Year one of the Bexley High School wrestling program rebuilding project for coach Ed Cruz ended with just two dual-meet victories, a last-place finish in the MSL-Ohio Division and only seven athletes on his roster.
Having graduated no seniors from last year's team and possessing what Cruz said is a "very strong" freshman class, year two should be a season of improvement for the Lions.
"The coaching staff spent a lot of time in the offseason trying to get more kids interested," said Cruz, whose team went 1-1 in its opening tri-match Dec. 5, defeating host Heath 48-22 and losing to Utica 64-6. "We have 15 kids on the team, there are 14 weight classes and we have 11 of them filled, and in January we'll have 12 of them filled.
"That will make us competitive against some of the other schools. We'll score more points because we have more people. We're still pretty young. We don't have any juniors and we have four seniors."
Leading the way are a pair of seniors in Sam Shorr (132 pounds) and Daniel Lee, who currently is competing at 220 but will be dropping down to 195. Shorr posted a 13-10 record and was third at sectional at 120 last season, while Lee was 15-6 and placed fifth at sectional at 220.
Cruz said Shorr, who advanced to the district tournament each of the past two years, has a chance to reach the Division II state tournament. For Lee, Cruz said he has gotten stronger and the goal is for him to reach at least district.
Shorr placed third at 132 in the Kilted Classic on Dec. 7 at Sparta Highland, as the Lions finished 13th of 17 teams.
Senior Craig Music is back at heavyweight while senior Gage Hedrick, who Cruz said didn't compete last season because of personal reasons, returns at 160.
Perrin Ruff at 113 (fourth in Kilted Classic), Zach Welsh at 120, Eric Crane at 138 and Parker Getz at 182 highlight Cruz's promising group of freshmen. Other freshmen are Jon Clark (132), Jalen Hatton (170), Noah Miller (170) and Isaiah Keller (220). Miller and Keller are currently injured.
Sophomore Dylan Cramer, who was 13-24 a year ago at 145, has moved up to 152. Sophomore John Hartshorne, who won three matches last season at 138 in his first year wrestling, has moved up to 145, while classmate Jack Allen (138) rounds out the roster.
"I would think a clearly attainable goal is to finish over .500 in dual meets and if we could finish around fifth (in the MSL-Ohio) that would be a pretty good showing for the second year of building this program," said Cruz, who also is Bexley's girls volleyball coach.
The Lions have returned to the MSL-Ohio along with Columbus Academy and Whitehall. They have been joined by new league members Grandview, Harvest Prep, London, Madison Plains and West Jefferson.
Heath, Granville, Lakewood, Licking Valley and Newark Catholic moved to the Licking County League.
"We set the challenge to our kids that we're not here to build a team, we're here to build a program," said Cruz, who previously coached at Havelock (N.C.) and compiled a 197-39 dual-meet record from 2002-10, with seven league titles and six regional championships. "We're not here to just participate, we're here to win matches and that takes work.
"We want kids with the attitude that I'm going to be a champion someday."
Swimming coach sees potential
Ninth-year swimming and diving coach Natalie Mossman was pleased with the approach of the boys and girls teams heading into the season.
"I do like what I have seen from them. I have seen them more focused at this point in the season, which is different than in years past," Mossman said. "Overall they are a good group of kids.
"You have to work hard in swimming, you can't get around it, and I have been kind of tough on them in practice."
On Dec. 7, the boys opened with a 53-40 win over Centennial at Columbus Aquatics Center. The girls fell to the Stars 52-46.
A year ago, both teams saw their seasons end in the Division II district meet. Although the postseason always means a great deal, Mossman doesn't put all of her focus on that.
"My philosophy is that if I can help the kids achieve their individual goals, the team standings at the end of the year will take care of itself and complement that," she said. "Most of their goals are to qualify for districts in an individual event or in a relay, and from there if they can qualify for the state meet that would be great."
For the boys, junior Ben Hoffman leads the way, as Mossman has the luxury of penciling him in at any swimming event. Although Mossman said Hoffman has been battling a hip injury, he won the 100-yard butterfly (58.87 seconds) and the 200 individual medley (2:19.85) against Centennial. Senior Marek Kuspan won the 500 freestyle (5:51.8) and 200 free (2:08.24).
Other swimmers expected to contribute include senior captain Sam Beckett, junior Alex Musick and senior Ryan Reed, in addition to Patrick Lape, Leland Schwartz, Gray Levine, Ryan Efaw and Gray Wilson.
For the girls, Tyler Mansfield, who is the Lions' most versatile swimmer, is back. The sophomore won the 100 fly (1:10.68) and the 200 IM (2:30.27) in the opening meet. Megan Myers placed first in the 100 backstroke (1:16.67) and is expected to compete on relays as well.
Also expecting to contribute are senior captain Jocie Steinke and junior Maggie Jones, along with Sofia Kuspan, Bryn Harding, Sivan Zouela, Carly Berndt, Blaine Davidson, Abbie Early, Rebekah Howson, Devon Kloth, Caroline Sapp, Dina Schulman and Maggie Tugend.
Last season, the girls team was third in the MSL meet and the boys team was fourth.
"They have to buy into the work ethic," Mossman said. "Swimming is hard and they have to believe what we are doing in practice every day is going to translate into their success at the end of the season."