Jackets’ confidence builds behind 6 returning state finalists

PERRYSBURG — Four individual match points separated Perrysburg from upsetting perennial powerhouse Lakewood St. Edward and winning a Division I state team championship last year.

At Ohio State University’s Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus, the Yellow Jackets had six wrestlers in the championship finals, the Eagles had four, and two were going head-to-head.

If Perrysburg won five of six matches and got one bonus point, they would have been state champions.

Perrysburg went 3-3 as three Jackets won state titles and three were runners-up, but two of the runner-up finishers lost their match by one-point heartbreakers and the other by two points. Even better news for Perrysburg is that all six state finalists were underclassmen and are back this year.

The three state champions were then-freshman Cole Evans (48-4) at 106 pounds, then-freshman Marcus Blaze (55-0) at 113 and then-junior Joey Blaze (54-2) at 144.

The three second place Yellow Jackets were all juniors — Ryan Avalos (47-6) at 120, junior Wynton Denkins (51-4) at 150 and junior Myles Takats (48-6).

At one point late during the championship round, Perrysburg trailed St. Edward 167-165½ and both teams had wrestlers waiting to hit the mat, including one head-to-head match. However, in the end St. Ed’s went on to win their 35th state title and 20th in the last 21 years.

St. Edward won with 176 points, Perrysburg finished a historic-best second with 165½ points and Dublin Coffman was third with 109½ points.

Confidence building

This year, senior Joey Blaze is unbeaten at 29-0, sophomore Marcus Blaze is 35-1, and seniors Takats and Denkins are both 35-2. Perrysburg coach Scott Burnett says all six are wrestling well, but more importantly they are feeding confidence into the rest of the program..

“They are doing great. Cole is at a new weight this year and he is starting to figure that out. It’s really cool to see — he is getting confident,” Burnett said.

“Wynton is doing a great job of striving to win a championship this year after finishing second last year. Myles has been dedicated and motivated and been a great leader.

“The Blaze brothers are special. They push each other, they love on their teammates, they are doing a great job of learning how to become leaders. So those guys are collectively doing a good job of nurturing each other so they can spread that love and compassion down to their teammates.

“It’s really cool because essentially, we have six extra coaches. They are dialed in and focused and doing a really good job, keeping in mind they are kids, and they are not perfect.

“That’s for us as coaches — we have to come in and keep coaching them up to be great leaders and keep them involved so they can hit the marks and goals they want to hit personally, too.”

Four are already committed to wrestling NCAA Division I next year. Joey Blaze will wrestle at Purdue University, Takats will head to Bucknell University, Denkins to Campbell University, and Avalos to Clarion University.

Joey Blaze says he has some work to do before he will be ready for that, even though he’s unbeaten this year.

“I don’t think I’m where I want to be yet,” Blaze said. “My goal is to be college-ready and be an All-American when I step into Purdue’s lineup. The next year, after my redshirt year, I just want to be an NCAA champion.”

Blaze adds that Burnett’s leadership has been key not only to his career, but to building the Perrysburg program where it is right now.

“He’s awesome,” Joey Blaze said. “He’s been my coach since I’ve been about six, seven years old. He’s like a father figure to me so everything he says, goes, in my book. Whatever he says is going to be right in the end. He knows what he is doing.”

As a team, Perrysburg is 18-3 in dual matches, including 3-0 in Northern Lakes League duals.

Thursday, they traveled to Sylvania Northview and defeated the Wildcats, 84-0, winning every match except one by fall, and not all the defending state finalists wrestled.

The 113-pound match the Yellow Jackets won by default, and 10 of the 13 pins came in the first period, shortening the varsity match to under an hour. Joey Blaze says it’s important to not only win, but to pin opponents.

“The goal for the rest of the year is to stay undefeated and just bonus-point everybody because that is huge for our team,” Blaze said.

However, there has been adversity, only most wrestling programs would not consider finishing second in a major tournament an adverse situation.

Perrysburg finished second to Wadsworth at Clay’s Maumee Bay Classic in Oregon last weekend, which sounded some alarm bells.

“We just wrestled at Maumee Bay, and we had a good tournament, but we didn’t win,” Burnett said. “Finishing second was good and there were some good takeaways.

“When you are not at full strength or you have some second-string guys who are in your lineup in a tournament, you want them to embrace that opportunity and be able to step up and fight for themselves individually and then that carries over to our team.

“On Saturday, we just didn’t do a good job of finishing the tournament, winning some matches and putting the tournament out of reach. Wadsworth, give them credit, had a bunch of placers, their depth really showed up and they are wrestling well right now, so that was a learning experience.

“We’ve been back at the drawing board. We’ve been working hard the last couple days coming together as a team and embracing the opportunity.

“When you get to compete and put a Perrysburg suit on and really fight for our program, it’s important. It matters and more than that it’s a great opportunity.”