— Clear Fork’s wrestling team debuted its new camouflage uniforms Saturday, but if the Colts were trying to hide they did a poor job.
Led by repeat 170-pound champ Kevin Deal and 120-pound titlist Jesse Todd, the Colts racked up 265.4 points to win the season-opening Coke Classic tournament by 18.5 points over Upper Sandusky. The host Madison Rams, defending champs, were missing several starters and finished fourth at 225.
The Colts had four finalists and four others competing for third place. Coach Wade Miller only brought 12 wrestlers, including one freshman and five sophomores. Overall, the Colts had a 36-18 match record over the tourney’s five rounds.
“This is probably the hardest-working (practice) room I’ve had,” Miller said. “The kids feed off each other. They wrestle each other hard, but nobody takes it personal. They know it’s business.”
Deal, who brings back 30-plus wins from last season, was all business, recording three pins (and a forfeit) leading up to the finals, which ended in an 18-1 technical fall of Upper’s Corey Frey.
“I wrestled Brandon O’Neill (a state finalist last year for Clear Fork) for three years, which has really helped,” Deal said. “Just being able to defend his shots was the best thing I got from him. My offense was the reason I was able to win (a title) today, but I was impressed with my defense. I didn’t have to take many shots.”
Deal gave a huge thumbs-up to the new singlets.
“I love ’em,” he said.
The uniforms were a gift from Clear Fork assistant coach Kyle Kinzel, who recently returned home from serving in Afghanistan for the Ohio Army National Guard. Kinzel, whose brothers Austin and Drew, placed second and third, respectively, Saturday, was a Coke Classic champ two years ago.
Todd had to work harder for his title than Deal, outlasting 2011 runner-up Trae Coopwood of Madison 5-2 in overtime. Todd did a nice job of keeping composure after getting hit with a stalling penalty in the final seconds of regulation and then being denied a takedown at the buzzer.
“I felt like I had (the takedown),” Todd, “but every time I’ve had a match go to overtime, I pray, and then I’m able to focus.”
Todd had trouble cracking the lineup for the first half of last season, sitting behind Doug Hicks, but he eventually went down in weight, won the Sally George Invitational in Marion and took second at the Ohio Cardinal Conference tournament to Lexington’s two-time state runner-up Calvin Campbell.
To reach Saturday’s finals he had to beat Akron Manchester’s Bobby Bowen 8-7. Bowen was a state qualifier last season.
“That match was a confidence booster,” Todd said. “I think the key for me is being able to focus.”
Runner-up for Clear Fork in addition to Austin Kinzel (145) was James Weyhmeller (152). Finishing third for the Colts, along with Drew Kinzel (132), were Skyler Knecht (126) and Greg Johnson (138).
The other area champions were Madison’s Alize Merrell (113), Mansfield Senior’s Jesse Palser (160) and Bucyrus’ Nathan Jones (220).
Merrell transferred to Madison after reaching the OCC finals and Division I district tournament as a freshman last season for Mansfield Senior. Madison coach Doug Mosier coached Merrell’s father Leconte (a state champion for St. Peter’s) and his uncle, Roger Merrell (a state champion for Madison).
“Alize resembles Alize,” Mosier said, grinning. “I never like to compare. He has a lot of heart and soul. Leconte was always focused and Roger was intense. Alize’s family has given him a good start. Now we’re just trying to fine-tune him.”
Merrell pinned his first four opponents before stopping Upper’s Carson Mengerink 10-4 in the finals.
“”I like to pin; I had a decent amount,” Merrell said. “My freshman year I wasn’t as prepared, just because I was going from eighth grade to (varsity). I have a nice workout partner (Coopwood). ‘I want to make it to the ‘Show’ in Columbus. I have to listen to my coach and work hard with my drill partner.”
Palser repeated as the 160 champ, edging South Central’s Caleb Barnett 5-4 on the heels of a 4-2 win over Upper’s Alex Kenner.
“I just had to stay composed and wrestle for six minutes,” Palser said. “My last two matches were a lot alike. Both guys had good technique and skill. I just had to dig deep and finish.”
An undersized heavyweight, Johns moved down to 220 this season. He had a 9-3 victory and three pins leading up to his 3-2 decision in the finals over Kenmore’s Shawn Borkowski.
“It’s conditioning,” Johns said.
“I spent a lot of time in the weight room. Coming down (a weight class) will pay off in the long run, because there’s less weight for me to throw around.