MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon wrestling squad began this season loaded with seniors, with a list of expectations to match.
Every wrestling season, however, is a long and painful uphill climb.
The Yellow Jackets will have to weather a few injuries and resolve a slight logjam of wrestlers in the lower weight classes as they continue to struggle toward their goals.
Sophomore Dylan Pauley, at 103 pounds, is having a good start (9-4) for the Yellow Jackets. He went 1-2 in the Jackets’ recent tournament in Dayton. Pauley has a lot of wrestling experience already.
“He was matched with a kid from Graham, who was third in the state,” said Mount Vernon coach John Brown. “Then he came back and lost another hard-fought one. He also wrestled in middle school and he was also in our Little Stinger program. We hope that we can bring along a lot of our kids slowly, but it’s not always the case. Some of them have to jump in the lineup, like Dylan did last year as a freshman.”
The 112-pound spot is held by second-year senior Mike Vilfer (6-7), who has stepped in nicely for the Jackets.
“He came out last year,” said Brown. “He wrestled a lot of jayvee matches for us last year. This year he has been able to step in and step it up on the varsity level. It’s hard. They’ve got to move along quicker. Their learning curve has got to be better. We’ve got a couple of kids in that situation. In the last couple of years, it seems that we have a couple of kids come out late in high school and do a decent job. I wish that we had gotten hold of them as freshmen and had them for two more years.”
Matt Belcher (119) is one of the big guns in Brown’s lineup. Currently 12-5, the two-time district placer is looking to go even further this season.
“Matt’s been around with us since Little Stinger, middle school and, now, high school,” said Brown. “He’s trying to step it up. As you get older in high school, you start realizing, more and more, what you have to do. He was on the Junior Olympic team with us [in the offseason] and he got a lot of experience out there.”
Kenny Henault (3-1), also 119, is waiting for either Matt or himself to get down to 112 pounds so he can get more mat time.
“Kenny is in one of those situations,” said Brown. “There’s just a lot of seniors on this team.”
Mason Smith, another two-time district qualifier, is 15-3 in the 125-pound slot and was seventh at the Dayton tournament.
“He felt like he should have finished higher,” said Brown. “He lost to a kid that he had beaten the night before, then that kid went on to take third. Mason has had a real good season so far. The biggest thing I am seeing from Mason and my other seniors is confidence. They are where they are believing in themselves.”
Senior Charlie Hill (130) is a returning state qualifier who has had a couple of trips to the districts.
“Charlie (16-3) has raised his confidence level,” said Brown. “Also, he has been working on basic, fundamental positioning. I try to explain to these guys that the key to wrestling is position. If you stay in good position all of the time, you will win most of the time.”
Brent Kramp (135), also a senior, is 12-3 after placing seventh in Dayton.
“I told him that, if he takes it up a notch, he will be up in the top echelon with the best kids in the state,” said Brown. “We’re almost there, but we have to find a way to close that gap a little bit. I remember, last year, we were working with Brent to get him at least a .500 record because he was losing a lot of close matches. He just came back from Dayton, where he lost to David Taylor [of Graham], who is probably one of the top two wrestlers in the nation. In my opinion, he was the best match of the tournament. He lost 23-8, but he was in on Taylor considerably. I think he gave Taylor the hardest match of the tournament.”
A toe injury to Corey Sheller, who also plays soccer, has left a big question mark in the 140-pound spot.
“He had surgery on his big toe,” said Brown, “so we’re hoping to get him back in mid-January. Freshman Colin Clark has filled in for us. He transferred from New Philadelphia last year. He went 3-2 at the Wazie Tournament. I hope to see him on the mat this weekend.”
Jordan Montgomery (145) is 3-1. He sustained a concussion at the Wazie Tournament, and now he has a bad knee and needs an MRI.
“He came back from the head injury and was ready for Dayton,” said Brown. “Three days before Dayton, the knee started bothering him. It’s the MCL, definitely. We’re just hoping and praying that it’s not the ACL as well.”
Another second-year senior, Steve Hall, holds the 152 slot.
“He came out last year and took right to it, “ said Brown. “He’s 5-10 filling a spot on the varsity level this year.”
Nate Fry (5-6), a 160-pound sophomore, also went through the Little Stinger and middle school programs.
“He stepping in and doing a nice job for us,” said Brown.
The 171 slot is a toss-up for Brown, who has settled on Justin Woodford (2-3), a first-year junior, and Russell Donnelley, a second-year senior.
Devin Allnut (189) brought an elbow injury with him from football season.
“He was only able to wrestle one match at the Wazie,” said Brown. “We got him back at Dayton, so he’s only 1-3. He’s a third-year senior, who started wrestling as a sophomore. Last year, he wrestled at 171, and he is trying to get healthy and back in the lineup.”
Dane Cullen, at 215, is 16-2 and was a district qualifier last year.
“Dane has put a lot of time in,” said Brown. “He was on the Junior Olympic team, as were a lot of these guys. He plays football, but he put a lot of time into wrestling. He excels at both football and wrestling. When he first came to us, football was his thing, but he sees that wrestling will get him further in the long run. This year, he’s opening up more, doing more shooting and he has so much offense.”
Heavyweight Ian Mizer is 19-2 and on his way to another great season.
“He was our highest placer at Dayton (5th) over the weekend,” said Brown. “Of his two losses, one was to the third-ranked wrestler in the state, but he wrestled a great tournament. Ian is a big guy and he’s going to win a lot of matches. Ian is 28 pounds, but he is extremely agile.
Mizer and the others are expected to go far in the post season tournament this year.
“Mount Vernon has a name, now,” said Brown. “You mention our name now and people know that we are from the Columbus area and we’re a pretty decent school, which is a huge plus. People are no longer saying, ‘Where is Mount Vernon?’ or, ‘We’ve never heard of you guys.’ We travel the state. We hit Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo. We’re going to hit Akron this year, as well as Columbus. We wrestle everywhere.”