MANSFIELD – Next team up.
With Lexington in rebuilding mode for the first time in a decade, the door to area supremacy has swung wide open, and it looks like Ashland is ready to barge through.
Second-year coach Sean Seder returns six of last year’s 10 district qualifiers, led by the state-ranked duo of junior Sid Ohl (152 pounds) and senior Tristen Weirich (220). Moving down from Division I to II the Arrows might be able to inflict even more damage.
Eight months after coach Doug Mosier of Ohio Cardinal Conference rival Madison said “I think Ashland could be the next Lexington,” that statement clearly resonates. All five Arrows won their matches in last week’s All-Star Wrestling Preview — with Ohl and Weirich beating a pair of state qualifiers — and the team was a convincing 4-0 in the season-opening Lake Duals.
Seder, a 2004 Waynedale graduate, returned to the area last year after building the Carter Riverside wrestling program in Texas. The school had just eight wrestlers when he took over and hadn’t had a state qualifier in more than a decade. Under his watch, the school sent four wrestlers to state both years he was there.
“Our No. 1 goal, which I’m sure is the same for most OCC teams, is to bring home a conference championship,” Seder said. “The only time Ashland has won was in 2006. We’d love to change that this season.”
West Holmes, last year’s runner-up behind Lex, will probably have a say before all is said and done. Here’s a closer look at the five area schools in the eight-team OCC:
Ohl, who battled shoulder issues all of last season, and Weirich were state alternates in Division I and should break through to Columbus this season in DII after holding their own last winter in the state’s toughest district meet at Cleveland State.
Ohl was 39-8 and Weirich, a sectional champ, was 31-7. Complementing them, with weight class and last year’s record in parentheses, will be sophomores Clay Eagle (113, 17-15), Ben Helbert (120, 13-20), Brady Gault (126-132, 7-5) and Landon Plank (132, 21-13); juniors Matt Taylor (126, 27-16), Rickey Maffett (138-145, 25-15), Nick Fenstermaker (160-170, 16-8), Devin Goshinksi (170, 23-17) and Matt Fike (182-195, 13-17); and seniors Kris Collins (138, 12-6) and Johnny Jackson (195, 31-13), a reigning OCC champ.
Ohl and Weirich are both ranked No. 4 by state analyst Josh Lowe for InterMat and Taylor is 15th.
“The team is driven and hungry,” said Seder, who when he took over became Ashland’s fourth head coach in as many years. “We have to keep that mentality and not become complacent if we start to see some success as the season progresses.
“I think our strength is overall depth. We have quality wrestlers (throughout the lineup). That depth makes for a tough, competitive atmosphere in the wrestling room and should pay dividends later in the year and into the post-season.”
While giving props to Ashland as the OCC favorite, Mosier could have also said “What about us?”
If the Rams have their full complement of wrestlers, they should be very formidable. But keeping their lineup intact has been a problem in recent years because of injuries and other issues.
Despite missing 2015 state qualifier LeConte Merrell, out until January, the Rams were a solid runner-up last weekend at their place in the Tom Ellis Classic with five finalists and champs in sophomore Brad Silliman (113), juniors Carson Speelman (120) and Mikey Baumberger (126) and senior Kyle Matern (145).
Baumberger, a 2014 state qualifier, and Speelman placed in four of five tournaments last season. Speelman went 21-7 before knee surgery ended his season and Baumberger was 21-6 despite missing the last four weeks. Silliman, 16-6, was an OCC runner-up, while Matern (21-16) was a district qualifier, along with junior Kaleb Simpson (132, 27-15) and senior Curtis French.
“This group has a great work ethic, a great attitude,” Mosier said. “We’re young in the middle weights, but once we get people healed up and in the lineup, we will be competitive.”
There’s no replacing two-time state placer Jesse Palser, who had a career record of 151-14. But the impact the 2014 state runner-up made on the program can be felt in the practice room where four of his fellow upperweights — seniors Tyson Dancy, Jacquille Fletcher, Deondre Williams and Glen Lamb — have all become what coach Billy Stevens calls “great leaders.”
Fletcher is a two-time district-qualifying heavyweight, while advancing from sectionals with him last year were Williams (106), juniors Brandon Myers (220) and Devin Marsh (195). Myers, a sectional champ, was 38-9. Marsh was 17-7 and an OCC runner-up. Fletcher was 24-11, Dancy (170) was 20-12 and sophomore district alternate Damoni Williams (106) was 11-11.
“It will be very difficult to replace Jesse, but last year was a very successful season as far as our team wrestling in a great deal of matches and gaining a lot of experience,” Stevens said. “We hope to compete for a top three finish in the conference.”
Since Ashland won the OCC title in 2006, the Minutemen have had a strangehold on the championship trophy and have won eight of the last nine J.C. Gorman Invitationals.
All of that, along with four state champs and six Top 10 state finishes in the last seven years, happened under Brent Rastetter, who has left to start a wrestling program at Otterbein University.
Andrew Heath takes over for his former boss and is faced with the daunting task of replacing 10 seniors in the lineup, including state champ Drew Kasper, state runner-up Bailey Faust and three other state medalists.
Of the 13 boys on the roster, four are freshmen and five are sophomores. There are no seniors. The only returning district qualifier is junior 170-pounder Aidan Ammons.
The other returning lettermen are sophomores Spencer Drake (120), Mason Hoskins (126), Sean Hudak (182), AJ Adams (220) and Keslyr Hooper (heavyweight).
“We’re going to be a young and inexperienced team, but every team is young and inexperienced at some point,” Heath said. “The main focus is going to be getting better every day and to focus on the process.
“Obviously, this is not going to be the same Lexington team that everyone is used to seeing, but there is potential here and I am very excited about this group of kids. We will see them get better every week and this will be a different team by the end of the season.”
Nick Allerding is another assistant who has been promoted, replacing Wade Miller. He inherits a squad with three district qualifiers: seniors Chris Thompson (152) and Nate Price (195) and junior Rick Thomas (182). Thomas is a three-year letterman.
There are only 11 boys on the roster, including one freshman and five sophomores. Bringing back varsity experience are sophomores Zach Welshans (113), Garrett Crowner (132) and Johnny Witschi (170) and senior Mason Feeman (160).
“We’re young overall, but return a solid core of wrestlers in the upperweights with substantial experience,” Allerding said. “With last year’s six seniors graduating, we need this year’s seniors and some of the experienced underclassmen to step up and be leaders.”
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FIVE TO WATCH
*Sid Ohl, Ashland (152): Despite dealing all season with shoulder injuries, Ohl went 39-8 last season and was a DI state alternate. The Arrows drop to DII this season, where Ohl is ranked No. 4 in his state. He’s definitely got the genes. His dad, Perry, was a state champ for Ontario.
*Tristen Weirich, Ashland (220): Like Ohl, Weirich is ranked 4th in his class and was a state alternate in DI last season en route to a 31-7 finish. He was a sectional champ and a J.C. Gorman Inviational runner-up and showed his potential in last week’s All-Star Wrestling Preview with a 4-0 win over two-time state placer Cameron Conaway of South Central.
*Brandon Myers, Mansfield Senior (220): It will be interesting to see how many times Weirich and Myers lock horns this season. Myers was 38-9 last season and won a DI sectional title.
*Mikey Baumberger, Madison (126): A 2014 state qualifier as a freshman, Baumberger failed to make weight for sectionals last season. He has vowed to make a name for himself in 2015-16 and is off to a good start with a title at home in the Tom Ellis Classic.
*Brad Silliman, Madison (113): He had trouble making weight at the beginning of last season, but ended up taking runner-up honors in the Ohio Cardinal Conference tournament. Only a sophomore, he did not give up a point in five matches in the season-opening Tom Ellis Classic, dethroning champ Avery Winans of Wooster 12-0.