By Chris Chaney
Graduation hit the Bethel-Tate wrestling team hard last year as 15 seniors who accounted for 67 percent of the Tigers’ varsity wins left the program. However, head coach Tom Donahue has a young team taking to the mat that he still believes can contend for a Southern Buckeye Conference title.
“We lost a good portion of the leadership and a good portion of the wins,” Donahue explained. “We don’t have a whole lot of varsity experience coming back, but we do have a couple of wrestlers who have had success.
“Right now, we’re still trying to figure out where everyone is going to go (in terms of weight classes).”
Assuming that leadership role for the Tigers this season will be the lone senior on the roster, Tyler Krekeler. Krekeler went 20-15 as a junior and has bounced around a bit so far this season, but he has placed in both of Bethel-Tate’s tournaments.
Junior Aric Peters and sophomore Jeffrey Botts return as well and boast the most success among anyone in the program. Both were league champions last year and as a result, First Team All-Conference.
Peters is a two-time district tournament qualifier and Donahue said he has even higher expectations this season.
“He’s looking to get on the podium at state,” Donahue said. “Two different rankings have come out and he’s ranked fifth in one and fourth in another in the state, so we expect him to have a really strong season.”
While Peters is pretty set in the 120-pound slot, Botts along with four other wrestlers are still trying to shake out where they will be competing this season.
“Five of our better wrestlers are fighting over three spots,” the coach said. “From 160 to 182, we have (Michael) Royalty, Travis Kinnard, Jeffrey Botts, BJ Ratcliff and Tyler Krekeler all in there. They’re all looking to get into the lineup, so one will probably bump up to 195 and one will probably drop down to 162 at some point, but we’re still trying to figure that out.”
The Tigers only have two tournaments under their collective belt — the Williamsburg Bob Guy Invitational and the Edgewood Invitational. Finishing fourth at Burg and seventh at Edgewood, albeit without a full lineup, the Tigers have been solid in the early going.
Much of Bethel’s success will depend on the depth and youth that have begun to fill in the gaps left by graduated seniors. Freshman Kobe Bryant at 106 pounds finished fourth at Burg and third at Edgewood. Wyatt O’Neil, another freshman, placed sixth at Burg and eighth at Edgewood and classmated Kermit Beckworth finished sixth and eighth, respectively, as well.
Other freshmen Joe Baker, Cullen Kidwell and Jordan Newberry will also fill in some holes throughout the season.
As for the SBC, the defending champs won’t be the odds-on favorites in 2013-14 that they were last season.
“The kids are working hard and getting better everyday,” Donahue said. “We’re looking to compete for the title. Western Brown and Blanchester have a lot of good kids back. We got some league champs back, so we should be competitive for the team title.”
The Tigers’ schedule will ratchet up this week as they compete at Western Brown on Dec. 19 in a in-school dual and then will compete in the Coaches Classic this weekend.