Wrestling coaches from the Northwest Ohio Athletic League all agree: at least three teams are candidates to win the league title in February.
The coaches believe Archbold, Delta and defending champ Liberty Center all have teams capable of claiming the crown.
Most agree that depth will be the determining factor.
The team that has the most depth will win, Delta coach Jeff Wolford said. Everybody has studs, so you have to have good kids in every weight class to win. The team that has the mostsecond, third and fourth places will win.
Delta is the preseason favorite thanks in part to a large group of returning state qualifiers from last season. That group includes juniors Ryan Rayfield (112), Tyler Gombash (145) and Derrick Yant (160) as well as Sam Carrisalez, a 125-pounder who advanced to Columbus in Division II while wrestling at Defiance.
The Panthers also return a talented group of sophomores that wrestled for Team Ohio in the Cadet Nationals in Reid Rayfield (130), Jon Tolson (112) and Jordan Smith (125).
It s exciting [for the program] but it s also a concern that all of these kids are young, Wolford said. But these kids also have wrestled a lot, so they have some experience.
Archbold is expected to give Delta a battle despite having lost three state place-winners from last season. The Blue Streaks are led by a pair of state qualifiers in senior Austin Bernath (119) and junior Scott Burris (140), while three district qualifiers senior Wade Knipp (160) and juniors Ian Redd (125) and Kraig Bostelman (215) will provide some depth.
But we don t have the depth we ve had in the past, so we can t afford injuries, Archbold coach Brian Becher said.
The top teams get the right wrestler in the right weight class at tournament time. We re looking to have consistency through the season.
Defending champion Liberty Center lost a number of top wrestlers from last season, including state champ Marc Hoff. New coach Mitch Aring said the graduation losses are both a blessing and a concern.
The hardest part about losing so many experienced guys is losing their leadership, Aring said. Someone else has to step into a leadership role and become the vocal ones in the lockerroom and leaders in the [wrestling] room.
But it also can be motivation. For most of our guys, this is the first time they get to step into the varsity lineup to show what they can do. They re in the spotlight.
Among the leaders for the Tigers are seniors Clayton Hill (135), Nick Tammarine (152) and Seth Weichers (160) along with juniors Chad McClory (189-215) and Justin Biddle (119), the team s lone returning state qualifier.
Montpelier will look to take a step forward in the league standings thanks to a strong senior class that includes district qualifiers Dustin Reyna (119), Paul Roerig (135) and Ben Schroeder (152).
The Locomotives will benefit from a large freshman class, but having those 12 freshmen step into the varsity lineup right away will be a tall task.
Another team that was hard hit by graduation was Bryan, which lost five wrestlers who earned 37 wins or more last season as well as five of its seven district qualifiers.
This season the Golden Bears will be led by senior Mitch Dewitt (125) and junior Broc Combs (140), the team s two returning district qualifiers.
Wauseon will feature a young lineup; among the Indians top returning wrestlers are twin brothers Alex and Andy Emans, juniors who will wrestle at 160 or 171, and sophomores Corey Norris (215) and Michael Perez (112-119).
The Tribe lineup could regularly include as many as six sophomores and two freshmen.
The same holds true forEvergreen, which boasts district qualifiers in junior Matt Stasa (119) and sophomore Max Pennington (112). But the Vikings have only four juniors and seniors in the room.
A lot of our young wrestlers gained a lot of experience in junior high, and those new faces help build up our numbers, new coach Paul Lulfs said.
Swanton should be strong in the lower weights as the Bulldogs build around state qualifier Jacob Pezzin, a senior at 112 who is nearing 100 career victories, as well as junior Jordan Szozda (119) and sophomore Cody Klosowski (103), both district qualifiers last year.
While Patrick Henry lost a district qualifier in Victor Lopez, the Patriots numbers are starting to grow.
Seven lettermen return, and that group will be boosted by as many as eight freshmen who may see varsity action.