Senior Zach Shupp said it was a little weird walking into the Fairfield High School wrestling room when the season began.
The returning Division I 106-pound state runner-up is used to being in the spotlight, but the past three years, it has been a bit shaded by teammates like Andrew Sams and Sam Meddings.
“The first day, it felt real empty without them there,” said Shupp, who finished 34-5 last season.
The spotlight is squarely on Shupp, who moved into the top 20 nationally in his weight class and sign a national letter of intent to wrestle at Central Michigan during the spring open season.
“I especially feel it this year,” Shupp said of the pressure. “I have such high expectations and everything has to be perfect.”
10 Wrestlers To Watch
Zach Banks, Sr., Madison – Returning state qualifier
Joey Bradberry, Sr., Lakota West – Returning district qualifier, missed placing by one match
Jake Gentry, Sr., Ross – Returning state placer
Drew Katona, Sr., Lakota East – Returning district qualifier
Sean Mondello, Jr., Talawanda – Returning state qualifier
Sam Price, Jr., Monroe – Returning state alternate
Logan Raney, Jr., Franklin – Returning district placer
Kane Schmidt, Jr., Badin – Returning district qualifier
Zach Shupp, Sr., Fairfield – Returning state runner-up and Central Michigan signee
D.J. Whiles, Sr., Edgewood – Returning district qualifier
So far, so good.
Shupp is off to a 5-0 start with four pins wrestling between 120 and 126. He said his loss in the state finals still burns at him every day.
“I definitely didn’t wrestle my best. I think about that every day,” Shupp said. “I froze on the big stage and I’m not happy about it.
“Finals are a way different experience,” he added. “It’s crazy with the atmosphere and everything. It is definitely the big stage.”
5 Can’t Miss Matches
1. SWOCA Holiday Tournament: The annual event returns to Harrison on Dec. 16-17 to find out who has the early-season advantage as Cincinnati’s top team.
2. State team tournament: The path to the team state title starts on Jan. 24 at host sites and concludes in Columbus on Feb. 11.
3. Greater Miami Conference tournament: The one-day grind on Feb. 3 moves to Oak Hills this year with a wide-open field. Mason has dominated in the past but has a very young squad, opening the door for Fairfield, Lakota East or Lakota West to possibly take the crown.
4. Southwestern Buckeye League tournament: Last year’s down-to-the-wire, one-point title chase may be repeated with the strength of several teams as they do battle at Milton-Union on Feb. 16-17.
5. Ron Masanek Invitational: Fairfield continues to grow the annual tournament on Jan. 5-6 back into one of the tougher regular-season weekends of the season.
It led to some big learning for Shupp throughout the spring and summer season.
“I learned the importance of transitioning off mistakes,” he said.
The same way he is transitioning to being the main one in the spotlight.
“I feel like I have always had a target on my back, but it feels like there is more pressure this year,” Shupp said. “I am just going to stick to myself, not worry about rankings and be the best I can be this year.”
Division II: The Talawanda turnaround continues.
The Braves advanced a trio to the district tournament last year with a pair making it to state.
Sean Mondello returns after getting experience at state to lead an improving Braves team into a season which may see them contend for a Southwest Ohio Conference title.
Ross kicked off its season last weekend with a fourth-place finish at the Franklin Invitational. La Salle won the title, while Western Brown was second.
In one of the marquee finals of the tournament, Ross’ returning state placer Jake Gentry just missed knocking off nationally ranked Lucas Byrd of La Salle, falling 7-5 in the 120-pound final.
Division III: The numbers-based division realignment may spell a big season for Madison.
The Mohawks, who had been shuffled up to Division II the past two seasons, slide back to D-III with a group that could make a run at a trip to the state team tournament.
Madison returns state qualifier Zach Banks and state alternate Drew Price to go with a plethora of talented freshmen.
Leading the freshman charge is Cole Skinner, who was a two-time junior high state champ and a member of the USA World Team and the USA National team. Devin Oligee was a junior high state placer and Garrett Tilton a junior high state qualifier.
5 Storylines to follow
1. Shifting ranks: With the new count and guidelines set, there is some divisional movement for the postseason once again. Madison, which had been moved up to D-II the past two years, is back at D-III.
2. Bumping up: This is the first time the OHSAA is giving teams an option to move up a division for the state team tournament. Graham coach Jeff Jordan didn’t waste any time filing the paperwork for the Falcons to compete in Division I this year.
3. Bumper crop: USA National team member — and two-time junior high state champ — Cole Skinner is one of a trio of Madison freshmen who will lead the charge of new faces in the area.
4. In or out: One of the biggest rules changes has been how wrestlers will be considered out of bounds when in fall position. The new rules line up more with college rules where the person on their back can be out of bounds when at least one point of the person securing the fall is inbounds.
5. On the rise: Talawanda had a pair of state qualifiers a year ago. Can the Braves’ continued improvement push them into contention for the Southwest Ohio Conference title?