Although it will look a bit different this year, area wrestlers will once again get the chance to showcase their skills versus the best competition in the state when the OHSAA State Wrestling Tournament is held this Saturday and Sunday.
Last year the tournament was canceled all together due to the onset of the pandemic, and this year it will be split up among three Central District high schools. Division I athletes will compete at Hilliard Darby, Division II is at Marengo Highland, and Division III Marion Harding.
Wauseon is sending six to the D-II tournament — many of whom are first time qualifiers.
“I was very pleased to get six wrestlers out of our district,” said head coach Mike Ritter. “For the past several years, we’ve had a Northeast Sectional feed into the Northwest District. This year the Northeast seeded their teams to allow them to choose which district they would attend. That brought a different set of teams over this year, which made our already tough district even more competitive. So, to take six kids out of that tournament was very satisfying. We actually qualified more kids than any other team out of the district, which surprised me. We didn’t have as many kids in the championship round as some other teams, but our kids in the consolation rounds wrestled great.”
The Indians do have senior Damon Molina back with state experience. Sporting a 41-8 record at 120 pounds, Molina was district runner-up at Norwalk last weekend and the week prior, sectional champion.
He will be looking for his first state placement after not getting the chance to compete a season ago. In 2019, Molina qualified but finished 1-2.
“This will be Damon’s third state qualification. Unfortunately they didn’t get to compete at the tournament last year, so I know Damon’s expectations this year are to get on that podium. He has a pretty tough weight class, but Damon seems to be able to peak at the right time, so I’m expecting the same out of him this weekend,” said Ritter.
Their other previous state qualifier is junior Lawson Grime at 132 pounds. He was also a casualty to last year’s tournament being canceled.
Grime comes in with a 46-6 record and off a strong district showing where he took third place.
Wauseon has a pair of brothers advancing who will be getting their feet wet on the big stage.
Sophomore Collin Twigg (49-5) made it at 106 pounds and junior Connor Twigg (47-4) 152. They each took fourth at the Norwalk District and have their sights set on a state placement.
Sophomore Zaidan Kessler (22-5) will represent the Indians at 160 pounds. Like the Twiggs, Kessler also took fourth at districts.
Up one weight class, freshman Austin Kovar (29-8) looks to make noise at 170 pounds. He certainly made his presence felt at Norwalk, going 4-1 to finish third. Kovar collected three pins during his district run, including consecutive falls to close out his day.
Ritter encourages his wrestlers to wipe the slate clean heading into this weekend — in particular the first-time qualifiers.
“The biggest thing we try and have those guys go into their first state tournament with is the mindset that everything starts 0-0 this weekend,” he said. “It’s not always the “better” kid on paper that wins…it’s the kid who has prepared better, has the right mindset and believes they can win. We have a saying that we’ve used all year. If you wrestle tough, smart and in good position, you give yourself a chance to win. That is very important for this weekend.”
Delta looks to make the area proud in sending seven to the D-III tournament at Marion Harding.
The Panthers’ most high profile wrestlers are senior Zack Mattin (48-1) at 132 pounds and junior Austin Kohlhofer (48-0) at 220.
Mattin was a 106-pound state champion two years ago — the last time the tournament was held — and is a four-time state qualifier. He was favored to be a repeat champion going into the 2020 competition.
“I’m extremely excited that Zack gets the opportunity to defend his state title from his sophomore year,” said Panther head coach Anthony Carrizales. “Last year I was fully confident that he would repeat and he had the opportunity stolen from him. He is incredibly focused and disciplined. I have no doubt that he’s better prepared than any kid in the state and have no doubt that he’s going to win another state title.”
To earn his second state title, Mattin might have to avenge his only loss of the season, an 11-2 defeat at the hands of Camron Lacure of Legacy Christian during the semifinal match of the OHSWCA State Duals earlier this year. However, Lacure and Mattin are on opposite sides of the bracket.
Despite making it for the second straight season, this will be Kohlhofer’s first chance to wrestle at state. He and Austin Ryder of Dalton (39-0) are each undefeated in the 220-pound weight class, but on opposite sides.
Kohlhofer could have to get through state placer Kaden Kidd of Norwayne (29-3) or fellow district champion Julien Griffith of Marion Pleasant (27-3) in the semifinal to reach the championship.
“Austin is an incredible talent who works as hard as any 220 pounder in the state,” explained Carrizales. “It’s been a lot of fun watching him develop as a wrestler being that he really has only been wrestling since junior high. When you look at his conditioning, strength, speed, and overall wrestling ability, I don’t see anyone being able to beat him this year.”
Also qualifying for the second straight year for the Panthers are sophomore Evan Hanefeld (30-13) and senior Max Hoffman (41-6). Hanefeld faces Reese Stephen of Barnesville (39-3) in a 106-pound first round matchup, while Hoffman opens with Caleb Stammen of Coldwater (42-4) at 195 pounds.
Carrizales is eager to see what Hoffman can do in his first state appearance.
“Our entire staff is super pumped about Max Hoffman competing at state next weekend at 195,” he said. “Last year he qualified for the first time after battling through a meat grinder district to place third. Last weekend at districts we got to watch him totally gutcheck himself to an overtime win to make the finals and qualify again. He’s a great example of what our Delta tradition is about. Hard work and toughness translate to success.”
First-time qualifiers for Delta are junior Carson Chiesa (39-10) at 120 pounds, senior Gabe Meyer (34-8) at 138 pounds, and junior Evan Perry (31-10) at 152.
Meyer’s weight class is a tough one, featuring three state placers and four who previously qualified for the tournament. Archbold freshman Brodie Dominique (40-3) is also in that field.
Dominique’s draw is no cake walk for his first state appearance, as he opens up with two-time state placer and four-time state qualifier, Cael Vanderhorst of Covington (49-1). Then, should he get by that challenge, potentially waiting for him in the quarterfinal is Newcomerstown’s Logan Hursey (45-0).
But Archbold coach Brian Becher believes in his young wrestler. “Brodie has competed in many big tournaments around the country growing up so he possesses the poise of a wrestler much older than what he is,” Becher said.
Blue Streak senior Carson Meyer (46-3) at 182 pounds looks to make the most of his showing at state. Like many others in the area, he would have been a first time qualifier in 2020 but never got his chance because of COVID-19.
Meyer comes into the tournament on a roll, having claimed sectional and district titles in back-to-back weeks. “Carson has been wrestling really well lately. He has become very difficult for people to score on as he hasn’t given up a takedown since January,” said Becher.
Archbold’s coach thinks his two qualifiers are in for a big weekend.
“We expect both Carson and Brodie to be high placers,” he said.
At heavyweight in Division III, Swanton senior Brodie Stevens boasts a 30-2 record. Stevens will take on Jake Thiel of Mechanicsburg (22-9) in his opening match. He is on the same side of the bracket as a fellow district champion from northwest Ohio, Jeff Meyer of Columbus Grove (45-2), who he could get in a semifinal matchup.
Like the OHSAA has been doing for the tournaments leading up to state, at each site they will be splitting the tournament into two sessions with weights 106-145 going in the morning and 152-285 in the afternoon — for the first day only.
So on Saturday action for the lower weights (106-145) begins at 10 a.m. and at 4:30 p.m. for the upper weights (152-285). All championship semifinal matches and various other place matches are set for Sunday morning, while the finals for all weights begins at 4:30 p.m.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010.