Like all high schools sports, wrestling has battled Covid-19 and quarantines the past several months.
Now, the SBAAC wrestlers are in the home stretch of the 2020-21 season.
The league tournament is set for a 9 a.m. Saturday start at Goshen High School.
Wrestlers from all 11 league schools (Felicity and Georgetown do not have wrestling) compete in one bracketed tournament. And while coaches will gladly accept a division championship trophy, the ones at the top will quietly desire to be the overall tournament champion.
In 2020, Blanchester edged out Clinton-Massie for the tournament title 165 to 159.5. Wilmington was fifth and East Clinton 11th.
In 2019, Western Brown was a runaway winner with 239 points. Runnerup Clinton-Massie had 125, third-place Blanchester 121. Wilmington was sixth and East Clinton 10th.
Will this be the year Clinton-Massie knocks down the SBAAC title door?
“We expect our kids to wrestle with some purpose,” Massie coach Spencer Running said. “This is the time of year that wrestling starts to get serious and we want our kids to look back and be proud of this season’s league tournament.”
Individually, Running said two Falcons stand out.
“We expect our senior captains, Colton Doyle and Joe Baughman, to finish their senior year as league champions,” said Running. “It won’t be easy but we think they can get it done. Colton is the heavy favorite and Joe is a slight underdog. We also have a few younger guys that we are hoping can compete for an individual title this year.”
Tolliver and Running both feel their wrestlers are in good position this season compared to the Covid-less years of the past.
“I honestly do not think we are ‘behind’ compared to previous years,” Tolliver said. “The silver lining to this season is that we have had more time to teach technique in the (wrestling) room and refine our skills.”
Running said the time following the league tournament and the start of sectionals will be more important. Sectional tournaments are set to be held three weeks following the league tournament.
“How our kids improve in that span means the most to us as coaches,” said Running.
Tolliver said his squad is looking at the league tournament “with optimism.”
”Carson Hibbs, Thane McCoy, Jaden Snyder, Thad Stuckey, Alex Hudson and Bret Brooks have great prospects for this weekend,” Tolliver said. “Our focus is staying healthy and injury free. We believe we are peaking at the right time and that is always the balancing act at this time in the season.”
With only six wrestlers, East Clinton won’t compete for a team honor but individual acclaim is still possible.
“Cooper Rack is having a good season,” said EC coach Doug Stehlin. “I would like to see him in the finals to help give him some criteria for the sectional tournament. Jaden Singleton and Gavin Denniston have been having a good season. Being new wrestlers, placing at the SBAAC would be a great achievement.”
Stehlin said the league tournament is great to prepare any wrestler for the post-season.
“The SBAAC is the toughest DII/DIII league for wrestling in southwest Ohio,” he said. “There should be lots of tough matches.”
For Blanchester, defending the 2020 championship is paramount.
“Expectations are pretty high to do well again this year,” said coach Ryan Shafer. “Our seniors are expected to do well.”
Shafer said the lack of matches hurts for scouting purposes as much as anything.
“We have only faced three league teams; it’s hard to tell which weight classes will be tough matchups for our wrestlers,” he said. “I feel we are in a good position right now. We are peaking at the right time and it started last week at Lima and hope to continue that momentum for the league tournament and postseason.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email [email protected] or on Twitter @wnjsports