Sophomores Corey Shie and Andrew Sams aren’t shy about how they feel about their La Salle High School wrestling team.
They’re young. They’re confident. They’re returning state placers.
So they’re expecting big things.
“This is definitely the best year La Salle has ever had in history, really,” said Shie, the Division I district champion and fifth-place finisher at state at 120 pounds last season as a freshman. “We’re still pretty young. We only have two seniors in our lineup. Our goal this year is to be top two in the city and top 10 in the state.”
Sams, who was No. 8 at state last season at 126 pounds as a freshman, shares that view.
“This, I think, is the best team to ever come through La Salle so far,” Sams said. “And we’re getting better all the time.”
But don’t confuse that confidence for arrogance. They can back those words up.
“Corey is one of the best of the best,” La Salle coach Avery Zerkle said. “He pretty much trains year round and competes at all the national tournaments. Last year as a freshman, he only lost three matches. He does a great job.
“(Sam) has a little bit different style and he also plays baseball. He’s just an all-around great athlete. He’s a very coachable athlete. He has big hopes for the future and a goal to be a state champ.”
Shie is 5-0 with five pins thus far this season in the 132-pound weight class and Sams is 5-0 with two pins at 145 to headline a lineup stocked with young talent.
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Zerkle believes sophomore heavyweight Coltyn Kearins, who missed last season due to injury, can also be a state contender. Sophomore Eric Beck (4-1 this season) qualified for state last year and will be at 138 pounds this year. Freshman Blake Wilson is already 5-0 with two pins.
Senior John Shirkey will be back from knee surgery after Christmas to wrestle at 126. Shirkey is in his second season at La Salle after transferring from Oldham County, Ky., where he placed third at state as a freshman (113 pounds) and a sophomore (126 pounds).
“We’ve got a really solid lineup this year,” Shie said. “Right now we’re kind of light because our football team was in the state championship and they’re just now getting back. We still have some kids that need to get into shape, but once the postseason comes around, we’ll be looking good.”
The Lancers are ranked No. 4 in the latest Enquirer Division I area coaches’ poll and have been impressive through the first two weekends of the season. La Salle placed third at the Cambridge Invitational in Cambridge, Ohio, Dec. 6 with only seven wrestlers. Six of them placed. The Lancers then beat No. 10 St. Xavier and Sycamore Dec. 12.
“We still have a very young team, but we will be very competitive this year locally and hopefully in the GCL as well,” Zerkle said. “We just wrestled St. X on Friday and beat them. We wrestled Sycamore and beat them pretty handily. All in all, a pretty good start to the season.”
The fast start may just be the beginning of some big plans the young Lancers have for this season.
“My expectation this year is to go undefeated and win a state title,” Shie said. “Last year I came up short. I lost to the kid that won it that I beat earlier in the year. It’s just that one match I came up short from. My goal this year is to get that done.
“My style has changed a little. I’ve worked hard every day. I was a little too aggressive last year and that kind of got me in trouble with my defense. This year I’ve kind of calmed down a bit. I’ve learned some more stuff on my feet, which is kind of what I was lacking last year.”
Sams hopes to reach the podium this year at state as well.
“It’s a little tougher jumping up two or three weight classes, but I hope to place higher than I did last year,” Sams said. “Top 5 or something. At 126 last year, I wrestled juniors a lot and some seniors. But a lot of seniors aren’t that weight. Now at 145, they’re all seniors and they’re grown men. I’m just a sophomore. I lifted a lot all offseason. I’m just working on my quickness because I’ll have to get around their strength.”