The 2016-17 season was banner one for Woodridge wrestling.
Not only did the Bulldogs win the Portage Trail Conference Tournament outright for the first time, but Woodridge reached the Division II state dual meet tournament, where it lost in the quarterfinals to Wauseon.
Woodridge finished 16-1 in dual meets, including 7-0 in the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division.
"It was a special year," said Bulldogs coach Mike Massey. "It’s hard to say if it was the best season we’ve ever had, but it was the best since I’ve been here. It was good team. They set the bar high."
Despite the loss of five seniors — including two-time Metro Division wrestler of the year Eli Yoho — Massey said his team hasn’t dropped its expectations, as he enters his 21st year in charge of the Bulldogs. He notes several of his wrestlers feel they have unfinished business.
"We’ve got 12 seniors on this team. It will be interesting to see where things are going," he added. "We’ve got lofty goals. We want to get back to the state duals. Winning the PTC Tournament was huge for us, much bigger than some people realize."
Massey noted winning the Metro Division could be a bigger challenge this winter.
"We squeaked by Norton by two or three points last year," Massey said. "I think they’ve got to have a good program. Cloverleaf could be good because they had a fantastic middle school team. We’ll see if they have some good freshmen."
Massey’s assistant coaches include Jon Hampshire, Lambert McElrath and Tyler Rex
Massey said he will have pair of undersized wrestlers fighting for the starting spot at 106 pounds in freshman Nate Demangeont and junior Jacob Repay.
Returning starter Drew Rush, a sophomore, has the edge to start at 113 pounds. Rush has that edge because his chief competition — junior Beau Hardy —broke his hand in the preseason and could be sidelined for a month.
Massey expects the starting job at 120 pounds to be "a sough after spot" in the Bulldogs lineup.
Senior Alex Vass is back with the Bulldogs after qualifying for districts during his freshman and sophomore years, but not wrestling last year. However, his chief rival to start at 120 could be his twin brother Jordan Vass.
There’s no doubt who’s starting at 126 pound for Woodridge. After going 41-9 last year and finishing sixth in Division II at 126, senior David Massey — the coach’s son — has eyes on becoming Woodridge’s first state champion since Chris Hamed in 2004
"He thinks that he’s one of the best 126 pound wrestlers in the state of Ohio," coach Massey said of his son. "His goal is to make it to the state championship match. I think if he gets there, he believes he can win it. He’s got very lofty goals. He’s dead set."
While junior Brandon Reeves might be a natural 126 pounder, he likely will get the start at 132 pounds. After joining Woodridge last winter after transferring was Cuyahoga Falls, Reeves finished one win shy of reaching states at 120 pounds last season.
"He’s grown three inches. He’s done a lot of work in the weight room, which he didn’t do until he got to Woodridge," Massey said. "He and David are drill partners now, which is only going to help."
Much of the Bulldogs’ middleweight lineup will be filled out by wrestlers who have waited their turns for a starting spot.
At 138 pounds, a three-way fight between senior Brian Fay, senior Aamir Abudullah-Thomas and junior Justin Rickenbacker could last all season.
A similar situation is developing at 145 pounds, as seniors Angelo Frammartino and Casey Teodecki will compete to start after seeing spot time in the Bulldogs lineup during the last two years. Sophomore Andrew Keller will provide some depth.
After reaching the state meet as a sophomore, off-mat issues forced Isaac Yoho to leave the Bulldogs before last winter’s postseason. Massey admitted he didn’t know if the larger Yoho twin would be back for his senior year, but he’s been pleasantly surprised.
"He is as healthy and focused now as he’s ever been," Massey said. "It’s been great to see. He’s ranked eighth right now at 160, but he won’t be going there."
Massey notes senior Matt Demangeont has been the prototypical utility man for Woodridge the last two years. He’s ready to start at 160 pounds.
"I can’t say enough about Matt," Massey said. "He’s the kid will come to practice during sectional, district and state week just to make sure somebody has a drill partner."
Senior two-sport star Spencer Robinson is back at 170 pounds after finishing 1-2 at states last year. Massey looks for big things from Robinson, now that his All-Ohio football career is over.
"With him making the decision to wrestle in college and not playing college football, he wants to do well this year to prove he can do it," Massey said. "Football is over now. We still haven’t seen the best from Spencer."
It will be a spirited fight for the starting spot at 182 pounds between junior Noah Samerdak, sophomore Kevin Baker and freshman Dayshawn Garr, whom Massey calls "a physical specimen."
Sophomore 195-pounder Miles Ashbaugh took his lumps last year, but looks to improve in his second year as a starter.
However, Ashbaugh might have to bump up a weight class if junior Jack Kerlee cuts down to 195. If not, Kerlee will start at 220 pounds after showing steady improvement in his first two seasons.
Rounding out the starting lineup will be senior heavyweight Austin Hindley. The 260-pound Hindley will start for the third straight year and look to reach states after finishing one win shy last season.
"He looks strong. He looks in good shape," Massey said. "He’s ready to end it on a good time. His shoulder got banged up in his go-to match last year. If he doesn’t get hurt, he wins."
Sophomore Richie Fisher (250 pounds) will serve as backup heavyweight.
Woodridge’s season will get off to a bit of late start, as the Bulldogs will open the season at the Hudson Holiday Tournament Dec. 15 and 16. First match Dec. 15 is set for 5 p.m.