By David Fong
MIAMI COUNTY — Some would argue it’s the toughest 6 minutes in sports.
This weekend officially kicks off the high school wrestling season. Few athletes have to sacrifice as much — on the mat or at the dinner table — as wrestlers. For local wrestlers, however, that hard work and sacrifice has paid off in the form of championships. Of all the sports in Miami County, none has produced more state champions than the sport of wrestling.
As we enter the high school wrestling season, here are five pressing questions facing Miami County wrestlers and their teams:
1) Can Joe Pascale stay healthy?
If he can, the sky really is the limit for the Troy senior, who likely will wrestle at 126 pounds this season. After a highly decorated junior high wrestling career, Pascale was a district placer as a freshman and missed out on the chance to go to state by one match. It seemed inevitable that he would make it to state the next year, eventually become a state placer and possibly make a run at a state championship.
Things didn’t go according to plan.
Pascale suffered a leg injury in the second tournament of his sophomore year and was forced to miss the rest of the season. He again got off to a quick start his junior year, but a freak eye injury suffered in practice forced him to miss almost all of last season, as well.
He’s got one last chance to make it to state. If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason to believe he can’t be a contender.
2) Will Miami County produce an individual state champion?
During a four-year stretch from 2012-15, Miami County had at least one wrestler standing atop the podium as a state champion in March. The past two years, however, there have been a series of near-misses, as Miami County hasn’t seen a wrestler claim a state championship.
Last year, both Miami East’s Alex Isbrandt and Covington’s Lance Miller finished second in the state at their respective weight classes. Troy Christian’s Jacob Edwards has placed second and third at state the past two seasons. Miami East’s Graham Shore is a three-time state placer, having taken third place each of the past two years. Troy Christian’s Ethan Turner placed third at state last year as a freshman.
With the exception of Miller, who graduated last spring, all return and will be among the favorites to win state titles in their weight classes. With that many solid chances at a state championship, it’s hard to picture the county not producing at least one state champion this season.
3) Will Olivia Shore make it to state?
Olivia Shore — Graham’s younger sister — already is well-established as one of the best girl wrestlers in American, having won multiple national championships and competed for the U.S. team earlier this year at the world championships. But is the Miami East freshman one of the best wrestlers in Ohio, regardless of gender?
We are about to find out.
The younger Shore will spend this winter trying to beat the boys and earn a trip to state as a freshman on Miami East’s team. This will be one of the most intriguing storylines in the state, as only one female has ever qualified for the state tournament before, which Crestwood’s Paige Nemec did seven years ago.
Shore will be looking to become just the second female ever to qualify for the state tournament and hopes to become the first ever to place at state before her career at Miami East is finished.
4) How will Covington replace Tom Barbee?
From 1975 until last season, Barbee coached at Covington, spending 28 of those years as the head wrestling coach. He basically was synonymous with the sport throughout the village. He retired after last season, but not before receiving the Ohio Wrestling Coaches Association Sportsmanship Award.
It’s not easy to replace a legend, but if anyone can do it, it’s new Covington head coach Eric Vanderhorst. Vanderhorst was himself a state qualifier at Covington in the early 1990s and has spent much of the past two decades as Barbee’s right-hand man and assistant coach.
With Vanderhorst at the helm, don’t be surprised if the Covington wrestling program does not miss a beat this season. He’s an excellent coach and his deep-seeded familiarity with the program should make the transition a smooth one.
5) Can Troy Christian return to the top of the mountain?
No team in Miami County has had as much success as the state level as the Eagles, who captured four Division III state titles in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2013, while finishing second in both 2006 and 2012. Last year, the Eagles finished seventh in the state. Troy Christian would like nothing more than to make another run at the top spot the state. The Eagles have a good returning nucleus in state placers Turner, Edwards and Jared Ford (fifth last year), along with state qualifier Damon Beatty.
Those four, however, most likely will be be able to produce enough points to make a serious run at a team title. Troy Christian will need to find some other wrestlers at different weights to truly put themselves into contention, but the Eagles have been there before — there’s no reason to think they can’t get back there again at some point.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong