36 OVAC Wrestlers Will Make Trip to Columbus
COLUMBUS — Three dozen Ohio Valley Athletic Conference wrestlers have successfully navigated the “Road to Columbus” by placing in the top 4 of their respective sectional and district tournaments. They will now compete in the 81st annual state tournament which begins Thursday inside Value City Arena inside the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of Ohio State University and continues through Saturday night’s championship finals.
Twenty of those individuals will compete in Division III, with the remaining 16 in Division II.
Eleven of the entrants in the ‘small school’ division are from the local area as Martins Ferry qualified four and Bridgeport three. Barnesville, Buckeye Local, Shadyside and Union Local all have one.
The Purple Riders, who finished third in the team standings at the Heath district behind Nelsonville-York and Galion Northmor, are led by four-time state qualifiers Dalton Hoover (195) and Hunter Bodkin (285). Advancing for the first time are sophomore Richard McFarland (170) and junior Drake Dobson (182).
Hoover (39-2) has reached the podium in his last two trips, but hasn’t reached that elusive top step yet. The Northern Illinois University recruit finished second as a sophomore and third last winter. He was ranked No. 1 in the state throughout the regular season, but dropped a 6-5 semifinal nod to No. 2 Hudson Jump of Grandview Heights before finishing third.
“Dalton has one goal in mind and that is to be the state champion,” Martins Ferry coach Chas Yoder said. “I think he has the potential to do that this season.”
Hoover, a three-time OVAC Ron Mauck Tournament champion, has been bothered by a dislocated finger on his right hand he suffered early in the Ohio Coatings Panther Classic at Buckeye Local in early February. He was wearing a brace over the weekend, but opted not to use it in the consolation finals.
Bodkin (44-3) placed eighth two years ago as a sophomore at 220. He won the Barnesville and Heath districts by defeating Union Local’s Kade Clark in the finals on both occasions, including 5-3 last weekend.
“It feels great to be a district champion for the first time, but I’ve got one more step to go,” Bodkin said. “I’m climbing the mountain each week.”
McFarland is a pleasant surprise for Yoder’s Purple. He finished fourth in the district after advancing to the semifinals. He is now 28-15.
“Richie did a good job of getting on the podium,” Yoder said. “He battled through an ankle injury. He wrestled tough when he had to.”
Dobson, now 35-7, has gotten hot at the right time. He has strung together a dozen consecutive victories in winning the Buckeye 8, Barnesville sectional and Heath district titles. He earned his first district championship with a 4-3 repeat decision over Nelsonville-York freshman Colton Snyder, whom he also defeated in the sectional finals.
“All the hard work in practice … being beat up by Dalton, Hunter and Keith (Wilson) has paid off,” Dobson advised. “I really don’t know what to think about being a district champion right now. I’m kind of shocked right now.”
The Bulldogs have a trio of state qualifiers for the second consecutive season, with juniors Mason Kuneff (145) and Tino Kusic (160) making return appearances. It will be the third trip for Kusic.
Making his first state appearance will be senior Elliott Dean (132).
“The guys wrestled hard last weekend and did what they had to to get on the podium,” Bridgeport coach David Nelson said. “They did a good job.”
Kuneff took third in the district after winning the Sandy Valley sectional. He is now 31-6 and qualified at 138 last year.
“Going back to the state tournament is really exciting,” Kuneff said. “But this year I want to earn a place on the podium.”
Kusic, 42-7, also placed third in the district after prevailing in his weight class at sectionals. He won one bout in last year’s state tournament.
“It feels good going back to the state tournament for a third time, but my goal this year is to get a spot as high on the podium as I can,” Kusic said.
Dean probably has the toughest first round draw of any of the locals as he is paired with Genoa Area’s Dylan D’Emilio. The 48-0 junior is a two-time state champion at 106 and 113. Dean placed fourth at the district after claiming his weight class in the sectional.
“Elliott is a senior and he wants to make his last season one to remember,” Nelson said. “So far he’s done that.”
Brayden Reynolds (113) had been so close in making the trip to Columbus in each of his first three years, but the Shamrock senior finally broke through in his last attempt. He finished third in the district and carries a 36-8 mark into the state tournament.
“He’s really worked hard this year. He got his weight back down to 113 and that’s where we thought he should be,” Barnesville coach Jayson Stephen said. “He’s very deserving of being a state qualifier.”
Brian Palmer Jr. (120) is re-writing the record books for the Panthers. The freshman placed third at the Heath district and set a new freshman record for wins with 38 in the process. He is also just the second Buckeye Local wrestler to advance to the state, the other being his head coach Willie Saxton.
“He came out strong and made it to the semis before he lost a close 2-1 match,” Saxton said. “I’m very proud of how far he has come. He’s got a mindset that he wants to go out there (on the mat) and be the best that he can be. He absolutely showed it.”
Palmer Jr. is 38-9 on the season.
It’s been a long season for the Tigers and coach Sean Grinch. They only had a handful of individuals this season, but senior Josh Robinson (285) extended his final season another week by placing fourth in the district.
Robinson, 31-9, is the lone holdover from the Tigers’ outstanding teams of the past few years.
“I’m really happy for Josh. He has worked really hard to get to this point in his career,” Grinch noted. “The job’s not done yet. His ultimate goal is to get on the podium this week. That’s what we’re shooting for.”
The aforementioned Clark (35-11) as a district runnerup, losing for the fourth time to Bodkin this season.
“Kade is more determined now than he has all season,” Union Local coach Zach Powell said. “He’s got a goal and he is working very hard of attaining that goal.”
Other OVAC wrestlers qualifying include Caldwell’s Marshal Niswonger (113); Colin Wiley (138) and Trevor Hayes (195); Edison’s Hayden Johnson (120), Seth Cade (152) and Ethan Pappas (170); Columbiana Crestview’s Andrew Hardenbrook (145) and Landon Talbert (195) and Shenandoah’s Alex Overly (106).
Steubenville, which won the Claymont District, leads the way in this division with seven qualifiers. Heading that group is Ohio State University recruit Jashon Hubbard (152). The senior is 50-1 and has placed third twice (2015 and 2017) and fourth once (2016).
Other Big Red advancers are junior Peyton Blasko (113), freshman Tyler Muldrew (120), junior Jacson Muldrew (132), junior Anthony Rice (138), sophomore David Tuttle (170) and senior Tyler Ely (285). Jacson Muldrew was fifth at 120 last year in D-III for Shadyside, while Rice placed fourth at 138.
The Beavers have four qualifiers in sophomore Cole McComas (113), sophomore Skyler Lasure (132), junior Beau Smith (145) and junior Jared Wright (152).
McComas (42-3) was a state runnerup last year at 106. Lasure (36-7) finished seventh at 120.
A newcomer to the OVAC two years ago, the Warriors are represented by freshman Peyten Kellar (106) and sophomore Brady Oberdier (160).
Vincent Warren didn’t compete in the OVAC Ron Mauck Tournament this season.
OVAC Ron Mauck Tournament champion Howard Williams is the Potters state representative. He finished third in the Claymont district.
The Redskins are sending senior Parker Mazik (132) to Columbus.
Senior Jud Ramage (220) will be making his second trip to Columbus. He placed fifth at 195 last year.