Genoa junior Jay Nino found himself trailing 2-1 heading into the third period of his Division III 220-pound state championship match Saturday night.
New Paris National Trail freshman Ben Sullivan (35-4), the first state finalist in his program’s history, was closing on in that first wrestling championship before Nino had one last trick up his sleeve.
From the down position, Nino was able to break free from Sullivan and reverse him on his back. He stuck him long enough for the referee to slap the mat in 5:03 — 57 seconds left in the match — for his first state championship and the Comets’ eighth as a program.
It’s Genoa’s second state championship in the last four years. Felipe Martinez won his third career state championship in his first year with the Comets in 2011.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Nino said. “It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
Nino noticed a tendency in the second period against Sullivan, and picked the perfect spot to exploit it.
“I noticed in the second period that I could get him off of his hips and get him off to the side,” Nino said. “He was running an arm bar, and it was loose, so I turned it up and into him and came out on top. I won the scramble and got him on his back. That’s it.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. I can’t wait to soak it up. Ever since I was a kid coming here, I never imagined in my whole life that I’d be out there on that mat on that stage, and not just being out there on that mat, but winning the championship. It’s crazy.”
Nino’s championship win also broke the state record for most wins in a season. The old record was 64, set by Archbold’s Jordan Cowell in 2012. He ends his season at 65-2.
Nino’s championship pinfall was his only pin of the tournament. He punched his ticket to the finals with a 5-2 semifinal win over Archbold’s Travis Jaramillo, redeeming himself for a semifinal loss at the Bowling Green district tournament.
“I just tried to take it one match at the time,” Nino said. “Everyone was helping me out — my coaches, my family. I just took it one match at a time, and I wrestled my best in every match.”
Added assistant coach Dave Wlodrz: “He also added a lot of humble pie.”
Prior to his match, Nino had to wait for 12 other weight classes and three other awards presentations for his match to finally get underway. From the parade of champions to his match, he waited almost three hours.
“Every second that ticks by, you’re waiting for your match to come up,” he said. “It’s awful. I listen to music out of my headphones before every match — a lot of rock and rap. A few matches before mine, I start preparing, start thinking about what shots I’m going to do. And the match before mine, that’s when I really start to turn around and get warmed up.”
Nino was the lone placer out of his team’s five state qualifiers. However, he’s the third state placer in the last four years.
“This program’s on the rise,” Nino said. “This program is evolving. Over the next couple of years, you guys are going to see a lot of Genoa out there on the mat. We’re going to be competing at the highest level. I can’t wait for everyone else to see that also. I’m really excited for Genoa’s future.”