Olentangy Orange High School wrestling coach Brian Nicola experienced a wide range of emotions during the first half of the regular season.
The Pioneers enjoyed some early highlights, such as scoring 197 points to win the eight-team Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational on Dec. 1 ahead of runner-up and host Upper Arlington (161).
Orange also beat Dublin Scioto 67-9 on Dec. 6 and defeated UA 39-28 on Dec. 13 before finishing fourth (176.5) in the 16-team Panther Invitational on Dec. 15 at Pickerington North behind champion Hilliard Darby (209).
The Pioneers then experienced some humbling moments. They opened their OCC-Capital Division schedule with a 34-24 loss at Mount Vernon on Dec. 20 and tied Dayton Christian for 28th (61) behind champion Brecksville-Broadview Heights (191.5) in that school's 45-team holiday tournament, which was held Dec. 28 and 29.
"Our schedule was meant to be brutal during the month of December and it was as advertised," Nicola said. "We had our ups and downs in the win column, and as a coach you always want to do better, but I think we wrestled well overall and that's all you can ask for. How we emerge from this in January will show if wrestling such a tough schedule paid off or not."
Nicola was left with mixed feelings after Orange finished second (172) in its home 11-team Meatgrinder Invitational on Jan. 5, behind Thomas Worthington (242).
Placing first for Orange were Michael Hines (113 pounds), Artem Timchenko (126) and Lenn's Kamba (195). Ben Heilman (170) finished second.
"We've won our tournament the (previous) three years and that's always a goal," Nicola said. "But we've toughened the field a little bit, bringing in teams like Olentangy and Pickerington North, and some of the other teams are better than they were in the past."
After he had to miss all but five matches last season because he had transferred back to Orange from Massillon Perry, Timchenko has started strong. He placed first in both the Golden Bear Invitational and the Panther Invitational, and he went 4-1 and finished second at Brecksville-Broadview Heights after he was forced to default his final match because of an injury.
Kamba and Heilman (182) also won titles in the Panther Invitational.
"Artem beat some real good people at Brecksville and he hasn't lost to anyone that he's wrestled this year," Nicola said. "When you do that well at Brecksville, it says a lot about your potential for the postseason."
Coach: Braves making progress
Olentangy scored 151 points to place third in the Orange Meatgrinder Invitational.
Cody Pollitt (145), Ahmed Hussein (160) and Nate Hall (182) placed first, and Chris Crumb (220) finished second.
"This wasn't a bad day, we just need our younger guys to start winning more of the closer matches," coach Dennis Lyberger said. "We're young as a whole, with six sophomores and four freshmen in our starting lineup, but the kids are working hard and getting better.
"Cody Pollitt and Nate Hall have been our two top performers, and Maleke Mitchell (152/160), Ahmed Hussein and Chris Crumb have been coming on, too."
The Braves scored 57.5 points to finish 24th in the Medina Invitational Tournament held Dec. 28 and 29. Lakewood St. Edward (286) won and 39 teams scored.
"Our guys are learning to not make the same mistakes as they move on and they're getting better," Lyberger said. "Wrestling at tournaments like Medina has made us stronger."
The Braves resume OCC-Capital competition on Thursday, Jan. 10, facing host Franklin Heights and Watkins Memorial. They won their league opener 63-12 over Big Walnut on Dec. 13.
"It's difficult to tell if we're going to be a better tournament or dual-match team this year, but we did wrestle well against Big Walnut," Lyberger said. "We're transitioning from being mat wrestlers to on-our-feet type of guys right now."
Ryan leading way for Patriots
Liberty finished 31st (57) in the Brecksville-Broadview Heights tournament and went 2-3 in the 10-team Mentor Dual Tournament on Jan. 5.
Senior Jake Ryan led the Patriots in both events.
At Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Ryan went 5-1 and placed second at 145. He beat Madison's Bo Ransom 18-3 in a semifinal and lost to Dayton Christian's Jacob Danishek 6-4 in the final.
Ryan went 4-1 at Mentor. When Liberty wrestled Solon, Ryan moved up to 152 to face two-time state champion Anthony Collica and lost 4-3 in overtime.