Licking Valley senior Nathan McCown understands he has a target on his back each time he steps on the mat.
McCown put his 38-0 record on the line in five matches at 182 pounds at the Watkins Invitational on Saturday. When the meet was done, he went unscathed to improve to 43-0.
“There’s a lot of pressure each time I go out there,” said McCown, who has won 82 matches the past two years. “In the back of your mind, you are always wondering when it will end. But I go hard against everyone I wrestle, and I don’t underestimate anyone.
“I actually had to come from behind against a couple of freshman earlier this season, so I go out and wrestle as hard as I can every match, regardless who it’s against. When you are undefeated, you know you are going to get everyone’s best shot. They would like nothing more than to knock off a guy that is undefeated.”
It was a solid day for the three area teams in the meet as 10 local wrestlers were going for first place, led by the Warriors, who had four wrestlers in championship matches. Three of them ended up winning titles. Licking Valley and Lakewood had three wrestlers each in finals.
Hilliard Bradley won the 10-team tournament with 225 points, Watkins (193.5) had a solid showing by finishing second, followed by Valley (177) in third. Lakewood was ninth with 85.5 points.
In his championship match, McCown faced a familiar foe in Lakewood’s Junior King. It was one of the best matches of the day.
It went back and forth with McCown taking a 3-2 first-period lead. King then took a 6-5 lead late in the second before McCown tied it at 6 heading into the third. King led 7-6 early in the third, but he made a mistake late and McCown made him pay, scoring several points to win 12-7.
“I wrestled him earlier this year, and this match almost went exactly the same way as the first one,” McCown said. “He tried a throw on me late, and I was able to get a shot and score. I know I didn’t want to lose and break the undefeated streak, so it was nice to pull out the win.”
Teammate Tommy Wogan (160) also had a big win, claiming his first varsity tournament title.
“It feels amazing, and it’s been a long time coming,” said Wogan, who had two pins, a 1-0 win and a 7-0 win his final. “I’ve had a lot of seconds, but no firsts, so this feels great. It was frustrating, but once I went down to 160, it’s given me confidence.
“I just feel at peace when I am out there now. Instead of being amped up, I’m more relaxed, and I seem to wrestle better when I’m calm.”
Watkins’ three first-place winners were Chris Bankes (126), Noah Holter (138) and Nick Lancia (152). Andrew Lieb (120) and Damian George (220) finished second.
“Once I dropped down to 126, I feel stronger and more nimble,” Bankes said. “I don’t feel like I’m so bogged down. I also have a good partner in Andrew Lieb, and we go hard at it every day. I guess the biggest thing for me this year is that I have the attitude that when I step on the mat, I’m going to win. My goal is to hammer the guy I’m going against.”
Watkins coach Mark Kurth was happy with the Warriors’ finish.
“I thought coming in that Hilliard Bradley and Licking Valley would be pretty tough,” Kurth said. “Valley beat us in the Licking County tournament back in December, so that was nice to place ahead of them. We wrestled well overall, and the kids are getting better and every week they seem to be improving, and that’s kind of our goal.”
Lakewood’s John Gershom (145) also had a first-pace finish, and Kyler Jacks (132) placed second.
Other placers for Valley were freshman Jacqui Vanmeter (Hwt.) — who was second — and teammates Steven Nethers (120), Abe Smith (195) and Bo Redman (220) finished third.