Terry “Shorty” Ohren has already experienced unprecedented success while at the helm of the Highland High School wrestling program.
Nothing was bigger than Tanner Farmer repeating as the undefeated Class 2A state heavyweight champion in 2013 and 2014, including never surrendering a single point to an opponent throughout his entire senior season.
Then last year, Highland had a program-high four state qualifiers. Nick Czar ended up one win shy of making it a three-peat for the Bulldogs after suffering his only loss of the season on a 2-0 defeat in the state-title match to finish 40-1.
Two things have eluded Ohren and the Bulldogs so he has set them as his goals.
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One mission is to win the Mississippi Valley Conference Super Duals.
“We’re young and inexperienced and maybe we can gather it all together this year and get conference back here where it belongs,” said Ohren, who will again be assisted this season by Ted Cipicchio. Ohren will also be joined by first-year assistant coach James Basso, who is fresh off a successful debut season as the HHS football team’s defensive coordinator.
In addition to hosting three home matches during the season, starting with this coming Tuesday’s quadrangle against Centralia, Pinckneyville and Effingham, it will be Highland’s turn to host the MVC Super Duals, which end the regular season on Saturday, Jan. 30 and ramp up the intensity for the following weekend’s regional tournament to begin the postseason.
Ohren said it is good to rotate the conference duals because it gives everybody a chance to host them, especially Jerseyville and Waterloo which have the farthest to travel.
Hosting the MVC Super Duals will give the Bulldogs a little extra motivation to win. But it will still be a herculean task to wrestle the conference crown away from Triad’s stranglehold. The Knights have won the last eight MVC championships in a row.
“What helps (Triad) is they have a middle school program and we don’t. That hurts us big time,” Ohren said. “I still help out with the kids club (Highland Bulldog Junior Wrestling Club) because I have to show my experience out there so they knew who I am when they get here (to HHS).”
Ohren’s other main goal is to have multiple wrestlers place at the state tournament in the same season, which has never happened before in school history.
“We’ve had one kid place every year the last few years, but Highland has never had more than one kid place,” he said. “So, that’s another goal I am trying to push for. Maybe we can get that done this year.”
Juniors Trent Rakers and Jacob Mitchell represent the Bulldogs’ best shots at placing at this year’s state tourney after both were state qualifiers a year ago.
Rakers won a couple of matches at state and ended up with an outstanding season record of 40-5 at 160 pounds.
“He should be in the top five in the state when the rankings come out,” Ohren said.
Ohren said Rakers is good on his feet with his single-leg takedown, but he needs to add some moves to his repertoire up top. Ohren also noted that Rakers is really good in the down position at getting away or escaping, which is a big plus to have.
“He’s just a natural athlete in anything he does,” Ohren said. “But I think he really loves wrestling. I’ve had him since he was 6 years old teaching him wrestling, and he loves it and enjoys it.”
Last year, Mitchell finished 24-12 last year at 120 pounds.
Ohren said both Rakers and Mitchell are starting to draw interest from colleges about them potentially wrestling at the next level.
Senior Austin Hickam also has a chance to place at the state tourney. He was rolling toward the postseason last year before suffering a broken elbow late in the season.
In addition, seniors Carsten Brauns and Brody Kirsch return to the fold and also could make a splash competitively.
Also out this winter for the wrestling team, most of them with at least some experience, are Christian Zuccarelli, Mason Geiger, Dylan Knebel, Colten Knebel, Devin Wills, Colton Brown, Brett Brown, Nathan and Josh Tucker, Anthony Gallo, Joe Gallo, Jaykob Marti, Caleb Machuca, Monroe Ferguson and Sullivan Allen.
A big strength for Highland as a team is that the Bulldogs should not have to forfeit very often, if any at all, as even the two lightest weight classes of (106 and 113 pounds), which have been problematic in years past, should be filled on most occasions.