By David Fong
CASSTOWN — By his own admission, Graham Shore was never a wrestling prodigy.
“I wasn’t very good,” the Miami East graduate said of his nascent days as a wrestler. “I lost a lot of matches. I got beat up a lot.”
But Shore never quit. He kept working, putting in countless hours of practice and criss-crossing the nation, looking for the best competition he could find in tournaments.
And, through sheer force of will and determination, Shore became one of the best wrestlers in the state of Ohio, eventually capturing a Division III state championship at 120 pounds last winter, becoming just the second wrestler in school history to do so. This fall, he’ll be a Division I college wrestler at the United States Air Force Academy.
For all his accomplishments on the wrestling mat, Shore has been named the 2017-18 Troy Daily News Boys Athlete of the Year. It was an incredibly successful year for boys individual sports in Miami County, as three athletes captured state titles. Special consideration also was given to Troy Christian wrestler Ethan Turner, who won a Division III state title at 113 pounds, and Covington pole vaulter Jett Murphy, who captured a Division III state title this spring.
“It feels incredible,” Shore said moments after winning his state championship. “It’s the best feeling in the world. This is what I’ve been working for the past four years. It’s pretty cool to see all of your hard work actually pay off.”
After placing at state the previous three years — seventh as a freshman and third as both a sophomore and junior — Shore entered the 2017-18 season as a man on a mission. He was largely untouched throughout the regular season, losing just one match along the way. In tournaments, he captured titles at the Tipp City Red Devil Invitational, the prestigious Medina Invitational, Troy Invitational and Lima Central Catholic Thunderbird Invitational.
He was equally dominant in the postseason, breezing through the Division III sectional and district tournaments. Over the course of those two tournaments, he pinned all six of his opponents. Of those six opponents, none of them made it to the third period and four of them were pinned in the first period.
That earned Shore his fourth trip to the state meet — a place that had resulted in heartache the previous three years for Shore. As a freshman he placed seventh, then he placed third as both a sophomore and junior. He entered his final state tournament with the same singular focus he had shown all season.
He dominated the competition early, defeating Apple Creek Waynedale’s Storm Stanley by a 23-8 technical fall in the first round, then defeating Oak Harbor’s Cameron Dickman by a 16-6 major decision in the second round. In the semifinals, he defeated Ashland Crestview’s Clay Eagle by a 9-3 decision.
That set up a finals rematch against Genoa Area’s Julian Sanchez, who had ended Shore’s dream of a state title the year before with a 4-2 victory in the quarterfinals.
“I’m glad I got him in the finals — that’s who I wanted,” Shore said. “He’s a great wrestler. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. I wanted another shot at him.”
After a scoreless first period, Sanchez chose the down position to start the second period. He was able to escape and earn one point, then the two wrestlers battled to a stalemate the rest of the period, allowing Sanchez to take a 1-0 lead into the third and final period.
At that point, Shore went against conventional wisdom and, rather than take the down position and try to earn an escape to tie the match, he went neutral, knowing he’d need a takedown to beat Sanchez.
“That was our game plan all along,” Miami East coach Mark Rose said. “Sanchez is an animal on top. We didn’t want to give him that opportunity. We wanted to wrestle this match on our feet. That’s where Graham is best. We wrestled five minutes and 30 seconds of this match on our feet. Besides, even if you get the escape in that situation, you still have to get the takedown to win it, or else you are tied 1-1 and going into overtime.”
The plan worked to perfection as Shore scored the takedown early in the third period, then allowed an escape to tie the match at 2-2. Shore went back to work and scored a second takedown to take a 4-2 lead with 40 seconds left in the match. Sanchez would earn another escape, trimming Shore’s lead to 4-3. Shore was able to hold off a furious final charge by Sanchez to bring home East’s first state wrestling title since Ryan Gambill won his third and final state title in 2008.
“I knew it was going to be a battle, because that’s the kind of competitor Julian Sanchez is,” Shore said. “He’s going to go whistle-to-whistle for the whole six minutes. He’s a bad dude. That match proved it.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong