Wrestling: Hilliard Darby Panthers trying to adapt with 'zero offseason'

Scott Hennen
ThisWeek group
Ahmad Deifallah, a sophomore 120-pounder, is among the key returnees for the Darby wrestling team.

After the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic caused him to miss his first trip to the Division I state tournament last March, Hilliard Darby heavyweight Bradley Weaver patiently waits as the beginning of his senior year has been delayed by the same obstacle. 

“That really frustrated me a lot (missing out on state), and it made me realize that you can have things taken away at any time,” Weaver said. “You have to expect that things work out, so you have to keep working and better yourself. I learned a lot about what I could do to prepare myself when not being able to work out.” 

Coach Brendan Moody said his wrestlers had “zero offseason” as they continued to hone their skills in anticipation of a return to competition. 

“The first time on the mat since March was our first day of practice (Nov. 13), and the kids were eager to get out there,” the 12th-year coach said. “We had some good teams to wrestle in early December like Dublin Coffman, Westerville North, (Cincinnati) La Salle and (Cincinnati) Princeton. That would’ve been a good way to test ourselves. 

“Right now, it’s about muscle memory. We’re drilling a lot because we had to wait a month to compete. We don’t want to have to think when we get out there. We just want to react.” 

Weaver finished 19-2 and won a district championship, and seniors Blayne Barnes (220 pounds) and Isaiah Beneker (195) also competed at district.  

Barnes – who is rehabbing a football injury – finished 35-12, and Beneker went 28-17. 

Sophomore Colt Ryan (106) placed fifth at district and was a state alternate, but he now attends St. Paris Graham. 

Seniors Kole Kendall (220) and Woody Saadeh (138), junior Nathan Morris (152) and sophomores Ahmad Deifallah (120), Carter Slubowski (106) and Matthew Taphorn (182) are other key returnees. 

“We’ve been blessed with a district champion and several returning wrestlers, which is a huge leadership factor if all the kids were together,” Moody said. “The kids are split into six pods, and we had to get creative.

"The wrestling room, the varsity football locker room and the freshman football locker room each has one pod from 3-4:30 (p.m.) and then a second from 4:45 to 6:15 (p.m.). We’re blessed with a lot of coaches, which helps us." 

Moody said sophomores Henry Le (113) and Landry Lee (132) also have looked strong early on for the Panthers, who have 46 participants. 

Caden Ellison, right, is one of four returning district qualifiers for the Jaguars. The sophomore will compete at 126 pounds.

Jaguars working toward 

preparation for opener 

Bradley coach John Riggs is doing what he can in the practice room to prepare his wrestlers for their eventual opener. 

“Right now, we’re practicing in four wrestling areas with our pods of nine with one coach,” Riggs said. “We have the wrestling room and part of the balcony above the gym. We also have two set up in the stadium locker rooms. 

“I can’t say enough about how the administration, wrestlers and coaches are adapting to a completely fluid situation on the fly. We didn’t miss any practice reps. We’ve adapted to the challenges that we’ve been faced with so far this season.” 

One problem is that Riggs has yet to learn much about his team other than the nine wrestlers in his pod. No challenge matches have been held for varsity positions. 

Junior Julien Kleiv (106/113 pounds) and sophomores Caden Ellison (126), Saimir Refatllari (220/heavyweight) and Robert Snyder (heavyweight) are the top returnees after being district qualifiers a year ago. 

Senior Ryan Brattina (152/160) is back for a second season, and junior Peyton Archer (145/152) returns after missing last season with an injury. Junior Robbie Jones is in the mix at 132 along with sophomore Tristan Carlson-Inks. 

“We have a small group of juniors and seniors, but we have really good sophomore and freshman classes. That comes from having great middle school numbers. We have 38 this year, including a fair amount (17) of freshmen. We lost five multiple-year starters to graduation, and we have great freshman numbers coming in. 

“We have some freshmen with some strong credentials, but where they fit into the lineup is tough to say because there’s always a learning curve when coming to varsity. It’s a fluid situation, and it’s too early to say what kind of impact they’ll have.” 

The Jaguars have two girls in sophomore Hailey Amador and freshman Sami Hosni.  

Junior Sol Franco, who was runner-up at 160 pounds in the inaugural Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association’s girls state tournament, moved to New Lexington. 

–Scott Hennen 

Former Davidson wrestler 

returns to lead program 

A former wrestler in the Davidson program has returned to serve as its new coach. 

Lee Wilson, a 2013 Davidson graduate, replaces Chris Kline, who stepped down after two seasons because of work commitments. 

“Everyone was excited to see someone step up and take the job,” Wilson said. “I didn’t want to be head coach right away. I wanted to sit under somebody’s wing, but once this spot became available I knew that I had to at least try to get it.” 

He was an assistant coach at Beachwood last season and previously served as a volunteer assistant at Notre Dame College in South Euclid. 

Wilson, 26, wrestled at Notre Dame for two seasons before a shoulder injury ended his career. He graduated from Notre Dame in 2018. 

Wilson has added his dad, Lee Wilson Sr., to the coaching staff. The elder Wilson was an assistant under Dominic DiSabato when his son wrestled. 

“It’s definitely something I’ve been looking forward to, and when he said he was interested in doing it I jumped on that opportunity,” Wilson said of adding his father to the staff. 

The Wildcats lost their top wrestler from a season ago as junior Dez Gartrell has transferred to Dublin Coffman. Gartrell qualified for the first time to the state tournament, which was first postponed then canceled because of the pandemic. 

He finished 42-6 and shared first-team all-OCC-Central honors with Marysville’s Erryl Will. 

Davidson does return a pair of district qualifiers in sophomores Wyatt Moore (126) and Richard Lawrence (182), however. 

Moore finished 33-12 overall and shared first-team all-league honors with Upper Arlington’s Daniel Beam and Westland’s Trent Jude at 120, and Lawrence went 29-14 overall and was second-team all-league. 

Other key returnees are junior Quin Hopping (132/138) and sophomores Josh Henderson (160), George Monroe (138), Ethan Riegel (132, 18-17 last season) and Wyatt Sherer (106). 

Henderson attends Worthington Christian, which does not have a wrestling program. 

“With this year being up in the air with what we’re going to be able to do as far as competition, having a young team is a benefit to me because they learn along with me as well as they continuously grow throughout these different challenges that we’re going to have to go through as a team,” Wilson said. 

“By their junior and senior year, it should be a really fun team as long as they stick with it and grow that passion for wrestling.” 

Davidson will compete in the realigned OCC-Central with Coffman, Bradley, Olentangy Liberty, Olentangy Orange and Upper Arlington. 

Last season, the Wildcats went 1-4 in the league to finish fifth behind champion Coffman (5-0). 

–Frank DiRenna 

sports@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekSports 

BRADLEY 

•Coach: John Riggs, 12th season 

•Top athletes: Caden Ellison, Julien Kleiv, Saimir Refatllari and Robert Snyder 

•Key losses: Kyle DeMoss, Logan Germaine, Deacon Sawchuk, Alex Schmidt, Wade Troutman and Mason Wood 

•2019-20 OCC-Cardinal standings: Delaware (7-0), Darby (6-1), Bradley (5-2), Dublin Jerome (4-3), Olentangy Berlin (3-4), Dublin Scioto (2-5), Thomas Worthington (1-6), Worthington Kilbourne (0-7) 

•2020 postseason: Third at sectional, 17th at district 

DARBY 

•Coach: Brendan Moody, 12th season 

•Top athletes: Blayne Barnes, Isaiah Beneker, Nathan Morris, Daoud Saadeh, Carter Slubowski and Bradley Weaver 

•Key losses: Ryan Blackerby, Caiden Rayburn and Colt Ryan 

•2019-20 OCC-Cardinal standings: Delaware (7-0), Darby (6-1), Bradley (5-2), Dublin Jerome (4-3), Olentangy Berlin (3-4), Dublin Scioto (2-5), Thomas Worthington (1-6), Worthington Kilbourne (0-7) 

•2020 postseason: Fourth at sectional, 12th at district 

DAVIDSON 

•Coach: Lee Wilson, first season 

•Top athletes: Quin Hopping, Richard Lawrence and Wyatt Moore 

•Key losses: Braden Eaton, Dez Gartrell, Nick Lingaman and Jackson Sowers 

•2019-20 OCC-Central standings: Dublin Coffman (5-0), Upper Arlington (4-1), Marysville (3-2), Westland (2-3), Davidson (1-4), Central Crossing (0-5) 

•2020 postseason: Sixth at sectional, tied for 26th at district