The Division I district wrestling tournament at Mentor has long been known as the Meatgrinder due to how difficult it is to advance as one of the top four in any given weight class. The Division III district at Garfield Heights hasn’t been nicknamed yet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t deserving of a sinister moniker.
Just a handful of area prospects survived the district tournament and will compete in the 79th annual Ohio High School Athletic Association individual state tournament beginning on Thursday in Columbus.
Berkshire’s John Kumher, Cuyahoga Height’s Luke Hopkins and Trey Combs, Kirtland’s Brendan Williamson, Cardinal’s Brandon Neikirk, Beachwood’s Josh Bialosky and Newbury’s Kade Marker all finished among the top four at their respective weight classes to earn their state berth.
Kumher, a junior, finished second at 106 pounds with a first round pin and a 12-9 win over Hopkins in the quarterfinals, which was a rematch of the Chagrin Valley Conference tournament championship match. Kumher won that bout, 8-3.
He then pinned Elyria Catholic freshman Steven Ferguson in the semifinals.
“That was probably one of the most exciting matches,” Kumher said. “When I won that one and I pinned him it was very exciting. It got a little heated in the second period. He was pushing me out of bounds. It was getting rough and got physical like wrestling does. When I pinned him it felt very good, very good.”
Kumher lost to Akron Manchester’s Zack Larue in the championship match, 13-3.
He’ll wrestle West Lafayette Ridgewood junior Colton Bethel (47-5) in the first round at state.
Kumher (30-8) plans to use the same strategy in Columbus that helped him advance past the district tournament.
“One match at a time,” he said. “I’ve got to come in on Sunday to get a little drilling in and Monday and Tuesday I have to work as hard as I can. I want to be good and to be good you’ve got to put in the work. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday you’ve got to put in the work and then Thursday go do it.”
He’s also planning to work with his coaches to prepare for the mental aspect of walking through the tunnel for the first time.
“I was told it’s going to shock me,” he said. “All the lights and there are 10 mats going the first day and they said it’s intense. They’re going to show me a video to show me what to expect so I’m not shell-shocked when I come out.”
Hopkins rebounded from his quarterfinals loss to Kumher with four straight wins, including a 2 minute, 38 second pin in the third place bout. He’ll wrestle Galion Northmor junior Jake Neer in the first round on Thursday.
Williamson, a senior 113-pounder, has been on a mission this year after an illness prevented him from competing in the postseason last year.
He won 4-0 in the district first round then lost to eventual champion Dalton Leightner of Rootstown in the quarterfinals.
Williamson opened consolation wrestling with a 12-4 win then beat Brookfield’s Gavin Miglets, who was second at last weekend’s sectional tournament at Beachwood, 5-4. That was the 100th win of his career.
Miglets led the match, 4-3, with 10 seconds left but Williamson scored a takedown to keep alive his state tournament aspirations.
He punched his ticket to state with another come from behind victory in the consolation semifinals.
Ashtabula St. John’s Nick Burgard, who beat Williamson 7-5 in overtime at the Beachwood sectional, held a 9-4 advantage before Williamson maneuvered out of a cradle and used a half nelson to plant Burgard on his back in 3 minutes, 45 seconds.
“There's no better feeling then getting revenge on that kid,” Williamson said. “He was beating me 9-4 and he had a cradle locked up and he came up high and I put the half on him and stuck him.”
Williamson (34-8) dropped his third place match to returning state placer Christian Wellman of Waynedale. He’ll open the state tournament against Genoa Area’s Julian Sanchez (27-5).
“I'm just going to approach it like it’s another tournament,” he said. “Go in and do the best I can do.”
Combs, who missed several weeks of action this year with an injury, qualified for state the hard way.
He dropped his first round bout in overtime then reeled off four straight wins to punch his ticket to Columbus. He finished fourth at 132 and will wrestle Mechanicsburg’s Nick Miller in the first round at state. This will be his second straight appearance in the state tournament.
Neikirk, a senior 145-pounder, opened the tournament with back-to-back pins, which tied a school record for 103 career pins, then fell to eventual champion Ian Maund of Mapleton in the semifinals.
He beat Northwestern’s Kyle Cayse, 5-2, in the go-to-state match. It was Neikirk’s first win over Cayse after three straight losses.
“I was just very relieved to make it (to state),” Neikirk said. “I had lost to him three times before but I knew that I could beat him. I didn’t want to end my senior year at districts again. Winning that match to go to state was one of my favorite memories from wrestling.”
Neikirk (40-6) went on to finish fourth and will open his first state tournament against Dayton Christian senior Logan Lacure, who won the last two 145 pound state titles and finished second at 120 pounds as a freshman.
Bialosky (40-4) finished second at 182 pounds and will open his first state tournament against Richwood North Union senior Corbin Bunsold (52-1).
Marker pinned Black River’s Jacob Campbell in the 195 pound consolation semifinals and went on to finish fourth. He’ll wrestle Amanda-Clearcreek senior Jordan Leasure (45-0) in the opening round at state.
Cardinal’s Trent Mast (120) and Newbury’s Tom McKale (170) both finished fifth and are state alternates. Hawken’s J.P. Hlifka (106), Kirtland’s Alex French (120) and Independence’s Kevin Clymer (152) all placed sixth.