Last winter, year one of the Tyler Buckwalter era of Stow-Munroe Falls wrestling, the Bulldogs made some strides.
Now Buckwalter hopes Stow wrestling can make a push into the big time.
"I think we grew a lot last year," Buckwalter said. "I think we did our best wrestling at the end of the year. We’re still relatively young. We have only have four seniors, but we have guys that have experience in the varsity lineup. We’re excited for this year.
Stow went 9-6 in dual meets, including 3-4 in the Suburban League National Conference. However, the Bulldogs finished fourth at sectionals and advanced seven wrestlers to districts.
What’s more, Buckwalter said Stow started to build a better culture within Stow wrestling.
"It starts in the youth program. If you grow up with wrestling, you tend to stay with it in high school," Buckwalter said. "We’re kind of trying to develop a better relationship with the school and the community to get them excited about wrestling as well."
While that process is ongoing, Bucklwalter notes enthusiasm is running high for the Bulldogs who have 35 wrestlers on the roster.
"We’ve had more competition in the room," Buckwalter said. "We just had our wrestle offs. It’s been fun to watch."
Buckwalter said he would like to "close the gap" on National Conference powers Brecksville-Broadview Heights and Wadsworth, noting a third-place finish in conference would be "a great goal for us." Another goal for Stow this winter will be advancing more than one wrestler to the state meet, which hasn’t happened for Stow in more than a decade.
Stow’s assistant coaches include J.R. Stewart, Art Helfeldt, Mike Bilderback, Todd Remenarick, Logan Reidheld and James Branchik.
At 106 pounds, freshman Chase Mygrants will get the start after a solid career at Kimpton Middle School.
Sophomore 113-pounder Luke Marconi was one of several Bulldogs who peaked at the end of the season as he reached districts despite being undersized at 106 pounds.
Marconi has grown to a full-sized 113-pounder, but he has competition to start from sophomore Jason Balman and freshman Micah Bentley. Bentley is coming off a solid freshman cross country season.
"He is a super hard worker," Buckwalter said. "We’re kind of excited to see what he can do this season. All three of those guys are all kind of in the mix."
Buckwalter said Balman or Bentley likely will bump up to 120 pounds during the course of the season.
Sophomore Vince Randall is another of Stow’s young district qualifiers, who will get the nod at 126 pounds.
"He’s a gamer. He’s good in the big matches," Buckwalter said. "He knows what he has to get better."
Senior district qualifier Josh Lundstrom will start at 132 pounds and look to earn his first trip to the state tournament.
"Josh has a super high motor," Buckwalter said. "He wins a lot of matches in the third period. The matches he loses, he loses because he has to come from behind. We want him to wrestle a little smarter this year. It’s his last hurrah and he’s ready."
After wrestling at 120 last season, sophomore Matt Huffman will get the nod at 138 pounds. Junior Brayden Cowger will provide depth in the 138- to 145-pound range.
The most pleasant surprise of the postseason last year for Stow was sophomore J.R. Reed, who went from having a so-so season to winning the sectional championship at 126 pounds. Reed will start at 145 pounds and is looking for even more this year.
"He was very close last year," Buckwalter said. "He was wrestling freestyle last spring. He’s doing all the right things.
Without question, Stow’s leader on and off the mat will be senior 152-pounder Dan Patten. A two-time All-Ohioan who finished fifth at 145 last year in Division, Patten said he is in state title or bust mode, hoping to end a 20-year state title drought at Stow.
"That’s the only goal this year," Patten said. "I don’t really stop wrestling ever. I took two weeks off this summer and got back to it. It’s pretty nice to have the whole recruiting thing behind me. Now, it’s just concentrating on wrestling."
Patten committed to wrestle at Cleveland State in November. Buckwalter said his impact on the program has been immense.
"He’s one of the most dedicated athletes that I’ve coached, even at the college level," Buckwalter said. "He’s always looking to get better. He’s a great recruiter for the program. It’s one thing to get it from the coaches, it’s another to hear it from a classmate. He’s definitely helped grow the program."
Sophomore Will Edmonson will start at 160 pounds this winter after dealing with injuries last season.
"He was a football guy. He got a lost stronger thanks to the weight room," Buckwalter said. "This year, he’s a solid 160. He’s got to open up his offense a little more."
Junior Ty Bukowski looks to have the edge to start at 170 pounds, but Buckwalter notes there are a few guys pushing for time, including junior Tyler Benci.
Buckwalter has been impressed by freshman 182-pounder Teddy Gregory.
"He’s a super athlete," Buckwalter said. "I’ve been very impressed by the way he moves. As a freshman, he’s going to face some older kids at 182 pounds."
Freshman Jack Perry also could see time at 182 pounds, as Buckwalter notes Stow has no 195-pounder at the moment.
Stow got a big boost when senior Chad Woliver decided to wrestle this winter. A multi-year starter at linebacker for the Stow football team, Buckwaller noted Woliver is a another "super athlete" and has some mat experience from his days in middle school.
At the moment, Stow’s starter at heavyweight will be Brad Leonard, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound freshman who had a successful football season and wrestled in middle school.
Stow was set to open the season Friday and Saturday at the Solon Comet Classic.
"We’re excited to see what a lot of our guys can do," Buckwalter said. "We don’t see a lot of the teams who wrestle there. I like that about the tournament. It’s a good test of where we are in week one."
Up next, Stow will wrestle at quad meet at Streetsboro Dec. 12 with Aurora and Crestwood. First match is set for 5:30 p.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO