Third-year Gibsonburg wrestling coach Justin Edgell can teach his wrestlers a lot of ways to win a match with their physical skills.
Another, perhaps just as important facet of the sport also has to come into play during a match, and the majority of the Golden Bears have it, Edgell said.
“We’re scrappy. We’re fighters,” he said. “We don’t quit. We go out there to make a statement, win or lose.”
Edgell’s squad made a statement last season, when the Bears won the Ohio Wrestling League title for the school’s first-ever team league wrestling championship. They were picked to win the nine-team OWL again this season despite six freshmen and three sophomores in the starting lineup.
Through Jan. 8, Gibsonburg had a 15-10 dual-meet record that included a 4-0 mark against OWL competition. The 15 wins is a school record, and the team has assured itself of its third straight season with a winning dual-meet record.
“We’ve done very well in the league – 4-0 with two more duals left (on Wednesday),” said Edgell, whose team placed third at the Hopewell-Loudon Duals, sixth at the Genoa Northcoast Holiday Duals and fourth at the 12-team Gibsonburg Invitational. “Our goal is to be back-to-back league champs and I think we’re setting ourselves up to do just that. These freshmen won the league as eighth graders, so they know what winning feels like. There is a lot of talent in that freshman group.”
Three of the Bears’ top wrestlers are junior Jacob Auld at 182 pounds and seniors Gage Collins at 113 and Nick Metcalf at 182 and 195. All three are team captains.
Auld, who had a 22-7 record through Jan. 8, went 7-1 at the Genoa tournament and earned a spot on the all-tournament first team.
“He’s been pretty solid this year,” Edgell said. “He’s improved his footwork. He had a flat-footed stance the last two years, but now he has a lower stance and is on his toes. He’s much quicker this year and he understands the sport more. Instead of waiting and hesitating, he reacts now. His biggest thing is confidence. He was the league champ last year at 220, and that (success) kind of rolled into this year.”
Collins (20-8) is a two-time district qualifier, while Metcalf (14-2) took sixth at districts last season.
“Gage has had a very steady season,” Edgell said. “He didn’t quite have the season he was expecting to have last year, but from November to March nobody outworks him. He loves competition. He loves winning. He’s a very competitive person.
“Nick missed a couple weeks with injury, but he went undefeated at the Delta duals tournament. His goal is the state tournament. At the beginning of the year all of the kids list their goals, and that’s at the top of Nick’s list, placing in the top eight in the state.”
Sophomore 160-pounder Dan Henline was a surprise last season, Edgell said, after winning more than 20 matches by pin at 152 and 160 pounds. Henline is 18-10 this season.
“He’s finally gotten down to 160 this year and we’re hoping things kind of turn around for him,” the coach said. “He had a rough go of it. He’s got 18 victories, but it hasn’t quite been the season he expects out of himself. He has spent a little extra time after practice trying to correct the mistakes he’s made so far.”
Some of the Bears’ other top wrestlers have been freshman Damien Schmeltz, who has 15 wins at 120 pounds, sophomore 152-pounder A.J. Blausey and freshman 132-pounder Griffin Geary. Blausey and Geary have 13 wins apiece.
“Our freshmen looked good early in the year,” Edgell said. “They committed to putting in more time and effort in the practice room. Now they realize what real competition is out there and the time and effort it takes. They’re hanging in there. We’ve been taking a lot of pins so far this year and we’re hoping that trend stops. We’ve been on our backs more than we’d like.”
Edgell, who credits the program’s improving biddy program (50 wrestlers this season) for helping the varsity squad become a force, said the team appears to be becoming closer as a unit - just in time for the season’s stretch run.
“We talk about leading by example and seeing the good things your teammates are doing,” Edgell said. “I’m hoping this team turns the corner and gets ready to finish strong. We peaked at the right time last year, and it looks like we’re going to do the same thing this year.”