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Published: Thursday, 12/14/2006

SIDELINES: Comets challenge Eagles reign in SLL

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Eastwood s headlock on the Suburban Lakes League wrestling title may be broken this season.

The Eagles have become the class of the area in recent years, but hefty losses to graduation may open the door for Genoa. Eastwood has won three straight SLL titles and has finished second in the state in Division II the last two seasons.

But the Eagles have lost eight talented wrestlers to graduation, including two that placed in the top three at the state meet.

Genoa has won only one SLL title (2003), but Comets coach Rich Wagner has a total of seven district qualifiers back, including state champion Nick Purdue.

I don t think anything is set in stone, Wagner said. Eastwood has just as good of a chance as us.

Purdue, a senior who won the 171-pound Division III state title, returns along with state runner-up Kurt Wolff. Purdue has accepted a scholarship from Ohio University. Wolff, a senior, took second at 160.

Genoa will be very tough, Lakota coach Rick Whetsel said. But Eastwood can t be overlooked. They will not miss a beat.

Five state placers are back for Eagles coach Ralph Cubberly, whose team has been ranked among the top 25 nationally in recent years.

Junior Eric Cubberly, who took third at 145, will be back at 152 and senior Jan Ulinski, a three-time state qualifier, returns for another shot at 125. Junior Jeremy Foster (171) and Kyle Taylor (140) also have qualified for the state meet twice.

Cubberly s fortunes brightened further with the transfer of Justin Flores, a City League runner-up from Clay who also qualified for state.

We re replacing eight seniors from last season s team, Cubberly said. We have a core group of five wrestlers who have extensive wrestling experience at the state andnational level. These guys are stepping forward as leaders.

Lake coach Tom Jackson said the Eagles are the champs until someone knocks them off.

I think it will be tight, but I think Eastwood has enough to win it again, Jackson said. They may be a bit better top to bottom.

Here is a look at the teams listed in order of predicted finish based on a preseason coaches poll.

Genoa went 7-0 in SLL duals last season, but did not face Eastwood s A squad.

Wagner has a 140-74 career record in 16 seasons with the Comets. He has seven seniors back this year.

Naturally we want to win the league, but the ultimate goal for every kid is to be a state qualifier, a state placer and a state champion, Wagner said. I don t really look at it as pressure. The kids know why they were picked.

Purdue, who has more than 100 career wins, looks to become a four-time SLL champ.

He just wrestles a lot, Wagner said. He loves it and he always had that goal to be a state champ and to get a scholarship.

Purdue will compete at 189 and Wolff will bump up to 171.

Junior Jay Traver (119) is a defending league champ and district qualifier.

Sophomore Troy Espinosa (130) is a district qualifier as is junior Doug Wagner (140). Senior Alex Espinosa (152) and sophomore Alex Perry (160) also made it out of the sectional. Senior Alec Vogelpohl (135) should be strong as well.

Eastwood lost eight talented seniors to graduation, but six starters return. The Eagles went 24-7 in dual meets last year. In his 16 years, Cubberly has compiled a 147-60 dual meet record.

Eric Cubberly is a two-time SLL champ and has placed at state as a freshman (eighth) and as a sophomore (third). Ulinski is a three-time defending SLL champ and took seventh at the state meet.

Foster placed fourth in the state in 2005 and Taylor has won two straight league crowns. Flores (119) finished second in the City for Clay last year.

Eastwood again has a challenging schedule. The Eagles will wrestle in two of the toughest tournaments in Ohio (Brecksville Invitational and the Top Gun Invitational). Eastwood will also face D-I perennial force Lakewood St. Edward and D-II nemesis St Paris Graham in dual meets.

Elmwood won five SLL titles in a row from 1998-2002, but finished fourth last

season.

Coach Dave Lee, who has a 301-140 record in 16 years, welcomes back 11 letterwinners and six district qualifiers. Senior Toby Tahy reached state last year as a heavyweight. Seniors Bill Casey (31-15 at 140) and Matt Casey (29-19 at 135) were district qualifiers.

Lee will look to junior Mitchell Lee (27-19) and sophomores Jordan Ackley (23-26) and Alex Betts (35-11) to continue their success. Sophomore Cody Alexander posted a 20-9 record as a freshman and junior Jon Aurand went 32-15 last year.

At Lake, Tom Jackson said his numbers are up (17).

Lake finished fifth at the SLL meet last season and nine letterwinners return, including four seniors. The Flyers, who joined the SLL in 1996, have never won an SLL title.

Senior Paul Tippey (16-8) was third in the SLL and will wrestle at 152 or 160. Junior Nathan Baker (24-18) took second in the league. Senior Jon Hummel (28-9 last year at heavyweight) finished sixth at sectionals.

Junior Todd Stahl (15-13) will see time at both 135 and 140. Seniors Andrew Heath and John Heigel will also wrestle in the middle weights.

We have a lot of wrestlers with experience and potential, but they have not proven themselves, Jackson said. If we wrestle up to our potential, we should be pretty competitive.

Scott Hreben, a longtime head coach at Perrysburg, takes over at Otsego, which took fourth in the SLL last year.

We have a roster with over 30 wrestlers, Hreben said. The high caliber of teams in the SLL is a real challenge for our team.

Sli Bostelman won the first state title in school history last year under another longtime coach, Richard Doc Leffler.

Hreben, who had a 130-14-1 dual meet record at Perrysburg from 1981-1999, will rely on eight returning starters and five seniors.

Senior Lance Foos (130) placed fourth and was a district qualifier last year. Seniors Anthony Fleming (140, second in SLL) and Aaron Weaver (215) are both off to great starts. Andrew Johnson (135) and Jacob Southwick (heavyweight) are youngsters with experience.

Woodmore has a lot of experience in the upper weights, but is young in the lower weights.

Coach Chad Miller s Wildcats finished sixth in the league in his second year. He has 18 wrestlers, including five seniors and six returning starters.

Senior Ryan Buckner, a 215-pounder, is a two-time district qualifiers. Junior Travis Ault (189) and Tim Artressia (160) also made it out of sectionals a year ago.

But Miller is most interested in seeing how his younger wrestlers adjust to the high school level.

In his first season at Lakota, Whetsel said he loves the dedication of his young team. He coached many of them in the junior high program the last four years.

The Raiders finished last a year ago, but Whetsel picked up six new wrestlers to bring the total to 18. Three of six seniors are returning starters.

Sophomore Chris Kleman was Lakota s only district qualifier and is back at 145 pounds. Seniors Justin Breitigam (160) and Destine McClafin (140) were first-year wrestlers last year. Sophomore Michael Kleman was injured last year, but should make some noise at 171. Junior Eric Steele returns at 215. Whetsel also has a female wrestler, Crystal McMerand, back at 103.

I have a lot to work with, Whetsel said. They re beyond the basics, and we re on to new techniques. These kids want to show Lakota is on the way back.

Gibsonburg may sneak up on some teams with 11 returning starters. Coach Steve Funk has just three seniors among the 18 wrestlers.

Funk has had 11 SLL individual champions in his 14 seasons, but the Golden Bears finished seventh last year. Aaron Roach was the top individual, taking third at 112.

Senior Tim Fisher (9-14) and junior Bo Faunce (13-4) lead a young group including Nico Hernandez (12-4), Seth Collum and Nathan Widmer.



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