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HIGH SCHOOL PREVIEW (part II) FOR DECEMBER 8: A very intriguing Ironman awaits

By Rob Sherrill, W.I.N. High School Editor

After a couple of weeks of preliminaries, the first major event of the wrestling season takes place this weekend as the Walsh Ironman tournament takes place starting tomorrow at Walsh Jesuit High in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

For many of these schools, it is the preliminaries; the Ironman being the first event of their season. What a way to lift the curtain!

Between those entering full teams and those entering one or more individuals, a total of 51 schools - an all-time high - have at least one competitor in the event. It's also the traditional first meeting of the season between the nation's two acknowledged powerhouses, Blairstown (N.J.) Blair Academy and Lakewood St. Edward High.

Blair has gotten the best of every match-up thus far, but two of the last three have been close: a 1.5-point victory over Chesapeake (Va.) Great Bridge High and a four-point win over the Eagles. With so many other tough teams and individuals in the field, expect this match-up to be close again with one match here or there possibly making the difference in such a crowded field.

This is our preview of this year's Ironman:

103 pounds: The first of several eagerly-anticipated finals awaits between a pair of Cadet National champions from Ohio, sophomore state champion David Taylor of St. Paris Graham High and freshman Logan Stieber of Monroeville High. The two won at Fargo at 98 and 105, respectively, and are the top two seeds. Stieber's projected semifinal match against St. Edward freshman Jamie Clark, the Cadet National champion at 91 pounds, could be a match for the ages as well. The fourth seed, sophomore Sam White of Massillon Perry High, also was a Cadet National All-American and is dangerous as well.

112 pounds: This is the tournament's most dangerous weight class. Not only is it loaded, it contains more plot twists and turns than any other, especially with the lower seeds. Start with perhaps the two most unheralded but dangerous wrestlers in the field, sophomore state runner-up Tony Ramos of Carol Stream (Ill.) Glenbard North High and freshman Cadet National runner-up Chris Villalonga of Blair Academy. Seeded No. 5 and No. 12, respectively, that means they'll square off in the round of 16 - yes, the round of 16 - in the meet's biggest early showdown. Ramos has destroyed his early competition at 119 and we'll see. The top four seeds, Junior National champion Ben Sergent of Troy Christian High, Steve Mitcheff of Elyria High, Ohio State recruit Bo Touris of West Chester Lakota High and Danny Genetin of Massillon Perry High, are highly-ranked and show Ohio's depth. But with three other state champions and five other state place-winners also in this field, they don't stand significantly above the rest. Look for more lower seeds to make an impact here than at any other weight class.

119 pounds: This is a deep weight class as well, but they're all chasing the top seed and the defending champion, California state champion Nikko Triggas of Moraga Campolindo High. The Ohio State recruit will be eager to make his final Ironman appearance a good one in front of his future fans. Second-seeded Travis Coffey of Boone (N.C.) Watauga High is a two-time state champion who's been successful everywhere he's been. He leads a group of 10 or so seeds who all have an equal shot at the next two spots behind Triggas.

125 pounds: Unlike many of the other weight classes, it may be the No. 3 seed, sophomore state champion Collin Palmer of St. Edward, who seems the clear favorite. The only questions to date have been whether he can handle the rigors of 125 pounds, but if he wins, he'll have staked a serious claim. He'll be involved in one of two great quarterfinal matches against Pennsylvania state champion Colin Johnston of Canonsburg Canon-McMillan High, the No. 6 seed. Ditto in the other bracket between Blair's Anthony Valles (No. 4) and Missouri-bound Troy Dolan of Derry (Pa.) High, a two-time state champion.

130 pounds:Back down to the weight class where he breezed to the Junior National freestyle title, Blair's Kellen Russell should win this weight class with bonus points. His future college coach, Michigan's Joe McFarland, will be a very interested spectator. Lower seeds also are likely to break through at this weight class. Some to watch: Great Bridge's Derek Gillespie (No. 5), St. Edward's Neil Birt (No. 6), Pennsburg (Pa.) Upper Perkiomen High's Shane Smith (No. 10) and Lombard (Ill.) Montini High's Andrew Saunders (No. 13).

135 pounds: It's all about the top three here. Blair's Max Shanaman is another solid favorite with bonus point possibilities. Two-time state champion Ben Jordan of Graham (No. 2) and fast-developing Chris Diaz of Camden Wyoming (Del.) Caesar Rodney High will wrestle a semifinal that's closer than the experts think. Just when you've sat back down after the Ramos-Villalonga thriller, don't miss another great round of 16 matchup between Matt Nelson of Glenshaw (Pa.) Shaler High and double Cadet National placewinner Andrew Gasber of St. Edward, perhaps the best No. 8 vs. No. 9 match in the field.

140 pounds: This is the deepest weight class since 112, with a dynamite match-up at the top: Junior National All-Americans Mario Mason of Blair and Pennsylvania recruit Zack Kemmerer of Upper Perkiomen. There are potentially great semifinals as well: Mason vs. Shaler's Nick Nelson and Kemmerer vs. St. Edward's Shawn Harris. Harris' quarterfinal match against Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller's Germane Lindsey - who beat him in the Division 1 state tournament a year ago - will be a grudge match as well as a key in the team standings. Nelson also will have a tough one against Glenbard North's Vince Ramos, a two-time state place-winner.

145 pounds: Now safely back in the Caesar Rodney blue and gold, two-time Cadet National champion Alex Meade should win this weight class easily, though returning Ironman place-winners occupy the next three seeds: three-time Colorado state place-winner Jesse Snider of Parker Ponderosa High, Coby Boyd of St. Paris Graham High and Andrew Clement of Christiansburg (Va.) High. Don't count out the next two seeds, Aaron Nestor of Greenville (Pa.) H.A. Reynolds High and Dan Gonsor of Lakewood St. Edward High.

152 pounds: Defending champion Eric Medina is another key to Blairstown (N.J.) Blair Academy's bid to repeat. After finishing second in the National Prep Championships last year and failing to place in the Junior Nationals, Medina enters his second year with something to prove. Massillon Perry High's Thomas Straughn, up three weights from last year, is still a deserving No. 2 seed. Watch a pair of great quarterfinals between Ironman place-winner Sam Rakes of Christiansburg and Cadet National place-winner Trey Edmonds of Reno (Nev.) Damonte Ranch High and National Prep contenders Michael Bressler of Camp Springs (Md.) Progressive Christian Academy and Dave Ebbott of Fort Washington (Pa.) Germantown Academy, also up three weight classes.

160 pounds: The talk has been whether Ohio State recruit Sean Nemec of St. Edward would go at 152 or 160. He's at 160 for the Ironman and appears headed for a great final showdown against Jason Welch of Las Lomas (Calif.) High, one of the stars of a fine California junior class. Pennsylvania standouts Matt Ryan of Canonsburg Canon-McMillan High (No. 5) and Maryland recruit Brian Letters of Pittsburgh Fox Chapel High (No. 7) could be upset machines.

171 pounds: Lombard (Ill.) Montini High's Mike Benefiel, a three-time state champion and Northwestern recruit, is the top seed, but the top seven wrestlers all are serious title threats. Check out these quarterfinals: St. Edward's Brian Roddy (No. 2) vs. Division 2 champion Cody Magrum of Oak Harbor High; Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny High's Rob Waltko (No. 3) vs. Blair Academy newcomer Corey Peltier; and Reynolds' Lawrence Beckman (No. 4) vs. Graham's David Thompson if Thompson survives another tough round of 16 match-up against Ironman place-winner Tim Hill of Chesapeake (Va.) Great Bridge High.

189 pounds: Yet another member of Ohio State's stellar recruiting class, state champion John Weakley of Cuyahoga Falls Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, will venture across Wyoga Lake Road to defend his title. The second seed, junior two-time West Virginia state champion Dave Thomas of Parkersburg High, will take the mat just six days after quarterbacking the Big Reds football team to a 14-0 record and the Class 3A state title. St. Edward's Chris Honeycutt (No. 3) faces an intriguing quarterfinal match-up against Great Bridge's Scott Cust, up two weights from last season. So does David Marone (No. 4) of Broomfield (Colo.) High, who faces Nick Purdue of Genoa Area High in his first shot at the big time.

215 pounds: Their Junior National finals bout was decided by a single point and this final between Christiansburg's Cody Gardner and Blair Academy's Jared Platt could go down to the wire as well. A close team race could add extra drama to the match-up. Montini's Ethan Winel (No. 4), a Tennessee-Chattanooga recruit, and Youngstown Boardman High's Justin Powell square off in a quarterfinal highlight.

Heavyweight: Now nearly 15 months off major knee surgery, Northwestern recruit Ben Kuhar of St. Edward is the top seed. A victory - or at least a high finish - will be crucial to St. Edward's title hopes. Two Ironman finalists, Garrett Goebel of Montini and Frank Becker of Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller High, are set to meet in the other semifinal, with Goebel needing a win to keep Montini's title hopes alive.

The team race

It's probably blasphemy to think that this is more than a two-team race and it probably isn't. With four likely champions - Russell, Shanaman, Mason and Medina - in the middle of the Blair Academy lineup, plus potential finalists in Valles and Platt, it's hard to imagine anyone outscoring Blair with that much top-level firepower. But if Palmer steps up at 125, as we think he will, and Nemec, Roddy and Kuhar have solid outings, St. Edward will be in the chase. Both teams could have as many as nine place-winners. The battle for third place will be tighter. Best bets: Graham, Massillon Perry, Christiansburg, Montini and Caesar Rodney.

Our top 10:
1. Blair Academy, 235
2. St. Edward, 221
3. St. Paris Graham, 169.5
4. Massillon Perry, 144
5. Christiansburg, 143.5
6. Montini, 139
7. Caesar Rodney, 133
8. Archbishop Moeller, 128
9. Upper Perkiomen, 119
10. Reynolds, 108

For more W.I.N. high school coverage, go to:

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