As a middle school level coach for six seasons before becoming Thomas Worthington High School wrestling coach in 2010, Mark Gundling realizes consistency in teaching and talent is needed to build a strong program.
"You always have an eye to the future," he said. "You don't want to have gaps between classes in terms of quantity or quality, but sometimes that happens. Last year, we had 11 seniors and nine were starters. We only lost one (regular-season) dual and we won four tournaments.
"So we knew we'd be quite inexperienced this year. But what has been fun to watch is how well the experienced ones have molded with the young guys. They know that any team success we have this year, and in years to come, would be tied to the young guys in the wrestling room."
Gundling, a 1982 Worthington graduate, uses many teaching techniques and philosophies he learned as an athlete from former coach Jerry Stephen.
One of those is having upperclassmen mentor the younger wrestlers.
"We break the team into subgroups and the older guys mentor three or four young kids apiece," Gundling said. "They talk to them, give them tips and are responsible for watching their matches and giving them feedback. That's something my coach, Jerry Stephen, implemented in the program back in the 1970s.
"The coaches on this staff -- Tony Pollitz and my brothers, Matt and John -- all wrestled for Jerry.
"There's a great wrestling tradition here. We get a lot of alumni back in the practice room and they contributed monetarily to refurbishing the practice room."
Some of those mentors are senior Noah Messerall (138 pounds), who was 26-4 before the Cardinals competed in the Eaton Invitational on Jan. 24, and juniors Ben Hooff (145, 23-4), James Ford (220, 22-3) and Nate Good (170, 18-7).
"I remember being mentored as a freshman by (2001 graduate) Mark Coleman and even last year I was still getting pointers from Andrew Shackleford, who was just a great wrestler and motivator," Messerall said. "Our coaches are alums, so we hear stories, see pictures and they have brought in former state champions to talk to us. ...
"As a captain, it's something I need to do. I think it's important because I know guys helped me through. You watch them, give them pointers in the practice room and pay attention to their matches. You want to give back and help the entire program, not just push yourself. You want to push everyone."
Messerall, Hooff and Ford all won matches in the first round of the Division I state team tournament Jan. 22 at Hilliard Heritage Middle School, but the seventh-seeded Cardinals lost to second-seeded Hilliard Darby 54-26 in a Region 6-A contest.
Messerall defeated Chris Garcia 19-2 (technical fall). Hooff pinned Josh Norris in 3 minutes, 3 seconds and Ford pinned Keegan Farrell in 1:11.
Other winners were sophomores Garrett Coleman (106) and Martice Johnson (113).
"We're a better tournament team than a dual team," said Gundling, whose team is 1-4 in the OCC-Central Division and plays host to Upper Arlington on Thursday, Jan. 30, in a league match. "We won the Olentangy Invitational (on Dec. 7) and placed seventh in (the North Canton Hoover Holiday Invitational on Dec. 13 and 14) and eighth in the Marion Harding Classic (on Dec. 27 and 28).
"We just don't have the depth to be a strong dual team yet. But we're working on it. We've got a strong sophomore class."
Joining Johnson (15-9) as sophomores having strong seasons are Tyler Norris (120, 18-6) and A.J. Jones (182, 16-7).
Kilbourne loses in first round
Sixth-seeded Kilbourne lost to third-seeded Hilliard Davidson 39-28 in a Region 6-A first-round match in the Division I state team tournament Jan. 22 at Hilliard Heritage Middle School.
Despite that, coach Brett Shaut is pleased with the progress the Wolves have shown.
"I think Lucky Shaut and Austin Oberly are setting up for possible long postseason appearances and Danny Darby, David Turner and Darius Turner also could have good postseasons," coach Shaut said.
"Then we have some bubble guys, who if they get hot, they have the ability to at least get to district."
Entering an OCC-Capital dual Thursday, Jan. 30, against visiting Franklin Heights, Lucky Shaut is 21-5 at 182, Oberly is 25-8 at 106 and Darby is 19-11 at 152. Darius Turner is 17-13 at 170 and David Turner is 17-15 at 160. Oberly, Darby and Lucky Shaut are seniors and the Turners are junior twins.
Sophomore Charlie Osborn (113, 17-13) and freshman Michael Duzzny (126, 15-15) also have .500-or-better records.
Against Davidson, Lucky Shaut pinned Jacob Green in 1:05 and Darby defeated Parker Dean 9-1. Darius Turner beat Cole Powers 5-4 and David Turner pinned Joe Henderson in 2:41.
Osborn (113) pinned Ryan DeSanti in 5:19 and sophomore Trent Plantz (138) beat Tyler Smith 11-9.
The Wolves finished 37th (34) in the 42-team Top Gun Invitational on Jan. 17 and 18 at Alliance. Clovis (Calif.) won with 302 points.
Lucky Shaut was eighth and Oberly lost his placement-qualifying match.
"We're starting to become more physical on the mats and we're attacking our opponent more right now than we have all season," coach Shaut said. "Our young guys are coming along, getting more active and more comfortable. I like the progress we're showing, especially the young guys. They're making huge strides."