0 NBC) has 23 wrestlers, including five seniors and eight starters back for Bergman, who is in his third season.
Nino was a sectional champ and finished with a 58-6 record. He is off to a 15-0 start. Buckner (33-11 last year) is 12-1 so far. Baird (currently 14-1) was third in the NBC. Reeder was a state alternate last year at 119 with a 55-9 record. Reeder had 33 pins and has 121 career wins.
Junior Brandon Bates (132) had a 42-23 record last season and is a two-time district qualifier. Sophomore Damian D'Emilio (113) was 50-14 last season when he was a district qualifier.
Senior Nathan Moore (145) went 20-2 last year, while senior Dustin Widmer (120) was a district qualifier and is a three-year starter.
“We have some technically sound, and experienced lower weight wrestlers who expect to be on the podium at state this season,” Bergman said.
He said the underclassmen need to step up and inexperienced could be a concern.
“Our upperclassmen will need to score bonus points early in the season to keep us in contention,” Bergman said.
Woodmore (8-5-1, 2-4-1) has 12 letter winners back for coach Dane Bonnigson, who is in his 10th season.
“We have a good corp group that we will lean on for leadership and to set the example for our younger wrestlers,” Bonnigson said.
His seniors include Spencer Linke (195, NBC runner-up, 21-15), Tony Rozzi (138, sectional runner-up, district qualifier, 28-13), Henry Flores (220, 21-17), and Ulinski (106 pounds, 49-4).
A strong junior class includes Josh Cowell (120, 9-28), Dennis Ratz (138, 12-29), Joe Flores (170 pounds, district qualifier, 8-22), Seth Gaghen (132, district qualifier, 30-18), Schnittker (113, NBC and sectional champ, 29-11), and Rito Alvear (285, 5-11).
“With the return of a state runner-up, six other wrestlers who have been district qualifiers, and the addition of a talented freshmen class, the outlook for the season is as good as it has been in several years,” Bonnigson said. “Ulinski has a great opportunity to get back down to Columbus and take that final step. But I also think we have an additional group of wrestlers that could also be making a trip to the state meet.”
Otsego has solid wrestlers in the middle of its lineup and state experience with Soto.
With lack of depth and total numbers (15 on the varsity), the Knights will have issues filling the 145-pound weight class.
Coach Joe Gerwin, who is in his third season, has only two seniors back from a team that went 6-7 in dual meets.
Soto went 34-8 at 132 to qualify for state. Limes was a state alternate at 126 with a 31-8 mark.
Senior Jordan Hendrix (160, 32-7) was a sectional champ, while junior Austin Glosser (138, 25-13) and junior David Glenn (170, 20-10) were district qualifiers. Zach Zuhlsdorf was 13-15 at 182.
They are among nine returning letter winners. But the upper and lower weights are inexperienced.
“This year, we have almost all of our team back,” Gerwin said. “We hope to build on the successes of last year which included sending six wrestlers to districts. We hope to place in the top three in the NBC this year. We hope to be one of the top two teams at the sectional tournament and place in the top 10 at the district tournament.”
Lake (5-4) has 21 wrestlers, including five seniors. Coach Tom Jackson enters his 14th season with experience in the lower weights.
Keister was 38-8 to earn a spot in the district meet along with Church (17 -14) and Bryan (16-16).
Willy Hall is 8-2 at 195, while Damon Plummer (170) was a district alternate.
“The team strength is the experienced lower weights with a couple other wrestlers with experience sprinkled throughout the lineup,” Jackson said.
Elmwood (13-21) is young and inexperienced but has a good freshmen class to fill some holes.
Coach David Lee, who has a career record of 450-191 in 26 seasons, has 27 wrestlers (13 letter winners and four seniors).
Senior Jacob Wise (170) returns from an injury he suffered last year.
Senior Brik Dauterman (138) and sophomore Dylan Hall (145) were district qualifiers last season.
“The team is hard working and has been successful so far this year and we should continue to improve,” Lee said.
Inexperience will hurt along with two open weight classes.
“I think we will do quite well this year and even surprise some people along the way,” Lee said. “We're looking to be in the top half of the NBC and send a few wrestlers to the state tournament.”
Eastwood (17-3) looks to be solid in the middle weights with six returning starters.
Senior Michael Glaze (160) was 23-23 last season. Senior Mat Drown (132) went 27-15.
Sophomore Andrew Caris (145) was an NBC champ and finished with a 27-15 record. Sophomore Mitchell Davidson (152), who placed second in the NBC, had a 30-19 record. Sophomore Hunter Sutton (138) went 16-15.
Coach Joe Wyant has 20 wrestlers but just two seniors. He said the Eagles have a great attitude.
But the lineup is very young and faces a rebuilding year with 13 freshmen and five sophomores.
“We're young and hard working,” Wyant said. “We are getting better and should be a solid team by the end of year.”
Rossford will be guided by first-year coach Randy Hussar, who has 16 wreslers including six seniors.
Senior C.J. Ball (126) has a career record of 91-31. Senior Jake Burlage (138) comes in with a 78-40 record in his career, while senior Christian Goldsmith (132) is 57-66.
Other returning starters include seniors Shelbi Redway, Anthony Kemper and Dallas Johnson along with juniors Evan Austin, Andrew Myers, and Casey Orr, and sophomores Harrison Fink, Mat Myers, and Spencer Shultz.
“We have a good group of wrestlers who step up and show each other the way,” Hussar said. “We have some talented returning wrestlers and also show promise with our freshmen.
“I see this as a personal goal to show that we are a good team and we have a lot of talent now and in the future.”
Fostoria (2-15) has five returning district qualifiers, including a district placer.
Coach Nick Davis, who is in his seventh season, will be counting on 14 wrestlers. He has seven returning starters and three seniors.
Junior Luke Leonard (126) was second in the NBC and placed sixth at the district meet.
Seniors Keegan Green (152) and C.J. Matheny (160) were both district qualifiers as were sophomores Lance Smith (132) and Elliot Hossler (138). Freshman Xavier Galvan (145) is coming off a strong middle school career.
The Redmen will have the inability to fill every weight class.
“That hurts us a lot,” Davis said. “We will be young and inexperienced, but my young wrestlers have a lot of potential. I will have some individuals who will do well in the postseason.”