Graham’s Alek Martin during the state team duals last season at St. John Arena in Columbus. Greg Billing/CONTRIBUTED

High School Wrestling: Seven-time champ Graham underdog at state team duals?

The Falcons are 21-0 with seven titles since the tourney started in 2013. They have been voted the No. 1 seed in their first seven appearances, even when the Falcons elected to bump up from Division II to take on the D-I field in 2018.

This time is different. Graham, which has qualified for the dual championships all eight seasons, enters as the No. 3 seed in the D-II tournament behind No. 1 Louisville and No. 2 Aurora.

»RELATED: Saturday’s high school roundup

Also for the first time in a while the Falcons will not fill all 14 weight classes, forfeiting at 106 pounds and 120 pounds. That means Graham will surrender 12 points to their opponents (six points are awarded for a forfeit) every match.

The Falcons are up for the challenge.

“We have a team that can definitely win it,” Graham coach Travis McIntosh said. “What makes it difficult for us is we have to score bonus points because we’re giving up two weight classes. That’s kind of crazy. Graham has never had that problem having light guys but this year we do.”

Graham wrestles No. 6 Millersburg West Holmes at 1:15 p.m. in the quarterfinals at St. John Arena on Sunday. Louisville faces No. 8 Ross and Aurora takes on No. 7 Washington Court House Miami Trace. No. 4 Sandusky Perkins and No. 5 Bellevue also qualified.

Graham, Aurora and Louisville finished 1-2-3 at the D-II individual state championship last March with the Falcons winning their 19th straight title. Win or lose on Sunday, Graham is approaching whatever happens as a win-win situation.

“(Facing that type of competition) could give us confidence,” McIntosh said. “If it doesn’t go the way we want it to go it could give us fire. Either way it’s going to be good for the team. As far as matches go, it’s definitely something we look forward to. We get to see guys we don’t normally see throughout the year.”

Graham is led by junior captains Alek Martin and Nick Moore. Martin is the defending D-II state champion at 145 and Moore (138) is a two-time state runner-up. Sophomore Nolan Gessler (113), senior Chris Kelly (132), junior Trace Braun (152) and sophomore Nolan Neves (220) have state experience.

Freshman Nick Hart (126), junior Jack Mefford (160), junior Eric Thomas (182), sophomore Evan Lykins (195) and sophomore Zack Burroughs (285) fill out the lineup.

“There’s a point during the season where the guys come together as a team. Obviously they’re always a team, but it’s the point they work as one unit together,” McIntosh said. “This team definitely did that earlier than I’ve witnessed before. If you can find good leaders – it’s definitely a privilege to become a captain on the team – and I have multiple guys on my team who are able to be a captain. This year we selected two of them who are leading the team very well. They’ve been able to bring the team together.

“This team is special to me as far as I have very few guys. It’s kind of special because these guys have to fight for everything they get, everything they earn. It makes the practice room unique because you only have 15 partners in the room. There’s no place to run or hide, so to speak. I could go on about my whole team. Those guys, you look down through the lineup … with 12 guys competing I could talk about all 12 of them. Our guys are ready to go.”

The smaller numbers mean there could be lineup switches or juggling depending on which wrestler Graham’s opponent puts on the mat. Help is on the way for next season with a solid group of eight graders, including five that McIntosh calls hammers.

“As a coach it’s been interesting. We’ve been a little more strategic than past years,” McIntosh said.

“I guess (social media) is saying we match up well against Aurora. Aurora matches up well against Louisville and Louisville matches up well against us. It’s going to be interesting. We can only control so much. As long as my guys go out and compete to the best of their abilities we should be okay.”

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