"Misfits" of Woodridge wrestling return with big goals
Last year, veteran Woodridge wrestling coach Mike Massey affectionately referred to this team as "The Misfits."
At season's end, however, those misfits had pulled off a remarkable feat.
"We had a such a young and inexperienced team last year," Massey said. "Trying to get out of the Alliance district was tough. I didn't know if we'd get anyone out of there, let alone get three third places. Somehow, we peaked at the right time."
"That experience was good," he added. "With the state meet being cancelled, it was tough, obviously. The thing is, all of those kids accomplished their goals of getting to states."
Thus, as Massey enters his 23rd year in charge of the Bulldogs, the goals are high for Woodridge.
"We’ve known for the last few years that a league championship is a stretch," Massey said. "There's four days of the year where you have to be on and if your not, it doesn't happen.
"We still had a chance if we perform up to our potential," he added. "We always like to the think we have chance. Our goals and purpose remain pretty much."
Regarding life in the new Metro Athletic Conference, Massey said he much will depend on how teams deal with COVID-19.
"Norton, obviously, is going to be a pretty good team," Massey said. "The new factor is here. I’ve lost at least a half a dozen kids because their families don't want them to wrestle in a pandemic. I don’t know how that effects the other teams."
Woodridge's base coaching staff remains intact with Jon Hampshire and Tyler Rex still here. Jason Rickenbacher and former Bulldog Matt Demangeont also are helping.
Even with holdouts, Woodridge will have 29 wrestlers in the room this winter. The Bulldogs most significant graduation losses were state qualifier Miles Ashbaugh and captain/assistant coach Drew Rush.
"I’m thrilled to death with the kids that he have," Massey said.
A cadre of Uzbekistan-native wrestlers has been part of the Bulldogs the last few years. The most experienced is junior district qualifer Abdul Aziz Vokhidov, who will return to start at 106 pounds.
"Hopefully he’ll be there at the end of season at 106," Massey said. "There’s going to be a lot of kids he surprises this year.
Freshman Harvey Kever will spell Vokhidov at 106.
Junior Ubaidulloh Kadirov will get the nod at 113 pounds.
"He set a goal for himself in the August to be a varsity starter," Massey said. "I think he and Abdul Aziz had a plan this year.
The starting spot at 120 pounds will be a toss up between sophomores Noah Wilkinson and Robby Champa.
Senior 126-pounda Nathan Demangeont is one of two returning state qualifiers back in the lineup for the Bulldogs.
"He’s a worker. He’s a year-round guy," Massey said. "He’s just all wrestler. We don't have too many of those. He spends a lot of time with David, my son, He looks great. His goal was the [state] podium last year. He was setting goals on the bus on the way back from districts."
Junior David Thompson transferred home from Walsh Jesuit and will start for the Bulldogs at 132 pounds.
Arguably Woodridge's most improved wrestler over the course of last season, junior district qualifier Luke Radwany will start at 138 pounds.
"This year he looks even better," Massey said. "Luke likes to be on top. He’s one of those kids whose always going to give you everything."
Massey calls junior 145-pounder Kyle McPherson "a fitness freak" who has slimmed down after last year.
Massey is eager to see what sophomore 152-pounder Anthony Lahoski can do this year.
"Anthony loves wrestling," Massey said. "I couldn’t get out of the room. He’s just a grinder. There's nothing pretty about anything he does."
Among Woodridge's incoming freshmen, 160-pounder Steven Duffy has best pedigree, having qualified three times of the OAC junior high state championships.
"He’s still growing," Massey said. "What a great kid and a great family. He's in great shape."
One of only three seniors on the roster, Jett Johnson returns to start at 170 pounds.
After an up-and-down season last year, junior Jason Thompson will start at 182 pounds.
Junior Ian Long will likely get the start at 195 pounds after focusing on other sports the last two years.
"He's a former middle school wrestler and the center on the football team," Massey said. "He works his tail off in the room."
What does Massey think of 220-pound junior Adulaziz Shavkatov?
"This is the kind of a kid where, if I’m walking down a dark alley, I want him on my side," Massey said. "It’s a challenge to him. He’s committed. He's got a nasty headlock."
Rounding out the lineup in junior heavyweight Alistair Larson, who qualified for states last year and is getting Division I college looks for both football and wrestling.
"He told me 'I want to be the best heavyweight Woodridge has ever had," Massey said. "As good as he was last year, he looks so much better now. He came it at 300 pounds and now is down to 285. He’s got the whole package. The biggest thing about his is how intelligent he is."
Woodridge's schedule has undergone multiple changes due to COVID. At present, the Bulldogs are scheduled for a home tri-meet with Mogadore and Mayfield Dec. 17 at 6 p.m.