TC’s Blust eyeing a top finish

Three-time qualifier joined by teammate Simcoe; Rams Clary poised for third appearance

PHOTO BY STEVE WILLIAMS Columbian's Caden Blust attempts to turn Defiance’s Danny Assaf last year at the state meet.

The expectations are as high as can be.

But for Caden Blust, it’s just confidence.

The Columbian junior is ready to make his third straight appearance at the Division II state wrestling meet, which begins today.

Blust did not place his freshman year, and last year, came in seventh at 126 pounds.

Now, bolstered by championships at the Sandusky Bay Conference, sectional and district meets, the now 132-pounder has only one place to go.

PHOTO BY STEVE WILLIAMS Upper Sandusky’s Noah Clary takes position against Isaac Ingram and maintains control to win the match and advance to the championship match in the 160-pound weight class during last year’s district tournament.

To the top.

Blust said there’s not much difference between this season and the last two. But the goal is different.

“Preparation, not much difference, but, definitely for nerve’s sake, a lot less nervous, and kind of going down with a different goal in mind this year,” Blust said. “Freshman year it was to get there. Last year was to place, and then, of course, this year, it’s to get the final step of being a state champion.”

Columbian coach Daniel Gilbert said Blust has every reason to be confident.

“He’s a veteran at this,” Gilbert said. “The goal in mind is lofty for him. We want that state title match, and we’ve got a path to get there, and obviously every kid is going to be a good one, so we’ve got to go in, take it one match at a time, and make sure we’re wrestling our style, our pace of match.”

PHOTOS BY STEVE WILLIAMS At left, Columbian's Joey Simcoe gains control over Seneca East's Danny Mullet to win the match at 152 pound weight class at the Gene Kimmet Memorial Feb. 3.

Blust is one of six Division II area wrestlers going down to Columbus to compete. Blust’s teammate, 152-pounder Joe Simcoe, is making his first state appearance, while Upper Sandusky’s 182-pounder Noah Clary is going down for the third time. They will be joined by Upper Sandusky’s 220-pounder Connor Johnston, and a pair of Bellevue grapplers: 152-pounder Nick Smythe and 160-pounder Justin Mayes.

For Blust, he says he’s looked at the brackets. He will begin today by taking on Ayyoub Muhammed of Thurgood Marshall.

“Anything helps,” Blust said. “The internet, with all of film that’s out there today. That can definitely be beneficial. But lately, I’ve been focusing on what I am doing as a wrestler, and wrestling my match and not trying to conform to anyone else.”

Gilbert was clear about where he believes Blust is as a wrestler.

“Right now. Caden is ready right now to be in a state title match,” Gilbert said. “We cannot underestimate anybody that’s at the tournament. Caden’s side of the bracket, you know, you’ve got three or four placers in previous years there. Caden’s in that grouping. Go one step at a time, and I think for Caden, I think it’s extremely realistic to think that, he wrestles a good tournament, and he’ll be in that finals.”

While Blust is getting used to the state experience, Joe Simcoe will be a rookie. But Simcoe has some advantages that other first-timers don’t. His father — Joey Simcoe — is the wrestling coach at Tiffin University. By being around his father, the younger Simcoe is used to the big meet experience.

“Because of who my dad is, I’m more open to the idea of a lot of people in an area,” Simcoe said. “So, the idea of 7,000 people watching me, I’m OK with that.”

And while Simcoe’s expectations for this weekend aren’t quite as high as Blust’s, he’s not satisfied with a simple appearance.

“I expect myself to at least place at state,” Simcoe said. “Top 4 is what I’m striving for, but I’ll settle for top 6. Since this is my first time coming down to the Schott, it’s just a really big opportunity for me, and I really want to capitalize on it.”

Gilbert said he doesn’t expect “Joe-Joe”— Simcoe’s nickname — to come in intimidated.

“Joe-Joe’s grown up around this, so he’s gonna come in here, and he knows this well,” Gilbert said. “Podium is definitely gonna be the goal, and trying to get as deep in the tournament, and the championship side of the bracket as he can get. He’s got potential to take out the first two, and will have a tough semifinal match if he can get there, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

Simcoe opens against Chaminade Jullienne’s David Fredrick, though the Tornado said he hasn’t looked at his opponents.

“I don’t look at brackets, ever,” he said.

So that’s one difference between Simcoe and Blust. Gilbert said there are many more, despite the fact that the two are drill partners.

“Stylistically, they’re very different wrestlers,” Gilbert said. “Caden loves to be on his feet, and Joe-Joe loves to be on top. Stylistically yes, they’re very different in that regard. Just a mental approach… Caden prefers to know who he’s fighting. He prefers to see them wrestle. He likes to watch film and likes to see those things, kind of study tendencies. Joe-Joe would rather go out there, not seeing anything, and just wrestling the style of match that he’s suited for.”

Still, Simcoe said he’s happy to be going down with a teammate.

“Caden and I, we’ve been drill partners the whole year, so we’ve developed a really close relationship over the course of the season,” Simcoe said. “It’s been really good for the both of us, because we’ve been helping each other get to where we are today.”

Clary made his first state appearance as 152-pounder in 2016, and didn’t place. Last year, at 160 pounds, he also failed to place. Now, at 182 pounds, the senior will go up against Josh Baldridge of Millersburg West Holmes.

Upper Sandusky coach Noah Blankenship said that in the past two seasons, Clary has perhaps reached his high point before the state meet.

“I think (the expectations are) just to wrestle our best,” Blankenship said. “At times we’ve peaked (early) … and not had the state tournament we wanted to. The last two years, we’ve beat ourselves.”

This time, Blankenship said, the goals are simple.

“Definitely podium,” he said. “At least top three.

“It just comes down to the simplicity of performing,” Blankenship said. “It’s all about winning matches, no matter how you do it.”

He will be joined by fellow Ram Johnston, who will face Warren Howland’s Brandon Matlock.

Even though it’s Johnston’s first time down, Blankenship said he’s expecting big things. Twice, Johnston has gone to Columbus as an alternate, but has not wrestled.

Johnston had to fight his way through early consolations to get third place at districts last week.

“I think expectations are about the same, the back’s against the wall,” Blankenship said. “He’s been the bridesmade two out of the last three years. I think he’s ready to surprise himself.”

As for Bellevue’s duo, Smythe — who like Simcoe wrestles at 152 pounds, comes in with a 43-8 mark. The senior faces St. Paris Graham’s Joey Sanchez in today’s opening round.

Meanwhile, Mayes, a freshman, arrives at state with a sparkling 44-7 record. He will face Stefan Farian, a senior from Richfield Revere.