NEW FRANKLIN  Manchester standout Zach Larue has set the bar high once again this season as he attempts to secure his third consecutive appearance in the OHSAA state wrestling tournament.

The tournament will be held in Columbus next month and while Larue is in a heavier weight class than in his first two trips to the state level, his expectations remain high.

Larue, who wrestles in the 126-pound weight class, finished sixth in his previous two visits to the state tournament. He wrestled at 106 in his freshman season before moving up to 113 a year ago. Despite jumping up two weight classes as a junior, he has put together an impressive campaign that has seen him rack up numerous individual honors while showing the ability that led him to the podium in Columbus in each of his first two varsity seasons.

The talented junior has put together an impressive resume so far this season, compiling an outstanding 19-2 record with 125 takedowns to go along with first-place finishes at the Waterloo Division III Classic and the J.C. Gorman (Mansfield) tournament. He also competed at the Green Bulldog Brawl, and taking runner-up honors against a tough field.

One of Larue’s most remarkable stats on the campaign is that he has only given up two takedowns. That ability to stay on his feet and fend off opponents’ attacks bodes well for the postseason and veteran head coach Josh Cintron, a former wrestling standout at Mount Union, believes that great things are ahead for his junior standout.

"Zach is having a great season for us," Cintron said.. "Zach is a rare wrestler for this generation of wrestlers. He is always on the attack and always looking to wrestle the best wrestlers he can find, whether in the practice room or in a match. He wants to wrestle the best."

Larue is one of three captains for the Panthers, along with sophomore Jake White (120 pounds) and senior Dane Paris (152). The trio all have their sights set on the state tournament and White is also looking to punch a ticket to Columbus after making a solid showing a year ago.

The roster overall is a young group, with plenty of underclassmen in key roles. To have an intense, experienced competitor such as Larue leading the way is a huge benefit for the Panthers, according to Cintron.

"Zach brings passion and dedication to the practice room everyday," Cintron said. "His fellow teammates feed off his intensity."

Larue's quest to return to the state tournament will begin on Feb. 24 at the Independence Division III sectional tournament as he and his teammates look to take the first step of the journey by qualifying for the district tournament. While athletes and coaches often speak of focusing only on the next match or game, Cintron noted that he and Larue are aware of the road ahead and what awaits them in the postseason.

"We have a little under 30 days until the state tournament, and Zach continues to learn techniques everyday from different coaches and different styles to help him achieve his goal," Cintron said. "Zach and I go over expectations and goals weekly, whether it's chasing a great wrestler or winning a tournament. Our expectations heading into the post season is the same as it has been for the last two yea's chase a state title."

Larue, who entered this week with a 65-13 career record, begins his postseason push as he looks to defend his back-to-back PAC-7 titles at Cuyahoga Valley Academy on Saturday. It is the first challenge of what both he and his coach expect to be a long, productive tournament run that ends with him continuing the impressive start to his high school career and hopefully, bettering his state tournament results of the past two seasons.