Gibsonburg looks to win its third straight Ohio Wrestling League tournament title, but the Golden Bears will have their work cut out for them.
In a preseason poll of OWL coaches, Van Buren was picked as the league favorite, with Gibsonburg voted second, Cory-Rawson third, and McComb fourth.
Van Buren only has 14 wrestlers for second-year coach Bryan Whitticar, and only one senior. But the Black Knights have nine returning starters, including two OWL champions, one league runner-up, and one third-place finisher.
Leading the way for Van Buren will be senior Austin Corey (113 pounds), juniors Chance Sonnenberg (160) and Isaac Sexton (285), sophomore Payten Whitticar (195), and promising freshman Noah Schumacher (120).
Sonnenberg placed fifth in the Division III state tournament last year, and fellow OWL champion Sexton was a district qualifier, as were Whitticar and Corey. Whitticar was an OWL runner-up, and Corey placed third in the league meet.
The Knights are obviously strongest at the upper weights, and one weakness is the team’s ability to fill only 11 weight classes for competition until late January, when two currently ineligible wrestlers are expected to rejoin the roster and fill two of the vacant spots.
“I feel we should contend for the league title,” coach Whitticar said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Gibsonburg coach Justin Edgell has nine returning varsity wrestlers, a group that includes senior Jacob Auld (182-195), who was 29-10 a year ago, an OWL champion, and a district qualifier.
Joining him are juniors Troy Ickes (145-152) and Dan Henline (170-182), and sophomores Wesley Campbell (120-126), Griffin Geary (132-138), Damien Schmeltz (132-138), Antonio Vasquez (138-145), Zack Kaetzel (145-152), and Marcus Kreais (160-170), who was also an Owl champion last season.
Henline and Ickes were OWL runners-up.
The Golden Bears also expect contributions from four promising freshmen in their pursuit of a league three-peat.
“I believe we should contend for our third straight league championship,” Edgell said. “I expect the team race to be close with Van Buren this year. I would expect Cory-Rawson to contend again as well.
“It will be an interesting season because I am not sure there truly is a strong favorite this year.”
McComb and 14th-year coach Jim Pierce has 12 wrestlers, four of which return to the starting lineup. But the Panthers have just one senior in Logan Landversicht (145).
Other top wrestlers include junior Zack Harris (152), sophomore Ryan Sammet (138), and freshman Jake Crouse (170).
First-year Arcadia coach Dean Kirian has his work cut out with only nine wrestlers on the team, two of which are seniors. Three are returning starters.
Leading the Redskins will be senior Trevor Bowman (126) and junior Jarrod Bowman (132), who each won OWL titles last season. Trevor Bowman was a district qualifier.
The other senior is Maddy Burns (152). Rounding out the lineup are juniors Vlad Sedler (138), Brodie Counts (182), Jacob Thompson (195), and sophomores Austin Simpson (132) and A.J. Knepper (285).
At Northwood, third-year coach Bill Cannon has seen his program grow slightly from three wrestlers his first year, to four last year, and now to seven. None are seniors.
But, what the Rangers lack in quantity they have in quality.
Junior Devon Dunbar (120-126) and sophomore Jonny Wheeler (120-126) were each district qualifiers, and sophomore John Habel (145-160) was an OWL champion at 145 last season. Dunbar was a league runner-up.
Another promising wrestler is freshman Trevor Mack (138).
“I believe we can take one or two guys to state this year,” Cannon said. “We’re focusing on technique and tying moves together. We don’t have enough numbers to win the league.”
Toledo Christian is also slowly growing its program under third-year coach Michael Geis, who has nine wrestlers. Three are seniors, and three are returning starters.
Leading the Eagles will be seniors Ramon Ochoa (182) and Kevin Loeffler (145), who were third and fourth in the OWL last season, and junior Michael Geis (152), who was a league runner-up.
Providing help will be sophomores Taylor Wegherst (170), Larry Burkhardt (170), and Ted Watts (220).
Cardinal Stritch also has nine wrestlers for first-year coach Chris Kamelesky. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, there are no seniors and only two returners.
The top talent may be junior James Dobson (170), who was a state qualifier in North Carolina last season. Kamelesky also points to freshman Caden Jankowski (106), sophomore Kyle Zapadka (120), and junior Ricky Pratt (182) as having potential for success this season.
“We have a young and inexperienced team,” Kamelesky said, “but by the end of the season I feel that we can have a few district qualifiers, and maybe even a couple of state qualifiers.”