If the OHSAA wrestling season had been scheduled to end one week earlier, right now many wrestlers across the state would be enjoying their time at home knowing they finished out the season the right way. Either by garnering a state championship, some type of state placement, or by knowing they put it all on the line versus the best wrestlers in Ohio.
However, that did not happen due to the ongoing situation with COVID-19.
When it was announced by OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass that all winter tournaments were postponed indefinitely on March 12 – a day before the State Individual Wrestling Tournament was set to begin in Columbus – the competitors and their coaches had to accept reality. That being, they may not get to complete the season the way they would like.
Furthermore, it is now known that the 2020 state tournament will not happen. The OHSAA announced Thursday its plans to cancel the winter sports tournaments.
“It all happened so fast, so it was really a feeling of disbelief,” said Wauseon coach Mike Ritter on his initial reaction to the OHSAA’s decision of postponement. “Before we even got the official word from the OHSAA, there were things all over social media about it. Most years we left in the afternoon to get a practice in, but this year we weren’t going to leave until after school. I think it would have made the thing that much worse had we already been down there.”
That bad fortune, however, was experienced by the Archbold coaches and wrestlers.
“Earlier in the week Ohio State had contacted me and said that we would not be allowed to practice in their wrestling room due to the coronavirus situation. Couple that with the changes to attendance that were made earlier in the week and it was not as big of a shock as it would have been without those events taking place. It was, however, frustrating that it came so late as we were already in Columbus when we learned of the initial postponement,” stated Blue Streak mentor Brian Becher.
Delta coach Anthony Carrizales admitted that his qualifying wrestlers took the news pretty hard, going through mourning as if someone they knew had died. But, as the gravity of the situation became more clear, he made sure to let them know how important it was to stay safe during this unprecedented time.
“Now that things have kind of progressed, reality kicks in and you start to realize that… obviously the state tournament is important, but, at the end of the day, we wouldn’t be good coaches if we weren’t able to communicate the message to the boys that there are more important things in life than sports,” said Carrizales. “And obviously, making sure that not only are they safe, but keeping them healthy.”
With the season not be allowed to finish, that outcome perhaps hits Delta harder than most area schools. They had a pair of wrestlers with great shots at a state title or high placement.
And for junior Zack Mattin, a defending state champion at 106 pounds, it was maybe a foregone conclusion he would repeat as champion, now competing at 113 pounds.
“To say he had a great shot I think is an understatement,” said Carrizales. “I think the closest thing to beating him would have been an accidental broken leg. He had beaten everybody in the state. The guys that were the best in Division II and the best guys in Division I. I really was beyond confident that he would be able to go down there and win it.”
Nevertheless, the Panther coach wants Mattin to keep things in perspective.
“My heart goes out to him,” he said. “But again, as a coach, I gotta give him the message that God’s got a plan. Even if we can’t see it right now, well, it doesn’t mean that there’s not a bigger purpose involved here.”
The only real silver lining with the situation, is that all his wrestlers will be back next season. Including Austin Kohlhofer, who had eyes on the Division III 220-pound state title after defeating presumptive champion, Wil Morrow of Patrick Henry, the week before at the district tournament.
“Everybody else on the team besides Zack had never made it (to state) before. Austin Kohlhofer had a great district tournament,” said Carrizales. “He’s only a sophomore. This was gonna be his first trip to state. A chance to win the whole thing – definitely place high. What else can you say, besides, ‘Hey it could be worse. You could be a senior.’ I’m just blessed that I don’t have to have that conversation with any of our boys. Because in the past, it’s heart wrenching to have to tell a kid who came up short, who wanted to be a state champ and he’s a senior and he didn’t get it done, that you’re never gonna have another shot.”
The other qualifiers back next season for the Panthers include Evan Hanefeld (106), who was a sophomore, and Max Hoffman (170), a junior.
On the other hand, Wauseon and coach Ritter does have to deal with telling seniors they won’t have another chance at the state tournament.
The Indians were sending four wrestlers to state: sophomore Lawson Grime at 138 pounds, junior Damon Molina (113), and seniors Jarrett Bischoff (160) and Sammy Sosa (285).
“I definitely thought we had some kids who could have placed…how high, that was going to remain to be seen,” noted Ritter. “But all our qualifiers were wrestling really well starting at our league tournament, so I was anxious to see them compete at the event we train all year for.”
And now this is the end for Bischoff and Sosa.
“It’s really a shame that neither senior will have the chance to compete there,” said the Wauseon coach. “Jarrett Bischoff was a state placer as a freshman. He could not crack our lineup as a sophomore and tore his ACL as a junior. For him to be able to get back to where he started his high school career was important to him.
“Sammy Sosa had never qualified for the high school state tournament after being a junior high state placer. He had a phenomenal district tournament that really gave him some high confidence going in to the state tournament.”
Just one of Archbold’s three qualifiers was a senior, that person being Brennan Short (145).
Despite the abrupt end to the season, Short overcame a lot just to qualify for the tournament a second straight year.
“My feelings for Brennan are different than what it would have been for seniors in the past as Brennan had gone through some internal struggles with wrestling this season,” said Becher. “Being a past state qualifier, there was the pressure of the expectation of being a state placer, and halfway through the season we weren’t sure if even qualifying was a reality. I was really proud of the way he performed at districts as he had to win three tough consolation matches to qualify. For him to persevere through the season will serve him well in his future endeavors.”
Becher will have a pair of qualifiers back for their senior season in 2020-21.
Andrew Francis (126) and Carson Meyer (170) each would have had their first state experience. In turn, their coach hopes they will be highly-motivated for next season.
“It’s always nice to have underclassmen qualify, but it would have been much better next year if they already had the experience of competing at the state tournament,” he said. “We now will look to them to be our leaders in our offseason workouts (provided we get to do those before fall sports), in their fall sport, in school, and in all of their other activities.”
Swanton coach Ernie Ruiz echoed those statements about experiencing the atmosphere of the state tournament, when talking about the Bulldogs’ junior qualifier, heavyweight Brodie Stevens.
“The only bright side to all of this is that he does have another year of high school wrestling,” Ruiz said. “However, I really wanted him to go to this event as a junior (for the experience) to make the probable next year’s trip less intimidating and overwhelming. Obviously there are many wrestlers and teams who were greatly disappointed with the outcome of the season.”
Ruiz is excited about Stevens’ prospects for next season.
“This year’s heavyweight class will graduate many top-ranked wrestlers from divisions 1, 2, and 3. Thus being the case, Brodie and I have very high expectations for next year’s upcoming season,” he said.
Some will have next season, others will not. It is the same ending for each qualifying wrestler statewide. The main thing of note, however, is that everyone is in it together.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010