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2015 OHSAA
Individual Wrestling
State Tournament
Preview

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2015 STATE WRESTLING PREVIEW

 

By Brian Brakeman

 

Anticipation is always at a fever pitch for the Ohio High School State Wrestling Tournament and this year is no exception. The 78th edition of this remarkable tournament will again feature a blend of both team and individual competition at the very highest level. In Divisions I and III, parity is the watchword in both the team and individual contests with only a combined 11 former state champions in these two classifications and expectations of down-to-the-wire battles for the team trophy. In Division II, perennial powerhouse St. Paris Graham remains in the forefront with opportunities to have another record-breaking season. Still, on an individual basis, there are a number of fascinating matchups that include the only possible battle between former state champions. For the first time since 2007 we entered the season without the possibility of a four-time state champion, but four wrestlers will be seeking a third title, including two juniors, perhaps on their way to four championships in 2016, but each face substantial obstacles this year.

 

Division I

It has been a long time since four or more teams have gone into the state meet in Division I with a real chance of winning. This year, that could well change. Defending champion Massillon Perry is working to become the first public school since Maple Heights in 1969 to win back-to-back state team titles. While much of that powerhouse squad of 2014 graduated, seven qualifiers return, including three wrestlers who have state final experience—Jake Newhouse (120), Jose Rodriquez (126) and Nick Steed (145). Hats off to their coach, Dave Riggs, who became the first Division I coach since John Matteucci in 1975 to win a state title as both a wrestler and a coach. For the first time since 1977, Lakewood St. Edward failed to finish in the top four last year. However, the Eagles have rebounded with a vengeance, fielding a rapidly improving squad that sends eight qualifiers to the Value City Arena, including former state placers Alan Hart (113), L.J. Bentley (126) and Parker Knapp (220). State dual meet champions Brecksville-Broadview Heights also seems well-equipped to play a key role in the final resolution of the team competition. A top five team the past two years, the Bees are led by two-time state runner-up Austen Assad (126) and state placers Jarod Bronstrup (106), Justin DeMicco (138) and Sonny Lucas (145). Coming on with a late season surge is Elyria with eight qualifiers, including potential state finalists Ben Darmstadt (182) and Kevin Vough (285). Other strong teams include Mason (7 qualifiers), Grove City Central Crossing (6) and Wadsworth (5). 

 

There are only five wrestlers in Division I who have won an individual state title and none who have won more than one. Nevertheless, the competition in virtually every weight class should be close and exciting. Of particular interest are the weight classes from 120 to 145 pounds that feature many of the best wrestlers in Division I, and where the competition is at least three deep. The most anticipated battle will be at 126 pounds where three exceptional contestants, the aforementioned Assad, Bentley and Rodriguez, each representing a team that goes into the meet as a co-favorite, will collide. Assad, with 163 career victories, has gone 2-2-3 the past three years, each time losing to a different Massillon Perry opponent—twice by a single point. This year he has defeated both Rodriguez and Bentley twice—all four in overtime—and his only wrestling losses have to been to out-of-state competitors (he forfeited his district final). Rodriguez, posting 162 career wins, has gone 1-1-2 (the first state title in New York) and defeated Assad for the 106 pound state title two years ago. Bentley, fourth at state last year, losing to Rodriguez by two in the semi-finals, has had an inordinate number of narrow losses any of which he could easily have won. This trio is not upset proof in this strong field with wrestlers like two-time state placer Shakur Laney (Pickerington North) having strong upside potential.

 

We can expect, perhaps, a rematch of last year’s state final at 120 pounds where state champion Alex Mackall (Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit) could well meet up with Jake Newhouse (Massillon Perry) yet again. Mackall, who was absolutely brilliant at last year’s competition, has defeated Newhouse the last three times they have met, winning this past weekend after trailing 5-0. Also in the field is the exciting junior, Mario Guillen, third last year. He would have to defeat both of last year’s finalists to win the championship. There could also be a state finals rematch at 138 pounds where defending champ and three-time placer Richie Screptock (Oregon Clay) could again face the sophomore Nick Kiussis (Brunswick), after once again defeating him in the district finals. Last year Screptock, with a career 180-27 record, won 4-3 and he continues to wrestle strategically brilliant bouts, while Kiussis, the only freshman to make the finals last year in Division I, has rebounded after early season injuries. Do not overlook the dynamic sophomore Dominick Demas (Dublin Coffman), who lost an overtime state semi-final last year, state placer Greg Brusco (Delaware Hayes) or two-time state placer Jacoby Ward (Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller). The clash at 145-pounds again pits a trio of wrestlers with formidable skills and credentials. Defending state champion senior Kade Kowalski (Dresden Tri-Valley) took the title at this weight class after finishing third as a sophomore, losing to Micah Jordan. He missed much of this year with an early injury, but now at 145 pounds looks primed to defend his title. Nick Steed (Massillon Perry) finished third at the district level last year, but moved into high gear the next weekend finishing second, losing only in overtime in the finals. Zac Carson (Uniontown Lake) was runner-up as a sophomore to four-time champ Dean Heil and came into last year’s state tournament undefeated. However, a semi-final loss to Trey Grine dropped him to third, but he has rebounded this year with a 45-2 record including both sectional and district wins over Steed. Ironically, the two were teammates at Uniontown Lake until last year. Kowalski remains the favorite, but will have to beat both runners-up to retain his title. The other returning state champion Noah Baughman (Wadsworth) is at 113 pounds and while slightly favored must contend with the exceptional freshman, three-time state junior high champion Jaden Mattox (Grove City Central Crossing). Finally the evening may end on a high note as two brilliant undefeated heavyweights are likely to pair off in the final match of the night. Nationally ranked Kevin Vough (Elyria) is only a sophomore, but impressed with an Ironman title while Kameron Teacher (Grove City Central Crossing) is making his first state tournament appearance after a 49-0 season. The winner will be the 2,100th state champion in all classes going back to 1938.

 

Division II

After the 2009 state tournament I recognized that it would be extremely unlikely to witness ever again the domination shown by the St. Paris Graham team. They scored 282 points, which encompassed 12 wrestlers placing in the top three, a new record seven state champions and scoring bonus points in 30 of their victories. No team, before or after, in any classification, has come within 50 points of their team total. And yet, just six years later, this current team might just have an outside chance to challenge those marks or, in any case, become the second-highest scoring team in history. They return four former state champions—two-time winner Alex Marinelli (160), Eli Stickley (120), Eli Seipel (126) and Kyle Lawson (152)—three other place winners—Brent Moore (145), Justin Stickley (106), and Josh Couchman (220)—and three exceptional freshmen—Matt Moore (112), Rocky Jordan (132) and Ryan Thomas (138). If they win the team championship, they would extend their record of consecutive titles to 15 and win their 17th overall. Interestingly, since Jim Jordan’s freshman year in 1979, St. Paris Graham has won over 15 percent of all Division II individual titles. Since 2001, the Falcons have captured an amazing 30 percent of all awarded championships.

 

The race for the runner-up trophy will likely be a much closer competition. Toledo Central Catholic, runner-up in the State Dual Meet in February, goes in as the favorite with eight qualifiers, led by three outstanding performers in state champ Nate Hagan (138), state runner-up Josh Mossing (152) and state third Josh Venia (106). Uhrichsville Claymont, always in the mix, is led by their two-time state champ Tyler Warner (120), placer Lane Peters (126) and five other qualifiers. Other possibilities include an always strong Wauseon squad (6 qualifiers), Akron St. Vincent St. Mary (6) and Steubenville (6).    

 

With eight returning state champions and many other outstanding performers, the individual weight classes will deliver exceptional excitement. Like Division I, this is particularly true in the weight classes from 120 to 145 pounds. The showcase weight class is almost certain to be at 120 pounds, which features two past champions and a pair of state runners-up. Warner won at 106 pounds the past two years and has had little trouble moving up two weight classes. He lost twice in early December and then was perfect until the upset loss to Wilson last weekend. Stickley has finished 5-3-1, always winning his last bout of the year. Both boys are former Ironman champions, but Warner’s district loss makes them scheduled to meet in the quarterfinals. It will be the only opportunity in the entire tournament to enjoy a matchup of state champions. Seth Beard (Napoleon) outpointed Stickley in the state semifinals two years ago and then lost in the ultimate tiebreaker to Warner in the finals. Tariq Wilson (Steubenville) has twice lost badly to Stickley, but defeated Beard in last year’s semifinals and then won his district final with Warner. He goes into the tournament with a glittering 46-0 mark. Any of this foursome could come out on top this weekend.

 

A quartet of exceptional contestants will make 145 pounds another must-see weight class. Junior Brent Moore was third as a freshman and runner-up last year, losing an overtime heartbreaker in the finals. Wade Hodges (Wauseon), already a three-time placer, lost in the ultimate tiebreaker to Moore in last year’s state semifinals and has wrestled brilliantly all year, losing only in the Ironman finals. Two-time placer Kyle Kaminski (Parma Padua) also lost a state semifinal struggle last year and comes in as a district champ after defeating two-time placer Andy Dobben (CVCA) who had the misfortune of meeting four-time champ Micah Jordan in last year’s semifinals. The pairings are balanced in what should be a fabulous competition.

 

At 132 pounds Cameron Kelly (Bellbrook) is aiming for bookend state titles after going 1-2-2 the last three years. He is one of two wrestlers at this meet that could end up as a four-time state finalist. A major obstacle will be the freshman Rocky Jordan (St. Paris Graham), whose only Division II losses have been administered by Kelly including Ironman GMVWA, and district finals. At 126 pounds former state champ Eli Seipel (St. Paris Graham) faces a difficult schedule that includes state runner-up Cole Woods (Millersburg West Holmes), the fast improving Georgio Poullas (Canfield) who defeated Seipel earlier this year, and the persistent Devin Rogers (Springfield Northwestern) who knocked Seipel out of the championship bracket last year. Add in Lane Peters (Uhrichsville Claymont), who has defeated Woods the past two weekends, and there will be great matchups from the quarter-finals on.

 

The only nationally top-ranked wrestler in the tournament is two-time champ Alex Marinelli (St. Paris Graham), who is the top 160-pounder in the nation. Marinelli, an Iowa recruit and only a junior, defeated a reigning world champion in the Ironman finals and has crafted an undefeated season at 50-0. Two other state champions also return and each faces some familiar foes. Kyle Lawson (St. Paris Graham) was one of only two freshmen to claim a championship at last year’s tournament with four relatively easy victories in what was one of the tournament’s strongest fields.  His move up two weight classes to 152 pounds again matches him up with last year’s final opponent the senior Josh Mossing (Toledo Central Catholic). The winner at this weight class will be the 600th champion in Division II.  The other returning champion is the always tenacious Nate Hagan (Toledo Central Catholic) who won his last three bouts at Columbus last year by identical 3-1 scores, the last in overtime. A superior defensive wrestler he opened up this year scoring heavily in his district bouts. The undefeated senior Nick Wrobel (Mantua Crestwood) and the exceptional freshman Ryan Thomas (St. Paris Graham) could be the main threats.

 

Division III

The past two seasons have seen Delta and Dayton Christian battle it out five times—and each time Delta has come out on top, defeating DC in each of the last two State Duals finals and won last year’s State Tournament by about 20 points. Once again they enter this year’s tournament as co-favorites, pitting Delta’s team depth against the individual brilliance of Dayton Christian’s Super Seven. Defending champion Delta, with nine qualifiers, features former state champion Jacob Spiess (120) and placers Drew Mattin (106), Dustin Marteney (138), Jesse Beverly (160), Ryan Patchin (170), Devon Richards (220) and Chance Veller (285). Certainly Mattin, Spiess, Beverly and Veller could be finalists and Delta could score points with all nine qualifiers. Dayton Christian qualified nine wrestlers. Leading the way for Dayton Christian are defending state champion Logan LaCure (145), state runners-up Hunter Bray (126) and Andrew Hoskins (160), along with former Florida state runner-up Nick Vestal (152) and state placer Nichael May (120). Added to this already formidable combination are two exceptional freshmen—junior high state runner-up Tommy Hoskins (113) and Kentucky state champion (as an eighth grader) the powerful David Carr. Those seven alone could score as many as 140 points, setting the bar at a high level for Delta. Mechanicsburg, with seven qualifiers, has a well-balanced squad, but seemingly does not have the firepower to match the top two teams.

 

A pair of good friends are the two wrestlers in Division III seeking a third state title. Jarred Ganger (Covington) could, in fact, become a four time finalist—he finished second to Matt Kolodzik at 106 pounds as a freshman after defeating him at the district level and then won at 113 and 126 pounds. Now at 132 pounds he is a heavy favorite to add to his 150-14 high school record and win for the third time. The competition at 126 pounds will be one of the most interesting in Division III, somewhat mirroring this weight class in Division I. Two-time state champion Garrett Hancock (Troy Christian) has been at his very best in the state meet, defeating tough competition the last two years and this year will be no different. The brilliant Evan Cheek (Milan Edison), 167-11 the past three years, has a third and fourth place medal while missing the finals by two points each of the last two years, including a 3-1 loss to Hancock in 2014. His only loss was to Division I Assad at Brecksville. Hunter Bray (Dayton Christian), third and second the last two years, is up three weight classes, but has had another strong season. He has lost two close bouts to Cheek this season, but remains a strong contender to win his first state title.

 

It is also a crowded field at 152 pounds where freshman state champion, Kaleb Romero (Mechanicsburg), remains a slight favorite. Romero, who finished 46-1 last year survived a couple of close bouts, including a 1-0 win in the state finals, but will face even tougher competition in 2015. Nick Vestal (Dayton Christian), a two-time state placer, would be a likely finalist at 145 pounds, but has moved up a weight class with the eventual insertion of state champion Logan Lacure into the Dayton Christian lineup. Vestal lost a close bout to Romero in the district finals last weekend. A sturdy challenger to the two southwest district duo is Reid Stanley (Apple Creek Waynedale), who was fourth last year at 145 pounds. Yet another member of the prolific Stanley clan, he is 56-1 this year with an impressive list of tournament triumphs.

 

The other returning state champion, Jay Nino (Genoa), returns at 220 pounds after some early season bouts at 285 pounds, and he dominated a strong district at Fostoria scoring three falls. Last year’s runner-up, sophomore Ben Sullivan (New Paris National Trail), was upset in his district final and could meet Nino now in the semi-finals.

 

Kollin Moore (Creston Norwayne) has, perhaps, become the most dominant wrestler in Division III, or even in all three classifications. A state runner-up at 152 and 160 pounds the last two years he has moved up 22 pounds to 182, and has not really been challenged. Runner-up in the highly esteemed Super 32 pre-season event, he has shot up the national rankings—especially after a dominating win over Division I favorite Ben Darmstadt. An Ohio state recruit, he has lost just twice in the last three years (with a 152-2 record) and has become one of the most improved wrestlers in Ohio. Should he win, he would join his grandfather John Sr. a three-time finalist and state champ in 1955 and father John, champ in 1983, as part of a rare, perhaps, unprecedented, three generation titlists.

 

 

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