Wrestling: Small roster places Bexley Lions in bind

Scott Hennen
ThisWeek group
Porter Neff is one of five junior leaders for the Bexley wrestling team. The Lions have no seniors and only 12 athletes on the roster.

Sixth-year Bexley wrestling coach Chris Bragg feels like he is back where he started.

Just like when he took over the Lions, his team has no seniors. This time he will be looking to five juniors and a smattering of underclassmen to help rebuild the program.

His roster has 12 participants, including only two freshmen from a standout middle school group that once looked to give the program a boost.

“We’re down to about half of the 20 kids we had in the offseason,” Bragg said. “A lot of it probably comes from people not wanting their kids to participate because of the (COVID-19 coronavirus) pandemic.

“(Also, 2019 district-qualifier) Noah (Lyons) and Blake (Brenner) are both juniors, and they didn’t come back. We probably had the best middle school team that we’ve ever had and so many of those kids who are now freshmen and they didn’t come out. COVID must have sacred them away.”

Isaac McIntosh (heavyweight), Porter Neff (160 pounds), Taran Rai (113), Drew Waterman (126) and Tommy Webster (195) are the five juniors.

“It’s definitely different with no seniors this year, but the coaches have put us in a good position to be leaders,” Webster said. “In a sport like this, everyone needs to look out for each other and you have to be a tight group. The new kids are vibrant, and they want to get better.”

Sophomores Isaac Bonowitz (182), Adam Keels (138), Erza Kerns (170), Sean Palmer (106) and Zeke Poulos (145) and freshmen Alex Faulkner (145) and Muhammad Jallaq (152) round out the roster.

Sophomore Sean Palmer is among the younger Bexley wrestlers who will be asked to step into a leadership role because of the team's small roster.

“I like having younger teams, and I’ve had them multiple times here,” Bragg said. “The younger kids step up and listen. They’re more focused and willing to learn and help each other out. It’s great to be able to watch leaders develop like that, but you have to push them in the right spots.”

Bexley finished second in the MSL-Ohio Division a year ago after winning the league the three previous seasons. Kerns captured a league title at 170, while Rai (113) and Poulos (126) were runners-up.

The Lions are scheduled to open Jan. 6 at Whitehall in a league dual.

“We’re counting on the older kids, but we’re also going to have to have some sophomores step up and be leaders for us,” Bragg said. “You hope everyone is hungry and that they’ll go out and do what they’re going to do.

“The thing is you have to experience things to become a leader. It’s just part of the developmental stages of being a student-athlete. Right now we’re out until at least Dec. 18. We have to be safe and still get that experience.”

COVID-19 protocols 

impact Cardinals

St. Charles likely will be a club program this winter because of the limitations posed by the coronavirus protocols.

Third-year coach Chris Furuta said the safety of the athletes is the highest priority.

“In this ever-changing landscape, we’re waiting to see what will happen but we’ll probably only be a club team,” Furuta said. “Protecting the athlete is the standard. All things aside, you need to protect the athletes, and I think it’s important to protect our wrestlers.

“We have a standard here that is one of education first and that will be upheld. The administration has been helpful and supportive with anything we’ve wanted to do, but we aren’t able to do much right now.”

shennen@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekHennen

BEXLEY

Coach: Chris Bragg, sixth season

Top wrestlers: Ezra Kerns, Isaac McIntosh, Porter Neff, Turan Rai, Drew Waterman and Tommy Webster

Key losses: Blake Brenner, Carter Brenner and Noah Lyons

2019-20 MSL-Ohio standings: Buckeye Valley (83), Bexley (82), Whitehall (70), Columbus Academy (35), Grandview (23)

2020 postseason: 16th at sectional, tied for 45th at district