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Toledo area turns heads at state tournament

By KL, 05/11/14, 12:15PM EDT

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Perrysburg, Central Catholic, Clay climb toward top of leader board

The team scores scrolling around the upper reaches of the Schottenstein Center during the finals of this year’s Ohio state wrestling tournament told the story of what wrestling fans had witnessed all weekend.

Toledo area high schools are ready to take their place among the top programs in the state.
In Division I, while Massillon Perry cruised to its first team title, Perrysburg High School, located just across the Maumee River from Toledo, took home the runner-up trophy with 90.5 points. Oregon Clay, about 20 miles down river, was fourth with 70 points, only a half point behind third-place Marysville. At the Division II level, Toledo Central Catholic came away with third place behind traditional powers St. Paris Graham and Urichsville Claymont.
Between them, the three schools produced four state champs, six finalists and 15 state placers. Add in nearby Delta, the Division III state champions, that figure climbs to seven finalists and 24 state placers.
All three Toledo area coaches, who took over their programs the same year (2012), give the same reason for their recent success. More of their kids are wrestling earlier and getting more mat time thanks to the area’s offseason programs.
Fox Fire Wrestling, the Lake Erie Wrestling Club and Perrysburg’s “Hive” wrestling club have given their wrestlers extra opportunities to improve their skills.
Perrysburg head wrestling coach Sam Cotterman is quick to point out the vital role offseason wrestling has played in his program‘s success at this year‘s state tournament. Not only was it the Yellow Jackets‘ highest finish ever, it was the program‘s first time breaking into the top 10..
“That year-round wrestling is what changed us,” Cotterman says. “You don’t necessarily have to be a year-round wrestler to be successful, but if you are not doing another sport like football or baseball, and you want to be a good high school wrestler or a college wrestler, you need to get those opportunities on the mat.”
Clay’s coach Ralph Cubberly agrees. 
“I think the bottom line is the teams that are emerging in the state have coaches who are  providing the opportunities for wrestlers to compete with the best kids in the state. They have good youth and freestyle programs.”
Central Catholic head coach Antonio Guerra sees the growth of  the local wrestling clubs and the competition between them raising everybody’s level.
“If you look at the kids that are doing well, they have been wrestling together for a few years. They are going to Fox Fire and they are going to Lake Erie the last couple of years, and they are wrestling each other.”
Despite their similarities in wrestling philosophy, the coaches’ backgrounds differ sharply.
Cubberly has been a longtime high school wrestling coach and a successful one at that. Prior to coming to Clay, he coached at Defiance and Eastwood high schools. During his tenure at Eastwood, the Eagles were second at the Division II state tournament in 2005 and 2006. He was Division II Coach of the Year in 2006 and was inducted into the Ohio Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame in 2010.
Cubberly said the offseason wrestling also was a key to his success at Eastwood, pointing out the program was the first team in the area to attend the Disney Duals. He said he has incorporated the same principles at Clay.
However, Cubberly also is quick to point out the program already was heading in the right direction. He said the Clay won its first Toledo City League championship about six years ago before putting a string of league championships together. “That was a big thing for these guys.”
“They had the template in place,” Cubberly says, “and when I got here, I gave them a little nudge to get them over the hump.”
The Eagles finished 5th in Cubberly’s first year and followed that up with a 12th place finish in 2013.
This year’s 4th place finish was the school’s highest ever. The Eagles were led by state champion Richie Screptock (132) and state runnerup Matt Stencil (182), along with state placers Gavin Nelson (3rd, 138) and  Nick Stencil, (3rd, 160). 
Toledo Central Catholic is Guerra’s first head coaching job following his standout collegiate wrestling career at the University of Findlay. For the Roughnecks, Guerra was a two-time NCAA DII national wrestling champion and a four-time All-American.
Guerra also said the program had a solid foundation before he became head coach. The Irish were 4th in the state in 2009 and 2010.
Central Catholic finished in the top 20 in Guerra’s first two years before jumping to third this year.
The Irish put three wrestlers in the finals, including Alex Mossing, who capped his senior year by winning his second state championship in the 152-pound finals. Junior Nate Hagan also won a state title at 132, and junior Josh Mossing, Alex’s brother, was a state runnerup at 138. Also placing for Central Catholic were Josh Venia (3rd, 106) and  Jqan Fisher, (6th, 285)
Guerra says he is blessed with a good group of kids who have great parents. “They are doing the things I ask them to do,” he says,  including wrestling in the offseason. “They would go through a brick wall for me if I ask them to.”
He said the older guys have paved the way for the program‘s current success. “It started with Alex Mossing’s class. Kids saw him have success as a freshman. Next year, Hagan had success as a freshman. And the others see that and it snowballs from there.”
For Perrysburg, it has been a meteoric rise toward the top of the leader board. The Yellow Jackets broke into the top 20 last year with a 13th-place finish before jumping all the way to second this year. 
Taking home the runner-up trophy took a team effort led by state champ Rocco Caywood (182). But he was only one of  six Yellow Jackets to place, including J.P. Newton (152), Mario Guillen (112) and Kade Llewellyn, (195), who each took third. Also placing were Cale Bonner, who was 4th at 285, and Moises Guillen, 7th at 120.
Perrysburg’s performance might have taken many by surprise, but coach Cotterman, who wrestled and played football at the University of Findlay, isn’t one of them.
“We knew we could be up there. We are biased for our own kids, but  I think we could have had more state champs,“ Cotterman says, singling out his three third-placers. “(The tournament) was great for us.”
Keeping the classes together has been the key to Perrysburg’s recent success, Cotterman believes. “The senior class we just had was a fantastic class. Keeping them together made it great it a class.  It is what we are trying to keep doing. This year, we had a couple of good eighth graders who didn’t come out. Those are the things we can’t have happen.”
The growth of their programs also is resulting in the growth of the rivalries between them, and that’s a good thing, the coaches say.
Cubberly says while he has a tremendous amount of respect for both staffs at Perrysburg and Central Catholic, a rivalry is a natural thing. “We have been the top dog and people want to beat the top dog. It’s a rivalry. They aren’t going to lay down for us, and we aren’t going to lay down for them.”
Cotterman sees Clay as Perrysburg’s biggest rival since both programs are in the same division and the towns are so close to each other. The rivalry may have peaked this year. While Perrysburg outplaced Clay at the state tournament,  earlier in the season, the Eagles knocked the Yellow Jackets out of the state dual meet tournament in the regional semifinals with a 31-30 tiebreaker victory.
Cotterman sees the advantages to knocking heads with the same kids. “When a wrestler loses to a kid they have beaten, there is a reason for that,” he says.  “He didn’t wake up today better than you. Maybe he has been working out a little more.”
Guerra agrees. “Competition always helps out. The wrestlers in the area all respect each other and the coaches all respect each other, but yeah, we all want to do better than each other.”
Despite the rivalry, the coaches enjoyed the attention the Toledo area was getting at this year’s state tournament.
Cubberly says, “I had a lot of people say what is going on in Toledo? How is this happening? But it wasn’t like it was a fluke. It is just a statement where wrestling is going in the Toledo area. We have committed coaches providing the opportunity for their wrestlers to get better.”

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