Pickerington North wrestling coach Derek Oney did not judge his team's season by its second-place finish in the OCC-Ohio Division or the fact that the Panthers almost had their first Division I state tournament qualifier in five years.

Five top-five finishes in tournaments and an 8-3 dual record, double the team's wins from last year, told Oney his team is headed in the right direction with most of its top wrestlers eligible to return.

"Dual wins and tournament placements are a nice measuring stick for improvement over the year. I thought that the overall team effort was greater this year, and we showed the ability to wrestle with a sense of urgency in the majority of our matches," Oney said. "I think that we struggled a little bit toward the end of the year. The length of this season took its toll on some of my younger wrestlers."

Junior David Carte went a team-best 36-10, placing fifth at 138 pounds in the Division I district tournament March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby. That made him a state alternate, meaning he would have competed if an automatic qualifier was unable to do so, but the state tournament scheduled for March 13-15 at Ohio State was postponed March 12 by the OHSAA and ultimately canceled March 26 because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"(Carte) comes into every match ready to fight. He doesn't quit wrestling and he wrestles with the correct attitude for success," Oney said. "He is a quiet leader. He leads by example and his work ethic. In fact, after the district tournament, David was at work the next Sunday at 8 (a.m.), tired, with a black eye and not complaining. He will be counted on next year to be a mentor to the young guys coming up."

Senior Josiah George went 34-7 at 182 and was one of six district qualifiers, five of whom are eligible to return. The others who are expected to return are juniors Rajesh Bomjan (113, 18-10), Kyle Coffey (152, 18-15) and Erik Gomez (126, 14-10) and sophomore Braden Watts (220, 25-17).

Other expected returnees include juniors Dashar El-Amin (195), Titus Mahaffey (145) and Tyce Neu (heavyweight), sophomore Macston Reed (120) and freshman Lee Anderson (132).

Sophomore Maggie Mann made the inaugural girls state tournament, going 1-2 at 143.

North went 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division to finish second behind Lancaster (5-0).

"Overall, I was pleased, but we still have a mountain of work ahead of us to catch the top teams in the district," Oney said. "The support of our community and school shows me that it is very possible to have an elite team in the near future."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave