The fight for sectional supremacy was a very fun one for wrestling fans as three tremendous area programs went toe to toe in the Uhrichsville sectional wrestling tournament on Saturday, Feb. 24 at Claymont High School.
With three tremendous programs in the Warriors, Braves and the West Holmes Knights all opting to jump into the Claymont sectional to place themselves away from Claymont in the district brackets, there was a log jam of talented grapplers that made the Claymont sectional extremely difficult. It also made for plenty of drama as the three top teams chased one another throughout the tournament.
In the end it came down to the slightest of margins as Carrollton eked out a tight win, scoring 224.5 points to Claymont’s 222.5. Indian Valley placed third with 199.5 and West Holmes fourth at 150. The gap to fifth-place was massive, but the real thrills of the weekend’s activities were watching the top teams challenge one another.
For Claymont, which has won six straight district titles but has now dropped the past three sectional crowns to Carrollton, the big battles are set for the district meet.
“Give Carrollton credit. They just beat us today, but we put a lot more emphasis on what happens at the district level,” Mustangs head coach Eric Toukonen said.
As for top teams willing to risk facing his team in sectionals to avoid them early on in the district brackets, Toukonen said he is humbled by the decision of those teams to opt to show that kind of respect to his program, a program that has been among the top programs in the state over the past several decades.
“We appreciate that kind of respect they have for our program, and it was a good move by several coaches,” Toukonen said. “It stings a bit to lose by two points today, but we have very high hopes heading into the district tournament.”
If history is any indication, Toukonen and the Mustangs have every reason to feel good about the next level of wrestling. The past three years Carrollton has defeated Claymont in sectionals, only to see Claymont turn around and win the district title.
“It becomes a numbers game at this point,” Toukonen said. “If you can get a lot of guys through on to the state meet and then get a good draw, you never know what might happen.”
Indian Valley head coach Nick Swaldo said his team gave a tremendous effort, noting that health issues plagued the total numbers.
“We had a couple of seniors who were sick today who went out there today and wrestled their guts out for us,” Swaldo said. “They just weren’t quite able to get the job done, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort. But as a group we got 10 guys to districts, and that is the most we have had go for some time. This senior group was with me when they were freshmen, and we didn’t send a single kid to districts, so this is a great day for us. I’m still grateful to that group of seniors for sticking with the program.”
Swaldo said the strategy of diving into sectionals with the likes of Claymont and Carrollton was their strategy, hoping to get a bunch of wrestlers through and then avoiding them early on at districts. It couldn’t have worked out much better for them.
“We’ll see these top guys from sectionals again, but it won’t be until we are ready to place,” Swaldo said.
The sectional finals were littered with wrestlers from the top four teams. West Holmes’ Cael Woods (44-1 record) won the title at 106 pounds while Claymont’s Jarrett Warrington fell to the Knights’ Tyler Masters 5-1 (43-2). At 120 pounds Braves’ star Brady O’Connor, who improved to 39-4, took down West Holmes’ returning state qualifier Thane Kaufman 6-1. At 126 pounds returning state qualifier Dalton Burcher, who is now 35-5, of Indian Valley took down West Holmes’ Walker Uhl 11-2 while the Braves got their third straight win when Adam Lenhoff, who improved to 35-7, decisioned Claymont’s Jerome Tucker 7-1 at 132 pounds.
Claymont finally got a win at 138 pounds when Maxx Peters won by fall at 3:43 over Carrollton’s Tanner Newbold. Peters improved to 27-5.
Carrollton then reeled off three straight titles with 145-pounder Ben Pasiuk (44-3) winning a 13-1 major decision over Claymont’s Dakota Bunting to start the run. At 152 pounds Warrior Justin Shaw (28-1) won a 4-2 decision over Mustang Briar Cadle (29-8) while Brandon Daniels (41-7) finished off the mini-run streak of Warriors wins at 160 pounds with a 20-9 major decision win over Indian Valley’s Jacob Armstrong (35-10).
Ashton Eyler (28-1) picked up a win for Claymont at 170 pounds, the heavily favored Eyler picking up the victory when Maysville Hayden McGee (36-4) forfeited.
Alex Carrothers (30-8) then got a huge win at 182 pounds, defeating top-seed Josh Baldridge (27-3) 3-2. That upset was enough to turn the Warriors into winners.
Indian Valley’s Brodey Parsons (26-8) won at 195 pounds with a pin win over John Glenn’s Colton Neptune at 5:06 before Claymont captured wins at 220 pounds, where Kole Aubiel (25-9) stopped St. Clairsville’s Justice McCarmick 7-4 and Lyle Clark (26-12) won by fall in 58 seconds over Indian Valley’s Kerion O’Connor.
In the battle for third place, Indian Valley got third-place wins from Therron Stocker (138 pounds), Caden Keathley (145 pounds) and Owen Quillen (220 pounds) while Zach Love (152 pounds) placed fourth. Claymont’s Noah Edwards (182 pounds) also took home a third-place finish.
The top-four placers moved on to the district wrestling meet.
Fifth-place alternate finishes went to Claymont’s TJ Zurcher (106) and Tucker Zurcher (120) as well as Indian Valley’s Matt Love. All three of them will remain in play for a district spot should one of the top-four qualifiers become ineligible.
Swaldo has said that he wants his program to reach the pinnacle of wrestling in the area, and the Braves have become a very talented and successful program. Yet he realizes that there is still work to be done.
“We are getting there, but we were still a little short,” Swaldo said.
When they do get there, they will be trying to chase down a Claymont team that has been one of the most elite programs in any sport in the area.