National recognition is Graham’s reward

Graham High School junior Alex Marinelli sat in the bowels of the Schottenstein Center at Ohio State following his third state title and started making his sales pitch.

The Falcons entered the Division II state tournament ranked second in the nation, but Marinelli was hoping for more.

The team’s dominating performance with five champs and seven finalists came at the end of a season that began with the Falcons winning three titles and placing nine in cruising to the Walsh Ironman championship in a field that included the other teams ranked in the nation’s top four.

“We wanted to make a statement,” Marinelli said after winning his third state title. “We are going for the national title and we wanted to show that we deserve the number-one ranking. Everyone on this team has stepped up and been great this year.”

Marinelli got his answer Wednesday morning when Intermat released its final national poll with the Falcons in the top spot. Oak River Forest Park (Ill.), which had been the top-ranked team heading into the state tournaments, fell to second. Blair Academy (N.J.) and Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) rounded out the top four. Dayton Christian finished ranked 29th.

Graham coach Jeff Jordan saw the poll when it was released online Tuesday at 11 p.m., and got a phone call congratulating him from athletic director Jordan Shumaker at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.

“It is very exciting,” Jordan said. “I kept getting texts from the team saying, ‘Hey coach, we did it.’ I don’t know how they texted me during school, but about three-fourths of them did.”

After winning Ironman, Graham dropped a 27-24 decision to Blair Academy but came back to defeat Lakewood St. Edward. Blair ascended to the top spot only to lose a dual to Wyoming Seminary.

The Falcons also won the GMVWA Holiday Tournament and cruised to the state title with 250 points. Toledo Central Catholic was second with 99.

The national title is the third for Graham (2008 and 2010) and Jordan believes it came down to two main things:

“I think it all came back to seeing how we competed at the state meet. And, the Ironman. All of the top teams were there and we won it. I still think it came back to that.”

While the Falcons got state titles from Marinelli (160), Mitch Moore (113), Eli Seipel (126), Brent Moore (145) and Kyle Lawson (152), Oak Park recorded just three titles at the Illinois state tournament, dropping two other matches against unranked opponents.

The title capped off a busy year. Including folkstyle, freestyle and Greco-Roman in the spring and summer, Graham’s wrestlers take the day after the state tournament off, and that’s it.

“They suffer more than most,” Jordan said. “It shows how hard they work and the commitment they made … it all paid off. We had some suffer in cutting weight and others suffer because they were a lot lighter than guys they wrestled. They suffer going through two practices a day for four months. They are getting rewarded for all that suffering.”

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