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2018 Individual Wrestling State Tournament Preview

By Brian Brakeman
This weekend we will all be enjoying the 81st edition of the Ohio High School State Wrestling Tournament that is arguably one of the finest in the nation. Much of this is the result of the planning, management and creativity of its long-time director, Dr. Bruce Maurer. This is his 40th year as the leader of this complex operation that provides the perfect setting for the exceptional teams and outstanding individuals that appear here each year. Since 1979 his ability to constantly improve the premier event in Ohio high school wrestling should not go unnoticed.
This year’s tournament promises to be one of the most intriguing in years. For only the second time, each school classification has a potential four-time champion, while four other competitors will be seeking a third title including one junior, Dylan D’Emilio (Genoa). In addition, 15 other qualifiers have won state titles and another 17 have state runner-up credentials.
Potentially, the 30th four-time champion in Ohio history will be Tommy Hoskins (Xenia Legacy Christian Academy), an Oklahoma recruit, who has compiled a 139-16 record while competing at three different weight classes. Hampered by early season injuries each of the last two years he, nonetheless, still retains a Top 10 national ranking. He demonstrated his uncanny will to win early on while winning two overtime bouts and a 1-0 final to capture his first state title. Since then no one has come closer than five points while he won at 113 and 120-pounds. This year, two-time placer Cole Mattin (Delta) provides the most serious obstacle to a fourth title.  
Mitch Moore (St. Paris Graham), who is also looking for a fourth title, had a fabulous freshman season, upsetting the nation’s top-ranked wrestler in winning an Ironman title and then allowing only one escape in his four state bouts, punctuating it with a 61 second fall in the finals. Things have not slowed appreciably since then while compiling a 171-9 overall record, although half those losses have occurred this year at 145-pounds. He would be St. Paris Graham’s seventh four-time champ and this Virginia Tech recruit remains nationally ranked. An explosive performer, he faces tough competition again this year with two state finalists Ben Pasiuk (Carrollton) — who Moore beat in the finals last year — and Timothy Gage-Grunden (Wauseon) in the other half of the draw.
If one were to look at the four-year body of work, one would be hard-pressed to find a more accomplished portfolio than that earned by David Carr (Massillon Perry). Not only is he the favorite to win his fourth state title at 152 pounds, but he has been ranked first nationally at both this weight class and the one above it. It could be argued that the most anticipated bout in Columbus each of the last two years featured Carr — first decisioning the undefeated and eventual two-time champion Dominick Demas in 2016 and last year upending the undefeated state champion Jaden Mattox (Grove City Central Crossing) — wrestling near-perfect bouts in both cases under immense pressure. Expect another perfectly executed final round this year from this Iowa State recruit with an overall 188-7 record.
As was the case last year, there are fantastic match-ups at virtually every weight class in Div. I. One of the most interesting is at 120 pounds where a pair of returning state champions is surrounded by returning state placers and qualifiers. Two-time state champion and three-time placer Brendon Fenton (Elyria) is really “Mr. March” wrestling at his very best in this competition. He has had 35 career losses, but none in Columbus the last two years. This year he will enter as the top choice after defeating returning state champion Julian Tagg (Brecksville-Broadview Heights) at the brutal Perrysburg District. Tagg has been absolutely brilliant the last few months, winning in dominating fashion and could well meet Fenton again on Saturday night. Also in the mix are state placers Logan Heil (Brunswick), Jake Canitano (Solon) and Anthony Rini (Lakewood St. Edward) among others in a star-studded weight class.
Another crowded weight class is at 132 pounds where defending state champion Matt Fields (Brunswick) holds sway. A two-time finalist and a master of defense, he gave up only one escape in his three final state bouts last year. He’ll have to defeat two-time placers Matt Kazimer (Lakewood St. Edward) and Gabriel Tagg (Brecksville-Broadview Heights) to win again this year.
Two years ago Bryce Andonian (Lakewood St. Edward) won the state title at 106 pounds with four consecutive falls. Now 24 months and five weight classes later he looks to return to the top step of the podium at the very crowded 138 pound weight class. There is no lack of contenders. High state placers like Luke Baughman (Wadsworth) and Marco Regalbuto (Brecksville-Broadview Heights) are solid performers, while former state runner-up Lamonte Chapman (Fremont Ross) waits in the wings. The dark horse candidate is E’lan Heard (Cincinnati La Salle), a brilliant youth wrestler, who won the Fairmont District.
As there always are, a number of weight classes look to be dominated by three wrestlers with the seeding criteria and pairings formula determining which two must face-off in the semifinals. Two such, are consecutive weight classes at 182 and 195 pounds. In the former case the triumvirate of Joey Baughman (Wadsworth), twice a state runner-up and three-time placer, settles into the lower half of the bracket with senior Trevor Lawson (Powell Olentangy Liberty), second and third the last two years, while Victor Marcelli (Massillon Jackson), a two-time placer, competes on the other side. All three are excellent. Baughman, an all-state quarterback and Ohio Mr. Football, looks to rebound from an overtime final’s loss last year to a competitor he had pinned the week before. Lawson was third last year after losing a close state final bout two years ago. Marcelli lost to Lawson that year by a point and has since been hampered by injuries, but defeated Baughman in the finals at the Hoover District.
Much the same can be expected at 195 pounds, where there will be a clash of styles. Dakota Howard (Lakewood St. Edward) is a free-wheeling, high-scoring, fun-to-watch competitor who scores in bunches. In his first three state bouts last year he scored 44 points. In contrast Jared Ball (Hilliard Darby) is a powerful pinner, perhaps favored last year, but a one-point semifinal loss pushed him down to third. This year he had a great preseason, leading to an exceptional season. And then there’s Jake Thompson, winning two TB’s before losing a close bout for the 182 pound title. Howard gets the lower bracket, meaning Ball versus Thompson will likely happen on Friday night.
Emil Soehnlen (Massillon Perry) had a great state tournament last year, winning three very close state bouts to take home a state title (as did his father) in what could be called a mild upset. He has built on that to craft a great season including an Ironman and Beast of the East finals. In what should be an absolute fascinating match-up, he could well meet Carson Kharchla (Powell Olentangy Liberty) in the semifinals, who has been sensational all year. Extremely strong, active and well-trained, he, for example, pinned D-3 state champion Jake Lagoa (Ashtabula St. John) in the first period at Brecksville.
One of the finest wrestlers in Ohio the past four years has been the superb Jaden Mattox, who has compiled a 158-6 overall record while reaching the state finals the past three years. One has to admire both his exceptional talent and his willingness to challenge the very best performers. With just a few small changes he could easily be going for his fourth state title. Check him out at 160 pounds.
Last year Lakewood St. Edward demonstrated great team depth while winning their third-consecutive team title and their 31st since 1978 (78 percent of the team titles in that time frame). They did it with only one champion, but placed seven wrestlers in the top five, and six of them return this year—Rini (120), Kazimer (132), Andonian (138), Dover (145) and state runners-up Hepner (126) Howard (195). Add in the freshman stalwarts Gallagher (145) and Hightower (160) plus four other qualifiers and they become narrow favorites.
There are at least five other very good teams that could challenge Lakewood St. Edward for the title.  Brecksville-Broadview Heights was fifth last year and qualified 10 out of their very difficult district. The Tagg brothers (120/132) have both been finalists and Regalbuto placed fifth last year. They were able to get former qualifiers Jimmy Carmany (126), Ethan Hatcher (170) and Zach D’Anna (220) into the state brackets and the brilliant freshman Voinovich (145) could be a finalist.
Watch out for Cincinnati La Salle with their 10 qualifiers and seven district champions. The “B Squad”—Lucas Byrd (113), Michael Baker (195) and Garrett Bledsoe (220) are all excellent with the first named about due for a title. Add in the sophomore Heard (138), another potential finalist, Dustin Norris (106), Antoine Allen (120) and Blake Wilson (182) and this team could score big-time points on a hot weekend.
Four other powerful squads — Wadsworth (9), Massillon Perry (8), Lancaster (7) and Elyria (7) — also loom on the horizon. Each has terrific state finalist quality wrestlers, but will need help from their other qualifiers. Of particular note is Wadsworth with the two Baughmans (138/182), North (145), McComas (220) and heavyweight favorite Earnest (285).
One of the most highly anticipated bouts in Div. II will be the battle for the state title at 160 pounds. Two-time state champion Kevon Freeman (Mentor Lake Catholic) is once again up two weight classes as he has built an overall record of 166-23. Last year he raced through the state bracket without allowing a point. He’ll likely face the brilliant defending state champion at this weight class Ryan Thomas (St. Paris Graham) and like Freeman a three-time state placer. Last year Thomas, 172-19 overall defeated the then defending state champion Georgio Poullas in overtime in one of the most exciting bouts of Saturday evening.
Three state champions return at 120, 138 and182 pounds. Nate Keaton (Circleville) has accumulated 205 victories and three state placements in a sparkling career that also includes an Ironman title. He’ll likely take his vaunted defensive skills against another three-time placer, Matt Cardello (Cuyahoga Falls CVCA), the third time this duo has been at the same weight class. Last year he defeated the mercurial Cardello in the semifinals, a key element in his run to the title. At 138 pounds, state champion J. D. Stickley (St. Paris Graham) can be easily overshadowed among all the high-profile performers on that squad. Still, he was 45-2 last while winning at 138 pounds, outscoring his four opponents by a combined 38-5 margin. He used that as a foundation for a brilliant senior season, including an Ironman title. David Crawford (Canfield), also a three-time state placer, heads the field at 182 pounds. It’s a strong bracket, but he defeated his most persistent rival, David Heath (Akron St. Vincent St. Mary) in the district final. He may have to do it again on Saturday night.
Based on somewhat incomplete data and a declining memory there had been until last year only five sets of twins who had won state titles in the same year — Sadowskys, Jenkins, McKeons, Collins and Iacabonis. Then last year Jacob and Jordan Decatur (Cuyahoga Falls CVCA) both won as sophomores, becoming the first twins to win in 20 years, and the first ever as sophomores. No set has ever won more than once so it is possible that we’ll see something unprecedented if Jacob wins again at 106 pounds and Jordan at 132 pounds. Both are nationally ranked with Jacob seen as the top 106-pounder in the country.
In what should be a classic match-up at 195 pounds, Stone Day (Germantown Valley View) and Gage Braun (St. Paris Graham) should meet for the third time. Both lost hard-to-swallow state finals last year. Braun dropped a one-point decision at 182 pounds while Day lost in the ultimate tie-breaker to Braun teammate Kavan Sarver, who he had defeated at both the sectional and district level. This year they have split their two bouts with Braun winning in the district final.
When John and Shirley Jordan had little James on February 17, 1964 it unleashed a chain of events that are still with us today. I’m sure they had little expectation of the role wrestling would play in their lives. Shortly, thereafter, they added Jeff, and, much later, five grandsons joined the family. That group of seven has now won 24 individual state titles and the last of the grandsons, Rocky Jordan (St. Paris Graham), is now a senior at 170 pounds and a heavy favorite to add one more title to that total. Currently on a 90 plus winning streak, this potential three-time champion outscored his last eight state opponents by an 82-5 margin. The dynasty ends, but the legend grows.
When you find out that a team has lost a returning state champion and a past state runner-up, you might assume that it’s not going to be a great year. Not so for St. Paris Graham. It does mean they’re not likely to challenge the team point record they set in 2009, but their 18th consecutive team title (and 20th overall) seems safely in hand. They still have returning champions in J.D. Stickley (138), Mitch Moore (145), Ryan Thomas (160) and Rocky Jordan (170) and returning placers in Tanner Jordan (113), Joey Sanchez (152), Gage Braun (195) and Johnny Shafer (220) so the picture is pretty clear. Add in the freshmen Alex Martin (120) and Nick Moore (126) and other 200 point tournament looks to be at hand.
Wauseon, third last year, looked very strong in winning the State Duals, as St. Paris Graham moved up to Div. I, but even with nine qualifiers they lack the firepower to challenge the defending champs. Two-time state runner-up Sandro Ramirez (152), state runner-up Gage Grunden (145) and state placer Hunter Yackee (132) make this a formidable squad. Qualifiers Gavin Ritter (113), Alex Slattman (120) and Xavier Torres (160) should score and in an alternate universe where St. Paris is in Indiana, they would be heavy favorites.
Two-time runner-up Canfield may well make it three in a row this year qualifying seven, the majority in the upper weight classes. David Crawford (182) is a defending state champion with Tyler Stein (220). Anthony D’Alesio (170) and Nick Crawford (195) having past state experience. Factor in a run by the excellent Ethan Fletcher (106) and help from Daniel Kapalko (285) and Wauseon might be in sight. They may not have the numbers with five qualifiers, but last year Cuyahoga Falls CVCA rode their lightweights to a fourth-place finish, and they’re all back. The Decatur twins (Jacob 106/Jordan 132) return to defend state titles and that could generate 50 team points while Matthew Cardello (120) could easily be a finalist. Breslin Walker (220) qualified as a district finalist at 195 pounds as a freshman last year and is even better this year. If he does some heavy scoring Wauseon will need to be wrestle well to get that elusive trophy.
While Hoskins’ quest for a fourth state title stands out in the individual competition in Div. III, Dylan D’Emilio (Genoa) is not far behind. Only a junior, he is already half way to four titles while posting 152-3 overall record. A ferocious pinner, he has dominated at the state meet with his eight wins encompassing six falls and two shutouts. He leads a very strong Genoa team and barring some unexpected mishap is a strong favorite to win again at 132 pounds, up three weight classes from last year.
One of the most anticipated bouts in this classification is likely to occur at 160 pounds. Working to defend the title he won at this weight class last year, James Limongi (Genoa) crafted another outstanding season while wrestling a demanding schedule. Only a junior, he is particularly strong on top. Challenging is four-time state qualifier and two-time placer Colt Yinger (Nelsonville York), third and second the last two years. He has lost only three times the last two seasons, and now back at Nelsonville-York seems poised to make a strong run at the title.
There are two upper weight state champions who deserve a close look. Gaige Willis (Andover Pymatuning Valley) became his school’s first state champion last year and is a three-time state placer. He is one of only two wrestlers in the tournament who has gone undefeated the past two seasons (Rocky Jordan is the other) and now sports an 86 match win streak. Now at 220 pounds he is a strong favorite to repeat. It is exceedingly rare for a freshman to win a state title in the back half of the weight classes, and yet Jacob Lagoa (Ashtabula St. John) seemed to come out of nowhere to capture the title at 152 pounds. This was no fluke as he defeated a representative field with only his final match against the redoubtable Yinger going the full six minutes. The first state champion from his school he faces strong opposition in his quest for a second title. Only one wrestler representing Ashtabula County has won as many as two state titles (Bill Nye, 1980-81) so Lagoa opens up the possibility of matching or, eventually surpassing that mark.
Genoa, coming off its victory at the State Dual Meet Tournament, will be heavy favorites to double up by winning here. Second last year, the team has five potential finalists including state champions Dylan D’Emilio (132). Oscar Sanchez (113) and James Limongi (160). Factor in state runner-up Julian Sanchez (120) and state qualifier Dustiin Morgillo (138) and that is a lot of points. Get used to seeing this team, as all five of these boys will be back next year.
The battle for the runner-up trophy is wide open such that a hot weekend could propel any of a half-dozen team into second place. Tuslaw has eight qualifiers and Rootstown has five, but only three with previous state experience. However, it is a solid trio with Ryan Boyle (195), Chris Langguth (182) and Niko Chilson (132) all placing in the top six, and who should place higher this year.
With five qualifiers, Troy Christian cannot be overlooked. They have won four state team titles since 2007 and have a history of out-performing expectations. Jacob Edwards (132), Ethan Turner (113) and Jared Ford (138) all have finalist potential with the first named second two years ago. This is Damon Beatty’s (182) second trip to the state meet and he won a bout last year.
Coach Matt Yinger has done a great job in developing Nelsonville-York into a potential second place finisher. They return four placers led by state runner-up Colt Yinger (160) and placers Noah Inboden (132), Collin Yinger (106) and Tyler Speelman (170) with potential help from two-time qualifier Donovan McCollister (220). Five state scorers might vault them into second place.