Travis McIntosh has celebrated Graham wrestling state championships before. But none felt quite like this.
Graham’s path to its 19th straight Division II state championship was tougher than recent seasons. It was more scrutinized by doubters. And it was sweeter.
“This feels special. It always takes a team, but this one really took guys digging deep,” said McIntosh, who took over for legendary coach Jeff Jordan this season. “You follow a legend in the sport in Ohio and there’s a lot of expectations. My boys did their job.”
Jordan led the Falcons to 18 straight D-II team titles and six more in the state team dual championships. As the 26-year-old McIntosh put it: “I grew up watching Graham win state titles. In my wrestling lifetime I’ve never not seen Graham win a state title.”
McIntosh, who coached under Jordan for three seasons, watched them win three more Saturday night at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center. In addition to the team title, Graham claimed individual championships from sophomore Alek Martin at 138 pounds and senior Jeffrey Thomas at 152 pounds. Graham scored 123.5 points in the team race to beat runner-up Aurora’s 87.5.
“My coaches told me all year I could be a state champ,” Martin said. “Every single day, ‘Martin, you can be a state champ.’”
And on Saturday he was. Martin beat Columbus Bishop Hartley sophomore Micah Norwood 6-5 in an ultimate tiebreaker. Martin trailed 5-3 with about 10 seconds left in regulation when Martin scored one point on an escape and was awarded another when Norwood received his third caution of the match. In the ultimate tiebreaker, Norwood started in the down position. Martin had to keep him from escaping for 30 seconds.
“He’s a big guy. He’s tough, too. He’s a great competitor,” Martin said. “It was awesome coming out of that win. … It’s a dream come true. Getting second last year, I hate that. It pushed me every single day.”
Thomas also went overtime, using a takedown to beat Aurora senior Dylan Fishback 6-4 in sudden victory. Thomas fought a bloody nose the majority of the match and needed 4:15 in blood time stoppage. Wrestlers receive five minutes before they are disqualified.
“Like coach said, we had (the team title) wrapped up. These next matches were for ourselves,” Thomas said. “That’s the best feeling in my life. I accomplished my dream.”
Thomas placed at state for the third time. He was second at 113 as a freshman and third at 126 as a sophomore. He missed his junior year with and ACL injury.
Sophomore Nick Moore reached the state final at 132 but dropped a 3-1 decision to Cuyahoga Falls CVCA’s Jordan Decatur. Also scoring podium finishes for Graham were freshman Nolan Gessler (3rd at 106), junior Isaiah Stickley (4th at 160) and senior Johnny Shafer (3rd at 285).
“Our coaches told us we could win state,” Martin said. “We just needed everyone on the team. We came out here and did that. … We’ve got one of the toughest high school rooms in the country. That helps a lot.”
Standing tall: Northwestern senior Nathan Snyder wanted to stand a few spots higher on the awards podium, but finishing his his school career as the sixth best wrestler in D-II will do.
Snyder lost his first match at state Thursday to drop him into the consolation bracket. There he rallied to win three straight matches – two guarantee a podium spot – to reach the consolation semifinals. He lost his final two matches.
“That was my goal this whole season, to get to the podium. I definitely wanted to be higher but I’m glad I’m here,” said Snyder, who last season didn’t make it past the first day of the three-day tournament after going 0-2. “I came here last year not doing so hot. I did better than last year.”
And that’s saying something at a tournament like the state championships.
“It’s brutal, especially wrestling three days. I’m worn out,” Snyder said. “It was tough. Real tough. I’m going to sleep all day (Sunday).”
Like father, like son: Shawnee senior Kaleb Ream matched his father when Ream placed fourth at 106. Shawn Ream finished fourth in 1995 for Northwestern.
Ream qualified for state last year and went 1-2, getting knocked out in the blood round that determines who places and who goes home. Ream reeled off four straight wins in the consolation bracket after losing his first-round match Thursday. He lost to Graham’ Gessler in the consolation final 15-5.
Ram tough: How tough is Greeneview senior Devan Hendricks? Earlier this season he bit through his tongue in two places during a match, went to the hospital to get seven stitches and rushed back to win the tournament title.
“It was definitely painful,” Hendricks said Saturday after concluding his season in the D-III tournament.
Hendricks finished eighth at 145, making him a three-time state qualifier. He finished sixth at 106 as a sophomore and fifth at 126 as a junior.
“Definitely not what I wanted this year, but I still made the podium so that’s all right, “ Hendricks said.
King of the Hill(climbers): Urbana’s Trevor Stewart was the first Hillclimber freshman to qualify for state since Jack Harris in 2013. Stewart capped a solid three days by finishing eighth at 170.
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