COLUMBUS – Only two wrestlers in each of the 14 weight classes can win their first three matches at the Ohio High School Athletic Association individual state wrestling tournament.
In doing so, those wrestlers earn the right to wrestle for a state championship.
Friday night at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center, 10 locals punched their tickets to the state finals Saturday night, and Greater Cincinnati is guaranteed at least two state champions because of a pair of head-to-head local matchups in the finals.
In Division I, Cincinnati will have a state champion at 106 pounds and 220 pounds. At 106, Fairfield senior Zach Shupp, a state runner-up last season at that weight, will wrestle La Salle freshman Dustin Norris.
Shupp told Cincinnati.com after losing in the finals last year, he immediately made it his goal to get back and win it.
“I think last year I messed up by getting a little too excited about making it to the finals and it threw me off,” Shupp said. “I just got satisfied too early. This year, no celebrating after the semis. It’s a business trip and I still got one more to go.”
La Salle coach Ryan Root isn’t at all surprised his freshman lightweight put together a run.
“Gosh, he’s gotta be one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever been with,” said Root. “Good family, good support system, good work ethic. First kid in the room, last kid to leave. You ask him to do 100 sprints, he’ll do 101.”
Root won’t have much time after Norris wrestles Saturday because right after him, at 113, La Salle junior Lucas Byrd, a Maryland commit who placed third last season, will wrestle for the title.
“They’re practice partners,” Root said of Byrd and Norris. “They’ve pushed each other all year. Lucas is one of a kind. He’s a high energy, exciting wrestler to watch. I don’t think it’s a surprise to him or any of our staff to see him in the finals.”
At 220, Harrison senior Cameron Sauerwein will square off with Elder senior Antonio McCloud for the title.
“This is what I’ve been working for my whole life. It feels awesome. I’ve always doubts I would never get here but I’ve always been pushing,” said Sauerwein, who went flying into his coaches’ arms after a decision win.
McCloud, who was overcome with emotion following his semifinal win, said: “Everything that I’ve worked for for a really long time. I’ve only been wrestling for six or seven years and to have my dreams come true is just amazing.”
McCloud’s not the only Elder wrestler going for a title. Senior Austin Murphy, the Panthers’ all-time wins leader, made it through at 160 pounds with a close decision.
Murphy, who placed two seasons ago but missed the podium last year, said: “Ever since I sat in the stands last year and didn’t place all I could think about was winning this.”
Murphy said of McCloud: “It would mean the world to me to have another guy there with me, that kid works his butt off every day. No one works harder than him. He deserves it.”
One of the most exciting matches of the night came at 145 pounds when Mason junior Christopher Donathan, whose older brother Zack went undefeated last season and won a state title, punched his ticket to the final with a takedown in the final minute of the match.
Mason coach Matt McIntire said: “It was incredible. It was something special to watch. Just to see the perseverance and the fight in him the whole match … to tie it back up like that and win it, it was a special match.”
Moeller senior Jake Thompson was a state runner-up last season at 182 pounds. This year, he’s back in the final at 195.
“He’s been visualizing for a full year of winning a state title after losing last year,” said Moeller coach Germane Lindsey. “It was awesome. More of a feeling of relief. That guy (Hilliard Darby’s Jared Ball) was ahead of us (in the rankings). I believe he was predicted to win state.”
Two heavyweights – St. Xavier senior Jack Heyob in Division I and Williamsburg senior Brian Stears in Division III – will both wrestle for state titles.
Heyob, who’s won a comfortable decision in his semifinal, said: “This is actually my first trip to state so it feels pretty good to represent X in the finals.”
Stears placed fourth last season and after sitting in the Schottenstein Center and watching last year’s finals, he made up his mind that he wanted to come back and win the whole thing.
Stears said: “You gotta leave it all on the mat every match.”
Before the finals Saturday night, all the wrestlers get to walk in the parade of champions as fireworks shoot inside the arena.
Stears, who watched the finals last year from the stands, said: “The walk of champions, the fireworks, it’s gonna be pretty surreal. Watching it was something else but now being in it it’s gonna be a whole new world.”