With 13 of 14 individuals ranked in the top eight of their respective weight classes, Steubenville Big Red should be a force to reckon with during the 59th annual Ron Mauck OVAC Wrestling Tournament, which gets under way Thursday.
Included in those 13 is defending champion Shawn McGhee. The three-time OVAC Tournament placewinner, however, is just one of seven Big Red grapplers returning to Wheeling's WesBanco Arena who reached the podium during last year's three-day event.
"It's definitely going to be a fun (OVAC) tournament," Steubenville head coach Mike Blackburn said. "We're hoping to make some noise, but we know that Parkersburg South and Wheeling Park are going to be tough to beat."
Big Red has already made some noise when it finished second to the South Patriots in the prestigious Wheeling Park Duals back in December.
"We're shooting for (Parkersburg) South," Blackburn admitted. "We lost to them in the finals of the Park Duals, 36-33. We want to win this thing."
McGhee, who is the No. 1 rated wrestler according to the rankings on the website OVAECwrestling.com, was the No. 2 seed a year ago entering the OVAC Tournament, but earned his title with an 8-0 win over Tyler Richards, of Parkersburg South, in the 135 pound finals.
Blackburn expects his senior stud to be the top seed this year, but at 145.
"Shawn is 12-0 and wrestled really well at the Park Duals," Blackburn advised.
"He should be the top seed this year."
McGhee finished 4th at 103 as a freshman and 3rd at 119 as a sophomore.
Juniors Brandon Llewellyn (120) and Greg Moray (220) are also listed as the top wrestlers in their respective weight classes, according to the website.
Llewellyn, who is 5-1 while competing at 126 this season but will drop to 120 for the OVACs, has placed fourth at 119 and 125 the past two tournaments.
"Brandon has been bumped up a weight class and it should help him for this tournament," Blackburn noted.
Moray is 15-0 and has already defeated No. 2 Dylan Davis, of Oak Glen. He was 3rd at 215 last year.
"Greg could have a really good tournament," Blackburn said. "It's a tough weight class, but he's a tough kid."
Other placewinners from the 2011 tournament include juniors Anthony Craig (106), Anthony Parada (126) and Charlie Keenan (195) and senior Jake Howarth (170). Craig was runnerup at 103, while Parada was seventh at 112. Keenan finished sixth at 189 and Howarth 6th at 160.
Craig (6-3) and Howarth (14-1) are ranked No. 2 in their weight divisions, while Keenan (14-1) is fourth and Parada (12-3) fifth.
Other ranked wrestlers are freshman Devon Brown (3rd, 103, 14-1), junior Jake McKitrick (8th, 132, 11-4), senior Chastin Hobley (5th, 138, 12-3), freshman Trent Mays (6th, 152, 12-3), senior Devon Wicker (5th, 182, 8-6), and junior Ryan Wood (3rd, 285, 12-3).
"We've been stressing to the kids that we need to get as many bonus points as we can early on," Blackburn said. "We need to get pins in the early rounds.That's what it takes ... pins.
"Last year, Parkersburg South set the tournament record for consecutive pins and that's why they were able to accumulate so many points.
"We know that South is going to have some kids seeded lower that are going to win a few matches," he continued.