- John Cummings Contributing Writer
Graham coach Jeff Jordan has made one thing abundantly clear to his wrestlers as they prepare to go for the Division I title in the Ohio High School Athletic Association team tournament Sunday at St. John’s Arena.
Be prepared to battle.
The Falcons open the tournament at 11 a.m. as the top seed against eighth-seeded Marysville. Semifinals are 3:30 p.m., finals 7:30.
Graham is moving up to Division I from Division II for the state duals.
“Beating St. Ed’s three weeks ago in a barnburner helped us receive the number one seed for the duals and I think this helps us mentally going into the state duals,” Jordan said. “However, I do feel that the other Division I teams do not want to have a Division II team bump up and win the title.
“My boys better be ready to fight hard as a team and go out and compete.”
Jordan knows that while fans are already penciling in a rematch between the Falcons and Lakewood St. Edward in the finals, there is a lot of wrestling prior to that.
Graham, ranked fifth nationally, and eighth-ranked St. Ed’s are joined in the field by 13th-ranked LaSalle, 20th-ranked Brecksville and 38th-ranked Massillon Perry.
“These are the toughest D-I teams participating in the six-year history of the state duals,” Jordan said. “This is great for the sport of wrestling.
“We have two tough matches before the finals where we are hoping to get St. Ed’s. We beat them 28-27 in a war a month ago. We know that they will make adjustments to try and switch the outcome from the previous dual. However, my team understands that we did not wrestle to our fullest potential in the first dual, and we know that we are going to have to really step up if we want to win the title.
“Many wrestling fans would say that Graham vs. St Ed’s is the best rivalry in high school wrestling. We are excited to add to this rivalry this weekend. It will be a war.”
In the dual at St. Ed’s, Graham won two more matches than the Eagles but gave up bonus points in each loss.
Graham will return to D-II for the individual state tournament but couldn’t pass up the chance to bump up for the team title. Graham has won all five contested state team titles at D-II.
Butler favored: Butler coach Mark Peck knows his Aviators will not be able to sneak up on anyone this time around.
Butler has been the top-ranked D-I team in the area for the entire season and headed into the Greater Western Ohio Conference tournament, which began Friday night, as the favorite.
“We sort of snuck up on everyone last season,” Peck said, “but that won’t happen this weekend. There’s a number of great coaches, great teams and outstanding individuals in the GWOC and there are four or five teams who have the capability to win the team title.”
Springboro and Beavercreek appear to be the top challengers to knock Butler from the top spot and Peck knows the formula to winning hasn’t changed.
“The semis will separate the teams, but the team who wrestles a complete tournament will win. It’s super important to win the placement matches and wrestle to your seed or better,” Peck said. “You have to accumulate bonus points and don’t give them up, and stay focused the entire tournament.”
The Aviators have an experienced team that has been through a lot together, dating back to before high school.
“We are a close team,” Peck said. “Most of our guys have been together for several years in wrestling and other sports. They genuinely care for each other and hang together off of the mat. Also they have high team expectations. They all have individual goals, but they wrestle for the team first.
“After this weekend, it becomes about them individually.”
Yost wins 100th: Springfield High School senior Jacob Yost recorded his 100th career win against Marion Harding last week to improve to 29-9 on the season. While Yost chases his first spot at the state tournament, he has also excelled off the mat.
He will graduate with 12 varsity letters (football, wrestling and track) and a 4.2 grade-point average to go with a year’s worth of college credit.
Shawnee building: Shawnee is having a breakthrough season behind a mix of experience and youth.
Senior Dominic Finch, 19-5, won his 100th career match when he claimed the Jerry South Memorial title at Southeastern in early January.
Classmate Sam Matthews was named the most outstanding wrestler at 182 at the same tournament and Kaleb Ream (25-5) won the title at 113.