Avon’s Saxton wins 2nd title, while Olmsted Falls wins team crown

Avon senior Cael Saxton rolled to his second consecutive Southwestern Conference wrestling championship Jan. 9, scoring 11 points in three lopsided decisions in a row.

To achieve the honor one more time was largely viewed by the 132-pounder as a bonus, though, during a COVID-19-ravaged season where no matches were guaranteed.

“It’s good to be recognized for hard work and to see it come to fruition,” said Saxton, currently the fourth-ranked wrestler in the state in Division I at 132. “In the high school sequence, this would be the start of the postseason, and that’s enough to get you psyched up. Having the tournament right now is definitely a different feel, but watching some of my teammates today, there was definitely a postseason vibe. It was intense.”

“There’s no guarantees this season,” he said. “I came into this season thinking we weren’t going to have a shot at all (to wrestle), to be honest. So anything’s a bonus. We’re getting our hearts set on a postseason run, and we’re getting excited.”

For each of the nine teams that competed at the annual tournament, held at Berea-Midpark, simply participating meant just as much as winning. For many of them, it was the first tourney they’d taken part in since the season started.

To work around COVID-19, a host of large, prominent regular tournaments were canceled or postponed this season and replaced with additional dual, tri- and quad-meets.

The atmosphere for the SWC tournament, usually a loud, packed environment regardless of venue, was more subdued this time due to spectators being limited.

“All around the Southwestern Conference, all these kids, I can’t believe we were able to put this (tournament) on, and I’m happy we did it,” North Olmsted coach Kerry McWoodson said. “I’m happy for our team.”

Olmsted Falls, which narrowly finished behind Berea-Midpark last year in the team standings, sent six wrestlers to the finals, gained four championships and scored 175.5 points to finish in first place. It was the Bulldogs’ first tournament win since 2017.

North Olmsted (123), Avon (104), Berea-Midpark (102) and Westlake (100) rounded out the top five. For the mostly-young Eagles, it was the best conference tourney finish in years.

“I’m pretty ecstatic about (our finish),” McWoodson said. “I really wasn’t expecting this coming in. We have seven seniors, but I have a lot of young guys filling in. Just the effort everybody’s been putting in, through COVID and everything going on, I’m ecstatic over these guys’ performance. They wrestled very smart, very technical and looked good.”

In 2018, the Eagles finished ninth out of 10 teams, then were seventh in 2019. They were fifth last year. Wrestling in their first tournament of the condensed season, they sent four athletes to the finals and took home two titles.

Senior Jeffrey Kennedy eked out a hard-fought 2-1 decision over North Ridgeville standout Zach Orseno in overtime to win the 120-pound bracket, and sophomore Gavin Beasley, taking the place of his injured older brother, Taedon, pulled off consecutive upsets to win the 170-pound bracket. He defeated top-seeded Bulldogs senior Jacob Toth in an 11-3 decision in the final.

Kennedy’s league title was his second in a row, after winning at 106 last season.

“(My goal) was to not make mistakes,” Kennedy said of his big win. “If I’m going to lose, (Orseno’s) going to have to beat me. I’m not going to take stupid shots, not do anything stupid.”

Avon competed in four championship matches, winning two. Along with Saxton’s win at 132, senior Mason Bingham scored a 3-0 decision over the Titans’ Daniel Yu at heavyweight.

“It doesn’t matter how much I win by, it just matters that the end result is I get a win,” Bingham said of his hard-fought victory. “It’s huge for districts and stuff (coming up). I’m going to watch film of this match and correct the stuff I need to work on and build on the stuff that I did well. It’s good to have these matches.”

In a matchup of familiar opponents, Avon Lake sophomore Nathan Perry held off Avon junior Ty Daugherty, 5-4, in overtime in the 113 final. The two had squared off three times previously, with Daugherty holding a 2-1 advantage.

Perry’s was the only league title won by the Shoremen.

Westlake and North Ridgeville each sent three wrestlers to the finals, which all resulted in second place results.

The bottom five of the standings included Amherst (98), the Shoremen (70), the Rangers (61) and Midview (60).

Under normal circumstances, the league tournament would serve as a gateway to the postseason where wrestlers could begin to ramp up their intensity a week before sectionals. But in order to make sure the tournament was contested, the SWC elected to hold it Jan. 9, more than 40 days ahead of its usual late-February date.

League duals are only scheduled through the end of January, meaning each team will be mostly practicing throughout February, with Division I sectional tournaments set for Feb. 27 at multiple sites.

“What I’ve been telling the team every week for the last several weeks is you have to be happy you have the opportunity to go out and compete,” Avon coach Jeremy Johnson said. “You really have to embrace those opportunities and tomorrow’s not promised.”

SWC Championships

at Berea-Midpark

Team standings: 1. Olmsted Falls 175.5; 2. North Olmsted 123; 3. Avon 104; 4. Berea-Midpark 102; 5. Westlake 100; 6. Amherst 98; 7. Avon Lake 70; 8. North Ridgeville 61; 9. Midview 60.

Championship results–106 pounds: Ryan Towbridge (Amherst) dec. Jake Dzik (Avon Lake) 92; 113: Nathan Perry (Avon Lake) dec. Ty Daugherty (Avon) 5-4, OT; 120: Jeffrey Kennedy (North Olmsted) dec. Zach Orseno (North Ridgeville) 2-1; 126: Noah Mendez (Amherst) pinned Jared Counts (North Ridgeville) 3:48; 132: Cael Saxton (Avon) dec. Mahdi Shoman (North Olmsted) 11-2; 138: Carson Atkins (Olmsted Falls) dec. Andrew Trexler (North Olmsted) 4-0; 145: Shane Heil (Berea-Midpark) pinned Ethan Sear (Avon) 0:55; 152: Brandon Burkhart (Olmsted Falls) dec. Aiden Ashburn (Westlake) 5-1; 160: Nate Urry (Olmsted Falls) dec. Cole Yuhas (Westlake) 2-0; 170: Gavin Beasley (North Olmsted) dec. Jacob Toth (Olmsted Falls) 11-3; 182: R.J. Simon (Olmsted Falls) dec. Mo Zayed (Westlake) 5-0; 195: Zach Porth (Berea-Midpark) pinned Chris Douglas (North Ridgeville 3:01; 220: Lavell Gibson (Amherst) dec. Luis Caraballo (Olmsted Falls) 3-2; 285: Mason Bingham (Avon) dec. Daniel Yu (Berea-Midpark) 3-0.

Third place results–106: Alec Yuhas (Westlake) bye; 113: Namza Khalil (North Olmsted) dec. Eli Mendez (Amherst) 7-1; 120: Michael Valerino (Avon Lake) dec. Chase Heasley (Avon) 5-0; 126: Mason Fitch (Avon) pinned Tyler Dye (Midview) 2:25; 132: Cainan Comerford (Olmsted Falls) by default; 138: Joe Marconi (Avon Lake) dec. Brian Kennedy (Berea-Midpark) 4-1; 145: Gavin Miner (Olmsted Falls) dec. Gabe Borror (Midview) 15-8; 152: Spencer Reardon (Berea-Midpark) dec. Daniel Davis (North Olmsted) 6-0; 160: Isaac DiVincenzo (Berea-Midpark) dec. Mohamed Shoman (North Olmsted) 3-2 SV; 170: Ryan Auvil (Amherst) pinned Lucas Marconi (Avon Lake) 0:53; 182: Nick Jackson (Amherst) dec. Tyler Duff (North Ridgeville) 8-6; 195: Kent Albert (North Olmsted) dec. Mackey Keenan (Westlake) 9-5; 220: Austin Dye (Midview) pinned Jacob Yaeger (North Olmsted) 2:29; 285: Jerry White (Olmsted Falls) dec. Gaven Carmichael (Westlake) 5-1.

Contact this reporter at sports@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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