Thousands of wrestlers across the state began wrestling practice in early November with a dream. Today, a host of area wrestlers will live that dream.
That dream is wrestling at state.
Thirteen area wrestlers will hit the mats at the Jerome Schottenstein Center at the Ohio State University in Columbus. Some will be making return trips, hungry for a higher placing than in years past, while others will be getting their first taste of the state experience.
In Division II, Columbian is sending three wrestlers to Columbus. Seth Williams (152-pounds) is making his third-straight trip and has his sights set high coming off a third place finish a year ago. Joining him will be Derik Kopp at 132, who made it to state two years ago as a sophomore, before narrowly missing out last year. The final Tornado is Mason Correll (138) who won five times during the second day of last weekend's district tournament at Bowling Green to earn his first trip.
Out of the 112 schools sending wrestlers to the Division III tournament, only one (Amanda-Clearcreek) can top Upper Sandusky's total of six wrestlers competing. The Ram contingent is highlighted by a pair of district champions in Alex Kenner (152) and Tylor Pritchard (182).
Also representing the Rams will be Thurston Dyer (106), Carson Mengerink (113), Cory Frey (160) and Dylan Robertson (195). All six Rams will be making their first trip to state.
Also in Division III, both Fostoria's Tony Reynolds and Mohawk's Grant Price will be in the 170-pound weight class. Reynolds is making his second-straight trip, while Price will be in Columbus for the third year in a row.
Making the first trips to state will be Carey's Brayden Leist (132) and Buckeye Central's Shawn Kissell (285).
For Columbian coach Chad Long, he says its a big difference having a group of three competing as opposed to last season when Williams was the lone Tornado making the trip.
"Now Seth has other people instead of just himself, so he doesn't feel alone," Long said. "He's got two other teammates. It's good for the mindset for all those guys when they start to get nervous, they have each other there. For Seth now having two others, he's got people he can warm up with and drill with. All three of those guys wrestle each other a lot since they're all close in weight."
Long says he feels Williams has the potential to get to, and win, the finals, but has a tough road ahead of him. Long points to a tough potential quarterfinal match with Kordell Ford of Hillsboro as the biggest roadblock between Williams and the finals.
Long called Kopp's first round match with Andy Dobben of Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy a "dogfight," but thinks Kopp will have the edge.
"I truly feel Kopp will have the experience edge, the upper hand with the atmosphere," Long said. "He's a senior; he knows this is his last shot. I believe he'll wrestle well."
Long said he's not sure what to expect out of Correll, making his first appearance at state.
"He's one of those dark horses. You never know what your going to get out of Mason," Long said. "His style will fluster a lot of people. You can never count him out. This is his first time going down. Kids that are there the first time, you don't have much expectations for the because you don't know how they'll handle the situation."
Upper Sandusky will have strength in numbers in the Division III tournament, with six entries. However, coach Chris Rodriguez says he hasn't put any thought into how high the team can place, but rather making sure each of his wrestlers finishes as high as they can.
"We haven't given that any thought what so ever. The guys are down there and they're just concerned about what they can do for themselves. Everything else will take care of themselves."
With all six being first-timers, Rodriguez says he realizes it will be a new experience for his guys.
"Everything they see down at the Schottenstein, everything is going to be new to them," he said. "We told them to just treat it like any other tournament and we'll see how it goes. They just got to wrestle hard and do the best they possibly can".
Fostoria's Reynolds left Columbus a year ago with a sixth place finish. Coach Nick Davis said the obvious goal is to climb higher on the podium
"Definitely to place higher, improve upon sixth is one of his goals," Davis said. "Obviously the ultimate goal is a state championship. But you got to use the old clich, 'take it one match at a time.'
The road doesn't have a smooth start as Reynolds drew Waynedale's Brenden Stanley in the opening round. Stanley's first loss of the season came at last week's districts, but Davis said a possible injury could necessitate a chance.
"I've looked at it, I'e analyzed it, looked at about every scenario I can," he said. "There's been rumors (Stanley) may not wrestle because of a injury at districts. If he does wrestle, he likely won't be 100 percent. He was state runner-up at 152 last year. But once you get down there, anything can happen. I think Tony can go toe-to-toe with anyone in his bracket."
Davis also said Reynolds will benefit from having the experience of being down there last year.
"I think having the experience from wrestling there last year will be pretty big for him," he said. "Last year, walking out of the tunnel for the first time is a nerve wracking time, but he's gotten that out of the way. I think his nerves will calm as soon as the whistle's blown."
Mohawk coach Bud Cook had similar feelings with Price making his third trip to state.
"By being a guy that's been down there before, that definitely gives you an advantage over someone who's never been there," Cook said. "You walk out of that tunnel and sometimes good kids just can't concentrate, or its too overwhelming for them to take in at one time. With him being down there a couple times now, that gives him an advantage."
Price took runner-up at last week's district tournament, losing a close final match. Cook says that loss could prove to be beneficial to Price as he looks to place for the first time.
"It was a good match, it makes him a little more aware of things, puts a little more fire in his belly," Cook said.
Buckeye Central's Kissell also comes in a district runner-up. His coach, Chris Smith said Kissell is wrestling his best at the right time.
"He's close to the level," Smith said when asked if Kissell is where he needs to be to place in Columbus. "I think he can be a little quicker on his feet, but as far as peaking at the right time, this is the best he's wrestled. ... I run the season to peak at the end of the season and that's what he's doing."
Kissell is taller than most heavyweights he faces off with, and according to Smith, has gotten used to a style of locking up with smaller, more compact heavyweights.
"I think he's gotten used to that style, but sometime struggles when he's against someone who's not going to stand there and lock up, but rather do a lot of shooting and moving around. We need to work on being lighter on our feet, being quicker, having better reflexes."
For Carey's Brayden Leist, the past few years have been a story of so close, yet so far away. Leist took sixth place at districts as a sophomore, and fifth last year, missing out on a trip to Columbus by one point.
This year, Leist took the mat with a determination to take that final step, and in the process, give his coach a new hair cut.
"It's been our goal all season," Carey coach Ryan Pratt said. "Last year he finished fifth; he lost 4-3 in the go-to-state match. He just had this drive this year. He told me at the beginning of the season, he'll be at Columbus. I told him if he made it, I'll buzz my head. And I have a buzz cut right now."
Pratt said there's no worry about Leist losing that drive, now that he's made it to state.
"He still got that drive," he said. "He's there now. Now we got some bigger expectations. We kind of shifted goals. We're going to try to get him on the podium. That's our goal right now, one win at a time. It takes two wins to place. We're going to get that first win and go from there."
Action starts at 3 p.m. today with the Division III first round matches, with Division II following. Winners move on to Friday's quarterfinals while losers will comeback tonight for the first round of consolation matches.