Logan Riely | WOUB

Ohio Wrestling Enters 2015-16 With Lofty Expectations

Posted on:

< < Back to

With just two days before the 2015-16 wrestling season kicks off, the Ohio Bobcats are ready to turn preseason expectations into results. The Bobcats are ranked 15th by Wrestling Insider Magazine (WIN) and 21st by InterMat in preseason polls, and are picked to finish second in the Mid-American Conference by the conference’s own poll.

And there is good reason to be optimistic with four NCAA qualifiers returning to the mats for one final season. All-American 174-pounder Cody Walters, along with Sparty Chino, 157 pounds, Andrew Romanchik, 184, and Phil Wellington, 197, make up the quartet of redshirt seniors that will be leading the Bobcats.  All four are ranked in InterMat’s and WIN’s top-20 individual weight class rankings.

But despite the high numbers, maybe they still aren’t high enough. Romanchik still takes exception to the preseason rankings.

“Honestly I think we are underrated still,” he said. “I don’t think we get as much credit as we deserve. But I think we deal with the expectations well. We don’t let it hurt us. We use it as inspiration, trying to prove it.”

Last season, Walters and Chino made the longest run into the 2015 NCAA Championships, as both fell just short in the round-of-12 and of achieving All-American status.

After two quick exits from the national tournament in his freshman and sophomore season, Chino made some noise in the 157 bracket, and cited that run as a motivator for his senior season.

“The round-of-12 was something like I never experienced before—20,000 people on their feet, screaming,” Chino said. “It was deafening. It was crazy. But now I’ve been there. Do I want to say I was in the round-of-12, a match away from being an All-American, or that I’m going to be an All-American?”

Heading into his last year of college competition, Walters is excited to make up for a disappointing end to his junior season, and he’s feeling as good as ever. The 174-pounder is controlling his weight “really well for the first time ever.” That will only help him more in the practices, as he can focus less on weight loss and more on technique. Along with lofty national tournament aspirations in his sights, the former All-American is eyeing a four-peat at the Mid-American Conference Championships.

Like Walters and Chino, Wellington is looking to return to the NCAA Championships for the fourth consecutive season, and after claiming runner-up honors at the last two MAC Championships, he is aiming to finally take the top spot on the conference podium.  Entering his last season, a supremely confident Wellington said he’ll be wrestling with a chip on his shoulder and with “a lot of fuel” in his fire.

Coming off a usual season in which he jumped up three weight class midseason, Romanchik ventures to build on a successful junior campaign and return to nationals for a second time. In his first two seasons, Romanchik competed at 149 and 157 pounds. Back then, he commonly made drastic weight cuts to compete in those classes. After injuries left the Bobcats without a definite starter at 184 pounds, Romanchik made the jump. For the first time in years he wasn’t cutting weight—in the new weight class he was actually wrestling as much as 10 pounds underweight—and wrestling at a more comfortable weight allowed him to flourish. Now with a full offseason of training for his new weight class, and a full season to compete there, he is primed to make some noise.

Besides the four former qualifiers, there will be some younger and some newer faces in head coach Joel Greenlee’s starting lineup.

At 149 pounds, redshirt sophomore Cullen Cummings gets the baton passed on to him after the NCAA denied Tywan Claxton’s appeal for another year of athletic eligibility. Though Cummings lacks the varsity experience that Claxton brought to the mat, Greenlee has confidence in his new starter, even if that’s something the 149-pounder might lack in himself.

“I think Cullen Cummings is every bit as good as Tywan Claxton,” Greenlee said. “He’s just not as confident. And I think Cullen is getting better and better every day. Once he gets the confidence I think he’s going to be really good.”

Just as the ‘Cats are losing a two-time national qualifier at 149 pounds, they suffer the same fate at 165 pounds with the graduation of Harrison Hightower. Likely following in Hightower’s footsteps is redshirt freshman Austin Reese, who learned plenty from Hightower in the practice room last season. In Reese’s redshirt season he won more than 20 games and won four opens.

And if it’s not Reese at 165, Armenian newcomer Arsen Ashughyan could see some time wrestling in that slot.

A familiar face is back at 141 pounds, as Noah Forrider returned to the lineup after medically redshirting last season. Last year, Forrider looked to build on an impressive freshman campaign of the 2013-14 season, but in early December he dislocated his thumb in a dual against Appalachian State. The injury did significant ligament damage and required season-ending surgery. All wasn’t lost with the injury, however. In his time off the mats, Forrider studied his teammates closely as they wrestled, and he learned from watching. He’ll take that cerebral side of wrestling and apply it to his sophomore season, and hopefully a deep postseason run.

After Zack Parker and Jesse Webb split time at heavyweight as freshmen a season ago, it looks as though it is Webb’s job in the 2015-16 season. Webb finished the season getting majority of the starting reps at 285, and he finished fifth at the MAC Championships.

Last season Greenlee wrestled two men at heavyweight until he found his starter, and that is the same strategy he will employ at 125 and 133 pounds.

In the coming weeks, Shakur Laney, Angelo Disabato and Hayden Lee will vie for the 125-pound slot in Greenlee’s lineup. Laney is a gifted athlete, but relative to his teammates, he is still newer to wrestling and has a lot of raw potential. Disabato is a redshirt senior that has struggled with injuries in the past, but is finally healthy. Lee is a scrappy Arizona State transfer, returning to Ohio, where he won a state title in high school.

At 133 pounds, Greenlee will decided between senior Kevon Powell, who competed at 125 pounds for the past three seasons, and freshman Cameron Kelly. Before joining the Bobcats squad, Kelly was a two-time state champion and two-time runner up in Ohio at Bellbrook High School.

“Cam Kelley is probably one of the best freshmen we have ever had,” Greenlee said. “He can really make noise nationally as a freshman.”

In the Bobcats’ Green and White Intrasquad Meet, Laney beat Disabato by a 5-2 decision and Kelly took a 6-2 decision over Josh Parrett. Despite the freshmen’s victories, Greenlee will put more stock in his wrestlers’ performances at the Eastern Michigan Duals and subsequent competitions before deciding on a starter.

To start their season, the Bobcats hit the mats at the EMU Duals on Saturday from Ypsilanti, Michigan. The ‘Cats will take on some stiff competition in Northwestern, Edinboro and Michigan State. Their fist dual is set for 9 a.m. against Northwestern.