2018-19 area wrestling preview – Division III

Following is a breakdown of area wrestling teams in Division III, with information and analysis from area coaches as well as Tribune Chronicle sports writer Joe Simon.

BROOKFIELD WARRIORS

≤ COACH: Ben Solomon (Fouth year; n/a)

≤ ASSISTANT COACHES: Nick Miller, Larry Hackett.

≤ SECTIONAL: Division III at Beachwood High School

≤ TOP RETURNING WRESTLERS (grade, weight class, record): Joe Hackett (Sr., 195/220, 20-20), JP Webb (So., 120/126, 18-20).

≤ UP-AND-COMERS: Codi Hoover (Fr., 145), Joe Baggott (So, 160), Dionte Colwell (Sr., 182), Luke Beckstine (Fr., 285).

≤ OUTLOOK: Entering 50 years of existence is usually cause for a celebration, and in a way, the Warriors are celebrating just that — their existence. Budget cuts and a decreasing roster nearly led to wrestling being terminated by the school, but fourth-year head coach — and longtime assistant — Ben Solomon wouldn’t have it. He and his coaching staff did some fundraising to keep the program afloat, and there has actually been an increase in numbers, with the Warriors fielding 10 wrestlers.

Quality instead of quantity has been Brookfield’s mantra for about 10 years now, and the Warriors again possess a few quality wrestlers — and a new one who brings intriguing potential. Senior Joe Hackett is the leader of the pack. The returning district qualifier is a longtime wrestler who was unanimously named captain, and for good reason.

“He’s never missed a practice,” Solomon said. “In four years, he’s never missed a practice. He’s never missed a day of school, which is more important. He’s a straight-A student, and he’s a good leader. I can’t speak highly enough about him.”

Sophomore JP Webb is arguably the Warriors’ best wrestler, and Solomon said, “he’s the hardest working kid I know, by far.” An Eastern Ohio Wrestling League placer last year as a freshman, Webb suffered an injury in an early-season tournament this year and will be out for at least five to six weeks.

A wildcard for Brookfield is senior Dionte Colwell, a track star who is built like a wrestler. Solomon said the 182-pound Colwell possesses incredible strength and athleticism, but being a first-year wrestler, his technique is lacking. If he’s a quick learner, there is plenty of potential to be untapped.

“The best way to describe him is athlete,” Solomon said. “I’ve never in my life coached a kid that is more athletic than him. … He can do things that nobody else can do.” As usual, the Warriors are small but mighty, and they’re happy to be around for year No. 50.

GRAND VALLEY MUSTANGS

≤ COACH: Ross Tice (First year at Grand Valley).

≤ ASSISTANT COACHES: Aaron Brown, Keith Sherman, and Nathan Rasmussen.

≤ SECTIONAL: Division III at Beachwood High School.

≤ TOP RETURNING WRESTLERS (grade, weight class, record): Clayton Takacs (Sr., 160/170, 30-13), Zach Hazlett (Sr., 182, 16-12), Jon Soltis (Sr., 160/170, n/a), Trevor Meeker (So., 113/120, 25-17).

≤ UP-AND-COMERS: Mason Shreve (Jr., 220), Alex Sullivan (Fr., 120/126), Keegan Hart (Fr., 138/145).

≤ OUTLOOK: It was only a matter of time before Ross Tice became a head wrestling coach, and that time came this past year. The former Brookfield star was a state runner-up and went on to wrestle at Kent State. He coached at Austintown Fitch before traveling north to Orwell. Former coach Keith Sherman moved down to the junior high level to lessen the burden of coaching duties, and Tice is now in charge.

He inherits a fairly strong team led by a trio of potential state qualifiers. It starts with Clayton Takacs, who has been one of the league’s best wrestlers over the past few years. His only remaining hurdle is the state tournament. He was a match away last year, finishing with a 30-13 record, and is ranked as high as eighth this season. Tice believes this will be the year Takacs takes the next step.

“He’s growing,” Tice said. “He’s starting to put everything together and starting to get a lot of confidence in himself.”

Takacs also is the leader of the team, but he has help in that department from fellow seniors Zach Hazlett and Jon Soltis. Hazlett, a 182-pounder, is coming off an injury-plagued year and is hoping for a breakout season.

“He really knows how to wrestle,” Tice said. “He probably knows the most on our team. I’m excited to watch him compete. … He seems to get better as the year goes on.”

Jon Soltis is the third leg of the senior trio. He, too, endured injuries at the end of last season, missing out on the postseason when he suffered an illness. Soltis, 170, is a relative unknown, which bodes in his favor against opponents. Mental mistakes have cost him in some close matches, Tice said, but that’s starting to change.

“He gave up some cheap points and would go to the same thing over and over,” Tice said, “but he’s switching it up and learning how to move around better. He’s looked better.”

The Mustangs fill the majority of the weight classes, but a few minor injuries have hampered their progress. When at full strength, they should be a factor in both dual meets and tournaments.

JACKSON-MILTON

BLUE JAYS

≤ COACH: Brian Weidenthal (Fourth year at Jackson-Milton; 12-8 career record; 3-3 last year)

≤ ASSISTANT COACHES: Alex Franco, Tyler Jeffries, Terry Stockton.

≤ SECTIONAL: Division III at Rootstown High School.

≤ TOP RETURNING WRESTLERS (grade, weight class, record): Jeremy Seka (Sr. 132, 24-12), Ryan Staton (Jr. 138 26-11), Anthony Pizzuto (Sr. 145 23-11), Hunter Nitzsky (Jr. 152, n/a).

≤ UP-AND-COMERS: Austin Stanke (So. 106), Hughston Lockner (So. 113), Preston Gibbs (So. 120), Matt Collins (Sr. 132), Duncan Kegley (Jr. 160), Zach Davis (So. 126), Dyllen Gibbs (Sr. 170), Evan Mitchell (Sr. 220).

≤ OUTLOOK: Brian Weidenthal had big shoes to fill when he took over for former coach Dave Tomaino four years ago. Tomaino had a legendary career with the Blue Jays, sending dozens of wrestlers to the state tournament and creating one of the better wrestling programs in the Mahoning Valley. Weidenthal thinks he can finally start to fill in to those to large sneakers in year four.

“For the first time since I’ve taken over for Dave, everyone has bought in to the culture,” Weidenthal said. “It’s the most experienced team that we’ve had in my time as a head coach, without a doubt.”

The Blue Jays return three wrestlers with legitimate chances at reaching the state tournament, starting with seniors Jeremy Seka and Anthony Pizzuto. Both are returning district qualifiers who were a few matches away from the state tournament a year ago. Weidenthal also expects a breakout season from junior Ryan Staton, a league placer in 2018 who he said has a rejuvenated approach to the sport.

Along with junior Hunter Nitzsky and seniors Evan Mitchell, Dyllen Gibbs and Matt Collins, there’s a different atmosphere at practice on daily basis and a competitive edge that hasn’t been there before.

“This is their fourth year at the high school level, so they know what I expect from them, and they step up to the plate, no doubt,” Weidenthal said. “For those young guys to see that, it trickles down. It’s the first year that I’ve seen the culture and the attitude of the team, where everyone is headed in the same direction. It goes without being said that it’s from those seniors.”

LIBERTY LEOPARDS

≤ COACH: Hadi A. Hadi (Eighth year at Liberty; 94-40 career record; 11-7 last year)

≤ ASSISTANT COACHES: Ryan Williams, Matt Pontuti, Don Lott.

≤ SECTIONAL: Division III at Rootstown High School.

≤ EOWL: Division III

≤ TOP RETURNING WRESTLERS (grade, weight class, record): Kaleb Merrick-Neff (Sr., 182, 24-10), Zion Matlock (Sr., 170, 29-14), Tyler Wilson (Sr., 138, 32-13).

≤ UP-AND-COMERS: Giovanni DiNardo (Sr., 285), Keighan Griffith (Sr., 152), Jake Scoville (Jr., 126), Carter Coman (So., 195).

≤ OUTLOOK: Things have changed quite a bit in the eight years Hadi A. Hadi has led the Liberty wrestling program. There were several seasons where the Leopards boasted 30-plus wrestlers, which played a big role in Hadi earning his current 94-40 career record and winning a dual-meet league title in 2011-12. The last two years have been a little different, with Liberty’s strength centralized within a handful of wrestlers. One thing has been missing through it all: a state qualifier. Liberty hasn’t advanced a wrestler to the state tournament since 2001, a string Hadi fully expects to break this season.

“I’m pretty confident, but I don’t want to jinx myself,” Hadi said with a laugh. “… Making the state tournament is the highest level (of high school wrestling). If we can get that to happen, it definitely can help the program in regards to the measure of success of what we’ve done.”

There are at least four wrestlers with state potential in seniors Tyler Wilson, Kaleb Merrick-Neff and Zion Matlock along with junior Jake Scoville, who has shown major progress as a junior. Wilson had a great junior year, finishing 32-13 and winning a sectional title. Merrick-Neff was a league finalist in 2018. He is ranked as high as fifth in the state at 182 pounds and recently defeated Mitch Sanders of Newbury, ranked seventh at 195 pounds. Matlock, the cousin of former Howland state placer Brandon Matlock, is ranked as high as 11th and is a two-time district qualifier. Scoville is a relative unknown who was solid yet unspectacular as an underclassman. It’s a powerful group Hadi believes can set the standard for future classes.

“I mean, we haven’t had a state qualifier since 2001 — that’s a long time. That’s 17 years,” he lamented. “We were close a lot of times over the last 17 years. We’ve had kids in the go-to match and couldn’t get it. But these kids are wrestling really well. Those four, particularly, are wrestling really well, and they’re putting in work on their own, so I’m pretty confident. It would help the program a great deal. Anytime you’re seeing success at that level, I don’t want to say it puts your program at an elite level, but people start to look at your program differently.”

PYMATUNING VALLEY

LAKERS

≤ COACH: Dave Miller (Eighth year at PV; 79-51 career record; 10-5 last year).

≤ ASSISTANT COACHES: Kevin Brown.

≤ SECTIONAL: Division III at Beachwood High School.

≤ TOP RETURNING WRESTLERS (grade, weight class, record): Jake Edelman (Jr., 120, 39-6), Noah Campbell (Sr. 138/145, 34-10), William Campbell (Jr., 126, 33-11).

≤ UP-AND-COMERS: Kenny Crouch (Jr, 182), Jesse Young (Sr. 145/152), Tyler Powell (Jr, 152/160), Victor Verba (So, 285), John Chalfant (So, 285), Thurmond Adkins (Fr, 220), Bryce Farmer (Sr.,160,170).

≤ OUTLOOK: For the last three or four years, Dave Miller walked into a gymnasium with a certain aura around him and his team. Backed by one of the state’s elite wrestlers in two-time state champion Gaige Willis, Miller brimmed with confidence, whether it was a small, regular-season Division III tournament or the State Wrestling Tournament in Columbus. Willis is now at Edinboro University, and while Miller has a different feeling when he enters a gym, he’s still confident.

“It’s funny because I was talking to some coaches, and they asked how things were this year, and I said, ‘You know it’s different,’ “ he said. “I’m used to walking into a gym, and I have the guy that I know is the best wrestler in the gym. … While I have kids that are good and are going to do well. They’re going to compete for a championship, it’s not the same. It’s just a little different.”

That doesn’t mean the Lakers aren’t again the team to beat in Division IV of the EOWL. They possess several wrestlers with state-qualifying potential, led by junior two-time state qualifier Jake Edelman along with brothers Noah and William Campbell. The trio is joined by an emerging junior who has impressed Miller to start the season in Kenny Crouch. He was the only Laker to place first at the Riverside Rumble two weeks ago.

Losing Willis along with seniors Caleb Bean and Chad Brown has resulted in a different approach for Miller. Instead of focusing on where the team places at certain tournaments or how many dual meets it wins, he has focused on each individual wrestler.

“This is kind of reverse of how we’ve done things, but I want to focus on each of (them) getting better, working hard and finding things that will help them be successful, and as they become more successful, the team aspect will take care of itself.”

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