State Wrestling: Graham advances six to quarterfinals, leads D-II race

West Liberty-Salem senior Major Stratton competes at the Division III state wrestling championships Thursday in Columbus. Greg Billing / Contributed

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West Liberty-Salem senior Major Stratton competes at the Division III state wrestling championships Thursday in Columbus. Greg Billing / Contributed

It might be as easy compared to recent seasons, but the Graham Falcons are still the team to beat at the Division II high school state wrestling championships.

The Falcons advanced six wrestlers into Friday’s championship quarterfinal round, saw three more remain alive in the consolation bracket and had two end their seasons at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center.

Graham leads the D-II standings with 24.5 points. Aurora is second with 20.5.

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“There were a lot of matches we expected to win. There were some matches we expected to win that we lost,” Graham first-year coach Travis McIntosh said. “It’s the state tournament. We’re in Ohio. So anything can happen, especially on night one. Come back tomorrow and even more exciting and crazy things are going to happen.”

Graham sophomore Trace Braun (113-pound weight class), sophomore Nick Moore (132), sophomore Alek Martin (138), senior Jeffrey Thomas (152), junior Isaiah Stickley (160) and senior Johnny Shafer (285) all won their first-round matches Thursday to advance.

Freshman Nolan Gessler (106), senior Dawson Show (120) and junior Chris Kelly (126) lost their first-round matches, but won their consolation match to remain alive. Senior D’artangan Spitler (145) and Nolan Neves (182) lost both their matches and were eliminated.

“Some guys wrestled well and some guys … it’s their first time here They let this place maybe get to them a little bit,” McIntosh said.

Graham has won 18 straight Division II state championships and was predicted to win another this season despite a younger lineup. Last month the Falcons won their seventh straight team dual state championship at St. John Arena, so McIntosh knows the Falcons have it in them. Now it’s a matter of making sure it comes out.

“I have to make sure my guys are mentally right,” McIntosh said. “Physically I know they’re right. I know they have all the capabilities.”

The Springfield area qualified six wrestlers from other schools – plus had a surprise extra seventh wrestler – competing Thursday. All six wrestlers that qualified through the district tournament dropped their first-round championships matches. But all six also rallied to win their consolation match to move into Friday’s action.

In Division II, Shawnee senior Kaleb Ream (106), Urbana freshman Trevor Stewart (170) and Northwestern senior Nathan Snyder (195) advanced to the consolation second round.

In Division III, Mechanicsburg freshman Jake Hurst (132) and junior teammate Jaron Patterson and Greeneview senior Devan Hendricks also remained alive in the consolation bracket.

West Libery-Salem senior Major Stratton finished fifth at the district tournament for the second straight season – one spot away from qualifying but making him an alternate for state. He received that coveted first-round match when Versailles junior Isaac Grilliot reportedly failed a skin check. Stratton found out during the weigh-ins Thursday morning he would wrestle.

“It’s not too tough. I felt like I should have been here anyway,” Stratton said. “Actually I wasn’t that nervous today. I usually get nervous but I wasn’t today for some reason.”

Stratton gave a good showing but dropped both his matches.

“We were all surprised this morning when he actually got in,” West Liberty-Salem coach Dave Clem said. “The odds are not very good.

“I think I was more excited than Major was. We prepared all week like we were in the tournament. We went into practice and had fun this week and here we are.”

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