As a whole, sports at National Trail are on a definite upswing. The wrestling team is no different.
This winter, head coach Mike Eyler has 20 guys hitting the mats, and just by numbers alone, that’s a huge improvement.
“That’s three times as many as we’ve had in previous years,” Eyler said.
It’s Eyler’s third season as the head coach and fourth season overall with the program. This season, he’s got plenty of talent, and one big-time returning wrestler.
Zach Sullivan is back on the mats for Trail this year, and he’s coming off a huge sophomore year that saw him take a trip to Columbus for the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s State Championships earlier this year. Sullivan wrestles in the 170-lb. class.
“He’s coming back with the most experience and most success,” Eyler said. “He’s one of our captains, and we’re definitely looking to get him back to state this year.”
The Blazers lost a good wrestler to graduation in Jarred Foust, but there are plenty of grapplers this year to challenge for places at sectional and could possibly make runs at the district tournament.
One of those is junior Cody Hapner. He’s coming off a successful sophomore year as well, when he placed sixth at the sectional tournament.
“He came close last year to qualifying to districts,” Eyler said. “He’s our other captain, and he’s looking pretty solid. He’s stronger and a little lighter, and we’re really looking to push him. He kind of came alive at the end of last season.”
Eyler has a couple other names in mind for guys looking to take a big step this year. Sophomore Austin Moore will be wrestling at 145 pounds, and he’s got big aspirations this winter.
“He’s another one who has had a lot of success,” Eyler said. “Last year, he didn’t get quite as far as he wanted to, but he’s still young, and he’s a good, quick wrestler. Last season, he was a match away, and this year, the goal is for him to make districts.”
Sullivan’s younger brother Ben is another youngster with promise in the Blazer program. He’s wrestling at 220 pounds, and the freshman is coming off a season when he won a junior high state title.
“We’re looking to see what he can do at the high school level. He has a lot of talent, and he’s strong as well,” Eyler said. “He’s shooting for districts at least, and possibly state.”
Overall, Eyler said the team doesn’t have a lot of returning wrestlers, and there are some other kids coming up from the junior high squad with some talent.
“We’ll have to see,” he said. “They’ll have to get out there and see what high school wrestling is like.”
The high school and junior high squads both practice together, so Eyler has a good idea of what’s coming up in the large freshman class.
“They’re coming in and realizing how tough the sport is,” he said. “But they’re all pretty hard workers. We have some lighter boys in the 113 to 132 classes who are really solid wrestlers, and as long as they pick up on what needs to be done and emulate the other guys, they’ll have a chance for success.”
With the larger number of wrestlers, the Blazers shouldn’t have much trouble filling weight classes. That’ll help eliminate forfeits and make them more competitive in dual meets.
“In the past, we’ve been very competitive and usually won head-to-head, but we haven’t been able to win the dual meets because of the forfeits,” Eyler said. “We’ll start to make our mark in those dual meets and tournaments.”
The Blazers are working on building the program up to a level where they could get a spot in the state dual team tournament introduced last season. Last season, they wrestled at the Eaton Invitational and placed higher than some Division I and II teams.
“We want to be able to go to those types of meets, go up against those teams, and say that we’re not pushovers,” he said.
And the recent success of Trail athletics has definitely translated to a better mindset in wrestling.
“With the success Trail has had the last couple years, the confidence level of the athletes has gone way up,” he said. “Most of these guys were on the football team that had a lot of success this fall.”
This year, there are no seniors on the Blazers’ wrestling squad, and that bodes well for building on this year’s successes in 2014-15.
Zach Sullivan and Hapner are joined in the junior class by Wade Alcorn, Sean Drew, Joshua Heindl, Levi Markley, Jacob Renacs, Matthew Tirey, and Austan Tout.
Moore and Tyler Browning are the team’s sophomore class. Ben Sullivan is joined by Joshua Cook, Dakota Hadler, Graham Jones, Jaden Lankford, Trey Mann, Robert Nave, Austyn Rowe, Max Shockney, and Dustin Standifer in the freshman class.
The Blazers kick off the season at Carlisle this Wednesday, Dec. 11.