Wrestling season is upon us and in Champaign County, that begins another quest for a Graham Falcons Division II state championship. The question seems to be not whether the Falcons will win, but by how many points.
Graham will feature several wrestlers with state meet experience, including guys that get to wrestle in the three-year-old team competition that Graham has won in the tournament’s first two years of existence.
Senior Alex Marinelli will set the tone as a three-time state champion and a prohibitive favorite to win his fourth title.
But Graham has other familiar faces roaming the mats as well.
Brandon Hays, Garrett Jordan, Rocky Jordan, Mario Kastl, Kyle Lawson, Brent Moore, Mitch Moore, Kavan Sarver and Justin Stickley are all back, among others.
“We’ve got a good, solid team. This is the biggest team we’ve had in 10 years, so we do have a lot of depth,” Graham Coach Jeff Jordan said. “We’ve got some great individuals. I think we’re going to be a real strong team this year.”
Newcomers Jordan Crace, Jeffrey Thomas, Nick Newport and Johnny Shafer could all make an impact immediately for the Falcons.
All that talent should add up to a 16th consecutive individual tournament title for the Falcons.
“That’s the goal. So we’ve been training them hard early on for that,” Coach Jordan said.
The Falcons have such a loaded squad, the reserve team is one of the best in the area.
“I’ve got them going to all varsity tournaments this year and I think they can have an impact,” Jordan said.
Expect at least a half-dozen state championship contenders from this bunch.
Central Buckeye Conference rival Urbana is steadily improving, with four district qualifiers back in the mix this season.
The Hillclimbers start with three-time state placer Jack Harris, but also feature Austin Murray, Jaylin Cameron and Mitchell Moyer with district experience. Cameron was a state qualifier last season.
“A goal for everyone is to continually improve on past performances and that’s exactly what we expect out of this group,” UHS Coach Ryan Pine said.
The ‘Climbers will also have Langston Kitchen, Timmy Sidders, Jake Angles, Zack Michael and Jack DeLong back.
“We have strong upperclassman leadership – seven seniors and three juniors – on this team,” Pine said. “We’ll rely on them to set the pace for our team’s success this year.”
At West Liberty-Salem, Dave Clem is entering his second year at the helm and has a small but strong squad of grapplers.
“I think we can place in the top three in the OHC. I’ve got a lot of guys that can score points and bonus points in the tournament,” Clem said.
Trevor Anderson and Josh Cordell highlight the experienced core of the team.
“They worked over the spring and summer to get better. They work hard every day,” Clem said of his team. “I think this year, I’m going to stress better technique. I was a little more lax than I wanted to be last year, being a new coach.”
Tanner Workman, Charlie Williams, Raiph LeVan and Ely Serna will all wrestle.
“My goal is to improve every day in the room. I don’t focus on winning. I focus on improving and I think the winning comes off that improvement,” Clem said. “Their personal drive is what is going to make them successful. They come in, they listen, they do everything I ask of them.”
Also in the OHC, Triad is coming in with a small squad and high hopes for its individuals.
New coach Tyler Graff is getting to know his team.
“Right now, it’s just getting an individual perspective and going from there,” he said.
Senior Jacob Thompson will help Graff get acclimated.
“From what I see, he takes a great leadership role,” Graff said. “He’s definitely someone to be watching.”
Zack Zizzo, Isaiah Bruce, Harley Huffman and Josiah Leasure will all represent the Cardinals.
“I think they’re all capable of accomplishing great things,” Graff said.
At Mechanicsburg, Coach Cameron Doggett is getting a late start with his boys because many of them were involved in the deep playoff run the football team made in November.
“It’s kind of a learning season for me, as a coach,” Doggett said. “I’ve never had a team with this many kids going that late in football.”
The core of the team will feature defending state champion Kaleb Romero, Alex Rhine, Tanner Smith, Tyler Wetzel, Nick Miller and transfer Wade Smiddy. Returners Dylan Hartley and Dylan Hartman will fill out the top weights.
“The goal is always there for state titles. That’s what we’re going to be training for this year,” Doggett said.
The Indians made a push at the team wrestling title last season and sent several members to the individual competition, so it’s not just a dream for the boys in purple – it could be a reality.
“I honestly don’t expect us to be at our full strength until January,” Doggett said, referencing the late start caused by football. “It’s a great thing. It just creates a different challenge to us – getting their weight back down and getting them in the shape we need them in. Our practice schedule is going to be a little different. We’re offering practices left and right.”
With so many talented wrestlers in the area, expect the district and even the state meet to have a Champaign County flavor.
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.