Wrestling: Westerville North Warriors motivated to produce results

Scott Hennen
ThisWeek group
North's Jake Gooding (top) competes against South's Fuanyi Fobellah last season. Both are among the top returnees for their teams after qualifying for the Division I state tournament last winter.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has impacted a second season for the Westerville North wrestling team, and 16th-year coach David Grant has endured his fill of it.

Last season ended abruptly for the four Warriors who qualified for the Division I state tournament, as the event was first postponed and then canceled. 

Now with matches this season pushed back until at least Friday, Dec. 18, Grant just wants to get things started.

“This is the second season where this has affected us, which is tough,” Grant said. “The kids were working hard and put in a lot of time in the offseason. We just want to get back and compete when it’s safe to do that.

“One thing the pandemic has taught us is that you have to keep adjusting. You have to conform to the situation. You have to be like water flowing around a rock. The pandemic is like a rock that will be there. We just have to flow around it.”

Seniors Brennan Albertini (195 pounds), Nico Candido (160) and Jake Gooding (120) and junior Connor Euton (138) were the state qualifiers who missed out on their chances at a title, and Gooding said the “non-experience” drove him during the offseason.

“It’s definitely motivated me a lot,” said Gooding, who finished 32-5. “As soon as state was canceled and we went into quarantine, I knew I had to use that as an opportunity to do things myself. I was wrestling, running, lifting and sometimes doing a combination of the three to help get better.

"You always think about how your senior year would be, and so far this is not what we expected, but we can still have a season ahead of us. I still want to be able to be a leader on this team and we’ll be ready when the season does begin.”

Euton won a district championship last season and finished 37-0. Gooding was runner-up at district, with Albertini (12-1) placing third and Candido (27-17) fourth.

Joining them in the lineup will be senior Sylvester Bockarie (152, 24-15) and juniors Dallas Reed (182, 17-11) and Edwin White (126, 16-2), who qualified for district a year ago.

Sophomore Evan Butcher (113/120) moved in after being a state qualifier at 106 last season at Olentangy Berlin.

Seniors Bryce Long (182/195), Nate Morse (126/132) and Gabe Ohle (113/120) also return.

“Most of our kids are back, and they want to be there,” said Grant, whose team won the OCC-Buckeye Division last season at 5-0. “This is one of the most fun groups that I’ve had a chance to coach.

“They were disappointed when we had to stop in late November, but they got back to work pretty quickly. I think one positive is they’ve had to do things on their own and do things without me being the driving force. They could run on their own, form their own pods and they worked on things without coaches.”

The Warriors are scheduled to open Monday, Dec. 21, at home against Franklin Heights in an OCC-Capital matchup.

Senior Josiah Mair is one of four returning Division I district qualifiers for Central.

Warhawks feature

experienced core

Despite losing one of its top wrestlers from last season, Central returns a solid nucleus.

Junior David Javier transferred to Westerville South after finishing second at district at 106 to qualify for state.

“(Javier’s transfer) caught me off guard,” said coach Jerry McSwords, who is in his third season. “I just coach who shows up. I’ll make what I have out of my own ingredients. I’ll see what I can do with what I have. I love the kids that I have. They’re a great group of kids.”

Central is scheduled to open Friday, Dec. 18 at Granville after the start of the season was pushed back because of the pandemic.

“The kids have done a good job in staying positive,” McSwords said. “We have a fantastic group of seniors. What I missed most of all is getting to work with the kids and these seniors and watch them lead.”

The Warhawks return four district qualifiers from a year ago: seniors Josiah Mair (220), Logan Moore (170), Caleb Scheideger (138/145) and Gary Steele (152). Mair went 36-11, Moore was 24-14, Scheideger went 27-20 and Steele was 42-13.

Senior Zeke Healy (182/195) missed the postseason with a shoulder injury after going 24-3.

McSwords said he also expects to get contributions from seniors Jackson Bond (132/138), Luis Gonzalez (120), C.J. Spinosi (182/195) and Tate Sterling (160, 36-14), juniors Zachary Davis (113/120), Reign Solosa (126/132) and Jack Traudt (145), sophomores Colin Hunt (106) and Mekhi Kilburn (132) and freshmen Daine Cochern (113/120) and Aiden Wilson (113).

Central, which finished 1-4 in the OCC-Buckeye last season, is now in the realigned OCC-Ohio with Gahanna, Grove City, New Albany, Pickerington North and Westland.

“We have a brand-new OCC and I think we can be very competitive in it,” McSwords said. “Grove City and Westland are pretty good. These teams are all new for us, so wrestling these matches will be exciting.”

—Frank DiRenna

Wildcats return

key wrestlers

South also faces a major loss, but should be boosted by the return of several key wrestlers and the addition of Javier.

Aaron Morton, a two-time state qualifier who finished 133-44 for his prep career, is wrestling at Cleveland State.

A key returnee is senior Fuanyi Fobellah, who qualified for his first state tournament last season at 113.

“Last year was no fun and that bummed him out, but we all realize that this is a big problem and not just a wrestling problem,” coach George Crooks said. “We just have to take what the people above us tell us.”

Fobellah — who finished 29-5 and is expected to wrestle at 132 — finished first at sectional and fourth at district.

Javier also will move up in weight this season from 106 and could wrestle at 126.

“He’s a great addition as long as we get going,” Crooks said. “I’ve always liked him. We met him when he first moved to the Columbus area. He came to our club a few times. It was always fun to watch him when he wrestled for Central.”

Other top returnees are senior Brian Tennant (132), juniors Tyler O’Reilly (heavyweight, 31-16) and Ethan Stofel (170) and sophomore Nikita Kitaev (113, 20-16).

Also back are seniors Frankie Achambeng (heavyweight, 27-18) and Andrew DeVictor (145), with junior Wyatt Massie (195) also expected to contribute.

“We had a good group at the beginning at our first couple of meetings and we have a lot of freshmen coming in like we have in the past,” said Crooks, who is in his sixth season. “I just hope that everybody hangs on through all this.”

The Wildcats, who went 2-3 in the OCC-Buckeye last season, are in the OCC-Capital with North, Big Walnut, Canal Winchester, Delaware, Dublin Scioto, Franklin Heights and Worthington Kilbourne.

“I’ve never imagined anything like this,” Crooks said of the pandemic. “You have to first get your own head right and realize this is our world and this is a fact. And as much as it disappoints us as adults, we have to be careful and try to put on the best face we can and get these kids through it the best we can, because their disappointment is much larger than ours.”

—Frank DiRenna

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CENTRAL

Coach: Jerry McSwords, third season

Top athletes: Zeke Healy, Caleb Scheideger, Gary Steele and Tate Sterling

Key losses: Xavier Allen, David Javier and Justus Roper

2019-20 OCC-Buckeye standings: Westerville North (5-0), Olentangy Liberty (4-1), Olentangy Orange (3-2), Westerville South (2-3), Westerville Central (1-4), Olentangy (0-5)

2020 postseason: Fifth at sectional, 22nd at district 

NORTH

Coach: David Grant, 16th season

Top athletes: Brennan Albertini, Sylvester Bockarie, Nico Candido, Connor Euton, Jake Gooding, Gabe Ohle, Bryce Long, Nate Morse, Dallas Reed and Edwin White

Key losses: Eli DeTemple, Jacob Grant, John Holzapfel, Ray Johnson and Eli Williams

2020 postseason: First at sectional, sixth at district

SOUTH

Coach: George Crooks, sixth season

Top athletes: Frankie Achambeng, Fuanyi Fobellah, David Javier and Tyler O’Reilly

Key loss: Aaron Morton

2020 postseason: Fourth at sectional, 15th at district