By: Chris Manning | AthensWildcats.com | January 12, 2021 | Photo courtesy Chris Manning


CANTON — Athens went into Canton not knowing exactly what to expect, with only a week of practice, but, despite coming out on the short end of the match, 40-22, Wildcat coach Shawn Bradley felt good about what he saw Tuesday.

“The kids wrestled well,” said Bradley. “It’s a tough one to start out with ... start out with Canton. The kids were in the match.”

The defending NTL champion Warriors showed why they were the favorites coming into the season, but Athens made them work for a it.

They lost 3-point decisions at 160 and 132, while in the first match of the day, 120 pounds, Athens freshman Josh Courtney was leading in the third period, when he got turned and pinned by Canton’s Miah Lehman, a 9-point swing.

“Three close ones we let go,” said Bradley. “We win those three close ones and we win the match.

Those are close matches and those are good kids, their kids, to their credit, gutted it out, and that’s what it takes," noted Bradley. "They earned it, and they won, but our kids are where I want them to be.

"I don’t want to wrestle our best match the first match, so, hopefully, when post season rolls around these guys are where they need to be," he added.

It was back-and-forth in the first four weights.

At 120, Josh Courtney used takedowns in the first and second period to take a 4-2 lead into the third. However, Lehman took top in the third and put Courtney on his back late to get the fall in 5:22, putting the Warriors up 6-0.

At 126, Athens freshman Mason Vanderpool responded, beating Canton’s Brayden Wesneski by a 10-2 major decision on the strength of two takedowns and two sets of back points.

At 132, points were hard to come by as Canton’s Bailey Ferguson edged Athens sophomore Jake Courtney 5-2. The first period was a mad scramble between the two — at one point it looked like Ferguson might lock Courtney up in a cradle — but it wasn’t until late that Ferguson got his takedown.

However, on a roll, Courtney broke free and notched a reversal to knot things up at 2-2.

In the second period, Ferguson rode Courtney the entire two minutes.

Courtney let Ferguson up to start the third, making it 3-2. Then, during a scramble, Ferguson was able to lock up a cradle for the decisive takedown and a 5-2 lead.

Down 9-4, Athens responded at 138 as Kaden Setzer scored 13 takedowns in a 26-11 technical fall over Canton’s Austin Allen in 5:10.

With the score knotted up at 9-9, Canton entered the heart of its line-up, beginning with Hudson Ward at 145.

Hudson Ward put on a show of his own, getting 11 takedowns, in his 24-8 technical fall win over Athens junior Lucas Forbes in 5:17.

Then, at 152, Hayden Ward earned a tech fall of his own over Athens sophomore Chris Bathgate, 15-0, in 5:10. Ward used a first-period takedown, coupled with back-to-back near-fall points for a 7-0 lead. In the second, he scored an escape, followed by a takedown with more back points to go up 13-0.

Ward got the clinching takedown in the third to put Canton up 19-9.

Then at 160, Riley Parker edged out Wildcat junior Karter Rude, 3-0, getting a first-period takedown and a second-period escape. In the third, Rude pushed the pace and had Parker tired out, but the sophomore was able to hold off Rude’s attacks for the win to give the Warriors a 22-9 lead.

Athens senior Zach Stafursky (172) got the Wildcats back on the scoreboard with a 10-3 win over Canton’s Brenen Taylor. Stafursky nearly had Taylor pinned in the first period after getting a takedown and three back points.

Taylor came back in the second with an escape and takedown of his own to cut it to 5-3. Stafursky would continue to score with an escape, followed by a takedown to take an 8-3 lead.

He added a final takedown in the third, but couldn’t turn Taylor to get the major decision.

22-12 is as close as Athens would get as Canton got back-to-back first-period falls at the next two weights.

Derek Atherton-Ely (189) pinned junior newcomer Josiah Stringham in 23 seconds followed by Gage Pepper (215) scoring a fall over junior Colin Rosh in 1:58.

That sealed it for Canton as it led 34-12 with three weights left.

At 285, Canton’s Conner Davis injured his shoulder and defaulted to Athens’ Joshua Nittinger in 14 seconds, cutting it to 34-18.

Canton’s Cohen Landis followed with a forfeit win at 106.

Athens’ state place-winner, junior Gavin Bradley, finally took the mat at 113 and earned a 10-1 major decision over Canton’s Isaac Landis.

Bradley started the first two periods with takedowns and a set of back points to go up 9-0.

With a match finally under its belt, Athens knows what it has to do to get where it wants to go. Right now, Bradley is just happy to see his team wrestle.

“The biggest thing is I’m glad the kids got an opportunity to compete,” said Bradley. “Everybody’s been struggling with what’s going on, and we’re grateful the kids get to wrestle.”


IN PHOTO 1: Athens’ Zach Stafursky controls Canton’s Brenen Taylor at 172 pounds Tuesday. …PHOTOS BY CHRIS MANNING.



120: Mia Lehman (C) by fall over Josh Courtney (A), 5:22;
126: Mason Vanderpool (A) major dec. Brayden Wesneski (C), 10-2;
132: Bailey Ferguson (C) dec. Jake Courtney (A), 5-2;
138: Kaden Setzer (A) tech. fall over Austin Allen (C), 26-10 @ 5:10;
145: Hudson Ward (C) tech. fall over Lucas Forbes (A), 22-7 @ 5:17;
152: Hayden Ward (C) tech. fall over Chris Bathgate (A), 15-0 @ 5:10;
160: Riley Parker (C) dec. Karter Rude (A), 3-0;
172: Zach Stafursky (A) dec. Brennan Taylor (C), 10-3;
182: Derek Atherton-Ely (C) by fall over Josiah Stringham (A), 1:23;
215: Gage Pepper (C) by fall over Colin Rosh (A), 1:58;
285: Josh Nittinger (A) won by forfeit;
106: Cohen Landis (C) won by forfeit;
113: Gavin Bradley (A) major dec. Isaac Landis (C), 10-1.