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2016 OHSAA
Individual Wrestling
State Tournament
Preview

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2016 STATE WRESTLING PREVIEW

 

By Brian Brakeman

 

In the future, the 79th Ohio High School State Wrestling Tournament may be best remembered for the individual brilliance of the talented competitors assembled in Columbus this weekend. This is not to say that we foresee anything but close and exciting team competitions in Division I and III, and, as a consistent pattern, new records set in Division II by the powerful St. Paris Graham squad. However, 24 former state champions dot the bracket sheets, who are challenged by an assortment of both highly credentialed past state place-winners and some outstanding freshmen. This year, two exceptional wrestlers are seeking their fourth state title and both will be facing interesting challenges. In addition, two juniors will be looking for a third state championship. Beyond that, there are many more weight classes than usual that will provide exceptional competition from the very first round. 

 

Both potential four-time state champions will compete in Division II. At 170-pounds the hugely decorated Alex Marinelli (St. Paris Graham) will be a heavy favorite to capture his fourth high school state title. The top-ranked 160-pounder in the country the last two years has recently moved up a weight class for team considerations. Undefeated since his sophomore year, he possesses an overall 196-4 record with 133 consecutive victories and a state title would give him 200 high school wins. Marinelli, an Iowa recruit, now owns 10 consecutive state titles—starting with a grade school state title at 65-pounds as a second-grader—a record unmatched in Ohio. He would be St. Paris Graham’s sixth four-time state champ (a record) and only one of two not named Jordan.

 

The exceptional Tyler Warner (Uhrichsville Claymont) is also hoping to gain his fourth title after dropping to 120-pounds in late January. A classic big-match wrestler, he is surprisingly Claymont’s only multiple champion and would be the first four-time champ out of the Eastern District. He has fashioned a career mark of 161-11 with a special knack of winning close bouts. He faces a perilous path to the title, as will be discussed later—perhaps, the most difficult any potential four-time titlist has ever confronted.

 

Two sturdy 160-pound juniors, both two-time champions, lead a very strong junior class brigade. All-state quarterback Kaleb Romero (Mechanicsburg) has crafted a perfect record this year raising his overall results to 146-3 including a brilliant Brecksville Tournament title. He has not allowed a point in either of his state final bouts. Kyle Lawson (Olentangy Liberty), a transfer from St. Paris Graham, has successfully navigated extremely demanding schedules in each of his three varsity years culminating in a pair of state titles. A dynamic scorer and pinner, he has ended six of his eight state bouts in less than six minutes. Both boys will be strong favorites to enter their senior year with three state titles.

 

There are always a number of outstanding matchups at every state tournament, but the truly great confrontations occur far less frequently. This year there are two potentially such contests in Division I where high school wrestlers of overwhelming skill and power will battle for supremacy. One, at 145-pounds, features defending state champion David Carr (Massillon Perry) and defending state champion Dominick Demas (Dublin Coffman) who seem headed toward an epic struggle on Saturday night. Carr, a sophomore, is 112-3 over the past two years while wrestling a premium schedule and absorbing only one highly controversial overtime loss this year. Immensely powerful, he has been rated No. 1 in the nation at this weight class. Demas, now a junior, is undefeated this year, sweeping aside every competitor in a convincing manner. This is a contest that will make history.

 

DIVISION I

This is a year of exceptional quality in Division I wrestling. There are 11 former state champions in the field—many of whom have attained national ranking—and an additional 13 seedable competitors. Strangely, of the 11 champions, only the aforementioned Lawson has won more than one championship, while at the same time, this close to record depth means only two weight classes lack a former state finalist. The upper weight classes are particularly strong with superior performers and matchups.

 

Easily the most dominant wrestler in Ohio this year had been the Oregon Clay strongman Matt Stencel. Now at 220-pounds, this defending state champion, wrestling a premier schedule, began the year with 40 consecutive falls—many in the first period. Stencel had lost only once in the past two years (by a single point) and much of the excitement around him was whether he could continue his torrid pinning pace. His closest competitor was expected to be Jared Campbell (Lakewood St. Edward) who he beat in the state finals last year 15-1 and pinned earlier this year. Proving that there are no sure things, Campbell upset Stencel in the district finals 4-1 ending the pinning and winning streak. It may also set up a highly anticipated rematch on Saturday night—again, assuming an upset free bracket.

 

One of the most anticipated heavyweight matchups in the last 30 years is likely to occur on Saturday evening. Not since the Tim Moxley/Charlie Keenan confrontation in 1985 has so much interest been exhibited in this weight class. Defending state champion Kevin Vough (Elyria), a junior, has not lost in two years and has strung together 72 consecutive victories. He is ranked near the top nationwide despite missing the first six weeks of the season. Last year Kameron Teacher (Grove City Central Crossing) was projected to be Vough’s sternest test after an undefeated 50-0 junior year, but surprisingly lost twice the first day at state and failed to place. This year the 280-pound dynamo has shaken off that disappointment and is again undefeated setting up what could end the tournament with one of its most memorable bouts. This would be the first time in Division I since 2000 that undefeated heavyweights would meet in the finals (Stepanovich vs. Piccirillo).

 

There are also returning state champs at both 170 and 195 pounds, with both contestants nationally ranked and outstanding pinners. At 195-pounds Ben Darmstadt (Elyria) has been second and first the last two years and has grown from a 120-pound freshman state qualifier to a fierce pinner at this weight class. With Stencel at 220- pounds, state runner-up Noel Caraballo (Olmsted Falls), who lost the title in overtime, has moved down to 195-pounds to challenge Darmstadt. Alex McNally (Uniontown Lake) is also a four-time state qualifier who has racked up 170 lifetime wins and had two first period falls in last year’s state meet. His most persistent rival this year has been the excellent sophomore Victor Marcelli, a state quarter-finalist last year, from neighboring Massillon Jackson.

 

Confrontations between former state champions happen, on average, a little less than once a year, so the competition at 126-pounds should be most interesting. Three-time state placer and 2014 state champion Alex Mackall (Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit) will likely face-off in the semi-finals with last year’s 113-pound titlist Alan Hart (Lakewood St. Edward). Both boys were involved in upsets in last year’s state meet with Hart, in a mild surprise, finishing ahead of state champ Noah Baughman (Wadsworth) and upsetting Jaden Mattox (Grove City Central Crossing) in the last round. Mackall, on the other hand, returning at the same weight class, lost 10-6 to Jake Newhouse, a wrestler he had defeated to win his title the previous year and pinned in the district final. However, this is not a two-man weight class. At the district level, Mario Guillen (Perrysburg), already a three-time state place winner, defeated Hart 1-0 creating a captivating three-man contest.

 

Perennial powerhouse Lakewood St. Edward, the state dual meet champ, is a mild favorite to win its 30th state title since 1978, and present coach Greg Urbas with his 19th team trophy. They qualified 11 out of the tough Perrysburg District including eight district finalists after wrestling a brilliant semi-final round. Included in that number are state champ Alan Hart (126), state runners-up Hunter Ladnier (138) and Jared Campbell (220), and state third place medalist Jack Conway (152). They could be pushed very hard by Brecksville, Olentangy Liberty and Elyria and anything less than a maximum performance will create problems. Brecksville qualified eight out Mentor, including seven district finalists. They feature four returning state placers – Jarod Bronstrup (113), Harry Feuer (120), Justin DeMicco (138) and Austin Hiles (152) – and two exceptional freshmen in Gabriel Tagg (106) and Marco Regalbuto (126). Olentangy Liberty qualified eight wrestlers and is the first Central District squad in some time to challenge for the Division I team title. Two-time champion Kyle Lawson will lead the way with state runner-up Brakan Mead (106) and fabulous freshman Connor Brady (132) on or near the top step of the podium. Other important points will have to come from Jordan Roselli (120) and the younger Lawson (170). Elyria, led by state champs Kevin Vough (285) and Ben Darmstadt (195) along with state fourth-place finisher JT Brown (182), is a formidable squad with great upper weight potential. They qualified seven out of the Perrysburg District, but lost two critical components at 120 and 152-pounds and will need Brendon Fenton (113) and the Price brothers to pick up the slack.

 

DIVISION II

As in most years the primary questions in the Division II team competition revolve around the most likely candidates for the runner-up trophy and whether St. Paris Graham can surpass their record 2009 performance of seven state champs and 282 points. After all, it would be the upset of the ages if Graham does not capture their 16th consecutive state title (18th overall) and coach Jeff Jordan’s 15th trophy. The Falcons return three state champs, led by the indomitable Alex Marinelli (170) and bolstered by the Moore brothers—Matt (126) and Brent (138)—four other top three finishers and some brilliant newcomers. Likely finalists include Rocky Jordan (145), Garrett Jordan (160) and Ryan Thomas (132) with Justin Stickley (120), Kavan Sarver (195) and Jordan Crace (106) three other possibilities. They qualified 13 out of Wilmington, including eight champions.

 

The race for the runner-up trophy should be low-scoring, very close and totally wide open. The district results have done little to clarify this puzzle. Canfield qualified six, with four of them having state experience, and there could be as many as three finalists with Jacob Esarco (220), Georgio Poullas (152) and David Crawford (160) all having solid credentials. Mentor Lake Catholic had a very strong district performance, qualifying eight wrestlers, but will need some of that number to stand high on the podium. Steubenville will contend with six qualifiers, led by the brilliant Tariq Wilson (126) and backed up with Jashon Hubbard (132), Shawn Livingston (170), Dakotah Goff (145) and Tim Young (106).

 

There are, in contrast to Division I, only six former state champions returning to Columbus in Division II. Tyler Warner and the three St. Paris Graham champs take up four of that number, leaving Josh Venia (Toledo Central Catholic) and Nick Svarda (Middletown Madison) as the two who may not have received quite as much credit as they deserved. Venia didn’t really have a close bout winning at 106-pounds last year and returns to this weight class after campaigning much of this year at 113-pounds. He would be the first wrestler to win state titles as a junior and senior at the lowest weight class since Shawn Adkins (Coventry) in 1996-97. Svarda was one of the rare champs who come in as a district fourth-place finisher and leave three days later with the top prize. This year he faces formidable competition at 220-pounds from virtually every district, led by state third place finisher Garit Witt (Clyde) and state fourth place medalist Jacob Esarco (Canfield). His only loss this year came in the district semi- finals to the fast improving Johnny Shafer (St. Paris Graham), but based on last year’s trajectory that should not be distressing.

 

At 120-pounds Warner faces numerous strong competitors, many of whom he has wrestled in the past. For example, former state runner-up and three-time state placer Seth Beard (Napoleon), with a career mark of 192-13, lost to Warner in the state finals when both were freshmen in the ultimate tiebreaker. Tony DeCesare (Parma Padua Franciscan), a two-time state runner-up and three-time placer, also lost to Warner in the state finals in 2014. Also in the mix is state runner-up Justin Stickley (St. Paris Graham) and two-time placer Hunter Kosco (Canal Fulton Northwest), who lost to Warner last year at this weight class. The pairings suggest that Warner could well open facing state placers in the first two rounds and then meet up with the powerful Seth Beard. Meanwhile Stickley, DeCesare and Kosco will be battling in that brutal top bracket for the right to potentially face Warner in the finals. Should Warner successfully run this gauntlet he will have surmounted the most rugged schedule a four-timer has faced.

 

The most anticipated bout in Division II has to be the confrontation between sophomore state champion Matt Moore (St. Paris Graham) and two time state runner-up and Ironman champion senior Tariq Wilson (Steubenville). Both wrestlers are point-scoring machines while gaining a substantial proportion of falls. Moore finished with a 47-2 record last year, topping it off with a 61 second pin in the state finals at 112-pounds. This year he is 43-1, losing only to Guillen (Perrysburg) at the Ironman which he quickly avenged by fall to take third place. Wilson is 146-3 the past three seasons, losing only to Warner last year (after defeating him at the districts), and has been perfect this season. A North Carolina State recruit, Wilson is much the taller of the two while Moore can score from any position. This is one that will be remembered.

 

Two other wrestlers deserve mention in this section. Three-time place winner and two time runner-up Jack Harris (Urbana) has moved up to 195-pounds. A slight favorite to win a state title the last two years, he fell just short each time. This year his primary obstacle may be Kavan Sarver (St. Paris Graham) who he defeated by two points at last week’s district. Senior Hunter Bray (Franklin) has been a remarkably consistent performer for four years, finishing in the top three all three years, but never quite winning it all. His overall 183-13 record is outstanding, and he again is in the mix for the title at 132-pounds. Last week he defeated one of his primary rivals, Ryan Thomas (St. Paris Graham) and is well positioned to win his first title.

                            

DIVISION III

It looks to be a three-cornered battle for the team title in Division III with four-time state dual meet champ Delta as the team to beat. Second last year to a strong Miamisburg Dayton Christian team, Delta qualified eight wrestlers, including three state champions and a pair of state runners-up. They have the firepower on a good weekend to distance themselves from the rest of the field. State champions Jake Spiess (132), Drew Mattin (120) and Chance Veller (285) should all be finalists while state runners-up Jesse Beverly (152), down a weight class, and Dustin Marteney (138), second to David Carr last year, should do the same. Add in state placer Devin Richard (220) and the young Cole Mattin (106) and this team should score well over 100 points. Should they win, this would be Delta’s sixth team title, vaulting them into sixth spot overall in Ohio wrestling history.

 

Defending champion Miamisburg Dayton Christian still retains top-notch scoring potential, but may fall short on team depth. They did qualify six out of the Fairmont District, led by the incomparable two-time state champion and three-time state finalist Logan LaCure (145), who is undefeated the last two years. Sophomore state champion Tommy Hoskins (113) (one of only three freshmen overall to win last year) returns as a favorite at his weight class despite a district loss while powerful Nick Vestal is back at 152-pounds where he finished second last year. To win, this trio will need help from state placer Ronnie Pietro (106), Josh Clary (126) and the fast improving Henry Danishek (138). Mechanicsburg, second in the dual meet state tourney, could gain the top spot on the podium with a great weekend and a little help from some other teams. Led by the brilliant two-time state champ Kaleb Romero (160) they qualified eight wrestlers including state placers Alex Rhine (120), Tanner Smith (138), Wade Smiddy (145) and Tyler Wetzel (113). Any of this quintet could become a state finalist while state qualifier Nick Miller (132) and Corey Bogan (152) may also score heavily. This is a team that has made amazing progress over the past few years. Also in the mix is the solid Oak Harbor squad which qualified eight including four district finalists.

 

On an individual basis, three wrestlers stand out in Division III with each seeking his third title. Kaleb Romero (Mechanicsburg), only a junior, is at the top of his game right now, and as discussed earlier looks to be on his way to four state titles. However, the top wrestler in Division III right now might be senior Logan LaCure, the 145-pounder from Dayton Christian, who is also seeking a third state title. Only a 1-0 state finals loss his freshman year keeps him from gaining a fourth state title. His overtime win over nationally top-ranked David Carr earlier this year has vaulted him into the top echelon of 145’s in the country. At last year’s state his closest bout was a 13-5 major decision in the semi-finals. The third member of this triumvirate is Delta’s very special 132-pounder Jake Spiess, who is on track for a third state championship. Again, like LaCure, only a narrow semi-final loss as a sophomore keeps him from competing for four titles. Overall, at 183-13, he has been a consistent performer and could become Delta’s first three-time champ.

 

In a championship bout that could have major team ramifications, two state runners-up are likely to meet for the 152-pound championship. Three-time state medalist and two-time state runner-up Nick Vestal (Miamisburg Dayton Christian) was second to Romero last year at 152-pounds after three dominating wins. Jesse Beverly (Delta), like Vestal, won his first three bouts in convincing fashion last year at 160-pounds, but then lost a 14-10 shootout in the finals. In a close team competition, this final would produce at least an eight point swing.

 

Two weight classes to watch include 120-pounds, where state champion Drew Mattin (Delta) should be in a three-way tussle with state runner-up Hunter Lucas (Lima Central Catholic) and placer Alex Rhine (Miamisburg Dayton Christian), and at 138-pounds with another three way contest featuring state runner-up Dustin Marteney (Delta), two-time placer Ryan Ford (Covington) and district champion Tanner Smith (Mechanicsburg). Also of interest at 182-pounds is defending state champion James Handwerk (Lutheran West) who became that school’s first titlist while winning at 170-pounds, and must compete this year against a strong field including several from his own district.

 

 

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