Champaign County has been a mainstay on the state wrestling scene with Graham winning so many titles over the last two decades.
Last season, wrestlers from Graham, Urbana and Mechanicsburg won state titles at the individual meet, while the Indians were also in the mix for a team title.
It all begins with Graham. There is a ton of talent returning to the Falcons’ squad this year, with seven returning state placers and two champions.
Juniors Mitch Moore (132 pounds) and Rocky Jordan (152) bring three state championships combined to the team. Both won last season, after Jordan was a runner-up in 2015. Kavan Sarver (195) and Johnny Shafer (220) are both top-ranked after finishing third and fifth last year, respectively. Ryan Thomas (160) is ranked second after a pair of third-place finishes the last two seasons and Gage Braun (182) is ranked second after a fifth-place finish last season. Jordan Crace (113), Jeffrey Thomas (126) and Joey Sanchez (145) are also ranked after placing last season.
Tanner Jordan is ranked in the top five at 106 and Isaiah Stickley (120) and Andrew Shaffer (120) are both ranked, as is JD Stickley (138).
“Our goals are real simple, we are training hard to win our 17th straight Ohio state title,” GHS Coach Jeff Jordan said. “Kavan Sarver, one of my few seniors, is the leader of this squad. We have a lot of work to do and are really working hard to get in peak shape.”
The Falcons got off to a good start this past weekend at Marysville, running the table to win the first tournament of the season.
At Urbana, Sam Harris takes over as the head coach for Ryan Pine. Harris has been on the bench as an assistant the past couple of seasons and was instrumental in getting his brother Jack to bring a state championship to Urbana last winter.
“It’s probably the perfect time for me to make this transition. I’ve got all these people around me to help me. Ryan’s still around and my dad’s around to help me,” Sam Harris said.
As far as the team goes, the Hillclimbers will be young.
“We graduated six guys last year, which is a lot for us. We’ve got some shoes to fill,” Harris said.
Seniors Braeden Lehman and Austin Murray will help provide leadership for the squad, while Gavyn Grim and Louis Ramirez will make strong pushes for the district level and beyond.
“They don’t say too much, they just work hard. They set the tone for the young guys,” Harris said. “We’ve got a clean slate and we’re working from scratch right now. Doing pretty well. Those four guys are our top of the crop right now, but we’ve got a lot of guys that are on the cusp of being really good.”
The Hillclimbers won a sectional title last season and put a lot of guys deep into the postseason.
“We’re trying to build off last year. We won the sectional title. That’s where our eyes are set right now,” Harris said. “Also, we have a chance to win the CBC, which isn’t something that’s going to happen a lot for us.”
Urbana is in the Kenton Trail Division this year, so Graham (MRD) isn’t an obstacle to UHS winning the conference. Harris also wants to see the number of district and state qualifiers increase as he settles in.
At West Liberty-Salem, Coach Dave Clem will be working with a small squad that features Tanner Workman, who won his first championship of the season last weekend at Northeastern, going 8-0 with 6 pins.
Workman is the most seasoned wrestler for the Tigers, based on postseason experience.
He will be joined by Isaac Lee, Charlie Willians, Zayne Reed and Ely Serna.
Williams also had 6 pins at Northeastern and went 7-1 to finish third. Lee was second in his class.
Triad will also field a small squad under second-year coach Tyler Graff.
Zack Zizzo (145-152) will play the featured role for the Cardinals, offering deep postseason experience to his teammates.
“Him being a leader and taking initiative with his work ethic and showing the guys by example, that immediately proved to me his leadership capabilities,” Graff said. “From that moment forward, he’s been putting in the work. I’ve seen a lot of changes from him from last year to where he is now.”
Josiah Leasure (285), Danny Lake (145-171), Austin Vanhoose (145-152) and Dalton Overfield (126) will round out the squad. Junior Harley Huffman (220) will likely miss the season due to injury.
“The guys are very coachable and very enthusiastic,” Graff said. “The challenging part is the fun part. Going through the whole experience. Regardless of winning or losing, the guys are setting high goals and working hard to achieve them. That’s all I ask of the guys is that they give their very best.”
The youth movement could pay dividends for the Cardinals in a couple of years, provided everyone develops as Graff expects them to.
“I’d like to see them achieve their goals and keep everyone injury-free,” he said, “and then show them that they can reach even higher and the whole goal-setting process. And how that relates to life. Ultimately, that’s what sports are about.”
At Mechanicsburg, the Indians are favored to win the school’s first state title as a team. In fact, some pundits have the Division III Indians ranked among the top six teams in the state regardless of division.
The boys are getting a bit of a late start following the deep postseason run of the football team, but that fact didn’t set the Indians back last season and it likely won’t put a damper on them now, either.
Kaleb Romero sets the tone for the Indians. Having already committed to Ohio State, the most accomplished wrestler in the program’s history will seek to become Ohio’s 29th four-time state champion.
Tyler Wetzel and Tanner Smith return after placing at the state tournament last season and Alex Rhine and Dylan Hartley come back after qualifying for the state meet last year.
The Indians also add Colt Yinger, who transferred from Nelsonville-York, where he was a state placer.
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.