Third-year Northwood wrestling coach Bill Cannon may only have seven individuals on this year’s roster, but he said the Rangers’ program is “starting to evolve.”
Northwood features one junior, two sophomores and four freshmen.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had anything,” said Cannon, who has been with the program for eight years. “We’ve had some very heartbreaking years getting to where I’m at now. I love to be optimistic all the time, but we have a shot to take three kids to the state tournament. Our (practice) room’s getting better and we’re getting better. I think people need to start paying attention.”
Northwood’s top two performers so far have been sophomore Jonny Wheeler at 138 pounds and junior Devon Dunbar at 132. Wheeler, who lettered last year at 120, is 10-0 this season and won his weight class at the Northwood Invitational. Gannon said Wheeler’s goal is to move down to 126 later this season.
“He’s a real defensive wrestler,” the coach said. “He’s short and hard to score on. I’m not at all surprised. I told him last year as soon as he decided to come out of his shell he would surprise himself and others. He doesn’t know his potential. He’s getting victories and starting to open up. He wrestles with Devon every day and all that can do is make him better.”
Dunbar, who took sixth at the district tournament a year ago, placed fourth at the Northwood Invite. Gannon said that Dunbar, who lost to eventual 106-pound Division III state runner-up Evan Ulinski of Woodmore in the district tourney last winter, will probably drop down to 120 this season.
“He had a rough start at the Northwood tournament,” Gannon said. “He lost by two points on Friday night and lost in overtime. He was (upset) and laid an egg and lost his fourth-fifth place match. He’s looked really good and he is very driven. Losing to Ulinski last year put a fire under him. He has to start believing in himself and start putting some work in.”
Gannon also has high expectations for sophomore John Habel, a 160-pounder who lettered as a freshman.
“He was beat up his freshman year pretty bad, injury-wise,” Gannon said. “When he finally got going it was a lot to catch up with, being in a senior-dominated weight class as a freshman at 138 and 145. He’s a kid who doesn’t like to drop weight. Whatever he’s close to (weight-wise), he’ll go to. He lifted all summer and he’s strong enough to be at 160.”
The rest of the roster consists of freshmen Bradley Meeks at 113, Dustyn Williams (132), Trevor Mack (138) and Trent Dale (145). Gannon said the rookies “definitely have potential.”
“Two of them really have a chance to make something and the other two are building blocks,” Gannon said. “They work hard in the room. They don’t have a choice but to figure it out quick, because the other three guys take it to them pretty good. They’re learning quick. Wrestling with those other guys, you have to think on your feet.”
Northwood 160-pound sophomore wrestler John Habel is standing and kneeling is 138-pound sophomore Jonny Wheeler (left) and 132-pound junior Devon Dunbar. (Press photo by J. Patrick Eaken)