By Josh Brown
COLUMBUS – As far as first state experiences go, Covington’s Ryan Ford (132) and Ben Miller (170) couldn’t have asked for better.
Jarred Ganger (126) and A.J. Ouellette (195), already knowing what to expect, simply took care of business.
Four of the Buccaneers’ five state qualifiers scored victories in the first round of the Division III state tournament Thursday at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, and Covington remained in good shape to make noise in the team standings the rest of the weekend.
Ganger got his title defense off to a strong start, winning a 22-7 tech. fall over Caldwell’s Kolby Rayner.
“I felt good. It’s exciting to be here again,” Ganger said. “I just went out and tried to dominate. It didn’t feel like the kid wrestled me all that hard, but I couldn’t turn him so I went back to my feet where I’m strong.
“I’ve just got to stay in my own zone, not let anyone else get in my head and wrestle my own style, not let other kids slow me down.”
“Jarred, he knows what it takes,” Covington coach Tom Barbee said. “He’s done a great job helping all the other guys in the wrestling room. Just him being there is a big help to everyone.”
Ouellette, who placed fourth last season, wrestled strategically against Massillon Tuslaw’s Scott Wolheter, scoring a late takedown in the first period and scoring a 4-1 victory in the opening round.
“I knew they were all going to be tight matches here,” Ouellette said. “You’ve got to pick your shots and don’t gas (yourself).
“It’s a lot more fun this time, having everyone else wrestling here. Now the key is to rest up and try not to think too much.”
“A.J.’s been wrestling real smart lately,” Barbee said. “He’s not taking a bunch of unnecessary shots and moves and is taking advantage of what the other guys give him.”
That was the case with Ford, also. Against Kirtland’s Evan Francis, Ford got a lead and didn’t let go, winning 4-2 in his first match ever at the state tournament.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be,” Ford said of the atmosphere and nerves. “Everyone says ‘don’t look up.’ But it didn’t matter. I knew this was where I was supposed to be. I thought I controlled the match.
“It’s nice to get that first match over. Now I can get to the hotel and rest. This was just the first step in what I want to do, which is win it all.”
“I thought Ryan was a little nervous. He said he wasn’t, but I thought he was just a little,” Barbee said. “He doesn’t make many mistakes and plans his matches well.”
Miller wrestled through a scoreless first two periods, not allowing an escape in the second against Castalia Margaretta’s Ryan Green. After he was let up to start the third and given a 1-0 lead, Miller immediately took down Green and put away the 3-0 win – his first at state.
“He let me up, which was good because I haven’t been doing that well on the bottom,” Miller said. “It helped a lot getting that takedown and going up 3-0. I had all the momentum.
“It was an experience for sure. Everything looks like it’s in HD with all the lights and everything. It’s been really awesome.”
Daniel Jennings (152) had a tall task coming in, facing top seed Dakota Stanley from Apple Creek Waynedale. He kept the match tight, but in the end Stanley won 7-3.
“I feel alright, as good as I can after losing,” Jennings said. “I was here last year, but I knew that the kid I had to wrestle first was a hammer. I just had to give it my all.”
“We knew DJ had the No. 1 seed going in, but he was right in there with him,” Barbee said. “I was very proud of him, of all of them.”
Jennings dropped his consolation bout later that night, falling to Castalia Margaretta’s Caleb Stockmaster by a 6-4 decision and ending his season.
At the end of the night, Covington was in 12th place with 9.5 points.
“If we keep winning like this, we’ll get our name on the board – and keep it up there,” Barbee said. “It’s very exciting. The kids have all worked so hard all year, and they’ve all been very focused on the job. I’m very proud of them all.”
• Troy Christian
As the defending team state champion, the Troy Christian Eagles are looked at a little differently – even with only three wrestlers at state.
Those three wrestlers are all dangerous individuals, though, and all three – Michael Sergent (113), Garrett Hancock (120) and Cody Ohnmeiss (132) – won their opening-round matches at the Division III state tournament Thursday at the Schottenstein Center.
Hancock, a defending state champion, built a 12-0 lead in the second period before pinning Middlefield Cardinal’s Ian Mast in 3:02.
“I feel like I’m more mature now, like I knew how it was going to feel out there,” Hancock said of coming in with previous experience. “I’ve been there before, I’ve done it before and am fully confident.”
His recipe for repeating is simple, too.
“I just need to keep my movement going and keep pressuring guys,” he said. “You can’t wait around. I feel like I can be dominant on my feet. I just need to wrestle my match, not theirs.”
Sergent – a freshman – was taken aback by the atmosphere. But once the match began, it was all over as he pinned Cadiz Harrison Central’s Brandon White in 1:11.
“Yeah, I was pretty nervous,” Sergent said. “That was my first time going through a tunnel like that in front of a huge crowd like this. The junior high state meet isn’t nearly as packed as this place was for the first round. But once I get rolling, I don’t think, just react.
“It feels great (getting the first win). Now I can watch my teammates, head back to the hotel, rest a bit … and eat some food. I’m SO hungry.”
Ohnmeiss’ match was a narrow 11-8 decision on paper, but he had control most of the way. He tied the score at 3-3 then got a late takedown to go up 5-3 after one and coasted from there.
“It was huge. It’s nice to finally be able to wrestle here at state. I’m blessed, for sure,” said Ohnmeiss, a junior firs-time qualifier. “I’ve been here before as a fan, but wrestling here is just amazing. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of and worked my whole life for.”
The wins put the Eagles in a seventh-place tie with four other teams with 10 points after the first day. Delta leads with 31, Dayton Christian is in second with 22 and Apple Creek Waynedale is third with 15.
“It’s a little different feeling,” said Hancock, whose individual state title last year helped the Eagles claim the team title. “We don’t have the numbers to really compete for the team title this year, but we’ve got three tough wrestlers that can compete for individual titles.”
Milton-Union freshman Kamron Paulus had the perfect analogy for a first-time qualifier going through the tunnel and out into the packed Schottenstein Center for the Division III state tournament.
“It was like (the movie) ‘Rocky,’” he said.
And while Paulus dropped his first-round match 11-5 to Bainbridge Paint Valley’’s Tyler Stoneburner –much like, spoiler alert, Rocky Balboa did to Apollo Creed at the end of the first movie – the future still looks bright for the Bulldog freshman, Milton-Union’s first state qualifier in more than four years.
Paulus then dropped his consolation match later in the night, falling 9-2 to Elyria Catholic’s Stan Bleich.
“It’s been very exciting,” Milton-Union coach Art Ratcliff said. “We’re very excited about Kamron being a freshman and getting this experience under his belt already. He works very hard.
“He’s participated in big tournaments before, but nothing compares to this venue. We were very close to getting two guys here this year, but the cards just didn’t fall that way.”
And Paulus knows what he has to do when he comes back, also.
“I’ve just got to stay more positive and be more offensive,” Paulus said. “That’s what wins you matches here. Even if the other guy gets the first takedown, I can’t get down on myself and have to keep working.”
“He won the league, was third at district – and he’s a freshman,” Ratcliff said. “He belonged here. He doesn’t just put in his two hours of work after school in practice – he does a lot of extra work. Which is what it takes.”
• Miami East
Miami East senior Austin Rush (138) and sophomore Ben Ferguson (285) both had similar finishes in their first-ever matches at the Division III state tournament Thursday at the Schottenstein Center.
Both found themselves having to gamble late, and both paid for it.
Rush was down 5-3 in the second period to Archbold’s Kenny Price, and he went for a risky move to get out of a tough spot. Price countered, though, and pinned him in 3:13.
And Ferguson wrestled a close match but found himself trailing 3-2 late in the third. He went for a takedown, but Independence’s Paul Deely was waiting for the shot, took Ferguson to his back and scored a pair of near-fall points to take a five-point lead, and Ferguson finished with a 7-2 loss.
“We just couldn’t get over that hump,” Miami East coach Mark Rose said. “Ben tried a throw at the end. When you get down to that last 15 seconds, you’ve got to try something. We just got caught.”
Rush fell in his consolation match later in the night via pinfall in 2:07 to Shadyside’s Brett Kahl, ending his strong career for the Vikings. And Ferguson also lost his consolation match via pinfall in 4:43 to West Lafayette Ridgewood’s Kelly Barthalow.
“When you get here, every match is tough,” Rose said. “You’ve got to be ready to throw down with anyone. Sometimes, it comes down to whoever can handle the bright lights better.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 440-5251 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.