Oak Harbor wrestlers had three teams competing the first weekend of the season, including two high school teams and one junior high team.
At the high school level, the Rockets traveled to the Walsh Jesuit Iron Man Tournament and came away with one place-winner. Sophomore Konner Witt worked out a fifth place finish in the 145 pound weight class with a 6-2 record. Sophomore Ian Miller, sophomore Jake Cramer, and junior Zach Bergman each grabbed a victory to help the team score as well.
Top wrestlers returning for Oak Harbor that competed at the Iron Man include junior Mike Mallernee (171, 39-10 last season), freshman Alex Bergman, Cramer (119, 37-19), Miller (135, 33-5), Witt (145, 33-12), and Zach Bergman (130, 18-22).
Witt opened the Iron Man with a bye, and then was defeated in the second round by junior Nick Sierra of Lemoore (California) in a 7-3 decision. In the consolation bracket, Witt defeated Justin Martinez of Wyoming in a 10-1 decision; then defeated Weston Lymangrove of Mingus, Arizona, 1-0; then defeated junior Luke Taylor of Reynolds, Pennsylvania 4-3.
Reaching the upper brackets of the consolation division, Witt pinned junior Cody Bye of Bishop Lynch (Texas) in 2:37 and then had to face off with Sierra again. This time, Witt defeated the California wrestler in a 4-2 decision. Witt took fifth after he lost to junior Pierce Harger of Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller in a 9-0 decision.
Witt is a defending Division II state qualifer in Ohio at 125, but is "significantly bigger this year," said Oak Harbor coach George Bergman, which explains why Witt is wrestling at around 140 and 145 this season.
Oak Harbor scored 22 points to finish 41st in the Iron Man, considered by many coaches as one of the nation's most competitive prep tournaments. The top five teams were Blair Academy (282.5), Ohio's defending D-II state champion St. Paris Graham (234), Central Mountain, Pa. (145), Lakewood St. Edward (143), and Massillon Perry (117).
The other group of Oak Harbor varsity wrestlers competed at the Gibsonburg Invitational, in which they finished with three runners-up. Those wrestlers were Kyle Mincheff, Brandon Veler and Johnny Bergman.
The tradition continues at Oak Harbor despite the fact that school graduated seven seniors, four of whom are wrestling at the college level. One is at Findlay, and three state champs from last year are at Michigan State (Kirk Tank), Ohio State (three-time state champ Cody Magrum), and Kent State (Keith Witt).
Coach George Bergman has seven starters back, including Witt, Cramer (state qualifier), Mallernee (state qualifier), junior Drew Stone (went to state two years ago, last year district qualifier), Miller (injured in sectionals last year after defeating the state champion during the season), Bergman (two-year starter), and heavyweight Zach Sandwisch.
Still, Bergman doesn't expect to start a senior this season, which keeps the Rockets set up for at least two years, if not more.
"We have four kids that have wrestled down at the state tournament, and Ian Miller is our best wrestler," Bergman said. "He injured his shoulder in sectionals last year."
In addition, Eastwood district qualifier Tyler Hackworth, a sophomore, transferred to Oak Harbor this season, adding a little more muscle directly from another perennial D-II wrestling power in Ohio. Hackworth was at 112 for the Eagles last season, but Coach Bergman expects him to be in the area of 125 this season.
"We'll fill all our weight classes," Coach Bergman said reassuringly. "Drew Bahnsen, who played on our football team, he'll be our 215. He was on our second team last year, but he earned a varsity letter."
The Rockets won their own Oak Harbor Invitational the next weekend with the help of five champs and numerous placers. Oak Harbor was short a couple wrestlers, but the rest of the young team stepped up and took over as the Rockets out distanced a determined Maumee squad by 12½ points, 248-235½.
Winning individual titles for Oak Harbor were Alex Bergman, Drew Stone, Tyler Hackworth, Miller, and Mike Mallernee.
Assisting the A team with placements were Konner Witt (second), Zach Bergman (third), Joe Mallernee (fifth), Brandon Veler (fifth), Johnny Bergman (fifth), Gabe Frisch (sixth), and Kyle Mincheff (sixth). Oak Harbor's B team finished last overall, but were not without medalists. Jake Cramer took second and Adam Losie finished sixth.
Following the Rockets and Panthers were Sandusky (195), Toledo St. Francis DeSales (188), Van Wert (186), Bryan (182.5), Cardinal Stritch (96), Rossford (89.5), Fremont Ross (56.5), and Oak Harbor's second team (27).
At 102, Bergman finished in first place with a 4-0 record in round robin wrestling. At 119, Stone finished first with a win by default over teammate Cramer of the Oak Harbor B team, who finished as runner-up.
At 125, Hackworth finished first with a 4-1 decision over Alex Marzec of St. Francis. At 130, Zach Bergman was third with a 4-1 record in round robin wrestling.
At 135, Miller was first with an 18-3 technical fall victory over Shawn Bryant of Rossford. At 140, Mincheff was sixth, losing his final bout by a 6-3 decision to Gyer Blackmore of Van Wert.
At 145, Witt was runner-up, losing the championship in a 3-2 decision to Jerrel Vallient of Sandusky. At 152, Joey Mallernee was fifth with a pin in 4:18 over Sam Terrell of Sandusky.
At 160, Rocket A wrestler Brandon Veler won by a pin in 14 seconds over Rocket B wrestler Adam Losie to claim fifth place and sixth place, respectively. At 171, Mike Malernee won a championship with an 8-4 decision over D.J. Recknagel of Rossford. At 189, John Bergman win by pin over Andy Halka of Rossford.