MONFORT HEIGHTS — The wrestling room at La Salle is packed with potential. Mostly in the form of youngsters, but time will tell if potential turns into touching that elusive podium at state.
The Lancers, tied for No. 6 in The Enquirer Division I preseason coaches’ poll, have two returning state qualifiers in juniors Corey Shie and Eric Beck.
Shie (132 pounds) is a two-time state qualifier and first-team selection in the Greater Catholic League South. Beck (138) was second-team All-GCL South last year.
Also returning to starting roles are senior Jared Thiemann (120), a district qualifier last year, junior Hunter Purdue (145), who missed all last season due to injury, and sophomore Blake Wilson (160), another district qualifier.
The Lancers have experience and they also have a big, talented freshman class that should have “five or six” guys starting on varsity, said eighth-year coach Avery Zerkle.
“We have one of our biggest teams in a few years here with 35 guys on the roster,” said Zerkle. “A little bit of maturity in the upperclassmen and these younger guys coming in will be exciting to see how they do.”
The next step for La Salle is a better postseason. Zerkle said the Lancers haven’t wrestled their best at season’s end.
“We have to have a good postseason,” said Zerkle. “We had a great season (last year) but our postseason didn’t go quite the way we wanted it to.”
La Salle travels to Edgewood on Dec. 12, and on Jan. 8 La Salle hosts Lakota West, Deer Park and Roger Bacon on its seniors and also alumni reunion night.
Colerain pushed through last wrestling season on young, inexperienced legs. The Cardinals have been hard at work trying to improve on last season.
“(Last year) we were young,” said second-year coach Chris Hotopp. “At any given time just for duals I had to start seven freshman. We’ll still be young, but we’ll definitely be a little more stout as a dual team this year.”
Senior Chris Albert is the Cardinals top man returning. Albert was a part of the football team’s state semifinal run so he’s just getting into the room with the team. But Albert is a three-time district qualifier. This season he’ll likely wrestle at 195 or 182 pounds, said Hotopp.
Senior Anthony Fries is another returner at 160 or 170. Junior Kenny Byers is a tough draw at 126. Byers was a district qualifier as a freshman, and last season he won the Sycamore Invitational, but Hotopp said he was stuck in a highly-competitive weight class come postseason time.
Juniors Josh Bramkamp and Roger Staigl are both experienced wrestlers. Bramkamp wrestles at 285, and last season he was the Cardinals’ most improved wrestler. Staigl (152) is already a three-year varsity starter.
“Having a young freshman class that had to step in (last year), we’re looking for them to make another step and be varsity caliber wrestlers,” said Hotopp. “We have some kids at the top but we’re young … I’m definitely excited to see what these young guys can do.”
The football team’s success realigned Colerain’s schedule. The Cardinals don’t open until Dec. 11 at Ross. Colerain’s only home match of the year is Jan. 29 against Northwest.
The start of Tom Wynn’s career coaching St. Xavier wrestling has been unforgettable. In Wynn’s first two seasons, the Bombers made history with back-to-back undefeated state champions.
Joe Heyob, who now wrestles at Penn, went unbeaten in 2013-14. Cole Jones, who’s playing football and wrestling at West Point, did the unthinkable when he duplicated Heyob’s season in 2014-15.
“It’s gonna be hard” to make it three in row, Wynn said. Jones and Heyob – what set them apart – Wynn said, was a tenacious attitude and belief: “You’ve gotta hate to lose more than you like to win.”
At this point in the fresh season, with football players still making their way into the room, Wynn said his guys are still in search of the Jones/Heyob formula.
“It could happen with one of these guys this season,” Wynn said in regard to one of his wrestlers finding a championship mentality and work ethic seemingly required in every great grappler.
The Bombers, ranked No. 13 in The Enquirer Division I preseason coaches’ poll, have seven returning starters. Senior 120-pounder Sam Kreider and senior 126-pounder Nick Falke are both back after reaching the district tournament last year. Wynn said Kreider finished fifth at districts, one spot away from making it to state.
Senior Nick Damico returns and he’ll wrestle either 145 or 152. Junior Connor Yauss is in the same boat as Damico in terms of weight classes. Sophomore Andy Yauss will be the Bombers’ 113-pounder.
Sophomore Jack Heyob, Joe’s younger brother, is a returning starter at 182 pounds. Senior Michael Gerbus, another returning starter and football player, looks to fill 220 pounds, vacated by Cole Jones.
“They want to learn the sport of wrestling which is really fun this year,” Wynn said. “They’re becoming more passionate about the sport; that makes it interesting. Then you have a good vibe in the room everyday.”
On Dec. 8, St. Xavier hosts Elder in a dual match, before the Bombers travel to Mason for a dual Dec. 9.
Roger Bacon will only fill eight weight classes this wrestling season. But much like last season, there’s more to wrestling than a team’s dual record. Working together, learning the ins and outs of competition are equally important to fourth-year coach Chris Harrison.
Last year the Spartans sent Kevin Dinh, who graduated in the spring, through to the district tournament. He got there because he was pushed by Harrison and the rest of his teammates.
That’s what Harrison is hoping for again this season.
Leading the way for the Spartans will be senior co-captains Brian Stentz and Nick van der Werff. Harrison said both are four-year wrestlers. Stentz competes at 145 pounds, van der Werff at 195 or 182.
Sophomore George Vieth, the only freshman on the team last season, returns at 138 pounds. Junior Thomas Dalid is a returning starter at 285. Junior Zac Baur started last year and should be at either 182 or 170 this year.
Harrison said of Baur, “We use him as an example. He came to us as a freshman and really took a beating, only won two matches, but he never backed down from anything. We gave him the Spartan spirit award. I think he’ll be solid this year.”
A few freshman are expected to contribute this season, said Harrison.
“We have kids who enjoy the sport,” said Harrison. “They’re having a good time doing it. They’re anxious to learn things. I just wish I had more time to practice with them in between competitions. They all want to get in there and wrestle as much as they can.”
The Spartans have their home invitational on Dec. 12 against eight other teams.
Now that Ameer and Julian Daniels are both done assaulting Northwest‘s wrestling records book, it will be up to a few other wrestlers to continue the program’s recent success.
The Knights should have a handful of good wrestlers waiting in the wings.
Keyon Huntley, a state qualifier last year, should be back for his senior year. His drilling partner, Tyler King, also has one year left. King was a district qualifier as a junior.
Michael Carter and Samari Thurmond suffered early exits in the sectional tournament last year but could be back and make an impact this year.
Mount Healthy won’t have its most accomplished wrestlers from last season in Keeryon Deal, Brian Pringle and Danny Johnson. Deal and Danny Johnson were district qualifiers last season.
This year, the Owls might have to rely on the likes of Tobias Froehlich, Robert Johnson, Kerwin Heard and Kevin Coes.
Froehlich was second-team all-Southwest Ohio Conference last season and was runner-up at 152 pounds in the conference tournament.
Robert Johnson, Heard and Coes all wrestled in sectionals.
The Owls are coached by Joe Dixon.