Having established itself as northwest Ohio’s top Division I wrestling program during the last five years, Clay is now in dynasty mode.
The Eagles have won five straight league championships (three City League, two Three Rivers Athletic Conference). They are favored to capture their third TRAC title in a row this season, although Central Catholic may have something to say about that finish.
In a preseason poll of TRAC coaches, Clay received six of the eight first-place votes and a total of 62 voting points to edge Central, which got the other two first-place nods and 58 points.
Fremont Ross (37 points) was tabbed for third, and St. John’s Jesuit (31) was voted fourth.
“Clay wrestling will continue to build upon its tradition in wrestling statewide,” said third-year Eagles head coach Ralph Cubberly. “Our schedule is put together in order to test our athletes at various events around the state.”
Cubberly listed a top-five state-tournament finish and a third consecutive TRAC title as the top goals for the team. Last season Clay placed 12th at state after qualifying for the eight-team state team tournament field in the first year for that event. In 2012, the Eagles placed fifth in the traditional state (combined individual and team) tournament.
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Clay has 50 wrestlers in its program, including 12 seniors and nine returning starters from a team that outpointed Central 238-185 for the TRAC team title in February.
Back are seniors Aaron Henneman (120), Jared Davis (126), Gavin Nelson (132), Nick Stencel (160), Brian Richmond (195), and Antonio Zapata (285), junior Richie Screptock (132), and sophomore Matt Stencel (182).
The Stencel brothers, Henneman, Screptock, and Nelson were all TRAC champions, Davis placed second, and Zapata took third in the conference meet. Screptock placed fourth at state, Nick Stencel was fifth, Davis was seventh, and Zapata was also a state qualifier. Henneman, Nelson, Matt Stencel, and Richmond were all district qualifiers.
In last weekend’s prestigious Ironman Tournament at Walsh Jesuit, Screptock placed seventh at 132, and Nelson and Matt Stencel were each 3-2.
Cubberly lists depth as a team strength, with the Eagles again able to fill out two full varsity lineups on their Gold and Green teams.
Central Catholic is expected to be Clay’s chief challenger for the TRAC tourney title, and the Irish of third-year coach Tony Guerra have 30 wrestlers in the program. Only three are seniors, and just four return as varsity starters.
Leading the way for Central will be senior Alex Mossing (145/152), who was the Division II state champion at 138 pounds last season, junior Nate Hagan (132), who was seventh at state in 2012, and sophomores Richard Jackson (145/152) and Josh Portillo (113), who were each district qualifiers.
Guerra also expects solid contributions from Josh Venia (106) and Josh Mossing (132/138).
Hagan and Jackson were TRAC champions last season, and Alex Mossing and Portillo were each conference runners-up.
“We’re looking to get multiple state placers, and make it back to the state team dual championships,” Guerra said.
Fremont Ross has 25 wrestlers for 10th-year coach Mike Mezinger, including five seniors and nine returnees to the varsity lineup.
The Little Giants are paced by senior Trey Grine (145), a defending TRAC champion who placed fourth at the state tournament last winter. Fellow senior Peyton Geary (160) was also a state qualifier for Ross.
Other top wrestlers for the Little Giants include senior Bailey Mezinger (126), junior Jordan Weissinger (152), and sophomore Tayvion Smith (113), who were all district qualifiers. Weissinger was also a TRAC runner-up. Coach Mezinger will also get help from junior Stefan Johnson (170).
“We have depth in the middle weights and experience at most of the weight classes,” coach Mezinger said. “We return seven district qualifiers. We should have a pretty good season.
St. John’s and third-year coach Charlie Schoen hope to again finish in the upper half of the TRAC standings, and the Titans seem poised to do so with 16 wrestlers out. Four of those are seniors, six are returning starters, and four were district qualifiers last season.
Heading up the Titans’ lineup are senior captains Michael Farrar (132) and Eddie O’Reilly (220), along with fellow seniors Peter Nichols (120) and Chris Stockard (145).
Others being counted on include junior Andrew Jewell (170) and Dickey Anderson (180), and sophomores Jimmy Turner (126) and Brenden O’Brien (120).
Farrar, Nichols, Stockard, and Jewell were all-district qualifiers. Nichols and Turner placed third in the TRAC, and Farrar and O’Reilly return as fourth-place finishers in the conference.
Schoen labels his team as young and determined, but the Titans are unable to field a full 14-man lineup.
“We’re still growing as a team,” Schoen said. “We’re not where we want to be yet, but we’re heading in the right direction with a core group of young wrestlers.”
Findlay only has 14 wrestlers out, but 10 of them are returning starters and ninth-year Trojans coach Ben Kirian has six seniors.
Kirian’s top prospects for success include seniors Michael Kalani (145), Ian Silette (182), Marcus Winkeljohn (195), and Marcus Molina (220), juniors Justin Jolliff (126) and Jimmy Staschiak (138), sophomore Christian Sanchez (132), and freshman Joey Staschiak (106).
Jimmy Staschiak was a TRAC runner-up, and Silette, Winkeljohn, and Jolliff each placed third in the conference. Silette, Winkeljohn, Molina, Joliff, and Jimmy Stachiak were all-district qualifiers.
The Trojans are strong and experienced in the lower and upper weight classes, but young and inexperienced in the middle of the lineup. Limited depth may hinder their chances in the TRAC tourney.
“We expect to finish in the top four of the TRAC this year,” Kirian said, “and look to field team in heading into the sectionals and districts. We hope to get a few wrestlers down to state.”
Whitmer looks to improve this season as eighth-year coach Josh Adams has eight seniors and five returning starters included on the Panthers’ otherwise thin 14-man roster.
The top contributors in the lineup are expected to be seniors James Wingate (132-138), Logan Cluckey (145/152), and Jacob Lapoint (195/220), juniors Zach Sa (126/132) and Justin Lutz (113), and sophomore Matt Torres (145/152).
Wingate placed third in the TRAC a year ago, and Sa was fourth.
Adams sees his team as stronger in tournaments than dual meets, and is optimistic about for some of his seniors reaching the state tourney.
“We are looking for a core group of varsity wrestlers to do very well this season,” Adams said. “They have been putting in the work, now it is just time to collect the reward.”
St. Francis de Sales has 17 wrestlers out for first-year head coach Jim Saba, who has six returning starters and five seniors on the roster.
The Knights will look for leadership from seniors Mike Irvine (120), Majid Bali (138), Steve Welling (170), Zach Uram (182), and Jarrett Haddix (182/195).
Uram was a district qualifier a year ago, and Irvine is looking to resume the skill level that got him to the state tournament in 2011 and 2012 after an injury took him out of the mix last season.
Saba likes his team’s senior leadership, and the way his wrestlers are buying into new coaching staff philosophies. An overall lack of program numbers and experience may limit the team’s progress this year.
Lima Senior has 14 wrestlers including seven returning starters and four seniors for fourth-year coach P.J. Fought to work with.
Heading up the lineup will be seniors Damon Moore (113), Chris Holbrook (120), and Chris Proby (152), junior Travis Tuttle (160), and sophomore Kaleb Russell (126).
The Spartans are young and inexperienced, and any significant climb in the TRAC standings is unlikely.