The goal of every single wrestler in the state of Ohio is to make it to the biggest spectacle in all of high school wrestling, the OHSAA state championship tournament at Ohio State University.
The largest such event of its kind in the nation will take place Thursday, Feb. 27 through Saturday, March 1 and eight wrestlers from the four Madison County high schools with wrestling programs will be taking part.
Three individuals from West Jefferson, two from London, and a trio of district champions, two from Jonathan Alder and one from Madison-Plains will all test their mettle against the best Ohio has to offer.
Golden Eagles senior Jake Datz (51-4) had a determined look in his eyes prior to the the start of the D-III district tournament on Friday, Feb. 21, at Heath High School.
Coach Tyson Winters could tell that his 170-pound standout was ready for the event and that he was bound to have a strong weekend of wrestling.
“His mind was in the right place,” Winters said. “He went out and took control of his matches. He had a game plan and stuck to it.
Datz pinned his first opponent Clayton Edmonds of Fairland in 1:30. His second-round win was a 10-3 decision over Matt McFarland of Union Local. An 8-6 decision over Leo Hermann of Central Catholic in the semifinal earned him a spot in the championship match against Jared Pack of Centerburg.
It was a rematch of the sectional championship won by Pack, but this time around Datz would not be denied in winning 4-3.
“Jake is one of the hardest workers we have,” Winters said. “He set his goals at the beginning of the season and making it to the state was one of them. He’s starting to believe that he can beat anyone.”
The Roughriders will have the most county representatives at the state meet when coach Nick Christopher takes three wrestlers to the state’s biggest wrestling event.
“We were pretty pleased with the effort we had over the weekend,” the coach said.
West Jefferson had five competitors participate in the D-III district at Heath. As a team, the Roughriders scored 76 points and placed third behind Hartley (107.5) and Paint Valley (96).
The three wrestlers who advanced were Ricky Ratcliff (second, 145), Cody Dingess (fourth, 152) and Louis Wemyss (second, 182).
Ratcliff (37-5) will be making a return trip to the state after missing last season with an injury. He earned his spot this year by recording three dominant performances at the district. Winning by a 15-0 tech fall in the first round and following that up with back-to-back pins to reach the finals. In the championship he was upended 5-0 by Jamie Baldridge of Northmor.
Wemyss (33-4) also won his first three matches with relative ease, waltzing to a 35 second pin and another in 4:38 before a 10-6 win in the semifinal. His only setback was a 1:11 loss to Don Johns of Coshocton in the 182-pound final.
Dingess (44-10) earned a pair of victories on the district tournament’s first day which got him to within a win of qualifying for the state. He picked up a pin victory in 2:587 and a 4-1 decision.
He had a 16-3 major decision setback which sent him into the consolation bracket, but a 5-3 decision there before a 17-9 loss in the third-place match assured him a spot in the state tournament.
“We’re looking forward to there and competing,” the coach said. “It’s West Jeff wrestling, we expect to have guys to make it on the podium (top eight).”
Owen Shoemaker (36-3) reached the podium at the D-II state championship a year ago, he will return this year with the thought of improving on his 2013 accomplishment.
The Red Raiders senior placed second at 160 pounds at the district at Claymont High School. Shoemaker was truly on top of his game recording three first period pins in his first three matches. In the championship match he came up just short in a 5-4 decision against Brendan Scherer of Warsaw Riverview (51-0).
Another London senior, Garrett Blackburn also reached the district finals, doing so at 132 pounds.
He put together a 10-3 decision in his opening match, followed that up with a 3-1 win and a 4-3 triumph to reach the finals, where he ran into a familiar face, Jonathan Alder’s Bret Yutzy. Yutzy outdueled his fellow Madison County rival 3-1 to claim the championship.
Shoemaker getting to the state was an accomplishment many expected, especially after placing a year ago. Blackburn’s qualifying wasn’t a surprise but getting to the championship match at the district was a slight one.
“We thought Owen would win it and thought Garrett could possibly finish third or fourth, but have him do as well as he did was a nice surprise,” London coach Dave Kennedy said. “It’s just a good feeling to be taking kids back down to the state meet. This is 10 kids we’ve had there in the last five years.”
Pioneers coach Ron Thomas was hoping to have all three of his wrestlers advance from the D-II district at Claymont High School to the state meet, but after Ely Ayoub lost an overtime thriller at 126 pounds in the match that would have sent him to the state, the coach was forced to settle for two out of three.
“Having two guys make it through is nice,” Thomas said. “We would have liked to have another, but that’s just the way it goes. Very seldom do you get to have a district champion and we have two of them.”
Those two are senior Bret Yutzy (45-4) at 132 pounds and junior Troy Caldwell (44-2) at 220. Both Pioneers battled their way through a tough district field and put themselves in strong position going into the state meet.
Caldwell, a returning state placer from a year ago, earned his ticket back by getting through a bracket that included six of the Top-10 ranked kids in the state at his weight class.
“You never know what’s going to happen in these things,” Thomas said. “It just worked out that our guy didn’t lose.”
Caldwell won his first match with a pin in 1:06, that was followed up by a 8-6 decision over Austin Bentley of Carrollton, advancing him to the semifinals where he pinned Claymont’s Garrett Harding in 1:34. Caldwell’s final win was a 7-6 decision over Harrison Hoppel of Minerva.
In the semifinal match the wrestler from Claymont, Caldwell found himself wrestling against an entire crowd filled with home fans.
“It was a rattlesnake pit out there,” Thomas said. “But they quited down a little bit in that match. Troy really wrestled well.”
Yutzy’s championship round victory came from a hard-fought 3-1 decision over London’s Garrett Blackburn.
He also had a 2:47 pin in the first round, a 12-3 major decision over Ruger Reeves of Maysville and a 4-2 decision over Kody Driggs of Morgan.
Chris Miles can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 18 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.