In their climb from an average high school wrestling team into one of Ohio’s top Division I programs, the Clay Eagles have built participation numbers high enough to fill lineups for two full varsity teams.
That depth may come in handy in the coming weeks as the Eagles progress through the tournament trail.
After graduating four seniors who placed among the top five in the 2012 state tournament, a younger, rebuilt Eagles squad may actually be better equipped to excel in Ohio’s new state team (dual match) tournament than the traditional state meet, which will now be known as the state individual tournament.
This year’s Clay lineup may not be as rich with individuals capable of matching last year’s performance — a fifth-place team finish at state — but it may actually be deeper in quality from top to bottom.
“We are a better dual-meet team now than we were last year,” second-year Clay coach Ralph Cubberly said. “We have a kid who’s better than .500 at almost every weight class.
“The reason we won [last weekend’s] Maumee Bay Classic isn’t because we won so many weight classes. It’s because we placed 11 guys. That’s not bad when two of your starters are out.
“We don’t have that standout wrestler right now who you know is going to be a state placer. But we do have 14 guys who have a chance to do something special.”
Among the graduation losses were Garrett Gray, a state runner-up at 285 pounds, and Mike Screptock (126), Jacob Conine (132) and Angelo Amenta (138), who each placed fifth at state.
But the current lineup features nine wrestlers who have already accumulated 20 wins.
One senior leader is 195-pounder Eddie Silva, who is a believer in the importance of being confident on the mats.
“I feel good about our chances,” Silva said of the tournament trail. “I think we’re better than last year. We don’t have the all-stars, but we’re just all good.
“I think we’ll make it to Columbus for the state duals. Having that new tournament is sweet. This is my senior year and it gives us a chance to show all of Ohio how good of a whole team we are, not just individuals.”
Silva is 25-5 on the season after placing second at 195 pounds last Saturday when Clay hosted and won the 27-team the Maumee Bay Classic/Michael Casey Memorial Invitational. He lost 2-1 in a hard-fought final against Matthew Lybarger of Mt. Vernon.
Also placing second at the Maumee Bay tourney were Eagles juniors Nick Stencel (160 pounds, 27-7 record) and Antonio Zapata (285 pounds, 21-9).
Stencel lost 9-6 in the title match against Jared Mattin of Delta, and Zapata was pinned by Perry’s Billy Miller in the final.
Clay’s lone champion among its 11 wrestlers who placed in top eight was freshman 182-pounder Matt Stencel, who moved to 20-5 on the season by pinning Perrysburg’s Kadin Llewellyn in the title match.
“He gets bragging rights for the time being,” Nick Stencel said of younger brother Matt’s Maumee Bay title. “He can toss me around a little bit. He’s got some height and weight and muscle on me, but I still hang in there with him.
“Last year I could still throw him around. It’s pretty outstanding what he’s done, because most freshmen who have done that good usually wrestle in the smaller weight classes. He’s doing it up at 182.”
The sibling rivalry has benefited both brothers.
“The competition level rises up higher,” Nick said. “You always want to beat him, and do better than he does.”
Despite having only one individual champion, Clay posted 203 points to take the team title ahead of Wauseon and Perry, which tied for second at 182.5, Perrysburg (fourth, 171.5), and Delta (fifth, 156) in northwest Ohio’s top regular-season tournament.
Also with 20 or more victories on the season are seniors Brian Henneman (126 pounds, 26-6 record) and Devin Dominique (170, 21-10), juniors Aaron Henneman (106, 22-8), Jared Davis (113, 23-5) and Gavin Nelson (132, 29-6), and sophomore Richie Screptock (120, 28-4).
“Our team has a lot of depth,” Davis said. “It’s a strong team, and our B [Green] team is pretty tough. Some of those kids will just have to step up, and I think they can fill in and help out.
“We lost four of our state placers from last year who graduated. This year we have a few kids who are state-finals quality, and I think we’re closer as a team this year.”
Dominique placed third at the Maumee Bay tourney but was lost for the season after sustaining a broken collar bone. He placed third. His twin brother, Damon Dominique (152, 18-4) was unable to compete at that event because of a medical issue, but will return soon.
Replacing Devin Dominique in the lineup will be senior Charlie Amenta (15-6 record), who bumps down from 182.
As Clay attempts to advance in the state team tournament, its lineup will be rounded out junior Darrin Todd (152), sophomore Caleb Nelson (138, 17-10), and the expected return of senior Jarred Gray (220 pounds, 11-4), a 2012 state qualifier who has been out since mid-December with a knee injury.
Jarred Gray, younger brother of Garrett, qualified for state in 2012, but did not place at 220. Sophomore Tyler Koester (13-12) has been filling the void at 220 since Gray’s injury Dec. 16.
“It’s not any secret that we’re banged up right now,” Cubberly said. “The benefit of having 55 guys on your roster is that it gives you a lot of viable options as backups.
“They’re all battle-tested. We run two varsity schedules, and the guys on our Green [second-level] schedule have wrestled against strong competition at Perrysburg and Tiffin and Fremont, just not as high as our Gold team.
“The guys we have sitting and waiting for their turn, they’re all proven and have good records. I’m confident our kids can do the job.”
Competition in the new team tournament began Wednesday night when the Eagles had a regional quarterfinal match against Whitmer at Clay. Next Wednesday is the four-team Region 1-A semifinal round. The winner advances to the regional final against the Region 1-B winner from the Dayton area at 7 p.m. Feb. 6 at a site to be determined. That winner advances to the eight-team state tournament in Columbus.
The TRAC tournament will be Feb. 2 at Clay, where the Eagles attempt to defend their conference title.
The 10-team Division I sectional will be Feb. 16 at Clay, the district is set for Feb. 22-23 at Cleveland State, and the individual state tournament will be Feb. 28 through March 2 at Ohio State’s St. John Arena in Columbus.
Clay has gone from no points at the state meet in 2007, to 76th place in 2008, 23rd in 2009, 21st in 2010, and 12th in 2011. Last year’s fifth-place finish was the highest for a Toledo-area school in D-I in more than 20 years.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.