Wrestling official Bill Bardy coaxed a weak smile out of Lexington coach Brent Rastetter.
Bardy had just watched Lex’s reigning state champion Josh Lehner dismantle another opponent in the finals of Saturday’s Ohio Cardinal Conference tournament when he approached the flu-bitten Rastetter, sitting on the floor against the stage in Clear Fork’s gym.
He never made it into the coach’s chair for a single match.
“Do you roll around with him every day?” Bardy asked, motioning to Lehner. “That’s why you’re sick.”
Lehner, 39-0 at 195 pounds, still hasn’t given up an offensive point this season. But none of his three victims Saturday felt as bad as Rastetter, who woke up ill in the middle of the night and didn’t show up for yesterday’s meet until the championship round.
A sixth straight conference title, behind seven champions and 10 finalists, proved to be the perfect medicine as Lex won by nearly 100 points.
“We were in good hands,” said Rastetter, praising his staff. “The kids were probably glad I wasn’t chirping at them. I’ve been chirping at ’em for two weeks.”
Rastetter wasn’t the only one trying to smile through the pain. West Holmes’ Max Rohskopf, a projected Division II state champ at 145, won a repeat OCC title one-handed, beating Ashland’s Tyler Wilson 18-6.
Afterwards it was off to the hospital to learn the seriousness of a hand injury Rohskopf suffered in the match. The trainer on site said the hand wasn’t broken, but only X-rays would be able to determine the full extent of the damage.
Saturday’s title may also prove costly to Lex, which has reached Wednesday’s 7 p.m. regional finals of the inaugural OHSAA dual team tournament at Whitehall-Yearling.
The meet ended with previously-unbeaten Lex heavyweight Ravyn Workman on his back in agony, after injuring his knee and defaulting to Ashland’s Zac Benner. Lex also defaulted in the 152 finals, holding Gabe Benjamin out against two-time state medalist Wyatt Music as a precaution after Benjamin tweaked his knee in the semifinals.
Benner had just hit Workman with a five-point move, breaking a 6-6 stalemate in the third period, when their bout had to be halted.
“I just pressured him, pulled his head down and he fell over,” said Benner, a 21-10 sophomore. “I feel real bad for him. After I threw him the first time, he complained about (the knee), but I didn’t purposely go after it.
“I just tried to play it smart because I knew he liked to throw.”
The season-long resurgence at Ashland under new head coach Ted Tonn continued with the Arrows finishing as conference runner-up despite the absence of four starters. Only Lex, with 13, had more top-four placers than the Arrows’ 11.
Tonn said he never considered moving Music down to 145 for a showdown with Rohskopf.
“We’ve wrestled (Rohskopf) before in the offseason,” said Tonn, who came over with Music from Crestview. “It would have hurt us as a team (to move Music). You saw what our 145-pounder (Wilson) did, and I don’t think he would have been second at 152. He beat a state alternate (Clear Fork’s Logan Harless) convincingly. That kid’s upside is huge.
“We had three first-year kids in the lineup today, so I’m pretty pleased.”
Last year, Clear Fork was the only area school other than Lex to produce more than one champion. Saturday, Ashland, Clear Fork and Madison all had a pair of titlists.
Drill partners Alize Merrell (106) and Trae Coopwood (113) started out the finals by winning crowns for Madison. Merrell downed West Holmes’ Cole Woods 7-0 and Coopwood edged Orrville’s Danny Wallo 9-7.
“We both have the same goals — to make it to state,” Coopwood said. “I’m putting more work into it and having a drill partner like Alize really pushes me. He’s quick, which I feel helps me with my endurance.”
Despite winning his first OCC title, Merrell wasn’t happy.
“I didn’t wrestle real hard in the finals,” the son of St. Peter’s state champ LeConte Merrell said. ‘”I didn’t feel like I scored enough points. I’m normally more offensive. I took decent shots, but not good shots.”
Clear Fork’s Kevin Deal blanked Lex’s A.J. Parr 5-0 at 160, while teammate Drew Kinzel (126) survived the only overtime title match, scoring the decisive takedown near the edge of the match with 27 seconds left in the first extra period to outlast West Holmes’ Lane Darr.
“I’ve been in five overtimes this season and won them all but one,” Kinzel said. “I always feel confident in overtime because of conditioning. I just know how hard we work in practice.”
Kinzel let the lead get away in the final 1:30 of regulation, but didn’t panic, getting an escape with 21 seconds left to force OT. When he couldn’t get a single-leg takedown in OT, he stuck with it and secured the win with a double-leg.
“Coach (Wade Miller) is always talking to me about not letting difficult situations get the best of me,” said Kinzel, whose older brother Austin Kinzel finished fourth at 152 and oldest brother, Kyle, is a Clear Fork assistant. “I just have to stay calm and keep wrestling.”
Deal, a big 160-pounder who started out on varsity three years ago at 189, lost last year’s sparring partner, state runner-up Brandon O’Neill, to graduation. There’s been no drop-off, though, because now he gets tag-teamed in practice by the oldest Kinzel, who has fought in Afghanistan, and 2012 state placer Austin Maneese.
“I feel like I’m strongest on top, but I’m good on my feet, too,”said Deal, who didn’t allow a point in his two matches. “My handfighting kept A.J. from any attacks.”
Winning repeat titles for Lex were Lehner, projected state champ Jacob Kasper (182) and sophomores Brandon Leynaud (120) and Bailey Faust (220). All won in convincing fashion, with Faust pinning Madison’s Chaz Price in a re-run of their title bout in the 51st J.C. Gorman Invitational and Lehner and Kasper scoring technical falls. Leynaud was a 7-1 winner over Clear Fork’s Jesse Todd.
Other champs for Lex were sophomores Jon Watkins (132), Xavier White (138) and Drew Kasper (170).
That makes eight sophs — five from Lex — among the 14 champs, the others being Merrell, Kinzel and Benner.
“I thought all five of our sophomores had a chance,” Rastetter said. “We’ve had really, really strong practices the last couple of weeks. They just have to keep it up.”
White is the newest member of Lex’s sophomore class, having joined the program in eighth grade with no wrestling background. He’s battled through injuries this winter to go 15-4.
“It’s a weird thing, but everyone, not just the sophomores, has common interests,” White said. “The whole team is close-knit and everyone loves wrestling.”
White’s dad was in the military, so the family has moved a lot. He was born in Alabama, but has also lived in Italy, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. This is the second time the Whites have landed in Lexington.
“The only reason I started wrestling was to get better at fullback,” said White, who plays running back and a hybrid safety/linebacker in the fall. “I turned out to be pretty good at this, so I stuck with it.”