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Wrestling: Ohio embraces the challenge of having new leaders guide young roster

In college athletics, it is imperative that teams have leadership in the locker room, on bus rides and at practices. Those leaders act as secondary coaches who assist the team by advising and showing some younger athletes how to properly function as college athletes. In wrestling, Ohio has experienced a renaissance with two of its most successful wrestlers, providing the lessons passed down to them to the next crop of wrestlers. 

Zayne Lehman and Peyten Kellar both made the NCAA Championships last season. The experience each gained by being at the highest level of competition in the sport has helped them bestow wisdom on some of the younger wrestlers on the roster. 

“They see one of us going to (NCAAs); it makes (the younger guys) want to train with us,” Kellar said. “I like to see that training with us makes them better.”

Lehman echoes the sentiment, saying that the work the older guys put in proves that the coaching staff's methods work, and putting in the hard work results in achieving goals. 

While Kellar is a much more soft-spoken leader and allows his wrestling to do the talking, Lehman is very vocal with the team. He is the first one that his teammates, both underclassmen and upperclassmen, look to in times of need. One of the two team captains (Lehman shares the title with Sal Perrine) for Ohio, Lehman is entrusted as something of a player-coach at times. 

One of the biggest things that Lehman thinks of when considering his leadership style is making sure he is putting his best effort forward. 

“In high school, you can slip up some days … maybe have it swept under the rug,” Lehman said. “But in college, if you have a bad day, it is very noticeable. It’s out there; guys are going to notice it really easily. Those bad days rub off on other people and those are excuses for them to let them have a bad day themselves. So, I just try to avoid those types of days.” 

One of the people who showed Lehman and Kellar the way was Alec Hagan. Though he has since graduated, Hagan was a rock for Ohio during his six seasons wearing the green and white. According to Lehman, Hagan was “one of the guys I looked up to tremendously and took me under his wing right away.” 

Hagan is not the only source for some of the athletes looking for advice on how to best lead the team; Kellar said that he also talks to coaches Joel Greenlee and Cody Walters, as well as his teammates. 

Although it can be tough to ask peers for advice, Lehman and Kellar both mention that admitting they don't know something is not a sign of weakness. In fact, Lehman said that in his early years, he looked up to his roommate to push him. 

“My roommate, (Sal) Perrine, did a lot of the right things,” Lehman said. “He was a MAC finalist and he made it to the national tournament his freshman year. That rubbed off on me.”

Kellar is very blunt when he talks about what he wants to see from the team's younger members.

“I just want people to work hard and give it their all every day in practice,” Kellar said. “That's all you can ask for.”

Lehman and Kellar are both experienced enough to understand that there are times in the season when it becomes almost a chore to have to continue a grueling routine of lifting, eating and practicing, all while being a full-time student. 

“Some days, it’s not easy, and it’s dragging,” Lehman said. “It can feel like it is never going to end, but it is something we are here for because we love it. I just want them to really enjoy it, but work as hard as possible because there’s always another guy working harder than you and coming for your back every second.” 

Both Kellar and Lehman admit that while they are growing into their leadership roles, they must remember to focus on themselves. Kellar has started his season off strong, rising to become the No. 13 wrestler in the country in the 157-pound class. However, he understands that his strong start still has room for improvement. 

Similarly, Lehman thinks that he could have done a bit better to start his season, but he refuses to use the fact that he is team captain for the first time as an excuse. Lehman, like many of his teammates, has been a regular in the national rankings, setting himself up for a return to the NCAA Championships. 

The team has bigger aspirations than simply sending wrestlers to The Big Dance. The Bobcats are looking to win their first Mid-American Conference title in 23 years and reestablish Ohio as a powerhouse in the conference and country. 

“I feel like we’ve got a pretty good team,” Kellar said. “We have a lot of potential. We just have to keep working hard and we will have success in the end.”


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