By David Fong
COLUMBUS — At the state wrestling tournament, the spotlights never get dimmer, the crowds never get quieter, the magnitude is never any smaller and — most of all — it never gets any easier.
“I’m always nervous,” said Miami East junior Graham Shore who, despite being a two-time state placer, admitted having jitters in his first match Thursday in the opening round of the Ohio High School Athletic Association state wrestling tournament at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus. “I’m not as scared as freshman year, but you are always nervous.”
Troy Christian coach Steve Goudy — who has been bringing wrestlers to the state tournament for more than three decades — knows how nerve-wracking the state tournament can be, particularly on the first day. He saw a two-time state placer drop his opening match and a pair of his district champions pushed to the limit in the first round Thursday.
“This is state, brother,” Goudy said after Troy Christian wrestlers went 4-2 in the opening round Thursday. “This is big boy wrestling now. You’ve got to be ready to go every time you go out there.”
A total of 15 Miami County wrestlers from five different teams — Tippecanoe in Division II and Troy Christian, Miami East, Milton-Union and Covington — competed Thursday:
The Eagles — who had the largest contingent of any county team entering the state tournament — went 4-2 in the first round of competition. Picking up opening round wins for the Eagles were Ethan Turner (106 pounds), Jacob Edwards (113), Jared Ford (138) and Seth Douglas (285).
“We were hoping to do a little better in the first round,” Goudy said. “We had some kids who got sick right after districts, but that’s no excuse. You’ve got to be ready to come over here and pull the trigger.”
Turner — a district champ wrestling a No. 4 seed in the first round — got pushed to the limit while gutting out a 4-3 win over Tontogany Ostego’s Jake Manley. He’ll wrestle Coshocton’s Lucian Bring in today’s championship quarterfinals.
“When you’ve got a No. 1 vs. a No. 4, they have nothing to lose and they can go for broke,” Turner said of getting pushed so hard by the lower seed. “I didn’t quite expect that. It was a wake-up call for me. I’ve got to get my head on right for my next match.”
Edwards got off to a slow start before turning it on in an 11-1 major decision victory over West Jefferson’s David Staten. He’ll face Oak Harbor’s Cameron Dickman in today’s championship quarterfinals. Edwards was a state runner-up last season.
“It feels good,” Edwards said. “I was able to come in and work the nerves out a little in my first match. It’s always good to get that first win — or that first match — out of the way.”
Ford — another district champion facing off against a No. 4 seed in the opening round — was tied 1-1 with Marion Pleasant’s Preson Smith at the end of regulation, but would score a 6-1 victory in overtime. He’ll face Archbold’s Noah Mattin in today’s championship quarterfinals.
“No, not at all,” Ford said when asked if going to overtime was what he expected in his first match. “After districts I got sick real bad for two days. It didn’t go like I expected, but I got the win … that’s all that matters.”
Douglas was able to pick up his first victory at state, pinning Galion’s Mason Weldon in 5:08. Douglas went 0-2 as a sophomore competing at state, then failed to qualify for state last year. He will face Magnolia Sandy Valley’s Francesco Borsellino in today’s championship quarterfinals.
“It feels awesome,” Douglas said. “As a senior, I know this is my last chance to ever wrestle here. I just wanted to come out and make the best of it.”
A pair of Eagles dropped their first-round matches, but both rebounded to win their consolation matches and move on to today’s consolation rounds.
At 132 pounds, senior Michael Sergent — a two-time state placer — was upset by Archbold’s Gavin Grime 13-12 in his first match. In the consolation round, Sergent defeated West Jefferson’s Damir Pereira 8-4 to advance to today’s second consolation round. At 182 pounds, Damon Beatty was pinned by two-time state champion James Handwerk in 59 seconds. In his consolation match, Beatty defeated Sugarcreek Garaway’s Gunnar Angel by a 15-0 technical fall.
Miami East went 2-2 in the opening rounds, with two-time state placers Shore (120 pounds) and Alex Isbrandt (132) both picking up victories.
Shore got things rolling for East with an 18-8 major decision victory over Brooklyn’s Andrew Zarins. Shore will face Genoa Area’s Julian Sanchez in today’s championship quarterfinals. Shore placed seventh at state as a freshman and third last year.
“It feels good to be back,” Shore said. “I was ready to go.”
Isbrandt — who placed seventh as both a freshman and a sophomore — opened with an 11-2 major decision over Rossford’s Tanner Krotzer. He’ll meet Garrettsville Garfield’s Logan Kissell in today’s championship quarterfinals.
“I felt pretty good, pretty normal,” he said. “You’ve got to treat this like a regular tournament. Now I need to come back and wrestle stronger the next time.”
A pair of Vikings suffered losses in the opening round, but both bounced back to win their first consolation matches and advance through to today.
At 113 pounds, Kaleb Nickels lost a 10-4 decision to Johnstown Northrdige’s Klay Reeves. In his consolation match, Nickels beat Defiance Tinora’s Jordan Bowers 10-6 to advance to the second consolation round.
At 138 pounds, Zane Strubler lost a 5-4 heartbreaker to Galion Northmor’s Conan Becker in the first round. In his consolation match, Strubler beat Cuyahoga Heights’ Trey Combs 3-2 to advance to the second consolation round.
“Our kids wrestled well,” East coach Mark Rose said. “Obviously we would have liked to have gone 4-0 in the first round, but you always want to win every match here. Overall, though, I’m pleased with how our kids wrestled.”
After qualifying for state as a sophomore and missing out as a junior, Covington senior Lance Miller (160 pounds) made an impressive return trip to state, defeating Smithville’s Bailey Blair by major decision, 10-2. He’ll face West Jefferson’s Josh Doherty — a state runner-up last year at 160 — today in the championship quarterfinals.
“It feels good,” Miller said of being back at state. “This is something I worked for and trained for. I was a lot more prepared and a lot more confident this time.”
Senior Kamron Paulus (138 pounds) — the lone county wrestler making his fourth apperance at state this year — got off to a strong start in his final trip to state, scoring an 8-0 major decision victory over Bridgeport’s Maon Kuneff. Paulus — who is looking to place for the first time in his four appearances at state — will meet Milan Edison’s Brady Barnett in today’s championship quarterfinals.
Two other Bulldogs dropped their first-round matches Thursday. Both were eliminated from the tournament in their consolation matches.
At 145 pounds, senior Jordan Cress lost a 6-0 decision to Galion Northmor’s Conor Becker. In his consolation match, Cress saw his wrestling career come to an unfortunate end with a 6-3 loss to Milan Edison’s Alex Neuberger. At 220 pounds, Tyler Courtright was pinned by Barnesville’s Caide Bunfill in 1:28. In his consolation match, Courtright saw his season come to an end when he was pinned by Carey’s Jon Racheter in 3:41.
Tippecanoe’s Caleb Blake (138 pounds), lost his opening round match in the Division II tournament. He was pinned by Urichsville Claymont’s Dakota Bunting in 5:14. In his consolation match, Blake won his consolation match by default to advance to the second round of consolation matches.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong