By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
The biggest obstacle on the road to the Ohio State Wrestling Championships stands in the way of local wrestlers in the form of their respective district tournaments.
For some, the journey will end short of Columbus and for the lucky few, the road to a state championship will continue on Feb. 28.
With berths in the state tournament on the line, anything can, and usually does, happen.
Those strange happenings, however, can be avoided.
“I’ve told the kids in the past, at the district, they’re just 18 minutes — three six-minute matches – away from the state tournament,” Edgewood coach Wes Cleveland said. “Some of them will look at you and say that’s unrealistic.
“But, if they want the shortest, quickest way there...”
Known in the past as “The Meatgrinder,” this district is notorious as one of the most difficult in the state.
That doesn’t mean that the grapplers from Lakeside, Madison and Riverside don’t stand a chance. Quite the contrary, actually.
Wrestling expert Josh Lowe, better known as the Bucksman, predicts that as many as eight area competitors could qualify for the state tournament.
At the head of the class should be Evan Rosborough of Riverside and the Dragons’ Chuck Morgan and Kyle Conel.
The Bucksman predicts Rosborough (35-2) to be state runnerup at 220 pounds.
“To be honest, I’m not looking at state,” Rosborough said. “I’m looking at each match. Each match is one step closer to getting to the goal.
“I’m just going to train the way I train and wrestle the way I wrestle and I should be able to get through pretty good.”
Morgan (42-1) spent much of the season as the state’s top-ranked heavyweight in Division I. Conel (43-0) finished the season unbeaten.
Madison’s Nick Montgomery (12-1) is looking to qualify for the state tourney for the fourth time at 138 pounds, despite his missing the majority of the season with an injury. Bo Ransom (32-3) is seeking his second consecutive trip to Columbus at 145 and Aaron Sweeney (30-13) stands a good chance to make his first trip at 152.
The Beavers’ contingent to Columbus could swell to include 132-pounder Nick Boggs (39-5) and 160-pounder Jake Denman (27-8) and Connor Rigsby (152, 31-13).
“It’s great (to have all the guys to practice with),” Rosborough said. “That’s something I haven’t had much of the past few years. Now, we have four sectional champs. I’d be shocked if all four us don’t get to state. I think we can do some huge things this year and now’s the time to do it.”
Tyler Newsome (36-8) and Keith Griffin (30-14) will compete for the Dragons at 113 and 132, respectively.
Corbin Post (113, 24-14), Jacob Steigner (120, 24-12), Jarrad Lasko (126, 23-7), Ryan Montgomery (132, 34-9), Tim Streisel (170, 23-11), Drew Schiemann (182, 34-8) and Joe Bashore (220, 26-13) will look to continue their seasons for the Blue Streaks.
Dalton Anderson (126, 15-23) and Chad Ely (182, 21-16) will also be in action for Riverside coach Scott Blank.
The Lake Catholic sectional was kind to the Conneaut, Edgewood, Geneva, Jefferson and Perry wrestlers last weekend as 32 grapplers advanced to district competition.
The Pirates, in some ways, have been and will continue to compete for their coach, Dave Rowan, who has been out for the last month following a health issue.
“The kids responded well after he left,” acting coach Chris Bezzeg said. “It’s a little bit of the fallen leader mentality. Having talents helps in that regard, but they do wrestle hard for him.”
Of the eight locals Lowe predicts to continue their seasons, six are Pirates.
The Bucksman thinks heavyweight Billy Miller (37-2) will be the state champion.
“Last year, he wrestled with a nothing-to-lose attitude,” Bezzeg said. “Last year, he kept saying, ‘If I win, I win. If I lose, I lose.’ We’ll try and go back to that in another week. And have him just go out and wrestle.”
Having teammates has kept Miller grounded.
“Billy is gifted physically,” Bezzeg said. “That helps in his weight class. He might end up being the state champ, but he might only be the sixth- or seventh-best wrestler on the team. The kids joke with him that he’s just a fat guy with a couple moves. He may be ranked No. 1 in the state, but he’s very coachable and he works hard.
“The other guys keep him in check. They tease him and push him. They take the pressure off him in that regard.”
Lowe thinks Aaran Gessic (132, 20-1), Alec Schenk (160, 39-5) and Evan Nichols (195, 23-8) have good chances to be All-Ohio.
Miller, Gessic, Nichols and Collin Dees (113, 35-5) are seeking return trips to the state competition.
“It’s a bit of an unfinished business mentality with those guys,” Bezzeg said. “
All of the Perry competitors are vying to become the school’s first state wrestling champ.
“The old timers bring it up a lot, but I don’t think it bothers the kids,” Bezzeg said. “It would be a monkey-off-their-back feeling, I think. I get the feeling the old timers just want to see a champion before it’s too late.
“It just happens that we have seven (state) runnersup. I think they try and emulate those guys.”
The Falcons’ Joey Baitt (38-2) is competing at one of the toughest weight classes in Ohio.
“If he gets through Alliance, he’ll be OK,” Jefferson coach Tom Avsec said. “Getting through is going to be tough. He has five state placers in his bracket at Alliance. It’s going to be brutal, but Joey knows that.
“You never know what can happen at the district. We’re hoping he’ll pull an upset or, even better, a couple of those guys knock each other out.”
Baitt’s teammate, Ricker Maple (32-2), has been one win from qualifying for the state tourney in each of his first three seasons. Lowe thinks this is the season he gets over the hump.
“Three times, he’s been right there,” Avsec said. “In the past, we’ve talked about that a lot. He looked really good, dominant, actually, at the sectional.
“I don’t think he’s going to sit back and try to score at the end of matches (like he had in the past). I told him to be happy, go out there, enjoy himself and have fun. Whatever happens, he’ll be OK. It’s just a sport.”
Conneaut’s Alesha Zappitella (35-7) is looking strong in her bid to become just the second girl in history to compete at the state tournament. She lost a heartbreaker in overtime in the sectional championship match last weekend.
The Spartans’ Billy Post has been no stranger to felling giants this season and could use that ability to his advantage this weekend at 220 pounds. Post (42-1) handed Lakeside’s Morgan his lone loss of the year.
Geneva’s group of district qualifiers has come a long way in recent weeks and is peaking at the right moment.
The Eagles’ Will Distler (106, 19-14), Zach Elliott (120, 17-16), Dakota Brininger (132, 29-10), Tyler Cross (145, 15-7), James Hawk (195, 10-9), Matt Kozlowski (220, 21-11) and Drew Herman (heavyweight, 8-15) are poised for action.
Freshman Tanner Perry is the lone Warrior in Alliance. Familiar with the district as a fan but a novice when it comes to competing there, he will gain valuable experience.
“He’s been around wrestling enough and the past few years he’s watched Jimmy Wilson,” Cleveland said. “Him coming in this year as a freshman, (the learning curve) wasn’t as drastic. He saw the competition last week at sectional. At districts, he should be more comfortable with it.
“He’ll have made the district and he’ll have wrestled in that atmosphere. Whether he’s successful or nor he’s not successful, he’ll come back and next year will be easier because he’s been there before.”
Other Pirates in the mix include Brady Toth (106, 24-15), Cory Gramberg (126, 22-11), Nick Sbrocco (138, 18-16), Drew Jones (145, 25-14), David Mrosko (25-14), Ryan Sill (170, 25-6), Kyle Kremiller (182, 7-5) and Jake Vicini (220, 5-11).
Isaiah Ngiraingas (113, 26-19), R.J. Nelson (160, 32-11) and Russell Wanda (182, 24-14) will be ready to go for the Spartans.
Blake Perry (182, 29-6) and Rocky Tripodi (170, 28-7) have come from relative obscurity and stunned many a great wrestler this season for the Falcons.
“A lot of times, I think the top-seed guys look past them,” Avsec said. “They’re looking at that next match that’s a No.-1 seed from another sectional or something like that.
“They shouldn’t do that because Rocky and Blake are ready to wrestle. They want to win. I wouldn’t look past them. They want to win it.”
Jerry Scott (132, 9-9), who missed more than half the season with an injury, and Jeremy Brady (195, 5-6) will also take to the mat for Jefferson.
Pymatuning Valley’s Zach Campbell (132, 15-7) and Grand Valley’s Glenn Zaller (182, 35-2) and Sean Szitas (152, 32-5) are seeking at least a second consecutive trip to Columbus. Campbell, who’s been battling injury, is looking for his third.
Zaller and Szitas would like nothing more than to have the opportunity to better their showing from a year ago at the state tourney.
“I don’t think it’s a chip (on Zaller’s shoulder),” GV coach Steve Paratto said. “I think he took it as a learning experience. I don’t think he’ll let the same thing happen again. He took the lesson, learned from it and moved on.
“Sean’s got the experience. I think he was disappointed he only won one (match at state last year). He got there. This year, he wants to stand on the podium and I think he’s ready to do it.”
Michael Miller (113, 14-22), Heath Martin (120, 20-17), Luke Baldwin (160, 19-16) and Jason Takacs (heavyweight, 22-9) would be overjoyed to join their Mustang teammates for the trip.
Kris Leonard (113, 25-13), Gary Baker (126, 10-18), Dominic Wolf (145, 19-15), Cody Ellis (182, 29-12), Austin O’Baker (195, 19-17), David Baker (220, 5-9) and Shawn Shreves (heavyweight, 18-15) look to break through for the Lakers.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.