Many area wrestling coaches, including Brad Harris of Pickerington High School North, believe the race for the Division I district title is wide open.

Many area wrestling coaches, including Brad Harris of Pickerington High School North, believe the race for the Division I district title is wide open.

The district tournament is Friday and Saturday at Hilliard Darby, and Harris doesn't think there will be a single dominant team, unlike the last three years when Reynoldsburg won titles.

"I think one of the things we see happening is the depth in the Central District is improving," Harris said. "Instead of seeing one or two dominant programs, we're seeing a lot of good programs. It's getting a lot tougher."

North finished second (172.5 points) in its home sectional last Saturday behind Central Crossing (227.5), the second-seeded team in the district. Top-seeded Teays Valley was first (257.5) in the Watkins Memorial sectional and eighth-seeded Reynoldsburg finished third (198) in a tight Westland sectional behind fourth-seeded Hilliard Davidson (203.5) and third-seeded Marysville (199.5).

North will have seven wrestlers competing at district, but the Panthers won't have Alec Marsico, who failed to make weight last Saturday. Marsico was as state qualifier a year ago.

Leading the Panthers will be Matt Ferguson, who defeated Central Crossing's Cody Beatty 11-5 to win the sectional title at 160 pounds and improve to 32-8 overall. Ferguson was one of eight district qualifiers the Panthers had last year. He'll enter as a sectional champion, giving him a more favorable draw.

"Pretty much I'm going to have to wrestle hard and hopefully I can make it out," Ferguson said. " People have been telling me (winning the sectional gives) a pretty good chance (to make it to state). Hopefully I will because I don't want to disappoint them too much."

Joining Ferguson will be Sean Bui (145, second in sectional, 27-9), Brandon Grogan (130, third, 33-11), Dustin Hilty (135, third, 23-9), Nick Justus (171, second, 29-10) Austin Marsico (103, third, 32-8) and Josh Will (112, third, 28-12).

Last year the Panthers were 16th (43) in the district tournament behind champion Reynoldsburg (130). The top four in each weight will qualify to state March 5-7 at Ohio State.

•After sending two wrestlers to the district tournament in each of the last two seasons, Central had eight this year as it finished fourth (146.5) last Saturday at Watkins Memorial.

Four of the eight Tigers made into the district tournament as fourth-place finishers, meaning each will face a sectional champion in the first round.

"We had a lot of guys finish fourth," coach Jason Roach said. "If you lose that first one, you can win that next one and then anything can happen from there. There's a fine line. Just get in there and win one match."

Returning to the district tournament from last year is Josh Hunter (33-7), who was second at 112 last Saturday. Wuan Tatum (189, third, 16-5) and Willie Tatum (171, fourth, 13-5) competed in the district tournament last year when they were with Marion-Franklin.

Willie Tatum had an injury that he thought would prevent him from continuing last Saturday, but when he saw an injured Tyler Knepper defeat Darby's Tyler Bowens at 145 to get into a third-place match, he decided to continue and beat Whetstone's Dustin Dutcher 16-7 to get into a third-place match and then took a medical default -- as did Knepper. Both are being evaluated to see if they can compete.

Also competing for Central will be Blaine Burgess (heavyweight, second, 20-10), Isaiah Brunner (103, fourth, 22-17), Cory Cosby (215, second, 33-9) and Mac Smith (135, fourth, 38-8).

"(The sectional) went well because this year and just the whole season we've been just drilling harder practicing harder," Cosby said. "I'm going to treat (the district) like any other tournament and go in and try my hardest. Everybody wants out and everyone has some kind skill or some kind of strength."

Last year Central scored two points at district to finish 39th.