Eagles, three state-ranked grapplers, seek NBC title

J. Patrick Eaken

Eastwood had five state qualifiers last year — three graduated and the two who are returning, now senior Gavin Owens and junior Bryce Hesselbart, learned the hard way about the luck of the draw at the state tournament.

Owens (50-6) finished fifth at 132. Even though he was a district runner-up, he ran into some hefty competition in Legacy Christian junior Camron Lacure (35-2) and Wayne Trace junior Hunter Long (45-4).

“The way the bracket got turned around, and he wrestled the best and maybe the second-best kid in the weight class. That’s why he got beat,” Eastwood coach Joe Wyatt said. 

“The second one who beat him, he then hurt his knee and defaulted and could not wrestle enough to get third and fourth. I think for Gavin, the best he would have been was probably third or fourth and he probably could have. But the bracket, the way it was, (Nos.) one and three beat him, but really it was probably (No.) one and the second-best kid were his only losses.”

Owens started great, winning a 17-0 technical fall over Norwayne senior Jarrison Moore (25-7) and then pinned Greenon junior Arlie Benson (39-5) in 3:23 to reach the semifinals. There, he lost a 13-5 major decision to the eventual state champion, Lacure. In the consolation semis, Owens fell to Long, 3-1. For fifth place, Owens defeated Edison freshman Kohen Horvath (44-13), 4-2. 

At 160, Bryce Hesselbart (42-12) had a similar issue — the draw. As a result, he did not place. Hesselbart lost to Versailles junior Carson Bey (46-4), 5-1, in the consolation opening round, and Bey went on to finish fifth.

“The problem was the two guys who beat him — he got beat by the guy who took second and then the other guy took fourth or fifth. His draw was terrible,” Wyant said. “He only lost 5-1 to the guy who took fifth, but that guy from Versailles beat him earlier in the year and it didn’t look good then. But Bryce gave him a good match.”

Wyant’s top three wrestlers this year are Owens, who is now at 138 pounds, Hesselbart (175) and senior Xavier Escobedo (145), who was 44-4 last year but failed to qualify for state. This year, Escobedo is ranked sixth in the state and Hesselbart is 16th.

Owens got his redemption against Wayne Trace’s Long already. Owens, ranked No. 2 in the state going into Defiance’s Tri-State Border War Dec. 28-29, went 5-0 to improve his record to 14-0, and beat the No. 1 wrestler in the state, Long (9-1), 3-2, at 138 pounds.

That earned Owens the event’s Most Valuable Wrestler award. Not bad, when you consider the tri-state event draws 45 teams from primarily Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. Hesselbart took fourth at the Tri-State event at 175 pounds and is 11-3.

Escobedo (14-1), Owens’ practice partner, took third at Defiance, winning a 6-3 decision over Findlay sophomore John Paul Smith (15-5) in the 144-pound consolation final.

The following weekend, Owens (18-1) finished fifth and Escobedo (18-3) placed seventh at the Perrysburg Invitational Tournament.

The same weekend, Hesselbart was named the Most Outstanding Wrestlers at the Woodmore “A” Classic after defeating Ayersville wrestler Luke DeLano, 7-3, for the 165-pound championship.

Both Owens and Hesselbart are defending Northern Buckeye Conference champions, and Owens, who is committed to wrestle at NCAA Division II Tiffin University, won his 150th match four weeks ago.

In all, Wyant has seven returning letter winners from a squad that finished second in the NBC last year. Lettermen returning include juniors Cody Perkins (126) and and sophomores Caiden Maize (132), Austin Maize (150), and Ian Reynolds (106).

Other key wrestlers include junior Jaleel Rayford (215) and freshmen Jameson King (113), Conner Norton (157), Gavin Shrepshire (126) and Colton Oberhouse (285).

Wyant describes them as “young and inexperienced,” but adds, “They all get along together well and listen and try.”

Reynolds placed second at the Woodmore “A” Classic, Austin Maize placed second, Caiden Maize, Oberhouse and Rayford placed third, King and Shropshire placed fifth and Perkins placed sixth,  In the nearly 40-team field, Woodmore won the team championship with 346 points and Eastwood was third with 297.

Wyant believes his crew has as good a chance as any to win an NBC title as any other team, and the Eagles already got a 48-24 dual meet win over Genoa, another team expected to contend, and defeated Woodmore, 43-27, and Lake, 36-26. Weekly quads continue with the championship set for Feb. 19 at Elmwood.

“We’ll challenge for first if we wrestle well,” Wyant said. “This NBC is the most balanced ever, I could see six or seven teams having a chance to win that day.”



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