A year ago, the Olentangy High School wrestling team beat Olentangy Liberty 42-23 in a key OCC-Cardinal Division match en route to winning its first league title since 2008.

A year ago, the Olentangy High School wrestling team beat Olentangy Liberty 42-23 in a key OCC-Cardinal Division match en route to winning its first league title since 2008.

Unlike last season, Olentangy and Liberty won't be competing for sole possession of first place in the OCC-Cardinal when they meet Thursday, Feb. 2, at Liberty.

Both squads already have lost to OCC-Cardinal frontrunner Marysville and both coaches have all but conceded the league title to the Monarchs, who are 4-0 in the OCC-Cardinal with league match against Dublin Scioto (on Thursday, Feb. 2) and Dublin Jerome and Westerville North (both on Tuesday, Feb. 7) remaining.

However, Olentangy coach Matt Hammons said his team's match against Liberty still is important to both squads - beyond simply earning community bragging rights.

"Obviously, we were hoping this match would determine the league championship again, but the kids are always going to get up for this match because we've got a strong rivalry with Liberty," Hammons said. "As the season winds down, this match is an opportunity to test ourselves against another strong team, and it's a chance to generate some momentum going into the postseason (tournaments)."

Liberty coach Mark Marinelli said his stronger performers will need to score big and his less-experienced athletes will need to avoid losing by pin or tech fall for the Patriots to have a chance to beat Olentangy.

The Braves lead the all-time series 5-0.

"We're 7-7 as a dual meet team this year, so I'd say we're built more for tournaments, but I like our group of seniors and I think it will be a good match," Marinelli said. "We'll need to win big where we can, and where they're stronger than us, we can't get pinned."

Both squads feature athletes who have been ranked in the top 25 in Division I in Brian Brakeman's high school wrestling forecast.

For Liberty, Gieseppe Penzone is 12th at 120 pounds, Jake Ryan is fourth at 138, Roy Daniels is third at 160 and Luke Fleming is fifth at heavyweight.

For Olentangy, Andrew Torti is 15th at 106, Ryan Lucas is 25th at 120, Trevor Fiorucci is second at 126, Anthony Fosco is 10th at 145, Alex Steinmetz is sixth at 220 and Bryan Young is 10th at heavyweight.

"We both have returning state qualifiers at heavyweight, so that should be a marquee matchup," Hammons said. "Liberty has a good freshman, (John) Furnace, at 106, and he could have a pretty good match against Torti. And I've heard rumors that they're going to move Jake Ryan up to wrestle Fosco, which would be a fun match."

Marinelli said one or more of his wrestlers will need to pull off an upset against Olentangy to give his squad some momentum and unexpected points.

"They have a little bit better numbers than we do and may be a little deeper across the weight classes," Marinelli said. "I have 10 underclassmen in my lineup, but we're seeing a lot of improvement out of the kids and I think they're on the right track. We're hoping they're ready to start winning some of these closer matches against tough opponents that they may not have won earlier in the season."

Last year, Olentangy won all six of the most-anticipated matches of the dual against Liberty, including a 7-6 win by Young over Fleming at heavyweight.

"We had six matches where it was stud versus stud, and we were fortunate enough to win all six of those swing matches to win a great dual match that could have come down to the wire," Hammons said. "Sometimes winning a close match leads to a domino effect for the winning team, whether it's a marquee match or not."

Regardless of the outcome, Marinelli said the match should make both squads stronger.

"I build our schedule to make our kids push themselves to get better," Marinelli said. "I put them in matches that give them a chance to grow as a wrestler. We look at this match as a friendly competition and a growing experience. We lost last year, but we went on to finish first in the Division I district tournament and they went on to win a Division II district tournament, so I think this kind of competition is good for both teams."