As Austin Hays valiantly fought to record a pin and pull out a win Saturday against Amanda-Clearcreek, Utica’s wrestling team clapped and cheered in unison.
Hays came up short in his 220-pound match and the Redskins lost out to the Aces for the Granville Invitational title, but all was not lost. Utica served notice it will be a force in the OHSAA team duals and the Licking County League.
Amanda-Clearcreek, seeded second behind the Redskins after pool competition, held off Utica 33-25 to win the 12-team event. Utica had rallied past fourth-seeded Highland 43-33 in a semifinal, and the Aces beat host Granville 51-25. The Blue Aces then defeated Highland 46-30 for third place.
“We have a phenomenal coach with super, super high expectations,” said Utica 195-pounder Mitchell Peck, who won his Pool A at 3-0 and went unbeaten on the day after sitting out 2012-13 with a back injury. “This is the biggest team we’ve had in many years, and we’re in Division III with a bigger team. We want to go to the state duals as a team, and I want to go to the state and do whatever it takes to get there.”
“I was junior high coach the last 10 years, and I know most of these guys,” new Redskin coach Tim Jordan said. “We had a lot of guys out last year with injuries, and they’re back. It’s not always about winning. It’s about performances, and we performed well.”
In the team final, Utica built a 16-3 lead as Kevin Bigler (Hwt.) and Austin Burris (113) had pins and Austin Parmer (126) pulled out a 6-4 overtime win. Then, Zach Bartley (145) rallied for a dramatic 2-1 victory as the Redskins led 19-12, only to see Amanda-Clearcreek win the next four matches and take control.
Matt Seifert (106) and Joey Pellitier (132) also went 3-0 and won Pool A titles for Utica in addition to Peck. Seifert dominated 10-2 against the Aces in the final and finished undefeated for the day. Pellitier lost to All-Ohioan Billy Shannon.
Granville got dominant, unbeaten performances from junior Christian Price (138) and senior Dain Steffeny (160). Price won twice by pin and another by 19-4 technical fall to take Pool A, and Steffeny had two major decisions and a pin in winning his class.
Steffeny dislocated and tore ligaments in his shoulder in 2012-13 during the sectional. He had surgery, but was cleared to wrestle Nov. 1 and is ready to go.
“It was kind of hard cutting from 175 to 160, but I think I have more strength than most of my opponents,” he said. “I’m going to see most of my opponents during the season in tournaments that I will see to get to the state, so I think I have a good chance to go far in my weight class.”
Price, who dominated his Amanda-Clearcreek opponent 12-2 in the semifinals, spent two weeks this summer at the Jay Robinson Intensive Wrestling Camp at Edinboro, Pa., and it helped him tremendously.
“I’m a lot better mentally and physically because of it. I know not to give up, no matter what,” Price said. “I’m really happy with my wrestling right now. I’m shooting well, riding well, getting out on the bottom. I just need to improve my conditioning, and keep on learning.”
Granville coach Marvin Bright was pleased with his team’s performance, especially since the Blue Aces don’t have enough to fill every weight class. Luke Mendicino (132), Zach Purdy (145) and Dane Heughebart (182) all were Pool B champions.
“I thought if we could be in the top four, it would be awesome,” Bright said. “It puts a lot pressure on us, not having a full lineup, and we had to move some people around. But we have a good core of experience and the kids put themselves in position to make a run at it.”
Lakewood was 10th after pool competition and wound up ninth after beating North Union 48-24. Kyler Jacks went 2-1 to finish second in Pool A at 145, and Jack Rusher went 3-0 at 170 to win Pool C.