A new head coach after 26 years hasn’t seemed to deter the West Holmes Knights wrestling team from carrying on the same success it experienced under former longtime head coach Jeff Woods.
With rookie coach Scott Vaughn at the helm, the Knights entered an extremely tough sectional tournament at Uhrichsville Claymont High School on Saturday, Feb. 24 and sent seven wrestlers on to the district level as well as placing a trio of alternates.
“That’s a really solid day for us,” Vaughn said of his team’s effort. “That’s 10 out of 12 wrestlers including the three alternates. Last year Walker Uhl was an alternate, and he got into districts, so there is always a chance. Overall we wrestled about as well as we could have. There are some pretty tough kids here.”
With a two-site sectional, West Holmes had the option of going into the Claymont tournament or the Whitehall-Yearling. While the W-Y sectional would have been easier, Vaughn opted to dive into the tougher Claymont sectional like several others teams including eventual sectional champion Carrollton and Indian Valley. This set up a tougher road in sectionals, but at the same time the program placed wrestlers in the opposite brackets of Carrollton, runner-up Claymont, which lost by two points to Carrollton, and Indian Valley, which ended up third.
“We opted to go to the tougher sectional to set ourselves up in better position in the district tournament,” Vaughn said. “I hope it pays off because I would love to be very busy down at the state tournament.”
With the top-four wrestlers advancing to districts in each weight class, West Holmes made hay in the light-weight divisions, placing its first five wrestlers among the top four, setting the tone for a fourth-place finish.
Freshman Cael Woods was dominant (106 pounds, 4-1 record) with no match going longer than 1:09 as he marched to a sectional title. Next up was sophomore Tyler Masters (113 pounds, 43-2 record), who also looked great in charging to the finals, where he won 5-1 over Claymont’s Jarrett Warrington.
Senior Thane Kaufman (120, 40-7) hammered his way to the finals, where he met Indian Valley rival and top-seed Brady O’Connor (39-4). O’Connor took control early and wound his way to a 6-1 win over Kaufman.
Walker Uhl (126, 32-12) battled to the finals, where he ran into a buzz saw in top-seeded Dalton Burcher (35-5) of Indian Valley. Burcher dominated from the get-go and ran to an 11-2 win over Uhl.
Jarek Snow (132, 10-21) dropped his first bout of the weekend but battled back to capture fourth place by getting a quick fall win in 34 seconds over Kaden Bozarth of Cambridge.
Hunter Bowling (138, 26-18) also dropped his first match but fought his way back into a fifth-place alternate spot. At 152 pounds sophomore Cruz Alexander won his opener before succumbing to top seed and one-loss superstar Justin Shaw of Carrollton. Shaw would go on to capture the title, but Alexander (30-16) would respond to his loss by winning two matches, one in a 57-second fall and the battle for third place by an 8-6 decision over Indian Valley’s Zach Love.
Tre Anderson picked up one victory on his way to a fifth-place finish at 160 pounds while at 182 pounds Knights’ junior Josh Baldridge (27-3) cruised to the finals but dropped a 3-2 decision to number-two-seeded Alex Carrothers (31-8) in the finals, having to settle for second place.
Stephen Baldridge picked up the Knights’ third alternate fifth-place finish by going 2-2. He picked up the alternate designation by taking down Philo’s Dalton Pickens in 3:54 in the battle for fifth place.
“We had a great week of practice, had a little time off to rest and we got to work on some little things, and I think it really showed today,” Vaughn said. “I was pleased with Walker making the finals, and I thought Tyler Masters had a really great tournament. He faced a really tough freshman from St. Clairesville, and Warrington was a returning state qualifier from last year.”
Josh Baldridge continues to round into form after suffering a hand injury mid-season that caused him to miss a large chunk of time.
“As far as Josh goes, I think his conditioning is almost back to where it needs to be, and we are continuing to clean up some technical things with him,” Vaughn said. “The kid he lost to in the finals is a nice wrestler.”
The Knights will be right back at Claymont High School for the district tournament, where a top-four spot will qualify wrestlers for a berth at the state meet.