Payton Gutierrez of the Pickerington High School North wrestling team isn't haunted by memories of last year's Division I state tournament, but he doesn't plan to change what's earned him three state berths.
"I have a certain style of wrestling and I stick to it," said Gutierrez, who was sixth at 106 pounds last year after finishing seventh at 103 in Division II in 2010 for DeSales and going 1-2 in that class as a freshman. "I'm a unique wrestler, not really orthodox. I guess you could say I look less offensive than everyone else, but I think I overwhelm people during matches. They don't know what's coming from me. I don't always know what's coming from myself. I just pull it out sometimes and go from there."
Gutierrez went 42-7 overall and 2-3 at state last year, losing the fifth-place match 7-5 to Central Crossing's Josh Wimer. That capped a tough meet for the Panthers, who earlier had seen 2012 graduate Matt Kitchen go 0-2 at 195 and 2012 graduate Pat Elflein, who entered the state meet 32-0, drop two of three matches and lose 4-2 to Ameer Daniels of Cincinnati Northwest in a consolation bracket match at heavyweight.
Tenth-year coach Brad Harris said that adversity provided motivation for this year's Panthers, whose season began Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in the Solon Comet Classic. North tied Akron Firestone for 19th (36 points) in the 25-team event, which was won by Solon (182).
"I think a lot of these guys got a taste of it last year, even the younger guys," Harris said. "I like the work ethic. The kids are working hard and they listen well. They take what we're doing and run with it. We have a pretty young group this year. I like how quickly they're picking things up."
Gutierrez leads the lineup along with returning district-qualifiers Josh Snyder (126), a senior, and sophomore twins Cody Notestine (145) and Nick Notestine (152). The rest of the lineup is expected to consist of sophomore Andrew Hassel (113), freshman Matt Myers (120), junior Jared Ferguson (132), senior Jake Snyder (138), sophomores Tyler McCafferty (145), Jeremy Mann (152) and Ryan Ward (150), juniors George Dial (170) and Wyatt Starkey (189), senior Nick Mitchell (220), juniors Jaylyn Falls (220) and Geno Rollo (heavyweight) and freshman heavyweight Adam Notestine, a cousin of Cody and Nick.
"We have a young lineup, but I think our young guys are looking really good," Josh Snyder said.
North opens its OCC-Ohio Division schedule Dec. 20 at home against Grove City.
The Panthers finished second in the OCC-Ohio last year with a 6-1 record in dual matches, behind champion Lancaster (7-0) and ahead of Pickerington Central (5-2), Gahanna (3-4), Grove City (3-4), Reynoldsburg (3-4), Groveport (1-6) and Newark (0-7).
The Panthers also finished behind Lancaster in the Watkins Memorial sectional, scoring 182.5 points to place third behind the champion Golden Gales (220.5).
In the district tournament, the Panthers scored 67.5 points to place 11th behind champion Marysville (174). Elflein won the heavyweight title, Gutierrez was fourth at 106 and Kitchen was fourth at 195.
Also lost to graduation were district-qualifiers P.J. Cleary (182) and Max Orr (113) as well as Ahmad Taylor, who was a backup to Gutierrez at 106.