By Bret Curren
It didn’t take long for West Holmes junior two-time All-Ohioan Cael Woods to make his statement in the new wrestling season.
The West Holmes High School varsity wrestling team opened the 2018-19 season with a fifth-place team standing at the 14-team Southeast Ohio Regional Medical Center Sports & Orthopedics Services Bobcat Invitational Tournament held at Cambridge High School in Cambridge on Saturday, Dec. 1.
Lisbon Beaver Local ran away with the tournament, scoring 318.5 points to easily outdistance Minerva’s 203.5 points, followed by Beloit West Branch with 195, Thornville Sheridan with 174 and the Knights, who finished with 155.5.
“The Cambridge tournament seems to be a great opening tournament every year,” Knights head wrestling coach Scott Vaughn said following the tournament. “There were winnable matches for every kid we brought. It also shows us where we are at this early in the season. I saw a lot of bright spots throughout the tournament and also a lot of things we need to work on. That is the whole point of our matches throughout the year: figure out what needs fixed before the sectional tournament. This tournament lets us see some of the top kids we are going to see in our sectional/district tournament while having very competitive matches at the same time.”
Leading the way for the Knights was junior 120-pounder Cael Woods, who racked up his second straight Bobcat Invite title after posting a dominating 12-4 major decision win over Christian Wayt of Beloit West Branch in the championship match. Woods’ victory over Wayt, a battle between two returning state placers, gave Woods career win number 100. Woods finished the day 4-0 and scored two fall wins, the 58th and 59th of his WHHS career. To put the icing on the cake, Woods also was tabbed as the tournament’s Most Valuable Wrestler.
Vaughn was impressed with Woods’ performance. “Cael had a fabulous tournament. He took care of business in his matches heading into the finals. We knew most of the week we were going to have Wayt, who’s a returning fourth-place finisher and currently ranked number two at 120, from West Branch in the finals. Cael did a great job keeping his composure after getting taken down first to come back and major the returning state placer. He won the MVW of the tournament, and I think that makes him the Knights Varsity Wrestling ‘Man of the Match’ award winner for the tournament as well,” he said.
Sophomore Jack Welsh, wrestling at 106 pounds, earned a runner-up finish, posting two pool round matches to reach the championship semifinals, where he then notched a fall win in 4:32 over A.J. Kimble of Newark Licking Valley to earn a shot at gold. The unseeded Welsh, 3-1 with three falls, had his hands full with number-one seed sophomore Jacob Norris of Minerva in the championship match, dropping a 14-1 major decision loss to Norris.
“It was really nice seeing Jack Welsh closer to weight this year,” Vaughn said of his lightweight. “He was super aggressive and had a nice tournament. He was putting a lot of things together in his first tournament of his sophomore year finishing runner-up.”
Earning bronze medals were juniors Tyler Masters at 126 pounds and Cruz Alexander at 170 pounds.
Masters, the number-two seed, went 2-0 in his pool round matches before losing by fall to freshman sensation Logan Ours of Lisbon Beaver Local in the championship semi’s. The returning Knights’ state placer came back in the bronze medal match, sticking Jeremee Richards of Duncan Falls Philo at the 2:18 mark to finish 3-1 with two fall wins.
Tabbed as the number-three seed, Alexander went 3-0 in his first three pool rounds but then dropped a 10-3 decision to number-two seed Layne Talbot of New Lexington in his final pool round match. That put Alexander in the match for third, and he didn’t mess around, flattening senior David Church of Minerva, the number-four seed, in a quick 0:39 to finish the day 4-1 with three fall wins.
“Tyler has been a little banged up early in the season so far,” Vaughn said of his returning state placer. “He is also a weight class up for the first tournament of the season. Boy, was it a weight class. Tyler handled his opponents till the semifinals when he met freshman Logan Ours from Beaver Local, who beat their two-time state runner-up in a wrestle-off. Tyler came back in dominating fashion to finish third.”
Coach Vaughn also had praise for Alexander and the hard work in the off-season the junior put in.
“Cruz Alexander opened up his tournament by taking care of his opponents like a seasoned vet,” Vaughn said. “Like everyone else in the tournament for us, he has some things to clean up, but this could be Cruz’s breakout season. He has really worked hard this off-season and should be promising.”
The Knights also got fourth-place finishes from freshman Dylan Strouse (113 pounds) and junior Walker Uhl (152 pounds).
Making his first varsity start, the unseeded Strouse went 3-2 with one fall, going 2-0 in his pool round matches including a 7-5 decision win over number-four seed Cole Coleman of Vincent Warren, thus earning a spot in the championship quarterfinals. Strouse kept his winning streak going, knocking off number-three seed Tyler Hicks of Beloit West Branch with a fall win at 2:48. In the championship semifinal Strouse suffered his first setback, losing by fall to top-seeded Blake Sheppard of New Lexington and then losing the third-place match to Jaymin Salsberry of Lisbon Beaver Local by fall.
“Dylan Strouse really impressed me this weekend,” Vaughn said of his promising freshman. “Cael decided to go 120, which threw Dylan into the line-up. Dylan stepped up in a big way taking fourth. He has a funky style that keeps you on the edge of your seat all the time. He showed a lot of promise in his first varsity tournament.”
Seeded third, Uhl went 3-2 with two falls. He started the day with a 3-0 mark in the pool round, making the championship semifinals, where he dropped a hard-fought 4-2 decision to number-two seed Jared Wright of Lisbon Beaver Local. Uhl then faced Dylan Dodson of Newark Licking Valley in the bronze medal match, where he suffered his second loss of the day, an 11-8 decision to the top-seeded Dodson.
Coach Vaughn said Uhl’s jump up in weight for this season didn’t seem to faze the junior.
“Walker Uhl has jumped from 126 last year to 152 this year,” Vaughn said. “He dropped two tight matches to returning state qualifiers in the semis and the third-place match. Considering the sizable jump he made in weight, Walker is right there. He needs to clean a couple things up, and it could be a fantastic upcoming season for him.”
Sophomore Stephen Baldridge, wrestling at 182 pounds, scored a fifth-place finish, topping number-seven seed Christian Vance of New Lexington by fall at 4:10 in the placement match. Baldridge, the number-four seed, finished with a 3-1 mark with all three wins coming by pin.
“Stephen battled all day and dropped a match that I know he wishes he could get back,” Vaughn said. “He made the adjustments that he needed to make mid-tournament to win out for fifth. Stephen had a pretty nice freshman season last season, and I thought he started his sophomore campaign on a positive note.”
Also competing for the Knights were Hunter Bowling (Jr., 138, 1-3, one fall), Gavin Greer (Soph., 160, 1-3, one fall) and Kendel Weber (Jr., 132, 0-3). Wrestling as ‘B’ team nonscoring wrestlers were juniors Jarek Snow (138, 0-3) and Josh Sayers (152, 0-3).