By Bret Curren
Few things can capture the drama of a district wrestling meet, where grapplers fight for the right to make an appearance at the state tournament in Columbus.
The wrestle-to-state matches are extremely drama-filled with the elation of achieving a spot at the state tournament and the agony of narrowly missing that impressive goal on polar opposites on the emotion scale.
For the West Holmes Knights, who took eight wrestlers to districts, two members were on the elation side of the spectrum while two others felt the ultimate sting of placing fifth, one spot away from wrestling in Columbus.
West Holmes High School junior 113-pound wrestler Cael Woods and fellow junior 120-pounder Tyler Masters will make return trips to next week’s Ohio high school state championship tournament after Woods pocketed the championship and Masters scored third at the 2019 Ohio High School Athletic Association Div. II East/Southeast/Central District Championship Tournament at Heath High School on Saturday, March 2.
“Last night (Friday) was a rough night for a lot of the kids,” Knights wrestling head coach Scott Vaughn said following the tournament when five of his eight district qualifiers lost their opening-round match. “Today (Saturday) I thought the kids came back and looked much better. I don’t think I had them as prepared in our prematch warm-up as I probably could have yesterday. We fixed that today. I was proud how every kid came out fighting.”
Woods, now 44-0, posted a 10-1 major decision over Jacob Norris of Minerva in Saturday afternoon’s championship semifinal before dominating Michael Petrella of Columbus Bishop Hartley in the championship bout with a takedown clinic 14-7 decision win. The title was Woods’ first district championship — he was runner-up in 2018 and placed third in 2017 — and gives him three consecutive state tournament appearances. Woods rolled his first two opponents Friday, pinning Eric Reed of Cambridge at the 1:08 mark in his first bout and then stuck Rhiyder Slone of Proctorville Fairfield even quicker with a fall win at 0:32 in the championship quarterfinals.
“Cael did what Cael does,” Vaughn said of his now three-time state qualifier. “He was focused and dominated. I think his most impressive performance was in the finals versus Petrella from Bishop Hartley. Cael got six takedowns on Petrella, a returning state placer. That really breaks a kid mentally. And Cael gets our [Knights Varsity Wrestling] Man of the Match Award this weekend for his dominant performance, also earning his third trip to state. I can’t wait to see what this kid will accomplish.”
Masters path to his third-place finish and second straight trip to the big dance wasn’t easy in any sense. For the second straight week, Masters faced Koen Kish of St. Clairsville in the championship semifinals bout, a rematch of last week’s sectional championship semifinal won by Kish with a 7-2 sudden victory decision. The two once again battled to a 3-3 draw after regulation, the extra one-minute sudden victory period sending the match into overtime. Unfortunately Masters received a stalling warning penalty in the two 30-second periods, giving Kish one point. That mistake proved to be the losing point for Masters in the 4-3 loss. The Knights junior rebounded with a 6-1 decision win over Brandon Brown of Carrollton in the “go-to-state” consolation semifinals, sewing up his state berth. Masters, now 40-4, then tacked on a 3-0 decision victory over Jarrett Warrington of Claymont in the bronze medal match. Friday saw Masters open with a fall win over Gavin DeAngelo of Marengo Highland at the 1:33 mark before posting a resounding 9-0 major decision victory in the championship quarterfinals over Wes Radford of Albany Alexander.
“Tyler had a really tough weight class,” Vaughn said of his two-time state qualifier’s weekend. “He came out with two really nice wins to move him to the semifinals against his nemesis, Kish, from St. Clairsville. Once again he dropped the match in overtime, this time in ultimate tie-breaker. He showed a lot of guts to put that match behind him and win in the consolation semifinals to earn his second trip to state.”
That was the fun news. Next came the heartbreaking news.
Just missing out on state berths and settling for fifth-place state alternate placements were 106-pound sophomore Jack Welsh and 145-pound junior Walker Uhl. Both worked their way back through the consolation rounds to reach Saturday’s consolation semifinals, where a win means a trip to state.
It wasn’t to be as Welsh fell 3-1 to David Woolever of Carrollton and Uhl dropped a 6-0 decision loss to Jordan Barnett of Thornville Sheridan.
Welsh, who lost his opening-round match Friday and fought his way back through the consolation bracket with three straight wins before losing to Woolever, scored a 3-0 decision victory over Tyler Beckley of Indian Valley in the fifth-place match.
“Jack had a very impressive tournament,” Vaughn said. “He dropped his first match in a close battle. The way the bracket turned out, he was going to have a tough road ahead of him. I think this might have been his best tournament of the year. He avenged a loss last week to Salsberry (Jaymin, Lisbon Beaver Local), winning 5-0. He had to work very hard to come back and take fifth. Jack had a really good first season as a first-year starter for us.”
Going 1-1 Friday, Uhl posted a pair of wins before losing to Barnett but came back in the fifth-place match with a 7-2 rematch decision win over Tristian Duffey of Vincent Warren. Uhl beat Duffey in Friday’s first round by an 8-2 decision.
“Walker potentially ended his season with another heartbreaker in the consolation semifinals,” Vaughn said of Uhl just missing out on a state berth (but like Welsh still has an outside shot as a state alternate). “He wrestled well and had a pretty decent tournament. It was a pretty sizable jump from last year at 126 to this season at 145. He just needs to take that next step to make it to the big show next season. I have confidence that he is going to do what it takes.”
Cruz Alexander (Jr., 170 pounds) just missed making the “go to state” match, losing a 10-5 decision in the consolation quarterfinals to Liam Kellar of Vincent Warren. Alexander lost his opening-round match on Friday but came back with a forfeit win and a fall victory, finishing with a 2-2 record.
Kendel Weber (Jr., 126) posted a 1-2 mark, his win a 13-8 decision over Pierce Jordan of Utica in the first round of consolations. Weber lost in Friday’s opening round by fall and was eliminated from the tournament after suffering a 6-3 consolation second-round loss to Dominic Davis of London.
Freshman district qualifiers Tucker Kaufman (132) and Dillon Miller (160) both were 0-2 but gained valuable experience for the next three years of their high school wrestling careers.
In summarizing his squad’s district tournament performance, Vaughn said, “We had five kids lose their first match yesterday. It shows a lot about the character of this team to fight back through the consolation. I think this will be great experience and a motivational tool for everyone going forward in the off-season.”
In the team race the Knights placed ninth in the 48-team field with 69 points. Lisbon Beaver Local, with 191 points, won the district team title, followed by Steubenville at 164, third-place Carrollton at 126, fourth-place Indian Valley at 106 and fifth-place Columbus Bishop Hartley at 98, rounding out the top five.
photos by Sara Sponseller-Uhl