With a solid senior class to lead the way, Teays Valley coach Todd Nace has big expectations this season for his wrestling team.
“We have a very challenging schedule, especially in December, to help prepare our kids for the push at the end of the season with the league tournament and then going into the postseason,” he said. “We want to win the Mid-State League (Buckeye Division) championship again, we want to win a trophy at the district tournament and we want to finish as high in the top 10 as we can at the state championships.
“Our kids are really working hard in the room. To achieve those goals, we’ll obviously need our leaders to win and score some bonus points and then develop some of our younger kids along the way this season. We want to get as many kids to the district tournament as possible and win as many matches as we can.”
The Vikings are led by two-time Division I state finalist and Nebraska signee Camden McDanel, who will wrestle at 190 pounds. McDanel has posted an exceptional record of 85-7 over the past two seasons.
“Camden is a silent leader who leads by his work ethic, drive and determination,” Nace said. “After a practice, I can point over at Camden and he has completely soaked through his second t-shirt of the day because he is working so hard. Our kids see what Camden has accomplished and it gives them something to shoot for.”
Gunner Havens placed fifth at the state championships last season and is projected to wrestle at 113 pounds, and heavyweight Joey Thurston fell just short of placing by one win.
The Vikings also added Braxton Sheets, a state qualifier last season for Grove City, who will be inserted into the lineup at 126 pounds.
“Our senior class is going to lead us,” Nace said. “Gunner is a three-time state qualifier, a state placer last season, and he has been helping to run the room and has done everything we’ve asked of him. He’s ready to take the next step.
“Joey is bigger and stronger than he was last season and is a gentle but deadly giant. When he’s zoned in, he can put it to you. Braxton has brought a different tempo to our room, and he is going to help us in the middle weights. He has a tremendous work ethic that fits in well with our team.”
Nace has also been pleased with the offseason that Gavin Karshner has turned in. The senior will wrestle at 215 pounds.
“Gavin came back 10-to-15 pounds stronger and he is coming off a good football season where he was a leader on their team,” he said. “Last year was the first year he had wrestled since middle school, and he has carried over that maturity he’s gained knowledge, he looks a lot better on the mat and he’s got some good work in on the mats against Camden and some of our other guys at those weights. I’m excited to see what he can do.”
Wesley Henderson (144) and Owen Robinett (150) lead the junior class after qualifying for district competition a season ago. Nace also has his eye on 165-pound Austin Blackburn.
“All of those guys have put in time, they’ve worked hard and have done a good job so far,” Nace said. “Austin really put in a lot of time with his brother Dylan during the spring and summer, and he’s bigger and stronger than last year. Wesley has moved from 126 to 144. He’s bigger, stronger and a super tough kid who has matured.”
Roman Younger leads the sophomore class as a returning district qualifier who will wrestle at 138 pounds. Dylan Blackburn (157) and Aiden Kennedy (157) are also wrestlers to keep an eye on.
Freshman Josh Zimmer placed last season in the junior high state tournament and is ranked 14th in the state this season at 120 pounds. Nace will also be looking be watching how freshmen Aiden Timson and Hayden Shambaugh develop in their transition to the high school mats.
“Josh has been wrestling with our high school kids since the spring, so that allowed him to get a jump in preparing for his freshman season,” Nace said. “He went to a national tournament in Ocean City, Maryland and went 4-2 against some pretty solid competition.”
The Vikings will also feature their first girls wrestling team that includes six grapplers this season, led by junior Ava Miller, who placed at a coaches’ sponsored state tournament last season at 105 pounds.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association is sponsoring girls wrestling for the first time this season and the state tournament will be wrestled alongside the boys at The Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center from March 10-12.
“Ava placed fourth last season and I think she has a shot to win the whole thing this season with her work ethic, desire and determination,” Nace said. “It’ll be nice for Ava to go to state alongside the boys and get to wrestle in that building and atmosphere.”
The Vikings have a tough December schedule that includes the Marysville Duals on Saturday and a pair of two-day tournaments at Barnesville and Brecksville. Teays Valley will also send a trio of wrestlers to the prestigious Walsh Jesuit Ironman tournament.
“We’re going to have some younger kids who come into sectional at 15-12 or something and then win three matches there,” Nace said. “This schedule is going to challenge our kids and get them ready for the stretch run later in the season.
“Brecksville is a tournament where you have 32 kids from all three divisions wrestling in a weight class. If you place there, then you know you have something pretty solid.”