7 area wrestlers take aim at state titles
By Tony Maluso
It’s a spot that just about any wrestler would love to be in to finish their year. Any wrestler, except the one that actually finished there:
One year ago, Columbian’s Seth Williams was just one step away from the ultimate prize, a state championship, before falling in his final match. This year, Williams is back, leading a group of seven area wrestlers to Columbus, all looking to take that next step.
Williams will be joined by teammate Mason Correll, making his second-straight trip. Upper Sandusky will be sending four, all making their second trips – seniors Alex Kenner, Tylor Pritchard and Carson Mengerink and sophomore Thurston Dyer.
Making his first trip to Columbus is Fostoria junior Luke Leonard.
All will be competing in the Division II championships starting today at Value City Arena in Columbus.
The six returners, though, all are making the trek with unfinished business. No more than Williams. The senior is making his fourth-straight trip to state and has moved up the podium each time. Williams finished sixth as a freshman, third as a sophomore and was runner-up last year.
There’s only one more spot to climb, and coach Chad Long said Williams has put it the work to make the step.
“He’s worked hard in the offseason,” Long said. “He jumped up two weight classes, hit the weight room really hard. He did a lot of different wrestling he hasn’t done in his career. He traveled a lot more, went to some big national tournaments. He really put in the hard work I think it’s going to pay off for sure this year. He really cranked it up this year.”
So far the worked has paid off. Williams is the top-ranked 170-pound wrestler in Division II and has built up a 37-0 record. Long said a lot of Williams’ drive comes from the loss in last year’s finals.
“Absolutely,” Long said. “The one thing that hurt me the most last year, it wasn’t the pressure but that he felt that he let everyone down. He felt like he let everyone in the city in Tiffin down last year that was supporting him. That was in no way the case, but I think that’s his drive for his year. Not let everyone down and show everyone that he’s the best 170-pound wrestler in the state. He’s determined. He’s done everything you can ask a wrestler to do. His focus is bringing home Columbian’s first state wrestling championship.”
In Correll’s first trip to Columbus last year, he fell just short of the podium. This year, with the nerves out of the way, Long says he has the tools needed to score a place.
“First time down, you get all jittery. You never wrestle to your potential,” Long said. “Mason went 1-2 last year and just missed placing. That last match was a very very close match. His style is kinda funky. At anytime he can score on you. I like his style ’cause kids are so tight and jittery wrestling down there. I always think he’s the darkhorse with that style.”
Correll is a 4-seed based on his finish at last week’s district in Bowling Green. He opens against Dain Steffeny of Granville, the Claymont District champion.
“His first match is going to be a statement for Mason,” Long said. “I think he definitely needs to win his first match to find his way to the podium. I truly think he’ll place this year.”
Last year, Upper Sandusky wrestled in the Division III tournament; this year, the Rams have bumped up to D-II. That hasn’t stopped the four Rams from making a second-straight trip.
Coach Chris Rodriguez said there isn’t much difference at the top of the divisions. The real difference lies in the overall strength of the bracket.
“The best D-II isn’t necessarily better than the best D-III,” Rodriguez said. “The main difference is the depth of the division. But good wrestlers are good wrestlers regardless of the division.”
Rodriguez says already going through the experience last year will be beneficial in his wrestlers trying to climb on to the podium this time around.
“As far as learning anything from last year, they know what it’s like down there,” he said. “They aren’t going to have that star-struck mentality. They’ve all been through it before and know what to expect.
“These boys are resilient. Some had to beat two state qualifiers to even qualify.”
Dyer and Mengerink each enter at 3-seeds, Dyer at 113 and Mengerink at 132. Rodriguez, though, thinks each has what it takes to finish top-8 and gain a podium spot.
“Thurston, he’s wrestled better these last two weeks than he’s had all year,” he said. “He really picked up his pace.
“Carson is a very, very good wrestler. if he’s relaxed and enjoying what he’s doing, he’s a tough wrestler to beat.”
Kenner took sixth-place at 152-pounds a year ago. But a slip up during the first day of last weekend’s district tournament forced him to wrestle his way back to qualify as a 4-seed. The draw was far from kind for Kenner as his opening round matchup is against St. Paris Graham’s Alex Marinelli, the top-ranked wrestler in the 160-pound weight class, and the person that beat Williams for a state championship last year.
Marinelli’s record is 45-2, while Kenner’s sits at 42-5. Of Marinelli’s two losses though, one was against Lucas Beauch of Toledo Central Catholic, someone Kenner has scored a victory against, although Beauch got revenge in the third-place match at districts.
“Alex made a mistake in his district finals match,” Rodriguez said. “There’s two guys that have beaten Marinelli this year, and Alex has already beaten one of the kids.
“He just needs to wrestle his pace. When he’s wrestling his pace, he’s tough to stop, tough to take down. It’ll be tough for people to beat him.”
For Pritchard, there was a question if he’d even get back on the mat this season. After suffering a broken leg during football season, his future was in doubt. But Pritchard put in the work needed to get himself back. Pritchard took third in the 220-pound weight class at last week’s district tournament to earn another trip to state.
“Beginning of the year, he had that knee injury, the broken leg, but he never stopped working,” Rodriguez said. “He’d go to rehab, come back from rehab, go into the practice room and do whatever he could. … He just kept working out, staying in shape the best he can. His fear was never doing what he loves to do again. Nearly having that taking from him, that fear has made him extremely motivated. I think it’ll be the same this weekend. That fear of having it taken away again will push him to get as high as he possibly can.
“He made it back. He’s excited to be there, but in his own words, he has unfinished business. He’s going to do every thing he can to get on that podium.”
Leonard, a 2-seed at 126, is making his first trip to state. A year ago he suffered a near-miss at the district tournament, and coach Nick Davis said that drove him to get there this year.
“It has been a long time coming,” Davis said. “He’s work hard for it, worked in the offseason quite a bit. He’s been a good wrestler since he was young, but this last offseason he began to put more things together and put more quality time in over this past summer.”
Some more drive came from seeing teammate Tony Reynolds wrestle his way to the state finals last year.
“Him and Tony were pretty close, good buddies,” Davis said. “He saw Tony be able to do that and it became more a reality, a reachable goal. Seeing him get all the way to the finals, then it was like ‘Holy cow. A kid from Fostoria can do this.'”
Wrestling today starts at 3 p.m. with Division III action. The Division II first round follows beginning at 4:10 p.m.