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2017 Individual Wrestling State Tournament Preview

2017 State Wrestling Preview
By Brian Brakeman
It was not until the 42nd edition of the Ohio State Wrestling Tournament (1979) that Ohio crowned its first four-time champion, the incomparable Mark Zimmer. Then in a somewhat sporadic manner other wrestlers accomplished that feat, but at one point, there was a seven year gap when no one managed to win four. However, starting about the turn of the century we began to average more than one four-timer per year and 2017 continues this trend as two exceptional wrestlers look to become the 29th and 30th four-time champions. Both Kaleb Romero (Mechanicsburg) and Kyle Lawson (Olentangy Liberty) have had somewhat parallel careers—both beginning their careers in the Southwest District, starting at 138-pounds as freshman, and gradually moving to higher weight classes as they grew older.
Romero, an all-state quarterback, has not lost since the middle of his sophomore year and has compiled a mind-boggling four year record of 198-3. Should he win the title this weekend, he would become a rare 200 plus career win wrestler. Last year, Romero became only the third Ohio wrestler to win all four of his state bouts by technical fall (David Taylor and Josh Lehner) and has not been seriously challenged this year. An Ohio State recruit, he has moved up to 170 pounds this year with state runner-up Cole Draper (Sycamore Mohawk) and Logan Stanley (Apple Creek Waynedale), with his 54-1 record, as threats.
Lawson won his first two titles at St. Paris Graham before moving to Olentangy Liberty and competing in Division I. He would be the fourth four-time champion to win titles at two different schools. A fabulous youth wrestler, he was a high school state runner-up in Kentucky as an eighth grader before winning his first state title with a fall in the finals in his freshman year. He has wrestled very challenging schedules in each of his varsity years, but still has a sensational four-year record of 173-14, with six of those losses his freshman year. Lawson, an Oklahoma recruit, will likely face a more challenging path to his fourth title with a loaded field at 160-pounds, including two Medina County wrestlers who defeated him this year—Cody Suratt (Wadsworth) and Nick Kiussis (Medina). A Lawson-Kiussis state final matchup would likely be considered by many to be one of the finest bouts of the tournament. Kiussis, a three-time state runner-up with a career record of 127-16, is hoping to avoid becoming the first four-time state runner-up in In Ohio history. A brilliant competitor in his own right, he has twice suffered heartbreaking losses on Saturday night in his three appearances.
Two other Division III senior wrestlers ending exceptional varsity careers, Drew Mattin (Delta) and James Handwerk (Rocky River Lutheran West), look to capture their third state title. Mattin, with a 188-11 record, was agonizingly close to be going for a fourth championship, losing a 2-1 ultimate tiebreaker decision in the state finals his freshman year. A Michigan recruit, Mattin has been an integral part of the Delta championship teams of the past few years. Handwerk’s title in 2015 was the first for his high school and he backed that up with another championship last year. Like Lawson, he faces tough competition at 182-pounds as this is one of three weight classes this year that features a pair of returning state champions. In this case, Handwerk will likely face state champion Zach Steiner (Creston Norwayne), who defeated him in their district final at Garfield Heights in a close bout. Handwerk will continue his education at the Air Force Academy.
There were a number of surprises in the Division III State Dual Meet and that possibility exist once more at this tournament. Mechanicsburg, third last year at this event, has been from the beginning of the season a moderate favorite to win their first-ever team title. A fine tournament team, they are led by a quintet of returning state placers. The fabulous Romero (170) is, of course, their rock-solid foundation, but state runner-up Yinger (152), state third Smith (145) and Rhine (132), and state fifth Wetzel (126) pack plenty of punch. All of them were district champions. Add in past state qualifiers Bogan (160) and Hartley (285) and this is a formidable team well able to score more than 100 points. 
Mechanicsburg’s principal competition will come from the Northwest District that sends a pair of strong teams to Columbus out of that very competitive Waite District. Oak Harbor with seven qualifiers, all district finalists, is a real possibility with six of that number having past state experience. Hrynciw (126), Huston (152), Thompson (182) and Thorp (220) all having legitimate finalist talent and they can expect Dickman (113), Scherf (132) and Mansor (145) to score. Oak Harbor, a consistently fine team, has three times been a state runner-up (1981, 2008, 2010), but this year may have the talent to win it all. State Dual Meet champion Milan Edison will send six to Columbus led by three-time placer and twice runner-up Brady Barnett (138) and three other former state place winners—Burns (113), Neuberger (145) and Stoll (195). They’ll need help from every qualifier to double up on team titles this year. State Dual Meet runner-up Massillon Tuslaw led the way at the Garfield Heights District and qualified eight, the most in Division III, including four district finalists.
As always, there are some great individual confrontations in Division III. At 120 pounds, two-time state champion junior Tommy Hoskins (Xenia Legacy Christian) will face familiar competition. Hoskins, only a junior with a 118-6 career record, roared back from a district loss to two-time placer Graham Shore (Casstown Miami East) last year to win his second title while Shore had to be satisfied with third. This year Hoskins took the district title over Shore by a single point, ruining his perfect record, but this may not be a two man contest. A pair of sophomore state placers could challenge this duo with Julian Sanchez (Genoa) and Cole Mattin (Delta) capable of pulling the upset. We can expect a titanic struggle at 113 pounds, as well. Defending state champion sophomore Dylan D’Emilio (Genoa) is 100-3 the past two seasons, pinning in last year’s state finals. However, he will be challenged by three-time state placer Greg Quinn (Shadyside) last year’s runner-up at this weight with 189 career wins. Also back to defend his state title is three-time placer Ben Sullivan (New Paris National Trail) who has never finished lower than third in this weight class. He was the school’s first state champion last year, but enters the tournament as a co-favorite with Reece Human (Carlisle) and Dylan Thorp (Oak Harbor). Sullivan nipped Human, 7-6, in the district final handing him his first defeat and reversing his loss to Human last year. Thorp has burst onto the scene with a brilliant season including four first period falls at the district and a win over Sullivan at the Ironman. He would have to beat both Southwest District boys to take the title.
As always, the Jeff Jordan Juggernaut rolls on as St. Paris Graham is, again, an overwhelming favorite to capture its 17th consecutive state title. At the Wilmington District they qualified 11 wrestlers, including 10 district champions. Nine of the qualifiers placed last year, including two state champions—juniors Mitch Moore (132) and Rocky Jordan (152). Moore, already a two-time state champion, has compiled a career record of 128-4 and is halfway to becoming a four-timer. He is an aggressive, dominating wrestler, registering three falls at last year’s state meet. Jordan, second as a freshman, before winning here last year has now pushed the Jordan brothers (with Bo and Micah) to nine state titles. If he wins this year and next, it would match the six DiSabato brothers, who won 11, ending with Dominic’s three in the early 1990s. One other milestone that should be easily reached this year by St. Paris Graham is placing 200 wrestlers at the state meet—their fifth placer (possibly Stickley) will reach that total. They become the second team, and the first in Division II, to reach that milestone (Lakewood St. Edward has exactly 300).
The battle for the runner-up trophy should be close. Wauseon with solid team depth was second at the State Duals and are led by a pair of state runners-up—junior Sandro Ramirez (145) and senior Tony Banister (195). They qualified seven out of the Mansfield District, all finalists, and will be a slight favorite for their second runner-up team trophy last won in 1984. Canfield was second last year and could double up on that runner-up finish. With defending state champion Georgio Poullas (160) and state placers David Crawford (170), Dominic Cooper (182) and state qualifier Mason Giordano (285) they have up-top firepower. Carrollton is another fine dual meet team that qualified six including state runner-up brothers Ben and Aidan Pasiuk (132/182). Carrollton now has had nine individual state runners-up and 28 state placers without an individual champion, both state records. They’re hoping that ends this year. With competition so fragmented after St. Paris Graham, it is possible that teams with just three or four high-powered qualifiers could make a run at second place. Such a team is Cuyahoga Falls CVCA which qualified three wrestlers with finalist potential. The Decatur twins Jacob (106) and Jordan (126) are both top contenders as is two-time placer Matthew Cardello (113). Add in district champion Breslin Walker (220) and they will be a threat. Other strong teams are Mentor Lake Catholic and perennial challenger Uhrichsville Claymont with each qualifying six.  
It is something of a strange year in Division II wrestling with only four returning state champions, the aforementioned Mitch Moore, Rocky Jordan and Georgio Poullas along with Kevon Freeman (Mentor Lake Catholic), the lowest number I can remember in the modern era. It was a senior dominated season in 2016 as only 17 seedable wrestlers returned this year. Nevertheless, there are a number of intriguing matchups that feature some exceptional underclassmen.
Of particular interest is the 126-pound contest that has state runner-up Jeffrey Thomas (St. Paris Graham), three-time senior place winner Hunter Kosco (Canal Fulton Northwest), and sophomore powerhouse Jordan Decatur (Cuyahoga Falls CVCA). Last weekend while Thomas cruised to a district title, Kosco upended Decatur at the Alliance District. The pairings are such that Thomas will have to defeat both of them to take the title. It will be at least a four-way battle at 113 pounds with a quartet of heavily credentialed competitors. Surprisingly, the four come from only two districts making for nicely symmetrical pairings. From Alliance come state placers Mathew Cardello (Cuyahoga Falls CVCA) and Conor McCrone (Mentor Lake Catholic), while a pair of high state placers exits from Wilmington in the form of Brandon Lucas (Mt. Orab Western Brown) and former Ironman champ Nate Keaton (Circleville). Let’s not ignore the undefeated state placer Tim Young (Steubenville) as this promises to be an exceptionally interesting weight class.
When a pair of senior returning state runners-up is in the same bracket, you can be assured that the competition will be at a very high level. Failing to make the top of the awards podium by a single step can be very motivating. That’s the situation at 182-pounds, where two-time state runner-up Robbie Bowers (Defiance) could well meet 2016 runner-up Aidan Pasiuk (Carrollton). Both boys have had exceptional seasons and, ironically, they both lost to four-time state champ Alex Marinelli in a finals appearance. Unfortunately, they will meet in the quarterfinals after an injury disqualification caused Bowers to finish third at his district. At 195-pounds, state runner-up Tony Banister (Wauseon) and state third Kavan Sarver (St. Paris Graham) could well renew their rivalry in a very competitive weight class. Their two most recent bouts were decided in overtime, with Banister winning in last year’s semifinals and Sarver reversing that outcome in the State Dual Meet. They face, however, strong competition from state placer Stone Day (Germantown Valley View), who has crafted one-point wins over Sarver on consecutive weekends.
The team competition in Division I could be one of the most interesting in recent years. Two teams, Lakewood St. Edward and Olentangy Liberty stand a bit ahead of four other strong squads based on both team depth and up-top finalist potential. St. Edward took on the role of favorite when they qualified 13 with 10 finalists out of the always tough Mentor District. They are particularly strong from 120 to 138 pounds with former state champions Andonian (120) and Hart (132) and state placers Kazimer (126) and Dover (138), and have good depth in the upper weights led by state runner-up Campbell (220) and state placers Stepic (182) and Carpenter (160). Should they win it would be their 31st state title and third in a row. If they wrestle at the peak of their potential, only last year’s state third-place winner, Olentangy Liberty, with 10 qualifiers and four district champions has a chance. They are led by three-time champ Kyle Lawson (160), but also have former state runners-up Mead (113) and Trevor Lawson (170). Add in the brilliant sophomore placer Brady (152), state third place finisher Grenier (145) and state qualifiers Rosselli (120) and Furnas (138) and this is a very formidable tournament team. Two key elements will be Rosselli, who lost two excruciatingly close bouts at last year’s meet, and has high placement potential, and the emergence of Saito (106) and Fitzpatrick (182). Should Olentangy Liberty prevail, the Patriots would become the first Central District school to win a Division I title.  
Should both of these teams falter, there are at least four other teams with trophy chances. State runner-up Elyria has some real strengths, but depth could become an issue. They qualified 10 out of Mentor including former state champs Vough (285) and Fenton (120) along with two-time placer Brown (182), and past qualifiers Breeding (126) and Price (160). The critical component will be two exceptional freshmen in Burnett (106) and Shawver (113), who have solid placement potential. Massillon Perry has been strong for several decades and this year is no exception as they qualified nine. Two-time champion Carr (152) is their superstar and with Koontz (160), Soehnlen (170) and Blackiston (182) make for a powerful middle of the lineup. Add in Gruber (113), Define (138), Luster (220) and Carrick (285) and it is easy to see how they finished second at the state duals. Two Southwest District teams could also play an important role in the final outcome. Mason gave Lakewood St. Edward a scare at the State Dual Meet and has a well-balanced squad. They qualified eight out of the Fairmont District, including champions at three consecutive weight classes. They have experience with six returning state qualifiers, but only state runner-up Zach Donathan (132) and state third Schuster (120) have been near the top of the podium. They’ll require strong performances from wrestlers like Stein (160), Hood (126) and Chris Donathan (138) to win a team trophy. Much the same is true for Cincinnati La Salle, which has potential state finalists in Byrd (106) and Shie (138) along with district finalists Beck (145) and Wilson (182) and is backed up by five other qualifiers. One team that vaulted into contention after a great district was Wadsworth. They qualified eight, most of whom have solid scoring potential
Arguably the two most anticipated bouts at this year’s event happen back-to-back at 152 and 160 pounds in Division I. Both are rematches of earlier bouts this year in which a multiple state champion was defeated. At 152-pounds two-time junior state champion David Carr (Massillon Perry) and returning titleholder Jaden Mattox (Grove City Central Crossing) are both highly ranked nationwide. Carr, with a career record of 149-7, ended last year with a sensationally wrestled win over state champion Dominick Demas in a highlight bout in the state finals. This season he is likely to meet another state titlist, the junior Mattox with a career record of 124-4. These are two of the best juniors in the United States so a Saturday meeting would be very special. Earlier this year Mattox won rather handily, but past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. Following this donnybrook is the likely Lawson/Kiussis bout discussed earlier, although, again, as in every weight class upsets can occur.  
There are fantastic matchups all up and down the Division I brackets. With 10 returning state champions and an equal number of returning runners-up the many exceptional confrontations will be fascinating. Almost every weight class will have bouts we’ve waited all year to witness. With the demanding schedules teams now wrestle, undefeated wrestlers are a rarity. There are only five in Division I and two will meet at 132 pounds, where state runner-up Zach Donathan could meet two-time placer Jarrod Brezovec (Aurora) in the finals—one of only three possible meetings of undefeated competitors in the entire tournament. It is rare to have two returning state champions in a weight class with neither of them favored to win, but that is exactly the situation at 120 pounds. Bryce Andonian (Lakewood St. Edward) and Brendon Fenton (Elyria) won titles at consecutive weight classes last year, but they face a bracket that has half-dozen potential champs. Andonian had four falls in his run to the championship, only the third to do so in the last five years (Bo Jordan and Kollin Moore) and nipped Fenton in the district finals, 7-6. However, Colin Schuster, third last year, has defeated Andonian in their dual meeting and has posted a 46-5 record. Also in the mix are Central District finalists Gio Disabato (Hilliard Davidson) and Jordan Roselli (Olentangy Liberty) along with dynamic Tyson Long (Shaker Heights)
Last year, after missing two seasons due to injury, Kaden Russell (Cleveland St. Ignatius) won three close bouts to win at 182 pounds. Returning at this weight class he faces a strong and difficult field that includes six former state placers. Included in this group is the exciting and powerful Jared Ball (Hilliard Darby) who has dominated the Central District and two-time placer J. T. Brown (Elyria), who defeated Russell earlier this year. Also with good chances are state third place finisher Victor Marcelli (Massillon Jackson), who defeated Russell in the district finals  and placer Tyler Stepic (Lakewood St. Edward), who lost a frantic 18-13 bout to Russell in last year’ semifinals.
History could be made in the 285-pound weight class, where three-time placer Kevin Vough (Elyria) will try to become the first Division I heavyweight wrestler to finish third or better all four varsity years. Vough has finished (3-1-2) the past three years and has lost only once to an Ohio wrestler (Kameron Teacher) since the end of his freshman season. This Idaho recruit faces a representative field in a weight class known for upsets. His major threat is the undefeated Ben Frye (Hilliard Darby), who has pinned his way through sectionals and districts with only one bout making it to the second period.