As far as team goals are concerned, winning the Three Rivers Athletic Conference title is always No. 1 on Coach Ralph Cubberly’s list for his Clay Eagles.
Clay won the TRAC title last weekend at Fremont Ross, its sixth consecutive league championship dating back to the City League.
The Eagles’ other two team goals, Cubberly said, are to qualify for the State Dual Team Tournament and to get as many wrestlers as possible to the individual state tournament. The state tournament isn’t until Feb. 27-29 and March 1, but the State Dual Team Tournament is this Saturday at St. John Arena in Columbus.
The Eagles are one of eight schools to qualify in Division I, which will include top-seeded Massillon Perry, Cincinnati Moeller, Brecksville, Lakewood St. Edward, fifth-seeded Clay, Mason, Marysville, and Delaware Hayes.
The Eagles are set to wrestle fourth-seeded St. Ed’s at 11 a.m. Saturday.
“This is one of our top three goals every year,” Cubberly said. “We definitely want to qualify to the State Duals. I think it’s going to be a good match, a close match. We have six or seven guys who are the favorites and a couple toss-up matches. I think it’s going to be a close match. We’re excited just to make it.”
The Eagles competed in last year’s inaugural State Duals tournament and lost in the opening round, 40-19, to Brecksville. Clay’s four wins against Brecksville were by 120-pounder Richie Screptock, Matt Stencel (182), Jarred Gray (220) and heavyweight Antonio Zapata.
Lakewood St. Ed won last year State Duals with a 28-21 win over Massillon Perry, then went on to win the individual state tournament in March, beating Perry by 12 points (Clay was 12th).
The Eagles reached this year’s State Duals tournament by beating St. Francis de Sales (75-6), St. John’s Jesuit (63-3), Elyria (36-30) and Perrysburg (31-30).
Zapata scored a 4-3 ultimate tiebreaker win over Perrysburg’s Cale Bonner, the projected state champ at heavyweight, to tie the team score at 30-30.
“It was tied 30-30 and we had to go to criteria, which is (decided by) most pins and forfeits,” Cubberly said. “We had two pins, and they forfeited a weight class to us.”
Next up: powerful Lakewood St. Edward.
“We know a lot about them,” Cubberly said. “They have a storied program, and they’re good. We know who’s good on their team and they know who’s good on our team.We get to wrestle them in our district for the state tournament, so we get to see them before the individual tournament starts.”
Clay’s sixth straight conference championship was no gimme, according to Cubberly. The Eagles finished with 230 points, while runner-up Central Catholic had 214.5.
“We had it figured out,” Cubberly said. “We knew it would come down to 11-12 points. We run a mock tournament. We seed the kids and we had it point-for-point with (Central). We had to get all the bonus points to beat them – get more pins, technical falls. We had 19 pins and four tech falls in the tournament. Our kids knew what we had to do to win.”
Clay got individual titles from senior Gavin Nelson at 138 pounds, senior Nick Stencel (160), sophomore Matt Stencel (195) and Zapata, a senior, at heavyweight. Nelson, who won the 132-pound NBC title last year, will take a 29-6 record into the State Duals.
“He’s having a great season,” Cubberly said. “He’s peaking at the right time and he’s really focused and motivated on what he wants to accomplish the rest of the year. He’s a senior and understands it’s coming to an end quick and he wants it to end on his terms.”
Nick Stencel, the NBC champ at 152 pounds last season, has a 29-5 record during the regular season.
“He wrestled a really good technical match at the TRAC tournament,” Cubberly said. “He stayed out of danger. He’s a member of that senior group that’s focused on the state tournament. He was fifth last year and he wants to do that again. I have five guys with over 100 wins apiece, and all those kids have been around and they all have high goals.”
Matt Stencel was the 182-pound TRAC champ in 2013 and takes a 29-4 mark into the State Duals.
“Matt is probably wrestling the best on the team right now,” Cubberly said. “He’s a dominant force and is a physical, dominant wrestler in his weight class. He also looks to be peaking at the right time. He’s probably our most consistent wrestler on the team.”
Cubberly added that Zapata’s 28-8 record is a bit deceiving.
“He’s got a few losses, but it’s just the kids he wrestles,” the coach said. “We wrestle a difficult schedule. In Division I, which is where most of his losses are, his division is wide open. He beat the projected state champion and he’s wrestling well right now.”
Clay got second-place finishes at the NBC tournament from Nick Henneman at 106, Evan True (113), Aaron Henneman (120), Screptock (132), Kevin Witt (182) and Tyler Koester (220). Calixtro Mondragon (126), Zach Brown (145) and Andy Howard (170) all placed third.