PEMBERVILLE With apologies to the high school wrestling competition in northwest Ohio, the powerhouse Eastwood Eagles have traveled far and wide in preparation for reaching their ultimate goal of winning a Division II state team championship.
Eastwood ranked No. 2 in the Ohio D-II coaches poll, and 16th nationally by Amateur Wrestling News magazine will wrestlelocally with its regular varsity lineup for the first time on Feb. 11.
That s when the Eagles seek a third straight Suburban Lakes League title. They are overwhelming favorites, and they have arrived at this lofty perch by building their program into one of Ohio s best over the past four years.
At the heart are nine seniors, six of whom have been in the starting lineup for four years and have combined for a staggering number of victories.
Ryan Cubberly, the senior son of 16th-year Eastwood coach Ralph, leads the pack. With a No. 7 national ranking at 135 pounds, Ryan Cubberly is 29-2 on the season and 175-11 in his career with two state runner-up finishes.
We re almost ready, Ryan Cubberly said. We ve got a couple guys hurt right now but, as soon as we get them back in the lineup and in good shape, we should be good. It s going to be tough to take Graham.
It s pretty fun [traveling]. I think all the guys have a great time going [out of town]. To be the best you ve got to go where the best competition is, and that s Cleveland. Ohio s the best wrestling state, and Cleveland is where all the good wrestlers are. That s why we go.
Next on the win list is 215-pounder Ryan Nachtrab (28-3 season, 158-32 career).
Both physically and mentally, I think we re very prepared right now, Nachtrab said. Wrestling in tournaments like the Beast and Brecksville and Top Gun and the state dual meet against Graham, we re pretty much ready to roll.
We had some trouble earlier in the season with the team and leadership, but we pretty much got it together. I think we re ready to go after the state title.
Third in wins is 125-pounder Ben Llanas, a defending state champion who is 22-5 and 156-21 career.
As far as competing with Graham at state, we re right where we need to be, Llanas said. Toward the end of the year, I think we re going to peak well and give it a real shot at bringing the title back here. We have a tough schedule. When we get to state, we re going to be prepared for the kind of quality wrestlers we re going to face.
This trio, which will also wrestle in college, is followed by classmates Kurt Shroyer (152 pounds, 17-5 season, 145-35 career, Colton Schulte (275 pounds, 16-7, 123-43) and Adam Hoffmann (140 pounds, 18-5, 107-45).
Together, these six seniors have won 864 matches.
We saw these kids potential back in seventh grade, coach Cubberly said of the senior class. They were just going through all the middle school tournaments and dominating by 200 points and all placing first.
We got them working out in the summer [of 2002] and doing what they had to do to improve to wrestle as freshmen. They all invested their time and did a great job. It s just blossomed. The kids have performed amazingly well over the last four years. Six guys with over 100 wins. That speaks volumes.
Ryan Cubberly will wrestle at Central Michigan University on scholarship, Llanas will compete for Ohio University on scholarship, and Nachtrab is currently weighing offers from several D-I colleges.
Piling up victories is one thing, and getting quality wins quite another. Part of the growth process, taking the Eagles from being the area s best team to status as a legitimate state-title contender, called for a travel schedule befitting a nationally-ranked team.
This year s schedule has taken the Eagles to some of the best state and national events.
There was the prestigious Beast of the East Invitational in Newark, Del., where Eastwood placed 14th among 81 of America s top squads. Then there was the Brecksville (Ohio) Invitational, where the Eagles finished second among 40 teams.
Next came perhaps the most significant victory, a title in the eight-team, D-II state dual-meet tournament in Hilliard, Ohio. It was important because it was the Eagles first win over St. Paris Graham, the five-time defending D-II state tournament champion. St. Paris Graham has retained the No. 1 coaches poll ranking despite its 29-27 loss to Eastwood in the finals.
We ve toughened the schedule up a little bit more each year to get them ready, Cubberly said. It s all culminating in trying to make a run for a state championship. We ve tried to make the state tournament the third-toughest thing on our schedule this year. We ve pretty much had a meat-grinder schedule, and it s all for a purpose. When we go to the state tournament, we don t want it to be a new experience.
Even the aspect of us staying out of town in hotels and acting the proper way is nothing new to these kids. They all carry a pillow and a suitcase. They leave Friday night and come back late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.
The challenges continued at the Top Gun Invitational in Alliance, Ohio, where the Eagles placed first for the second straight year among 40 teams. Last week, Eastwood won the 20-team Western Brown Hammer & Anvil tournament near Cincinnati.
Next up, Eastwood takes on perennial Ohio super power Lakewood St. Edward and Owatonna, Minn., in dual matches Saturday in Lakewood. St. Ed, a 21-time big-school state team champion, is ranked No. 1 in Division I and is the nation s second-ranked team.
The bottom line is, if you want to win a state championship, you ve got to beat the kids in the northeast, coach Cubberly said. The Cleveland area kids are the toughest by far, maybe even in the country with the concentration of kids.
The Eagles will conclude their regular-season travels on Feb. 3-4 near Columbus at the Olentangy Liberty Invitational, a 10-team, Olympic pool format tournament.
After the SLL tournament, Eastwood begins its quest for a state crown on Feb. 17-18 in the D-II sectionals at Fostoria.
Rounding out the deeply talented Eastwood lineup are sophomore Brian Smith (19-9 at 103 pounds), junior Adam Tinnel (24-4 at 112), junior Jan Ulinski (8-3 at 119), junior Kyle Taylor (13-11 at 130), sophomore Eric Cubberly (21-3 at 145), senior Dustin Kervin (13-7 at 160), sophomore Jeremy Foster (21-4 at 171), and senior Brian Stickel (18-6 at 189). Ulinski and Schulte are currently out with injuries.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com or 419-724-6461.