Lots of changes, but Bears, Knights expected to lead W-H area again

Lots of changes, but Bears, Knights expected to lead W-H area again

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If you’ve lost track of the Wayne-Holmes area high school wrestling scene in the last couple years, you have a lot of catching up to do.

Even most diehards will need a program to start the 2021-22 season.

The OHSAA has changed weight classes to follow suit with the recommendation from the National Federation of State High School Associations. In a nutshell the upper-five weight classes from recent seasons have been reduced to four, and another class was added in the middle.

There are new head coaches at a whopping seven schools, believed to be the most in area history.

When all is said and done this season, though, expect it to feel a lot like most years.

West Holmes and Waynedale should be the area’s best overall dual teams, and the State Individual Wrestling Tournament will return to Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center March 11-13.

The 2020 tournament was canceled due to COVID-19, and last year’s tournaments were held at three different, smaller venues.

Here’s a closer look at what to watch for in area wrestling this winter:

Weight class shake-up

The new OHSAA weight classes are 106 pounds, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 144, 150, 157, 165, 175, 190, 215 and 285.

Since 2011-12, the weight classes had been 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220 and 285.

A quick sampling of area coaches found they felt the change was fair to accommodate the higher number of wrestlers who tend to compete in the middle classes.

Waynedale coach Louie Stanley, the dean of area mat bosses in his 29th year, said, “It’s probably the right move, but changing the classes drives me a little nuts. I think some higher-up people get bored every now and then. They sit down and decide to redo the weight classes. This is the fourth time they’ve changed them in my career.”

New coaches

The number of athletic directors hiring new wrestling coaches during the off-season in the Wayne-Holmes area is unprecedented.

Taking over as new leaders are Brian Teter (Wooster), Jamie Keeney (Orrville), Brent Cherry (Northwestern), Jordan Marrero (Norwayne), Jessie McKinney (Smithville), Jarrod Strine (Hillsdale) and Hanna Hall (Chippewa).

Dynasty still strong

Every couple years a team from the Wayne County Athletic League puts itself in position to give Waynedale a challenge, but the Golden Bears usually defend their title.

Waynedale has six grapplers back who’ve wrestled in the district last season, led by state runner-up Peyton Lemon and qualifiers Caiden Heller and Jake Sundberg (2020).

“I’ve gotta think we’re still the favorite until we’re dethroned,” said Stanley, whose team will be trying for its record 11th-straight WCAL title. “I don’t think we will have a lot of room for error, though. We’ll have to wrestle well and stay healthy. Dalton has possibly their best team in school history. They remind me of Smithville four or five years ago when they gave us a real challenge.”

The WCAL title is the starting point for the Bears’ annual goals list. They’re trying for a fifth-straight sectional title, third-straight State Duals Final Four finish and a good showing at the individual state meet.

500 wins club

Stanley has a 490-99-2 career record and looks to be a sure bet to reach the exclusive 500 wins club sometime this season. He trails only three coaches on the OHSAA’s unofficial leaderboard: Jamie Milkovich, 543-128-1, Maple Heights, 1982-2021; Dave Lee, 525, Bloomdale Elmwood, 1987-2017; and Ralph Cubberly, 514-137, Oregon Clay from 2011-17, Defiance from 2009-11 and Pemberville Eastwood from 1988-2009.

“It’s kind of like coaching awards in football; it’s definitely a team accomplishment,” Stanley said. “I’ve had a lot of very good coaches and wrestlers over the years. It’s a great honor and actually kind of crazy to be that high up on the wins list. I remember starting out and thinking it would be great to get to 100 wins, get on the top-10 board at state and coach a state champion. We just continued to try to raise the bar and work hard over the years.”

Lemon out until 2022

Lemon was the Div. III state runner-up at 170 pounds after losing to Rittman’s Sevi Garza 5-2 in the title bout at Marion Harding. It was just the second match-up ever between WCAL rivals, giving longtime fans reason to reminisce back to 1984 when Northwestern’s John Huber defeated Waynedale’s Joe Kikume 9-8 for the Class AA 167 title.

The Bears’ current team leader will start the season having to watch matches from the stands after undergoing thumb surgery. He’s doing all the drills and conditioning permitted but isn’t expected back in the lineup until January.

“Peyton has had a thumb injury since the end of last wrestling season, but he pushed through and had a great football season,” Stanley said. “It was the right choice to take care of his health and get the surgery done. He’s still providing great leadership, but we obviously really look forward to having him back out on the mat when the time is right.”

Knights' time

Fifth-year West Holmes coach Scott Vaughn’s team might be the area’s best overall heading into the season.

The Knights return seven district qualifiers led by four state-tested grapplers.

Seniors Tucker Kaufman, Brady Smith and Dylan Strouse, along with junior Mason Taylor, combined to post a 149-40 record last season, highlighted by their state trips. Strouse led the way by placing eighth.

Senior Conner Varnes, along with juniors Elisha Baldridge and Collin Gardner, also are talented returnees, and a highly touted freshman class adds even more optimism.

Backyard brawl

Wrestling fans should mark their calendar for the best regular-season dual meet on the 2021-22 schedule: West Holmes will visit backyard rival Waynedale for a dual meet on Dec. 22.

Dalton dialed in

Dalton coach Kenton Lemon has three state qualifiers and two other district qualifiers returning after the best season in school history.

Senior Tate Geiser was the Div. III state runner-up at 152 while classmate Austin Ryder was seventh at 220. Sophomore Greyson Siders also made the trip to state.

All totaled, the Bulldogs have 12 returning letterwinners.

Parting shots

Triway coach Sean Teter’s team has 27 grapplers and should be strong, led by returning district qualifiers Kory Banfield, Zane Carr, Ian Mariola, Peyton Wengerd and Kannon Thoman.

Wooster found a good one in new coach Brian Teter, who’s Sean's younger brother. The Generals don’t have any district qualifiers back, but with 27 grapplers, they have a lot to work with.

Smithville will be in rebuilding mode but has a standout to lead the way in senior All-Ohioan Michael Harris. He placed sixth at 138 last year.

Orrville brings back district qualifier Connor Chereson.

Email Aaron Dorksen at aarondorksen24@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronDorksen.