Mitchell Whistler got his Northmor wrestling team to the finish line, which is more than can be said for the school bus transporting Ashland to Saturday’s four-way meet.
The bus broke down on Ohio 19, stranding the Arrows about two miles from Northmor’s gym. Galion, which also competed in the meet along with Granville, came to the rescue.
The good news for Ashland coach Ted Tonn is that the wheels didn’t come off his team. The Arrows backed over Granville 46-32 after running down Galion 48-27.
Is that any way to treat a school that came to your aid?
“That wasn’t very gracious of us, was it?” Tonn said, smiling. “Brent (Tyrrell, Galion’s head coach) is doing a good job with that program, so that was a nice win along with the one over Granville (ranked third among Division II schools in the Central District).
“That makes us 4-0 this season in duals and assures us of the school’s first winning record in several years.”
The better news Saturday, from the host school’s perspective, is that Whistler’s wheels stayed on in the meet’s final match.
He was trailing 6-2 in the second period of his 132-pound bout with Casey Barker. Galion had just taken a 37-33 lead on Zac Tupps’ 100th career victory, an 8-4 decision over Sam Neer at 126.
Whistler not only needed to rally, he needed to win big for Northmor to pull out the victory. Only a technical fall or pin would suffice.
The sophomore lightweight opened the throttle and brought his team home with a turn-the-tables pin at 2:30.
Waiting with a handshake was Northmor coach Scott Carr.
“That’s the way you fight off your back to see another day!” Carr said.
His message to Whistler him before the decisive match was even more direct.
“You’ve been there before.”
Whistler had given Northmor a home victory in identical fashion earlier this season against Hillsdale.
“I really didn’t know what to think, I was so nervous,” he said. “(Barker) went to shoot it but it was sloppy shot and I was able to throw in a head-and-arm.”
Instead of walking away from the meet 0-2 for the day, the Knights rebounded from a 38-35 loss to Granville in the first round and carry some momentum into Wednesday’s inaugural OHSAA state dual team tournament.
Northmor has earned a No. 1 seed in its Division III sub-region and will host the first two rounds (regional quarterfinals). As long as the Knights keep winning, they have a chance to host through the regional finals on Feb. 6.
“After the first match (against Granville), I was deciding whether we should be in the duals or not,” Carr said, half-jokingly. “But I had a talk with the team and they responded. They came out swinging.”
The Knights, who were third in this year’s 23-team J.C. Gorman Invitational behind Lexington and Norwalk, and probably would have beaten Granville if not for missing key starters in 2012 state qualifier Colin Visconti (arthroscopic knee surgery) and Kyle Johnson (concussion).
Carr not only got a pair of victories from usual pace-setters Tyler Beck (195) and Jamie Baldridge (145), but also freshman Griffin Jenkins (113) and sophomore Lane Foster (170). Baldridge and Foster pinned each of their opponents.
Beck has bounced back strongly from his loss by 15-0 technical fall to Lexington’s reigning state champ Josh Lehner in the finals of the J.C. Gorman Invitational. He’s 10-0 since with four pins and two technical falls, including one Saturday.
After their showdown, Lehner called Beck the strongest opponent he’s face this season, including Massillon Perry’s Division I state champ JoJo Tayse (whom Lehner pinned in 71 seconds). But it was probably little consolation to Beck at the time.
“(That loss) gave me something more to practice for, knowing I’m that far away from being as good as Lehner,” said Beck (29-1), ranked fifth in D-III. “It defintely helped me get refocused. I had two hard matches that weekend (the other an OT win over Loudonville’s state-ranked Ryan Weber) and it showed me I have to work even harder in practice.
“Just the mindset in practice and matches changed for me. I’m not only trying to win, but trying to win big.”
Beck and Visconti are the only seniors on the roster for Northmor, which also owns a win this season over 2011 Gorman champ Clear Fork.
“I think the future is definitely bright, with our sophomores and some good kids at the junior high level,” Carr said. “Once this group grows up and minimizes the mistakes, we’ll be OK.”
Tonn feels just as good about the turnaround Ashland has made in his first season after turning Crestview into a Firelands Conference power.
The Arrows kicked off the season by finishing second in their own invitational, their highest finish since 2006. They were seventh out of 36 teams at last week’s Marion Invitational and top third at North Canton Hoover and Kenston even though they haven’t been at full strength since the opening weekend.
Wyatt Music, one of four transfers from Crestview, where he was a two-time state medalist, is still rounding into form after fighting a flu bug that kept him out of the Gorman. Another transfer, district qualifier Ty Stephens, has been in and out because of illness and was sidelined Saturday.
“Once I got to know these (inherited) kids, I knew it wouldn’t take long to get the enthusiasm and excitement back,” Tonn said. “I’ve had some good teams, but never sponges like this. They want to learn. I go to bed and I still hear them asking questions.”
Double winners for Ashland were Dalton Eagle (106), Ben Davis (113), Tyler Wilson (145-152), Gabe Bradshaw (170-182) , Trent Newland (170-182) and Music (152-160), who had a pin and major decision.
“I definitely have work to do; the big thing is my conditioning and going three full rounds,” Music said . “Talking to the guys who were already here, Ted’s gotten them to believe. He gets you fired up when you have to get fired up.”
Going 2-0 for Galion were Tupps, Justin Kleinknecht (120), Nick Flowers (138) and JT Harris (182).
Tupps, a 2012 state qualifier, is 31-3, his losses by a total of four points, including a 3-1 OT loss to Black River state medalist Mike Hozan in the Gorman finals.
“That motivated me to work harder in practice; I hope I see (Hozan) again at state,” Tupps said. “I’m trying to add one more hit of offense. I just need to tweak a few things.”
Flowers is trying to build off the momentum of his own Gorman runner-up finish.
“Last year I got fifth at the Gorman and that motivated me to work harder,” he said. “This was more motivation to get first next year.”
Flowers’ two pins Saturday raised his record to 30-9.
“Overall, the biggest difference is attitude,” he said. “Last year if I lost I wouldn’t care. This year, if I lose, I keep working hard to be the best I can be, and it’s helped a lot.”