High School wrestling: Graham seeks another state dual title

Trace Braun (left) of Graham.
Trace Braun (left) of Graham.

ST. PARIS – Another laborious and exhausting practice inside perhaps the toughest wrestling room in the state was winding down. Viewing safely from behind a wall bordering the mats was the next generation.

The Graham Middle School students, patiently waiting their turn to practice, watched as state champions and nationally-ranked wrestlers battled each other in drills more challenging than some of their actual matches.

Five years ago, it was this current group of Graham High School seniors – Trace Braun, Tim Greenhouse, Alek Martin, Jack Mefford, Nick Moore and Eric Thomas – who were peering over that wall. They watched in awe of wrestlers like Rocky Jordan, Tanner Jordan, Mitch Moore, J.D. Stickley and Ryan Thomas, among others.

Now it’s their turn to leave a lasting impression.

“It’s just cool to be in a room with nationally-ranked guys and being one of the best teams in the country,” Greenhouse said. “It’s not an experience many people get.”

On Saturday Graham takes its talent to Steubenville High School for the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association (OHSWCA) Division II state dual team championship. The dual team championship has been held by the Ohio High School Athletic Association since 2013, but the OHSAA suspended the tournament for 2021. No official reason was given.

Graham won dual team titles from 2001-12 prior to the OHSAA tournament. The Falcons claimed the first seven titles in the OHSAA tournament as well, including one in D-I, before falling 34-30 to Louisville in 2020. When the individual state tournament was canceled a month later in March, the Falcons had no chance to bounce back with what could have been their 20th straight state title and 22nd overall.

Graham enters as the No. 1 seed and wrestles No. 8 Newark Licking Valley in the first round. No. 2 Louisville, No. 3 Steubenville and No. 4 Ashland round out the top seeds.

Last season, chatter in the wrestling world said if there ever was a season to beat Graham then 2020 was that time. This season? Good luck.

Freshman Beric Jordan (21-1 at 106 pounds), Moore (19-3 at 138) and Martin (19-0 at 145) are ranked No. 1 in the state by Billy Schaefer of borofanohio.net. Junior Nolan Gessler (14-1 at 126), freshman Carter Neves (8-0 at 182) and junior Nolan Neves (12-0 at 285) are ranked No. 2.

Braun (20-1 at 152) is ranked third, junior Zach Burroughs (18-4 at 195) is fourth, sophomore Nick Hart (20-1 at 132) is sixth, freshman Gunner Cramblett (17-5 at 160) is eighth, Greenhouse (14-8 at 170) is ninth and junior Evan Lykins (16-7 at 220) is 13th.

“We’re definitely back this year,” said Mefford, who is 4-0 at 170. “We were never out of it last year, but we’re definitely back. I think every single guy is going to place (in the top eight at the individual state tournament).”

Graham is projected by borofanohio.net to win the D-II state title by 85 points over Louisville.

Moore (Ohio University recruit), Martin (South Dakota State) and Braun are all three-time state qualifiers, with Martin winning state at 138 as a sophomore. Gessler and Nolan Neves, both juniors, are two-time qualifiers. Hart, a sophomore, is a one-time qualifier.

“I think the coolest thing about this program is we’ve been so great for so long,” Braun said of a program that has produced 96 individual state champions, second only to Lakewood St. Edward’s 111. No other program has more than 48.

“We get to be a part of history. Everybody comes in here and sees all the plaques and banners on the wall. In the future we get to come in and say we were on those teams. We were part of it. … To leave this place with a legacy, not letting it end, I think it’s pretty special.”

And that’s what makes Graham’s wrestling room one of the toughest in the state. Coach Travis McIntosh was pushing his wrestlers through some grueling drills in a wrestling room that was starting to feel more like a sauna. There was no sign of letting up from the wrestlers.

“If we come in here and don’t have 100 percent to give, we still give what we have,” Thomas said. “Everybody just goes as hard as possible.”

Added Martin: “We’ve got guys who are state champs, state runners-up, people that are nationally ranked … everything in this room. You have to be ready to go every single day.”

The Falcons definitely were in an early January dual with St. Edward’s and Milan Edison. Graham beat Edison 38-17 and St. Edward’s 33-29. St. Ed’s is the five-time defending D-I state champion.

And it all started four seasons ago, with those six seniors, coming in as freshmen.

“It really set the standard for us to show what you have to do to be the top team in the country and what you have to train like,” Moore said. “They really set the standard for us coming in as freshmen.”

“I think the greatest thing is we’re all family here,” Martin said. “We hang out with each other all the time. I’d do anything for anybody on this team and I know they feel the same. Family is the best thing.”

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