Oak Harbor wrestling captains Drew Stone, Mike Mallernee and Zach Bergman learned what it takes to be the best from former Rockets state champions Cody Magrum, Keith Witt and Kirk Tank.
Magrum, a three-time state champ, is now at Ohio State while Witt and Tank, both one-time state champions and three-time state placers, are now at Kent State and Michigan State, respectively. All three 2008 Oak Harbor graduates are redshirting this season.
"Those three guys were all four-year starters and had a big impact on the program," said George Bergman, in his 16th year as Oak Harbor's coach. "The captains this year were on the team with them two years in a row, and they had a big influence. Their work ethic and commitment to the sport kind of helped mold our juniors right now, and our sophomores.
"Last year we had seven seniors and seven underclassmen, and no seniors are starting this year. One nice thing about this team is we have everybody back for next year."
What many thought was to have been a rebuilding year for the Rockets has been anything but. Oak Harbor, which also graduated standout wrestlers Ian Giachetti, Tommy Baker, Brandon Waters and David Banda, is ranked seventh in the Division II state coaches' poll.
Oak Harbor is 14-1 in duals this season, with its only loss against Michigan power Dundee.
In addition to winning the Oak Harbor Invitational, the Rockets won the Perrysburg Invitational Tournament (PIT) for the third straight year and won the Sandusky Bay Conference Duals. Oak Harbor placed fifth out of 41 teams at the Medina Invitational and had a good showing at the Ironman Invitational, which is considered the toughest tournament in the country.
"There were some question marks coming into the year," Bergman said. "We didn't have a question mark about the juniors or a lot of the sophomores who have proved themselves in the past. We have a couple sophomores and freshmen in their first year starting, so that's always a question mark.
"They have all stepped up and contributed to the team. It's been a fun year. Having two sons on the team, a lot of these guys have been over to the house and they have played baseball together. It's been a real fun group and a pleasure coaching these guys."
Bergman said he gets a lot of help from assistant coaches Bill Scherf and Aaron Bomer.
Scherf was a two-time state placer at Oak Harbor whom Bergman coached in biddy wrestling and in junior high.
"He makes me feel old," Bergman said. "He's been with me for nine years and does a great job. He's been around and he knows when to lighten up the mood or put down the hammer in practice."
Bomer is in his second year with the Rockets and was the head coach at Gibsonburg and Fostoria high schools.
"Bill and Aaron still get out there and wrestle with the kids," Bergman said. "Aaron is in his late 20s, so he's not that far removed. Being a head coach at two different programs, he has zero ego. He's fit in with Bill and I unbelievably."
Sophomore Ian Miller leads the way for the Rockets. The 135-pounder, who is 30-2, is rated No. 2 in the state by the Brakeman Report and is a defending SBC tournament champion.
"He's the best wrestler on the team,' Bergman said. "He's genetically gifted, explosive. He's learned from his mistakes and gotten better and better every year. He won the Medina tournament, the PIT, and at Oak Harbor. His only losses were at the Ironman."
Sophomore Konner Witt is 28-5 at 145 pounds and was a state qualifier at 125 last season. He is rated second in the Brakeman and took fifth at the Ironman.
Junior heavyweight Zack Sandwisch (21-5) "has really stepped up his game," according to Bergman. Sandwisch placed at Medina, took second at the PIT and went undefeated at the SBC Duals.
Junior 119-pounder Drew Stone (27-2) is a two-time SBC champion who was a state qualifier as a freshman. Junior Jake Cramer and Tyler Hackworth are neck-and-neck at 125. Cramer was a state qualifier and SBC champ last year while Hackworth (17-4), a sophomore, was a district qualifier.
The rest of the lineup consists of freshman Alex Bergman (28-6 at 103 pounds), sophomore Gabe Frisch (112), junior Zach Bergman (25-8 at 130), sophomore Kyle Mincheff (140), freshman Joey Mallernee (152), junior state qualifier and two-time SBC champ Mike Mallernee (25-7 at 160), sophomores Brandon Veler and Sean McGee at 171, sophomore Johnny Bergman (189) and junior Drew Bahnsen (16-6 at 215).
That group will look to lead the Rockets to their third straight SBC tournament title this weekend at Margaretta.
"Last year the league graduated a great senior group," coach Bergman said. "We had four state champs and five in the state finals. The league is younger this year, which mirrors our team. We beat Edison by nine points at the Duals, and they're young. It will be tougher in a couple years, but even when the league is young, it's a tough league."