The district wrestling tournaments are taking over the mats this Friday and Saturday in southwest Ohio, with several Champaign County wrestlers vying for state berths.
The Graham Falcons will have their whole team in competition this weekend in Division II, with state champions Mitch Moore and Rocky Jordan leading a team of talented grapplers into the fray.
“Graham has a strong tradition of taking many wrestlers to the state tournament. My wrestlers know that the goal is to try and bring a state title home to Graham each year,” GHS Coach Jeff Jordan said. “Their expectations are high and that is why they train as hard as they can to reach that goal.”
The Falcons put in a ton of work year-round for one three-week stretch in February and March, and Jordan knows his boys will answer the bell.
“Our whole goal this week is to get in some intense wrestling workouts, stay healthy and keep focused on our goals,” he said.
Urbana will join Graham at Wilmington High School for the tournament, with Austin Murray taking a sectional title for the Hillclimbers last week in the 113-pound class. Lucas Chess, Gavyn Grim, Damion Williams, Braeden Lehman and Issac Craft will join him.
In Division III, Mechanicsburg advanced nine wrestlers into the district, including InterMat’s top-ranked athlete in the nation at 170 pounds, Kaleb Romero.
His leadership and Coach Cameron Doggett’s experience as an athlete have helped this Indians’ squad bond quickly over the past few seasons.
“I think what has helped Mechanicsburg is the strength in our programs from youth through high school, meaning the dedication coaches put in and the consistent opportunities to keep kids involved in the sport,” Doggett said. “We push the kids to work hard and support their family.”
As far as this week in training, the Indians aren’t stepping up the intensity.
“Training for us doesn’t differ much. We go live two days and drill two days to work on technique,” Doggett said. “We try to prepare all season for the last three weekends of the season. I am a firm believer of being consistent and feel that being consistent helps keep the wrestlers focused and relaxed.”
The Indians will be joined by Triad’s Zack Zizzo and West Liberty-Salem’s Tanner Workman and Charlie Williams.
Zizzo, a senior, is hoping for his first state berth in four trips to the district meet.
Triad Coach Tyler Graff believes he has what it takes.
“He absolutely does. For him, it’s just taking it one match at a time. As long as he goes out there and allows himself to have fun, I think he will go to state,” Graff said. “Wrestling is a really tough sport and it can get really hard at times. From my experience, I’ve seen many people give up. He’s just continued to work and be persistent and not give up.”
Zizzo even allowed Graff to shave his head on the spot early in the season when making weight came down to ounces.
“It’s inspiring to me and his parents and family and the guys on the team. It’s exciting when you see someone still asking questions and willing to learn,” Graff said. “When he’s enjoying what he does – he’s not concerned too much with whether he fails or not – he’ll do good.”
Workman and Williams have had perhaps the most difficult road of all to this point.
“Nobody really expected Charlie or Tanner to qualify. Neither one were seeded. They both had pretty good records, but we just didn’t get seeded. I always tell them to have fun,” WL-S Coach Dave Clem said. “I don’t want them to put any unnecessary pressure on themselves. They show up and work hard every day. Wrestling is a very hard thing to do. If they just show up and do their best, I’m going to be proud of them.”
Moreover, when the school shooting happened at WL-S on Jan. 20, it was one of the five members of the squad, Ely Serna, who was alleged to have pulled the trigger.
The Tigers could have packed it in and called it a season. Instead, they hit the practice room.
“Everybody was close. We had five guys on the team. It was just a crazy thing that happened,” Clem said. “I told them the next day that wrestling is what’s going to get us through. We can go up there every day for two hours and just escape.
“They show up and have fun. That’s the whole point of high school athletics. If I’m at practice and yelling at them, they’re not having fun and they put pressure on themselves. I just use it as a vehicle to teach these kids life lessons. I want to win wrestling matches, but my ultimate goal is to groom these kids into young men. I can’t really express how proud I am of all of them. And everyone – it’s amazing how the whole community came together and helped us through this situation.”
The Division II wrestling tournament will be held Friday and Saturday at Wilmington High School. The Division III tournament will be contested Friday and Saturday at Hobart Arena in Troy.