By David Fong
This wasn’t the first great wrestling team in Miami East history.
But, strictly from a statistical point of view, it may have been the best.
The Vikings carried on their rich wrestling tradition — and took things to another level — during the 2017-18 season, winning their first sectional title since 1994, the first district title in school history and placing eighth at the Division III state meet, the highest finish in school history.
For all of the these reasons, the Miami East wrestling team is the 2017-18 Troy Daily News Boys Team of the Year.
“It was a great year for us,” Miami East coach Mark Rose said. “Obviously you’ll always look back and wish you would have done some things different, but overall, we’ve got to be happy with how we did. We did some things we’ve never done before or haven’t done in a long time.”
Expectations were high for the Vikings heading into the season, and it didn’t take Miami East to announce its presence to the wrestling world. One of East’s first big wins of the season came at the Tipp City Red Devil Invitational, where Miami East won with 240 points, 10 points ahead of Valley View.
At that meet, the Vikings had 10 wrestlers place, with Graham Shore (120 pounds), Kaleb Nickels (126), Alex Isbrandt (138), Zane Strubler (145) and Brenden Dalton (220) all winning individual titles.
Several weeks later, Miami East wrestled at the high-profile Media Invitational. Despite being one of the smallest schools in the tournament, East — a Division III school competing primarily against Division I programs — placed eighth.
Shore won an individual title, while younger sister Olivia (106) became the first girl ever to place at the tournament. It would be the first of many times Olivia Shore would make history throughout the season. Isbrandt placed second at the tournament, while Dalton was seventh and Strubler was eighth.
East followed that up by winning the Troy Invitational, again defeating a number of Division I schools. Ten wrestlers placed at the Troy Invitational, while Graham Shore, Nickels, Isbrandt, Strubler and Dalton all won championships.
“I think as one of the smaller schools, you always have a chip on your shoulder,” Rose said. “It’s the same thing when we go up to Medina — it’s pretty much all Division I schools up there. When you are a smaller school, you always want to perform well, especially when you are at someplace close like Troy.
“It feels pretty good to win this. We’ve been working really hard and we’ve had some injuries we’ve had to overcome. We’re still not at full strength yet, but I was very pleased with how we wrestled.”
In late January, Miami East won the Lima Central Catholic Thunderbird Invitational with 196 points, narrowly outpointing Troy Christian, which finished with 188.5 points.
Olivia Shore became the first female in history to win the tournament. Her brother Graham captured a title, as did Isbrandt. Nickels placed second, while Strubler placed third.
Several weeks later, Miami East rolled into the Division III sectional tournament at Covington High School, looking for the school’s first sectional title since 1994. The Vikings did just that, piling up 244 points. Troy Christian was second with 209.5 points.
“I’m extremely happy,” Rose said. “We brought 12 kids and we placed 12 kids. We got 10 kids to districts and two alternates. You can’t ask much more from your kids than that. We wrestled extremely well today.”
Capturing sectional titles for Miami East were the Shore siblings, Isbrandt, Strubler, Travis Ferguson (152) and Dalton. Nickels placed second. Garrett Kowalak (113) and Matthew Welker (170) placed third and Cole Mergler (132) placed fourth. Jarrett Winner (160) and Michael Miller (182) both placed fifth.
The next week, Miami East went into Hobart Arena in Troy looking for the first district wrestling title in school history. Once again, it came down to a close battle between East and Troy Christian at the top of the standings. The Vikings made history, scoring 140 points take the title, while the Eagles were second with 135 points.
Shore, Isbrandt and Dalton all won district championships for the Vikings, while Nickels finished third. By placing in the top four at disricts, all four Miami East wrestlers earned a trip to the state meet. Olivia Shore placed sixth and Strubler placed fifth for the Vikings.
“For us to win the first district title in school history, this feels amazing,” Rose said. “Our whole team wrestled well. I am so proud of our kids. I couldn’t be more excited for them.”
At the state meet, Nickels and Dalton each won one match before being eliminated from the tournament. Shore and Isbrandt, meanwhile, became just the second and third wrestlers in school history to become four-time state placers.
Isbrandt — wrestling with an injured shoulder — won his first two matches before falling in the semifinals. He would finish his career by placing fourth at state.
“He had a great career,” Rose said. “It’s a short list of four-time state placers at our school, and one of them (Ryan Gambill) is a three-time state champion. That’s a small club. I’ve got a lot of emotions about him leaving that I’m trying to keep bottled up. The only thing that would probably feel the same is if my son graduated.”
Shore, meanwhile, after years of near-misses, finally brought him the elusive state title he had been seeking after placing seventh as a freshman and third as both a sophomore and junior.
He breezed through his first three matches, winning by technical fall, major decision and a 9-3 decision. That set up a finals rematch with Genoa Area’s Julian Sanchez, the wrestler who had defeated him the quarterfinals the year before.
Shore was able to come from behind to defeat Sanchez, making him just the second wrestler in Miami East history to capture a state wrestling championship.
“It’s a great feeling,” Shore said immediately after the match. “Incredible. It’s hard to describe, really.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong