Archbold s John Garcia, left, grabs Swanton s Ryan Rober in 189-pound match at Swanton High School last week.
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The talent level on the Liberty Center and Archbold wrestling teams is so similar that coaches in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League predict the teams will tie for the conference title.
Both the Tigers and the Blue Streaks received five first-place votes from the coaches heading into the NWOAL tournament next weekend. Three of the votes were first-place ties. Delta, which won the league championship for the ninth time in 12 years last season, is expected to finish third.
“I believe the NWOAL will be more competitive this year at the state level than it has in the past few years,” said Archbold coach Brian Becher. “Delta and Liberty Center must be considered the league favorites with the wrestlers who return from last year s teams.”
Montpelier coach Troy Roth said all individual league champions could come from the top three teams.
Archbold was ranked third in the state in the last Division III coaches poll. Delta was No. 4 and Liberty Center was fifth.
“Hopefully we can keep up with Archbold and Delta,” said Liberty Center coach Mel Rentschler.
Liberty Center already has an advantage having beaten Delta and Archbold in dual meets.
The NWOAL combines the league dual meet results with the league tournament results to determine the champion.
A team gets one point for each dual meet it wins. In the tournament, a team gets one point for each team it beats.
Most likely, the Tigers will enter the tournament undefeated in dual meets, which would be worth eight points.
Archbold should go into the tournament with seven points for each dual meet win. If the Blue Streaks win the tournament they would get eight additional points. If Liberty Center takes second, it would get seven points.
Therefore both teams would tie for the title with 15 points.
“We need to place just one above them [at the NWOAL tournament],” Becher said. “Provided we don t lose a dual meet, we would tie for the league title.”
The NWOAL tournament takes place at Delta High School on Feb. 7.
Here is a detailed look at the nine NWOAL teams listed in predicted order of finish by the coaches:
Coach: Brian Becher, second season
Finish last season: Third
Top wrestlers: Seniors Chris Starr, 112; Ryan Rufenacht, 125; Josh Garcia, 189. Juniors Luke Stuckey, 152, Levi Rupp, 135; Chase Schultz, 130. Sophomore Cody Ruffer.
Outlook: Starr, Rufenacht and Garcia all qualified for the state meet last season, while Rupp and Stuckey were district qualifiers.
But Becher lost six to graduation and has only 23 wrestlers.
Still the Blue Streaks have already won the Division III state dual team championship. Archbold, which entered the event as an alternate in place of Delta, won three dual meets over Miami East, Beachwood and Bedford to take home the first state dual meet title in school history.
Garcia is currently 26-0, Rufenacht is 26-1 and Starr has a 19-4 record. Stuckey is 26-2, while Ruffer is 27-2.
Others to watch include Tyler Weirauch (103) and Nick Lecklider (119).
Coach: Mel Rentschler, ninth season
Finish last season: Second
Top wrestlers: Juniors Jeremiah Hill, 152; Wade VanSickle, 189; Brock Bodenbender, 135. Sophomore Marc Hoff, 145.
Outlook: Hill and Hoff are back to defend their league titles. VanSickle and A.J. Scarberry finished second last year. Chris Dotson was third in 2003.
Rentschler said Bodenbender and Chris Evans should have an impact at the NWOAL tournament.
Coach: Jeff Wolford, second season
Finish last season: First
Top wrestlers: Senior Matt Spangler, 215. Juniors Jared Evans, 103; Ryan Gombash, 130; Matt Meiring, 152; Jamison Moss, 145.
Outlook: The Panthers won a sectional title, finished second in the district and fifth in the state last season.
Delta posted a 12-3-1 dual meet record in 2002-03. This year the Panthers are a better tournament team with a few individuals that can score a lot of points.
Moss, who is ranked No. 1 in the Greater Toledo Wrestling Coaches Association poll, finished second in the state last year.
Evans, who also is ranked No. 1 in the GTWCA poll, was a state qualifier. Gombash also returns after making it to the state meet.
Coach: Steve Schneider, 34th season
Finish last season: Fourth
Top wrestlers: Senior Sam Villafana, 103. Juniors Alex Gomez, 140; Garrett Coressel, 135. Sophomore Kelli Gottardo, 119.
Outlook: The Indians have just one senior, but long-time coach Steve Schneider said his team is improving.
“We are gaining experience and looking better each week,” Schneider said.
Wauseon is particularly strong in the lower and middle weights.
Villafana, who qualified for the district meet last year, has won two tournaments and is 13-4 this season. Gottardo is 13-7 and Gomez has a 17-6 record.
Coach: Chad Savage, 12th season
Finish last season: Fifth
Top wrestlers: Seniors Christopher Smith, 275; Aaron Herman, 125; Billy Nossaman, 215. Sophomores Cody Sofoulis, 103; Josh Frees, 171.
Outlook: Savage hopes his team s strong work ethic can help his wrestlers take another top four finish in the league.
But the Golden Bears lost 12 lettermen to graduation and lack of experience is a concern.
Savage said the team s goals are to peak at the end of the season and qualify for the state meet.
Coach: Bill Urban, first season
Finish last season: Sixth
Top wrestlers: Seniors Ken Hulme, 160; Brian Hildebrand, 152. Juniors Matt Taynor, 215; Cody Madden, 135. Sophomore Xavier Taylor, 275.
Outlook: Urban said his team is strong in the upper weights and young in the lower weights.
“We are definitely a better tournament team,” Urban said. “We forfeit up to three weight classes in dual meets, so that is a challenge.”
Taynor, who is 12-4 so far this year, qualified for the state meet last year. Taylor and Madden both were district qualifiers. Hulme and Hildebrand both have winning streaks going this month.
Coach: Troy Roth, third season
Finish last season: Seventh
Top wrestlers: Senior Corey Geesey, 160. Sophomores Jeremy Geesey, 125; Brent Morgan, 152.
Outlook: Roth said he expects his team to finish near the middle of the pack.
Corey Geesey returns as a two-time district qualifier who took fourth in the league last year. Morgan also took fourth in the NWOAL and qualified for the district meet. Jeremy Geesey finished third in the league and was a sectional champion last season.
Coach: Mike Reeves, fourth season
Finish last year: Eighth.
Top wrestlers: Seniors Jordan Spangler, 130; Denton Blue, 140. Junior Adam Brown, 189; John Spurgeon, 215. Sophomore Victor Lopez, 119.
Outlook: Reeves has only 12 kids on the team, but he said that it is a high number for his program.
The Patriots have won four dual meets this season. Lopez and Spangler were district qualifiers last year. Blue has placed in every tournament this year.
“It s been a learning process,” Reeves said. “We are competing. That is what we ve tried to stress.”
Coach: Dave Lewis, 22nd season
Finish last season: Ninth
Top wrestlers: Senior Chad Meiring, 130; Junior Matt Keeler, 189; Sophomores Kyle Vasko, 160; Kyle Iwanicki, 130.
Outlook: “We are very young,” Lewis said.
The Vikings have little depth and can fill only eight to 10 weight classes. However, Keeler was a district qualifier at 152 pounds last season.