Riding the momentum of a building program that has produced back-to-back City League championships and an enviably crowded wrestling room for daily practices, Clay plans to soar again this season on area mats as well as statewide.
Veteran coach Gerry Anthony, in his fourth year back at the Clay helm (13th overall), is looking to maintain the two Qs -- quantity and quality -- as the Eagles, 68 wrestlers strong, continue to fill two full varsity lineups (Gold and Green teams) while bidding for a third straight league title.
"I still like [having] the numbers because it's just not about winning," Anthony said of his 68-member program, half of which earned varsity letters last season. "For the type of kid that you get in wrestling, I think our sport has so much to offer. We have a great coaching staff which is really good with the kids.
"It's not all about winning. It's keeping them in the program for four years and being part of something good."
And then comes the quality.
"There's no doubt that we want to keep pushing forward as a program," Anthony said. "When I first took the job it was exciting just getting one kid to state. Now, we're getting to where it's a more expected type of thing.
"Once that starts happening, now we want to get our first state champion. It's something that's understood -- if you're going to wrestle on the gold team, it's assumed that you're trying to be a state qualifier."
Clay's highest placer ever at state was Ed Susor, a state runner-up in 1960. Four other Eagles -- Ryan Donley, Lonnie Rivera, Rex Ruby, and Clay Miller -- have placed third at state.
Clay repeated its City League championship last year, outscoring runner-up Central Catholic 289-221. Those two teams are projected to battle it out for the crown again this season, which will be the final one for each before they join the new Three Rivers Athletic Conference in 2011-12.
The Feb. 12 CL championship tournament, scheduled for Rogers, may also be the last City League wrestling tourney, at least for the foreseeable future. The league's six remaining members from Toledo Public Schools -- Bowsher, Rogers, Scott, Start, Waite and Woodward -- were all forced to drop the sport this year as part of budget cuts.
Thus, the City tourney will include just the five schools who will be exiting to join the TRAC.
Leading the way for this year's Eagles will be two state qualifiers -- junior Angelo Amenta (130 pounds) and senior Chico Cloyne (171), along with seniors Matt Kohler (140), Shane Gaghen (215), and Nico Castilleja (135), and junior Mike Screptock (112).
Screptock was 45-9 last season, Amenta 44-10, Kohler 33-12, Cloyne 31-12, Castilleja 24-12, and Gaghen 21-9. Brian Henneman (125), a sophomore transfer from Bowsher, was 38-12 for the Rebels and a City runner-up to Screptock last year at 112.
Others expected to round out the lineup include Carlos Hernandez and Nick McNutt (103), Damon Dominique (145), Tyler Rowland (152), Eddie Silva (160), Brandon Veler (189), and heavyweights Garett Gray and Rex Carlo.
"Our goals as a team are to break the school records for district qualifiers and state qualifiers," Anthony said. "We took 12 to district last year and we believe we can take all 14 this year. We also had six state qualifiers. Another goal is to finish in the top 10 in the state tournament.
"We'd definitely like to repeat as City League champs, and we're definitely going to be challenged by Central again. We just have to keep improving as a team. Everybody has to keep improving every day. We can't be satisfied with where we're at."
Central Catholic, which placed fourth in the Division II state meet last season and had five wrestlers compete in Columbus, opens its first season under coach Richard "Doc" Leffler, a local coaching legend and member of both the state and national wrestling coaches halls of fames as well as the University of Toledo athletic hall of fame.
Leffler, 77, who starred on the mats at DeVilbiss (1951 grad) and UT (1951-55), began his head coaching career at St. Francis in 1959 and led the Knights to state championships in 1964 and 1971 during his two stints covering 15 seasons there. He later was the coach for four seasons at Otsego, and worked as an assistant the last three years under former longtime Irish coach Mitch Naufel.
The Irish will be led by two returning state qualifiers -- senior Tony Martin (160), who placed third in the state at 152 last March, and senior D.J. Beauch (145), who is a two-time state qualifier. The most notable losses to graduation were 2010 D-II state runners-up Jake Henderson (215) and Vincenzo Cardone (285), and Dan Cook, a City champion who placed eighth in the state at 135
Also back for Central are senior Jason Mossing (152), juniors Alex Padilla (135) and Levi Pickerel (285), and sophomore Matt Pool (103). The Irish will also get a boost from three former Start wrestlers who transferred.
This trio is highlighted by senior Chase Leedy (125 or 130), who was City champion at 119 with the Spartans. The others are junior Sam Viangmany (140) and sophomore Nigel Cramer (112/119).
Leffler was philosophical about Central's outlook on the season.
"We're expecting our highly experienced leaders, who have had positive outcomes at the district and state levels, along with our other [returning] starters, to compete at the highest level," Leffler said. "Our coaching staff is very knowledgeable, and we have a rigorous training program that should prepare our team to meet all competition.
"You can't control winning, but you can control effort, attitude, sense of fight and a commitment to learning. Our wrestlers must be encouraged to establish realistic goals which will assure positive outcomes."
Along with the likelihood of Clay and Central staging a two-team race for the CL title, the consensus around the league is that third place will be up for grabs among St. John's, Whitmer, and St. Francis, who placed in that order behind third-place Start in last season's City tournament.
St. John's may be the most hard-pressed with just 20 wrestlers in its program and only five varsity regulars returning.
Fourth-year Titans coach Dave Daugherty has opened the season having to forfeit up to five weight slots in some early meets, but expects to fill 12 after some members of the roster meet their weight requirements, and some of the six promising freshmen are better acclimated to the varsity level.
Leading St. John's will be senior Robert Pownell (189), juniors Ted Schoen (171 or 189) and Matt Nichols (119), and sophomores A.J. Rush (112-119) and Colin Dinkens (135-140). Schoen, who placed third in the CL at 160 last season, is the most experienced returnee.
"With the forfeits, it's tough to be competitive in dual meets," Daugherty said. "But once we get to the tournament at the end of the season, we should be in the hunt for that third [CL] spot."
Whitmer has 40 wrestlers under fourth-year coach Josh Adams, and 12 of those are returning letter winners.
Back for the Panthers are seniors Joe Mazzurco (135), Cory Dutkiewicz (130), and Jesse Murray (215), juniors Jacob Opial (140-145), Brock Skelding (145-152), and Zach Johns (152-160), and sophomore Dinny Moore (112). Mazzurco, Opial, and Skelding each placed third in the 2010 CL tourney, and Mazzurco and Johns were both district qualifiers.
"We're going to be solid," Adams said. "We're probably fighting for the third spot, and we should be a lot more competitive this year. We had six district qualifiers last year, and we expect to have more this year. If we wrestle up to our potential, we could get a couple to state."
St. Francis begins its second season under coach Dennis Marczek, who spent the prior 12 years as an assistant under logtime Knights coach Carl Janke.
The Knights, who have 27 wrestlers in their program, will look for returnee leadership from seniors Kyle Heitmeyer (171) and Austin Cover (160), junior Devon McGibbeny (130), and sophomores Shelton Evans (145) and Kevin Krombach (140). Junior Zach Kolacki, who hasn't wrestled since junior high, is showing promise at heavyweight, and two freshmen are already making a mark on the varsity -- Michael Irvine (103) and Zach Uram (189).
"We're really excited," Marczek said. "There's just three seniors, so we're a young team. But the freshmen and sophomores came in with a lot of [youth wrestling] experience, and the other kids we have back did a lot of work during the summer. We should be real solid at about seven or eight spots, and we should have close toa full lineup."
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com or 419-724-6461.
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