Young Hornets showed progress
Coach Bo Ramsey said the Licking Heights High School wrestling team showed progress this season.
However, for the first time in seven years, the Hornets did not have a state qualifier.
"We didn't represent Licking Heights or our community the way we should," Ramsey said. "In that respect, the season was a disappointment.
"But looking at the big picture, we had only two seniors (in Brenden Tiller and Michael Zaky) and were a young team. We did show a lot of progress and things started to click with our younger guys. We've got a lot of young guys with talent and who gained great experience. Still, there was enough talent here that we feel some of our guys could've extended our state streak."
The season ended in the Division II district tournament held Feb. 22 and 23 at Heath. The Hornets had five district qualifiers, but all lost first-round matches. The top four in each weight class advanced to the state tournament, which was held Feb. 28-March 2 at Ohio State.
Sophomore Ty Yeager (132 pounds) bounced back from his opening district loss to win twice before getting pinned in 1 minute, 22 seconds by Ron Foster of Lisbon Beaver, who went on to finish third. Yeager, a two-time district qualifier, finished 29-6.
Junior A.J. Velasquez (220) and freshman Brandon Haist (113) both went 1-2. Velasquez finished 24-15 and Haist, who competed in the postseason with an injured shoulder, went 35-11.
Zaky (heavyweight) and freshman Anthony Haist (106) both went 0-2. Zaky, a two-time district qualifier, finished 30-15 and Anthony Haist went 24-15.
"Velasquez and Zaky both made tremendous strides this season and fortunately we'll have A.J. back," Ramsey said. "A.J. made the biggest improvement from one year to the next than anyone I can recall in quite some time. He committed himself to beating kids he hadn't beaten previously.
"Ty Yeager was solid as expected. He's tough and scrappy, and he's always in the match. He needs to get better on his feet and find a go-to takedown."
Licking Heights finished 36th (8 points) at district as 42 teams scored and Uhrichsville Claymont (182.5) won the title. The Hornets were eighth (99.5) behind champion Whitehall (265.5) in the 13-team home sectional Feb. 16.
Yeager and Velasquez were sectional runners-up, as the top four in each weight class advanced to district. Zaky and Anthony Haist both were third and Brandon Haist was fourth, with both losses being injury defaults.
Junior Mike Hopewell (195) went 2-2 and placed fifth and finished 12-10 overall. Also competing were junior James Shaw (138, 0-2) and freshmen Taylor Woolard (120, 1-2) and Tyler Peters (145, 0-2).
"Our freshmen were strong," Ramsey said. "The Haist brothers had great seasons and Woolard wrestled well even though he took his lumps. Every weekend, he always ran into a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. He wrestled so many guys that went to state or made a deep run in the district.
"James Shaw won two matches his first two years combined and then won 12 this year. Even his losses were competitive. I'm excited to see what we can do next year."
In the first Division II state team tournament, sixth-seeded Licking Heights withdrew before facing third-seeded Licking Valley in a first-round match Jan. 23 in Region 13-A.
The Hornets went 1-3 in the MSL-Cardinal dual tournament Feb. 2 at Grandview to finish fourth behind Liberty Union (4-0), West Jefferson (3-1) and Grandview (2-2) and ahead of Harvest Prep (0-4). Licking Heights competed in just seven weight classes, but five wrestlers reached finals. Brandon Haist and Anthony Haist won league titles, and Zaky, Hopewell and Woolard all finished second.