The back end of Lexington’s lineup can be murder on wrestling opponents, especially when it’s front-loaded.
By luck of the draw, Saturday’s dual with Galion began with the 182-pound class, which meant the Tigers got to see projected state champ Jacob Kasper (182), defending state champ Josh Lehner (195) and Bailey Faust (220), a reigning Ohio Cardinal Conference champ with state champion bloodlines, right off the bat.
Kasper won by first-period pin, Lehner by first-minute fall and Faust, wrestling up a class for the first time this season, tagged a game Deaken McCoy 7-0 in their upperweight bout.
“That’s a good omen when we’re able to start a match like that,” Lex coach Brent Rastetter said. “Up top we can wrestle with anyone in the state. We’re pretty dominant from 170 up. What we’ve got to do is get all the other guys to follow suit.”
Just like that, after three matches, it was 15-0 Lex. If it’s any consolation to Galion, many teams in Ohio would find themselves in the same deflating predicament against the reigning Division II state runners-up.
“When we drew 182 for the first match I was like, ‘Oh, man,’ ” said Galion coach Brent Tyrrell, who was missing five starters due to illness and injury in the 63-15 loss to the Minutemen. “It was bang, bang, bang, but our 220 (McCoy) can wrestle.
“Most of these kids know each other, so we knew what to expect. We tried to explain to them that you have to look at the bigger picture. It’s going to help us get ready for the league (North Central Conference), sectional and district tournaments.”
Galion junior 120-pounder Zac Tupps, a 2012 state qualifier coming off a 38-win season, already looks ready.
Although the anticipated showdown of unbeatens — Tupps vs. Brandon Leynaud — didn’t materialize, Tupps got the kind of challenge Saturday that will help him down the road.
After pinning Lexington’s Max Baker at 3:26, Tupps tangled with state qualifier Sam Valenti of Hillard Darby, which joined Mantua Crestwood in Saturday’s quadrangular.
Valenti led 5-2 entering the final period, but Tupps rallied with an escape and takedown in the final 30 seconds before Valenti wiggled free right before the buzzer for a 6-5 victory.
It was Tupps’ first loss in 14 matches.
“The way I look at it, all the wrestling right now is practice for sectionals and districts,” said Tupps, who was 1-2 at state last season, a 1-0 loss to the eventual third-place finisher costing him a spot on the podium. “I look at it as putting on a singlet and riding the bus to practice.”
Tupps competed at 113 last season but will probably settle in at 120 after getting up to 139 pounds during the off-season.
“I wasn’t worried about my weight during the summer; I just lifted and trained,” Tupps said. “The football coaches kept trying to talk me into being a cornerback or slot receiver, but I said, no, that’s all right, wrestling’s my thing. I want to win a state championship.”
Leynaud, 15-0 with 13 pins including Saturday’s two falls, certified at 120 last week, but would have had to cut too much to get there to meet Tupps for this quad.
He weighed in at 123.5 but vows to be at 120 after Christmas.
That means a Leynaud-Tupps showdown in the finals of the J.C. Gorman Invitational the first weekend in January might be a belated Christmas gift for area fans.
They met twice in the off-season, with Leynaud winning both times.
“I did a a lot more open mats and tournaments during the off-season,” said the reigning OCC champ, winner of 34 matches last year as a freshman. “Jacob (Kasper) helped a lot. We’d come in five times a week and wrestle.”
After missing seven starters for various reasons in dropping three of four duals the opening weekend, including a loss to Division I state power Wadsworth, Lex appears to be hitting its stride.
But the Minutemen are hardly at full strength.
Projected 170 starter AJ Parr has been out all season with a football-related injury, banged-up district qualifier Xavier White was reduced to playing videographer on Saturday.
Heavyweight Ravyn Workman, a transfer from Western Reserve who fell two wins shy of making it to Columbus last season, has still not gotten clearance from the OHSAA to compete.
Still, Lex easily handled Crestwood 50-26 to complete a doubleheader sweep, getting pins from Lehner, Faust, Leynaud, Nate Temple (285), Jonah Schropp (106) and Drew Kasper (160) and a technical fall from Jon Watkins (132).
Jacob Kasper had some anxious moments against state-ranked Kenny Jackson before prevailing 8-5.
“Jacob always wants to be dominant, but sometimes 1-0 can be just as dominant as a technical fall,” Rastetter said. “A one-point decision will mean just as much come district time when it’s all about moving on.”
Lehner’s two pins took a combined 72 seconds as he improved to 19-0.
Only two of his matches have gone the distance, and in both cases the opponent wrestled defensively to avoid getting planted.
The competition will ramp up next weekend for Lehner at the Medina Invitational Tournament. He’s hoping for a title rematch with Massillon Perry’s JoJo Tayse, the reigning Division I state champ.
In last year’s MIT finals, Lehner was up 4-1 on Tayse before succumbing by one point.
“I don’t really care how I win; I’m just looking for a win however it comes — as long as I don’t lose,” said Lehner, who sent expectations soaring by tech-falling all four of his opponents in last year’s state meet. “I’ve been drilling with Bailey (Faust) because he has a little bit more weight for me to push around and is more my size.”
Faust, whose brother Jake (now at Duke) was a state champion last season, admits there will be a little bit of an adjustment to wrestling up at 220. The good news is he can pretty much eat to his heart’s content.
He weighed in a 201 on Saturday and that was after what he termed a “good” breakfast.
“I had two donuts and a cappuccino,” he said, grinning. “Heck, yeah.”
The downside, and upside, of being bigger is squaring off every day in the practice room with Lehner.
“Drilling with a state champ, you can’t go wrong,” Faust said. “I’ve only got one year with Josh, so I’ve got to make the best of it I can.”
Lex junior Kendall Kuhn had the easiest afternoon, winning both of his matches by forfeit. He would have preferred to take off his warmup to add to his now 16-2 record at 170.
Kuhn was 6-9 last year, sitting behind Jacob Kasper. This year it looked like he would be backing up Parr, whose injury turned out to be the break Kuhn needed.
“I’m just working hard in the practice room and doing what I can to help the team,” Kuhn said. “I’ve seen the same thing happen to other guys here who waited for their chance. When that chance comes, you have to seize it.”
Rastetter said Kuhn has been the biggest surprise over the first month of the season.
“I was hoping for 18 wins out of him, but he’s going to surpass that,” Rastetter said. “He’s extremely smart, so he understands positioning and doesn’t get himself in harm’s way. He’s aware of his weaknesses and doesn’t allow them to become glaring or hurt him in a match.”