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Published: Thursday, 12/18/2008

SIDELINES: Clay Eagles seeking first league title since 1966 GLL crown

Clay has lots of experience with three returning City League champions (front, from left) Justin Wharton, Nick Garcia and Mark Orth and three returning CL runners-up (back, from left) Kirk McLaughlin, Ben Morrissey and Richie Urias. Clay has lots of experience with three returning City League champions (front, from left) Justin Wharton, Nick Garcia and Mark Orth and three returning CL runners-up (back, from left) Kirk McLaughlin, Ben Morrissey and Richie Urias.
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Wrestling is certainly a numbers game.

Whether it s making weight, earning points on the mat or in the team scoring, or how coaches arrange lineups by plugging wrestlers into the right weight classes for matches or tournaments.

At Clay this season, the numbers point to a probable City League championship and a strong tournament run thereafter.

In the second year of his second stint as head coach of the Eagles, Gerry Anthony has 68 wrestlers in grades 9-12, enough to form two full, 14-member varsity teams (Gold and Green) with full schedules.

There is also an influx of 20 freshmen to help Clay compete for its second straight CL junior varsity championship.

The Eagles return 28 letter winners and Anthony, who previously coached Clay from 1978-1986, has the luxury of working with eight assistant coaches. This staff includes former Clay head coaches Mark Beach and Troy McLaughlin.

Seven Eagles won 30 or more matches last season, and 15 others posted 20 or more wins. It is a program that has been built from the youth level up through two solid middle school programs at Fassett and Eisenhower.

This personnel is enough for CL coaches to consider Clay as the odds-on favorite to end its 42-year drought of a league championship. The Eagles last crown came in 1966 in the former Great Lakes League.

Clay knocked on the door last year, finishing as runner-up to Central Catholic (253-220 in team points) in the City tournament.

We re excited about the program overall, Anthony said. Everything is headed in the right direction, from the strong biddy and middle school programs on up. What we re trying to do at the high school level now is create a good situation for those kids to step into.

Clay returns three individual CL champions in senior Justin Wharton (160 pounds, 37-7 record) and juniors Nick Garcia (103, 35-7) and Mark Orth (145, 43-8).

Three others return who placed second in the CL seniors Richie Urias (112, 30-5), Kirk McLaughlin (119, 35-5) and Ben Morrissey (171, 32-8). Senior Josh Whitt (112), who won a sectional title last season, was a CL runner-up as a sophomore at 103.

Others Anthony is counting on include seniors Dan Fisher and Garrett Ondrus, who will compete at 140 or 145, and sophomore Cody Kish (112).

Our ultimate goal this year is to win the City League because we haven t won a league title in a long time, Anthony said.

Then we d like to win the sectional and do well at the district. We feel we have a good chance to get as many as six kids to state. Beyond that, we d like to become a team that s reloading every year.

Defending champion Central Catholic may not have the program numbers to match Clay, but 21st-year coach Mitch Naufel s Irish won t give up the claim to the crown without a fight, especially with four returning CL individual champions.

Heading that group is senior two-time City champion and state qualifier Dave Pickerel (215 pounds) who entered the year with an 85-29 career record. Senior Jordan Duckett (130, 37-8) and juniors Dan Cook (now at 119, 34-9 record) and Jake Henderson (189, 34-9) are the other returning City champs.

That solid foursome is complemented by seniors Ali El-Tatawy (145) and Brad Mossing (152, 27-10), juniors Nico Covarrubias (135, 20-14) and Vincenzo Cardone (285), and sophomores D.J. Beauch (140, 27-11) and Tony Martin (160).

So many things can happen between now and February, Naufel said of his team s CL prospects. If everybody does what s expected of them, I think we could be a pretty good team and have a very good year.

Others expected to be top team contenders are St. Francis de Sales and St. John s Jesuit.

St. Francis opened the season in style by winning the team title at the challenging Hoover Duals Dec. 5-6 at Springfield. Carl Janke, in his 28th season as coach, will rely heavily on senior team captains Mike McCarthy (130, 21-16), Aaron Dietsch (135 or 140, 32-14), Alex Laney (145-152, 24-13) and son Joe Janke (171, 19-14).

Laney, a CL runner-up last year, went 8-0 at the Hoover event, while Dietsch, the 135-pound CL winner last year, went 7-1 at Springfield along with McCarthy and Janke.

This foursome is joined by junior Alex Marzec (119, 32-14) and Sam Horvath (152-160), sophomore Kyle Heitmeyer (215) and two promising freshmen. Young Knight Jacob Martin (112) was 8-0 at Springfield, and Devon McGibbeny (103) was 7-1 there.

Central Catholic hopes to defend its City League title with returning league champs Jordan Duckett, Jake Henderson, Dave Pickerel, and Dan Cook. Central Catholic hopes to defend its City League title with returning league champs Jordan Duckett, Jake Henderson, Dave Pickerel, and Dan Cook.

We ve had a nice beginning, coach Janke said, but obviously it s early. Teams aren t at full strength yet, and we were fortunate to have some good matchups. I ve been impressed with the work ethic in the room and over the offseason, and we ve had tremendous leadership from the captains.

Second-year St. John s coach Dave Daugherty will be leaning heavily on the threesome of Santi Mendez (103), who was a CL runner-up last year, and Landon Mandos (189 or 215), a 2008 district placer, and Taylor Monus (171).

The Titans, who were third in the CL team standings last season, sport promising freshmen Cody O Connor (119) and Kent Kern (189 or 215).

Right now we have people trying to get to the right weight classes, Daugherty said. It s pretty bunched up. We ve got to get that all sorted out and we ll have to have some of the younger guys step up.

Waite has been a fixture in City League wrestling for about a decade, winning four team titles (2000 and 2003-05). But 19th-year coach Carmen Amenta, who has seemingly just reloaded each year during that span, has more of a rebuilding mission. For the first time in 10 years, Waite does not return a City champion or state qualifier.

The kids we ve got are pretty good, Amenta said. We just have some holes in the lineup. There s 24 kids in the program, and about half are freshmen.

Amenta will count on seniors Tyler Benton (189), Tyler Derr (152) and Jacob Wilson (135) for leadership along with juniors Tim Enright (125) and Ray Salaevar (171) and sophomore Cammeron Griffin (285).

Two freshman Jacob Conine (119) and Angelo Amenta (Carmen s son, 112) placed at the Mount Vernon Invitational.

Start, which should also challenge St. Francis and St. John s in the upper third of the 12-team CL, will be paced by junior Nate Brubaker (171), who won a CL title at 152 last year.

The Spartans are also counting on senior Tom Sumner (119), junior Matt Watson (189 or 215) sophomore Chase Leedy (112).

Contact Steve Junga at:sjunga@theblade.comor 419-724-6461.

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