The Northwest Ohio Athletic League, which has a long tradition of wrestling excellence, has added a new wrinkle to its format this season.
The NWOAL will host nine quads, each hosted by a different school.
The quads will bring four teams to one site at a particular night, with each team wrestling twice at a particular site. The format has two dual matches taking place on side-by-side mats at the same time.
In some ways [the new format] is good, and in some ways it s bad, Liberty Center coach Mitch Aring said. The advantages are that it saves points [dates] on the schedule, and it gives you a chance to see other teams, even if you don t wrestle against them.
The biggest disadvantage is that, if you have a rivalry with another team, it s not as big because there s another match going on at the mat next to you, and also the match may not take place at home.
With just two of the nine quads having been completed at this point, Wauseon coach Mike Ritter said NWOAL coaches are taking a wait and see attitude with the format.
When you have a lot of teams at one site, it s good for the kids because they get more competition, Ritter said. It also doesn t take as long, so that s fan-friendly.
We ve only had one, and it seemed to work pretty well, so we ll see if that continues.
No matter what format is used, the expectation is that the league will be both deep and strong again this year.
Liberty Center has emerged as a consensus favorite, with Wauseon, Delta and Montpelier the main challengers along with Bryan and Archbold.
The main reason the Tigers have become the favorite is the depth and quality of returnees.
Senior Chris Rentschler at 135 pounds is a returning state qualifier, while district qualifiers include seniors Andrew Schwab (285) and Brandon Stacey (189), junior Jake Elling (171) and sophomores Sam Elling (160), Zac Poignon (119) and Kyle Stacey (112).
We ve set our expectations very high, Aring said. We re setting a goal of advancing to state, because if you reach that goal, other goals such as league, sectional and district titles fall into place.
The Tigers have both negative and positive motivation at this early point in the season. The negative comes from last year s district meet, during which only two of those nine qualifiers advanced to state.
A lot of our guys have a sour taste in their mouth from not qualifying [for state] last year, Aring admitted.
It has made our practice room very intense this year.
The positive came last week, when LC beat Wauseon in its first quad match-up.
The final score of 36-31 was deceptive since theTigers forfeited four weight classes. Liberty Center won eight of the 10 matches that took place.
Hopefully that gave our guys a lot of confidence, Aring said. When we get some guys back in the lower weights [that we forfeited], we feel that will give us a chance to really do something.
But Wauseon still has a nice team from top to bottom. They will be a force to be reckoned with.
The Indians also have a good combination of depth and talent, with senior state qualifier Michael Perez (119) joined by district qualifiers Brandon Volkman (145), Carson Frey (135) and Marc Schuette (160).
We ve got some expectations, because we have a group of experienced kids back, Ritter said. We re hoping that the hard work these kids put in during the off-season pays off during the year.
Defending league champ Delta took a graduation hit as five state qualifiers were lost. The young Panther lineup will be led by senior Jonny Tolson, who finished eighth in Division III at 112.
A team to watch is Montpelier, which returns five district qualifiers. Senior Nick Kreischer (119/125) will be joined by 17 other letter winners, including fellow district wrestlers Korbin Castillo (130), D.J. Ferguson (103), Kyle McCarty (171) and Matt Wells (215), all juniors.
Archbold also lost seven wrestlers from last year s lineup but returns seniors Chad Rufenacht at 152, a returning state qualifier, and Jared Leininger at 160, who advanced to the district meet last year.
Bryan finished second in the NWOAL last year despite not having a single league champ, and the Golden Bears expect to use depth to compete for another title.
A total of 17 letter winners are back, led by district qualifiers Shayne Combs (135/140) and Donny Ramos (112), both seniors, and junior Dylan Zedaker (135/140).
Patrick Henry may not have big numbers, but the wrestlers the Patriots do have are definitely talented. The leaders include sophomore Xavier Dye (160), who qualified for the state meet last year, while junior Alex Lopez (145) finished seventh at 112 two years ago.
Swanton is led by senior Austin Reiner (171), a two-time district qualifier, while Evergreen features a pair of district qualifiers in Brandon Bettinger, a sophomore at 112, and Jeff Smith, a senior at 130.