Last season was the first time in six years that the Oak Harbor wrestling team did not win the Sandusky Bay Conference title or finish in the top five in the Division II state wrestling meet.
That's not to say the Rockets underachieved. Far from it.
The team managed to come in fourth place in one of the state's best wrestling conferences and sent three athletes to the state meet, finishing 19th.
Two of the wrestlers who made it down to Columbus last season, Luke Cramer and Jared Chambers, return. Last winter, Cramer finished fourth in D-II at 138 pounds and Chambers (152) won one match before bowing out.
Alex Bergman, who graduated last spring, placed fourth at 152 pounds and is now wrestling at the U.S. Navy Prep School in Newport, R.I.
Cramer and Chambers, along with fellow seniors Hunter Gresh (145), Alec Bowlick (138) and Josh Chambers (160) are looking to lead the Rockets back to a league title and send several wrestlers to the state meet. This season, Cramer will wrestle at 170 pounds.
Bowlick just missed out on qualifying for the state tournament last season and Gresh suffered the same fate two years ago, leaving reason to believe that both could get to Columbus this time around.
Coach George Bergman, now in his 20th season, said, “We're putting a lot (on the seniors) this season. Jared knows what it takes and Luke, Hunter, Alec and Josh are establishing the work ethic and the way we want to prepare.
“The main thing is we're just trying to get better. Our schedule dictates that you get better or you'll get swallowed up. Our competition is eager to point out any of our deficiencies. We try to improve as the season moves along and get ready to for the conference, sectionals, districts and state.”
Despite having some capable seniors on his roster, which features 30 wrestlers, Bergman is especially encouraged by what he sees from his underclassmen.
“We have 15 sophomores, that's our biggest class,” Bergman said. “Last night (in a 33-24 non-league win over Norwalk Wednesday) all but nine of our points were from freshmen and sophomores.”
The team also features Nick Bergman (120) and T.J. Lawrence (heavyweight) and plenty of talented, capable athletes. If the likes of Rhett Petersen (132), Brandon Garber (220), Jeremy Balboa (126), Mike Osbourne (126), Brock Evans (152) and Tim Mossman (182) can perform at a high level, good things could be in store for the Rockets.
However, Bergman acknowledged that it will be tough for Oak Harbor to win the conference this year considering that Clyde and Perkins are loaded with talent. He notes that the coaches picked the Rockets to finish third in the league and the media picked them fourth.
“Clyde and Perkins are definitely the top two programs,” Bergman said. “Perkins has a solid wrestler has a solid wrestler at all 14 positions. Clyde has Brad Smith and Chris Moore, who won at 170 pounds for the state title (last season).”
Jared Chambers, one of the team leaders, is looking for his team to progress as the season moves along.
“Our team was picked third and I'd like to do better than that,” he said. “I think we have a good group of guys that can get it done. We only had two seniors last year,” Chambers said, noting the contributions of Alex Bergman and Adam Crabtree last season. “So we kind of got a taste last year. As of now, I think we can do a better job and that's what we're trying to do more and more every day.
“Personally, I'd like to repeat as league champion. I've talked with our assistant coach, Paul Bergman, and he's helped me set goals of placing in the top four at state, but that's so far away right now. I'm just taking it one match at a time.”
Gresh, who acknowledges that his team is inexperienced, is also hoping for big things.
“With our team having a lot of underclassmen, we are asking of a lot of them by stepping up to win matches. I think a good goal for us would be being able to take home an SBC title,” Gresh said.