DELTA — A wrestling brotherhood has been built in this town with a foundation of hustle, toughness, and tradition.
Delta has become one of the top Division III wrestling teams in the state. The Panthers are the defending D-III team dual meet champions, winning the title in the format’s first season last winter.
Delta also has produced 11 individual state champions since 1989. Sophomore Jake Spiess became the latest in that long line when he won a title in the 106-pound weight class last season.
Coach Anthony Carrizales, who won a state title himself for Delta in 1999, said a focus on fundamentals and top-level conditioning also are cornerstones that make up Panther wrestling.
“It’s a way of life in Delta,” said Carrizales, who is in his fourth season as head coach after serving as an assistant for three. “I remember my dad taking me to watch wrestling, and it was something where I looked up to the older guys. Here it’s something we do pretty good, and a tradition has evolved. It’s a brotherhood with the guys on the good teams. It’s fun winning. When you can be part of something that, it is special. It’s addicting.”
The Panthers won team titles in the individual state tournament in 1989, 1996, 1998, and 1999. Delta, which has a 22-1 dual meet record this season, finished second to Troy Christian by 13 points last season.
Ten wrestlers who led Delta to a decisive win in the dual meet state championship, a 52-17 triumph over Tuslaw, are back. Four members went on to compete at the state individual tournament.
Senior Tyler Fahrer, who placed third at state, has a 32-1 record at 160. Senior Kyle Keller, who was fourth at state at 120, is 33-4 at 126.
Sophomore Dustin Marteney qualified for state as a freshman along with Spiess. Marteney (31-4 at 138) placed eighth.
“It’s been really awesome to be a part of it,” said Spiess (29-0), who has wreslted at 113 and 120. “I always watched the high school kids and that kept pushing me to get better and better.”
Carrizales won a state championship at 130 in 1999 as a senior. He is one of about 15 former Delta wrestlers who have come back to help run the program, which includes a youth club and middle school teams.
“When you have guys running the teams that were state champions or runners-up, that quality of coaching is a good recipe for success,” Carrizales said.
Keller said Delta wrestling has been part of his life since he was 4.
“It’s amazing because you look back, and you were that little kid always dreaming of the spot you are in now,” Keller said. “It’s a huge honor to wrestle for Delta. It’s really great to see the accomplishments and how far we’ve gotten.”
Carrizales said the former wrestlers have continued the philosophy ingrained in them by their former coach, Robin Rayfield.
“We have an identity where it’s good fundamentals and tough wrestling,” he said. “It’s more of an attack and being aggressive. It’s about being in good shape. Hustle and toughness are two of the biggest things we preach.”
He said longtime dedication to the sport has positioned his team to make history by winning both state wrestling team titles this season.
He said 13 have the potential to qualify for the state individual meet.
“Maybe that isn’t necessarily realistic, but I would think we should get 10 or 11 if we have a few hiccups or bad breaks,” Carrizales said.
Senior Christian Valentine (22-11 at 145), senior Todd Miller (29-7 at 170), and junior Ryan Patchin (9-3 at 182) all were district qualifiers last season.
Heavyweight Chance Veller (9-5) was fifth at districts as a freshman.
Four freshmen who had successful junior high careers also have the potential to qualify: Drew Mattin (30-1 at 106), Noah Mattin (27-4 at 132), Jesse Beverly (29-5 at 152), and Colin Hoffman (21-3 at 113).
Sophomore Ross Rayfield is 23-2 at 106. Senior Conner Keller (18-7) and junior Mark Francis (17-8) compete at 195.
At 220, sophomore Devon Richard is 27-7, while senior heavyweight Blake Parker is 10-14.
Keller said they all follow the philosophy of not getting outworked.
“Our coaches really emphasize toughness and the hustle,” Keller said. “They want us to prove to everyone that we are from Delta. We go at it in practice. You can’t get out-conditioned or out-toughed.”
Only 22 wrestlers have been four-time state champions in Ohio.
“I’ve thought about it,” he said. “I know what I have to do. I have to keep pushing myself. You have to have mental urgency if you want it. I’ve seen everyone working hard to get down to [state].”
One of the most tangible elements of the Delta wrestling tradition is “The Barn.”
The modest facility is a wrestling room created by Delta’s first state champion, Michael Mattin, who is now a physician at Flower Hospital. The 1989 champ also is president of the Panthers’ youth club.
Mattin constructed the wrestling room, complete with two mats, in a barn on his property.
“It’s extra supplemental space,” Carrizales said. “Practice space is pretty limited at the high school. So the kids can go out there and get a workout in. He runs the biddy club there, too.”
Keller said the barn includes jump ropes, climbing ropes, a peg board, boxes to jump on as well as medicine balls.
“The barn is a great facility,” Keller said. “It’s open to all of us to get a workout in. It has everything we need.”
Carrizales said nearly all of the 26 high school wrestlers went through the biddy program and worked out at the barn. About 80 kids are involved in the youth club.
“That’s good numbers for a small town like Delta,” he said.
The Panthers have won the Springfield Invitational and Maumee Bay Classic titles this season. They placed second at the Perrysburg Invitational and at the Brecksville tournament.
Delta’s only dual meet loss was against Detroit Catholic Central that came down to tiebreaker rules.
The team must get through Oak Harbor and Ayersville in the regional dual tournament to return to the eight-team state meet Feb. 8. The Panthers will shoot for their first team title since 1999 in the individual state meet Feb. 27-March 1.
“It would be great for our whole program [to win both team titles],” Carrizales said. “We have an awesome program from top to bottom. It's about the kids and letting them reach their goals.”