It appears as though the Oak Harbor wrestling team is in for another good year, whether anyone else expected it or not. It never fails.
Behind a first place finish at the Bob Bailey Invitational, a second-place finish at the 12-team Oak Harbor Invite and respectable showings against Perkins and Clay, two of the state's top programs, the Rockets appear headed for another special season. So, what else is new?
Last season was also a banner year for the Rockets. After finishing third at the Sandusky Bay Conference meet behind Perkins and Clyde, Oak Harbor sent four wrestlers to state, where they finished seventh in Division II. It was the sixth time in the last seven years that the Rockets finished in the top seven in Ohio. Their two best finishes came in 2008 and 2010 when the Rockets came in second.
Luke Cramer, who is now wrestling at NCAA Division II Ashland University, won a state championship at 170 pounds. State qualifier Jared Chambers is wrestling at Tiffin University, also D-II, and Cramer's older brother, Jake, finished fifth (152) at state and T.J. Lawrence was eighth at 285. Alec Bowlick finished one win short of placing.
So, this year’s Rockets had big shoes to fill.
At the Oak Harbor Invite, the season-opening event, four Rockets went a perfect 5-0, Bruce Hrynciw (106), Dylan Mansor (120), Rhett Petersen (132) and Lawrence (285). Seven finished 4-1, including Jacob Huston (126), Mike Osbourne (138), Jeremy Balboa (145), Ben Petersen (152), Kian Thompson (160), Brody Hennig (170) and Ben Bergman (182). Both Petersens and Brandon Garber (220) finished first at the Bob Bailey Invite with Hrynciw coming in second and Mansor, Huston and Thompson placing third.
"The Bob Bailey Invite was a nice meet for us," Coach George Bergman said, "because we did well and we were able to get a number of our young wrestlers in there and they did a good job for us."
In a dual meet with visiting Clay, a Division I program, the Rockets endured a tough loss that Bergman says will likely serve as a learning experience for them down the road. Bergman believes it will help the club to identify its weaknesses as they work to improve. The Clay-OH dual match has become an annual event featuring two of the area’s top programs.
Despite the 43-12 loss to Coach Ralph Cubberly’s Eagles, Bergman was pleased with his team's effort in a match that saw Lawrence return from an injury and put up a good fight against Antonio Zapata before losing, 3-2.
"I thought we were competitive and gave a great effort," Bergman said of a match that was tied at six early before the Eagles pulled away: "We had two guys out with concussions and one guy that didn't make weight. I was happy with our effort. Good competition shows what you need to work on."
Bergman says it's the performance of Rhett and Ben Petersen that stand out. The two of them decided to fully commit themselves to wrestling this year after choosing not to play football in the fall.
"Ben and Rhett have really stepped up," said Bergman, now in his 21st season. "Rhett had a nice record last year in varsity matches. We threw him in against Seth Boggs of Perkins and he won. This was after losing to Boggs by technical fall last season.
"Ben has done a nice job this year for us. He made it to districts last year and we expect him to do well this season."
Bergman credits Garber with showing steady improvement. After struggling at the OH Invite, Garber finished first at the Bailey Invite and nearly beat Clay's Tyler Koester before falling, 6-5, in overtime.
Oak Harbor was fortunate to get junior Nick Bergman back against Clay. A state alternate as a freshman, Bergman has battled injuries for much of the past year. If he's able to return to full health and wrestle like he's capable, Bergman says there might be spot waiting for him in Columbus in a few months.
"I'm happy to see Nick on the mat," George Bergman said. "With his situation, he wants to compete and hopefully he'll stay healthy. Wrestling is a very humbling sport."
The Rockets returned to action this weekend when they competed at the prestigious Medina Invitational Wrestling Tournament. Bergman says the event, which features some of the best wrestlers from Ohio, should help Oak Harbor gauge where they stand heading into the new year.
Oak Harbor wrestler Jeremy Balboa (right) scraps with Clay wrestler Richie Screptock, who got his 100th career win last week. (Press photo by Russ Lytle/Facebook.com/Russ Lytle/RHP)