BEREA, Ohio -- During his first three years at Baldwin Wallace University, fourth-year Head Wrestling Coach Jamie Gibbs worked tirelessly to rebuild his Yellow Jacket team into an Ohio Athletic Conference title contender. This winter, Gibbs and his squad are ready to compete for the title, but know it won't be an easy task.
The Yellow Jackets enter the 2014-2015 season tabbed to tie with perennial OAC power Heidelberg University for second in the annual OAC Coaches PreSeason Dual Match poll. In addition, BW is tabbed 14th in the NWCA (National Wrestling Coaches Association) Division III preseason poll.
"The OAC is an outstanding wrestling conference with some very talented individuals," said Gibbs, who led his team to an 8-3 dual match record a year ago. "We have gotten better each of my first three years and we feel that we will be better again."
This season, Gibbs has 11 lettermen and nine starters back as well as a number of others who could be considered starters and his best recruiting class yet. Overall, Gibbs has 37 grapplers on his roster and no seniors.
"We are fortunate to have a large roster with a number of talented student-athletes competing in camp for the 10 starting positions," said Gibbs. "It is fun to watch the competition in the practice room right now!"
Back to lead the team this winter are a pair of NCAA Division III National Tournament qualifiers in junior 125-pounder All-American Jesse Gunter (Akron/ Coventry) and junior All-OAC 165-pounder David Shapiro (Beachwood). Gunter is ranked third in the NWCA pre-season poll at 125 pounds and Shapiro is tabbed fifth at 165 pounds.
Gunter had a 34-5 record last season and placed third at the Div. III national tourney. Shapiro had a BW single-season school-record 40 wins and was 40-13 and placed second at the Division III Mid-Atlantic Regional tourney. Click Here for BW's final 2013-14 season statistics.
Joining Gunter and Shapiro as returning starters, and based upon who competed at last year's regional tourney, are sophomore 141-pounder Josh Decatur (Akron/Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy), sophomore 157/165-pounder Graham Montague (Independence), junior 174-pounder Garrett Chase (Erie, Pa./Cathedral Prep), junior 184-pounder Ben LeBrun (Strongsville), sophomore 184-pounder Paul Rallis (Ringers, N.J./Hunterdon Central), sophomore 197-pounder Andrew Shackelford (Worthington/Thomas Worthington) and junior 285-pounder Joe Belford (Berea/St. Edward).
"Although we return nine starters from last season, I'm not sure any of our returning kids, whether they started or not, came to pre-season practice thinking I own this job," said Gibbs. "That is a good thing. No one is satified with last year. It was a good year, and they want more. They see the big picture and what we are trying to do as a total program, as a family and as a team.
"The newcomers also are hungry and are pushing the upperclassmen to be better every day," continued Gibbs. "There are seven newcomers who stand out on paper, but we have a really talented group of freshmen and others. That is one of the great parts of being a coach. You get to watch young men grow up, mature and compete.
Overall, I'd have a really tough time telling you who would be in our starting lineup right now," Gibbs finalized.
At 125 pounds, Gunter is the incumbent and will be challenged by red-shirt freshman Reggie Lowery (Shaker Heights) and incoming freshmen Chris Doyle (Uniontown/Green) and Sean Kuklisin (Streetsboro). Doyle is one of seven newcomers that Gibbs felt had a legitimate shot to push for a starting job and he could end up at 133 pounds.
At 133 pounds, BW graduated NCAA Division II national qualifier and current assistant coach Andrew Taylor '14, so the door is wide open to fill his spot in the lineup but the talent runs deep. Look for junior Nick Ramsey (Lakewood) to return to the program after a two-year layoff due to an injury. In addition, freshman Markus Cruz (Lorain/ Clearview) and junior Jacob Landers (Lakota Twp./ Lakota East), who was 8-13 last season, join Ramsey to battle for mat time.
At 141 pounds, Decatur returns as the starter but will be challenged returnees in sophomores Patt McGinnis (Egg Harbor, N.J./Cedar Grove), Jaleel Richardson (Copley) and Zack Taylor (Brunswick). McGinnis was 5-12 last season, Richardson returned after missing his freshman season due to injury and was 3-12 and Taylor produced a 12-14 slate.
The 149-pound class has six contenders with the incumbent, Montague, expected to move to either 157 or 165 pounds. Even so, junior Joey Schmidt (Hinckley/ Brunswick) has two solid seasons under his belt, including a 20-10 mark last season. The other contenders are freshmen Grant Rathburn (New Albany/Columbus Bishop Ready), Sam Delarge (Clifton Park, N.Y./ Albany Academy) and RJ Martin (Sunbury/Big Walnut) and junior Aric Cross (Geneva), who also may compete at 157 pounds. Sophomore Austin Nelapa (Monroe, Ga./Walnut Grove) is on the roster but may miss this season due to an injury. Last season, Cross was 4-12 and Nelapa had a 3-10 mark.
At 157 pounds, junior Garrett Chase (Erie, Pa./Cathedral Prep) is a two-year returning starter and was 27-9 last winter, but he is moving to 174 this season. The top contenders could come from Montague, who was 22-19, sophomore Seamus Bermingham (Orchard Park, N.Y.) and freshmen Tyler Cross (Geneva) and Kaegan Pearsall (Moretown, Vt./Harwood Union). Bermingham had a 7-10 mark and Obergfell a 6-12 slate last season. Sophomore Blake Perry (Jefferson), who was 6-13 a year ago, could split time between 157 and 165 pounds.
Shapiro comes back as the incumbent at 165 pounds after his NCAA tourney appearance. He will be pushed possibly by Chase, sophomore Kenny Faulkner (Beliot/West Branch), who was 8-12 last season, and freshman Jordan Dalton (Mansfield/Lexington).
At 174 pounds, LeBrun is back, but he is moving to 184 pounds. If so, it opens the door for Shapiro to move up or Chase to move two claasses. In addition, freshman James Ritchie (Carlisle) will battle for the open spot in the lineup.
Last fall, LeBrun fashioned a 26-12 mark at 174. He will receive competition at 184 from Rallis, who ended last season as the starter at 197 pounds and had a 10-18 slate, and freshman Gabe Mahaney (North Canton/Green). Also, sophomore Andrew Shackelford (Worthington/ Thomas Worthington) ended last season as the starter at 184 and had an 18-15 mark, but he may compete at 197 this winter.
If Shackelford moves up and Rallis goes back to 197, they will receive stiff competition from sophomore Tyler Keating (Fairview Park/Fairview) and freshmen Tyler Maclellan (Medina/Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy) and Connor Rigsby (Painesville/Riverside). Keating was 5-17 a year ago, and Maclellan is another of the seven key newcomers who could battle for a starting role. He won a state title last year.
At 285 pounds, Belford has started parts of the last two seasons and was 11-8 last season and had 10 pins as a freshman is back. He will battle with freshman Nick Nader (Gahanna/ Lincoln) and Andrew Sierawski (Delaware/Hayes), who is currently playing football and seeing action on the varsity as an offensive lineman.
The Yellow Jackets open the 2014-2015 season on Saturday, November 8 when they travel to University Circle and Cleveland cross-town rival Case Western Reserve University to compete at the Case Wrestling Festival. The first home match is on Friday, November 14 versus the College of Mount St. Joseph in the Rudolph Ursprung Gymnasium of the Lou Higgins Center at 7 p.m. The OAC schedule starts on January 20, 2015 when BW hosts OAC and Cleveland cross-town rival John Carroll University at 7:30 p.m. The highlight of the annual schedule is when BW hosts the 29th Annual John Summa Memorial Tournament on February 7 in the Lou Higgins Center Fieldhouse at 10 a.m.