The Olentangy Liberty High School wrestling team lost four starters with winning records last season to graduation in Matt Cubberly, Roy Daniels, Luke Fleming and Myles Robinson, leaving the Patriots thin in the upper weight classes.
Last season, Daniels went 52-1 and won the Division I state title at 160 pounds, Fleming went 45-5 at heavyweight, Robinson went 32-14 at 195 and Cubberly went 20-13 at 182. Daniels was the only central Ohio wrestler to win a state title.
Fortunately for sixth-year coach Mark Marinelli, nine starters with winning records last season have returned in the lower and middle weight classes.
The returnees are seniors Andrew Eschleman (16-15 at 152 last season), Jake Ryan (44-6 at 138) and Josh Snider (15-14 at 113), juniors Kyle Arcaro (15-14 at 170), Giuseppe Penzone (40-9 at 120) and Nick Thrasher (18-15 at 126) and sophomores John Furnas (17-10 at 106), Jake Hale (7-6 at 145) and Matt Snyder (16-15 at 132).
Senior Mitch Deruy (12-15 at 220) also is back for the Patriots, who opened Dec. 1 by going 1-3 in the Liberty Dual Tournament, beating Lexington 35-33 and losing to Lancaster 33-27, Teays Valley 42-33 and Wadsworth 60-11.
Freshmen Connor Thomas (113) and Brandon McHugh (126) are starting for the Patriots, who scored 247 points and placed fifth in the 16-team Liberty Classic on Dec. 8 behind champion Wadsworth (461).
"We're pretty thin from 182 to heavyweight ... because we lost some good wrestlers at those weight classes, and we may struggle in dual matches until we develop some younger guys at those positions," Marinelli said. "But we're pretty solid from 106 to 170 and we may be as good as any other team in our area in those weight classes.
"We've added a new senior (Brandon Miller) to our lineup to wrestle at 220 or heavyweight and we've got a really good group of freshmen, so I'm confident that we're going to improve and be at our best by the end of the season."
Last season, Liberty finished fourth (189) in the 10-team Division I sectional at Pickerington Central behind champion Olentangy (249.5). Six Patriots placed in the top four of their weight classes to qualify for district. Daniels went 4-0 to place first at 160 and Fleming (heavyweight), Penzone (120) and Ryan (138) each went 3-0 to win titles.
Liberty finished fourth (94) in the district tournament at Hilliard Darby behind champion Marysville (174) as 37 teams scored. Four Patriots placed in the top four to qualify for state, with Daniels and Penzone each going 4-0 to win titles and Ryan and Fleming each going 4-1 and placing third.
Liberty finished 11th (39) in the state tournament at Ohio State behind champion Lakewood St. Edward (223.5) as 84 teams scored.
Daniels went 4-0 and defeated Stow-Munroe Falls' Connor McMahon 6-5 in the final. After losing his second match of the season, he won a program-record 51 consecutive matches en route to capturing the Patriots' first state title.
Fleming went 4-2 and placed fifth, Ryan went 3-2 and placed seventh and Penzone went 0-2.
Liberty finished third (5-2) in the OCC-Cardinal Division last season, behind Marysville (7-0) and Olentangy (6-1) and ahead of Westerville North (4-3), Dublin Jerome (2-5), Westerville Central (2-5), Dublin Scioto (1-6) and Westerville South (1-6).
Liberty and Marysville have moved to the OCC-Central.
"We've already been wrestling two of the best teams in the (OCC-Central) for years in Hilliard Davidson and Marysville, so we feel like we're ready," Marinelli said.
Braves feature three returning starters
Olentangy opened Dec. 1 by placing eighth (51.5) in the 14-team Olentangy Invitational behind champion Centerville (193.5).
Three starters are back in senior Brandon Sheppard (220, 23-10 at 195 last season), junior Cody Pollitt (152, 32-13 at 132) and sophomore Nate Hall (182, 25-14 at 170).
In the Division I sectional at Pickerington Central, Hall went 3-0 to place first at 170, Sheppard went 2-1 and placed second at 195 and Pollitt went 3-1 and placed third at 132.
At district, Hall went 3-2 and placed fifth, Sheppard went 2-2 and Pollitt didn't compete.
First-year starters are seniors Robert Ehrle (145), Austin Fajardo (132) and Ahmed Hussein (160), sophomores Ben Harder (195), Connor Slade (170), Kyle Slade (126) and Quinn Tucker (heavyweight) and freshmen Andrew Fleischer (113), Jake Kendzerski (120) and Josh Nagel (106).
"We don't have any state qualifiers back and most of our kids don't have a lot of mat time," first-year coach Dennis Lyberger said. "It's just going to be a matter of our coaching staff and the kids getting used to each other and getting on the same page."
Last season, Olentangy won a fourth consecutive sectional title, placed second at district, had four state qualifiers and two state placers.
The Braves scored 249.5 points at sectional to finish ahead of Teays Valley (214.5) and had 12 district qualifiers.
At district, Olentangy finished second (116) and had four state qualifiers.
Trevor Fiorucci went 4-0 at 126 to win his third consecutive district title, and fellow 2012 graduates Anthony Fosco (145), Alex Stinemetz (220) and Bryan Young (heavyweight) each went 3-1 and placed second.
Olentangy finished 15th (29) at state, with Fiorucci going 3-1 and placing second, Young going 3-2 and placing seventh, Stinemetz going 1-2 and Fosco going 0-2.
Olentangy went 6-1 in the OCC-Cardinal to place second behind Marysville (7-0), losing to the Monarchs 38-21.
The Braves have moved to the OCC-Capital.
"There's good competition in every division of the OCC," Lyberger said. "We're young, but we hope to still be a contender."
Pioneers get out to strong start
Orange opened Dec. 1 by scoring 197 points to win the eight-team Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational ahead of host Upper Arlington (161).
The Pioneers then defeated Dublin Scioto 67-9 on Dec. 6.
Orange returns seven starters in seniors Hayden Fath (138, 20-12 at 132 last season), Ben Heilman (182, 22-14 at 170), Dane Rini (126/132, 16-10 at 126), Waylen Simpson (145, 10-15 at 138) and Artem Timchenko (120/126, 5-0 at 120) and juniors Alec Farmer (120, 16-10 at 106) and Lenn's Kamba (195, 28-14 at 195).
Other starters are seniors Ben Dodson (160), Chad Farmer (120), Mitchell Florence (170), Alec Hertz (heavyweight) and Evan Saloom (152), junior Michael Hines (113), sophomores Hayden Knapp (145), Nick Lee (220), Mikey McQueeney (106) and Anthony Spriggs (132/138) and freshmen Chris Wallace (120/126) and Robert Wicks (195).
Last season in the Division I sectional at Central Crossing, Heilman went 2-2 and placed fourth at 170 and Kamba went 1-2 and finished fourth at 195 to qualify for district.
At district, Kamba went 2-2 and Heilman went 1-2.
Orange placed fourth (168.5) in the 10-team sectional behind champion Coffman (196.5) and had nine district qualifiers.
The Pioneers finished 22nd (22) at district.
Orange finished third (5-2) in the OCC-Capital, behind Hilliard Bradley (7-0) and Mount Vernon (6-1) and ahead of Delaware (4-3), Big Walnut (3-4), Watkins Memorial (2-5), Franklin Heights (1-6) and New Albany (0-7).
On Dec. 6, Orange and Scioto raised money for cancer research through a silent auction and T-shirt fundraiser during the Pioneers' inaugural "Wrestle for the Cure" event.
Fourth-year coach Brian Nicola's mother, Leslie, is a two-time cancer survivor.
"I am very close to my mom and wanted to see what we could do as a program to try to raise some money and awareness," Nicola said. "In addition, we should be pretty strong this year, so hopefully we can marry charity with success."