Utica endured a pair of devastating body blows two weeks ago.
The Redskins, however, still are standing. That is what encourages coach Tim Jordan as his team prepares for this weekend’s Division III sectional tournament.
Utica was eliminated by Bishop Hartley 37-36 in a regional semifinal of the Division III state team dual tournament Jan. 29. Three days later, Utica settled for runner-up honors at the Licking County League meet, losing to Granville by again one point, 306-305.
Jake Smith (145) and Mitchell Peck (182) were champions in that tournament. Kevin Bigler was the runner-up at heavyweight.
“Falling short but performing up to your abilities is a lot easier to stomach than falling short because you did not perform up to your potential,” Jordan said. “We wrestled well at the LCL. Going into it, we knew that Granville was going to be tough to beat in that style of tournament. We had a few things not go our way, and that ended up being the difference in the tournament.”
Utica overcame a coaching change — with Jordan stepping in for the retired Mike Garven — and a few injuries this season to take the area by storm. Now, the Redskins will have to clear another hurdle as they and Northridge are two of four Central District teams competing in the sectional at Magnolia Sandy Valley on Friday and Saturday.
Because the Central District has just one sectional — at Cardington where Newark Catholic is competing — Utica was sent east. The Redskins are headed there with the Vikings and former Mid-Buckeye Conference foes Fredericktown and East Knox.
Utica will have to stay overnight, but Jordan said the team’s parents group went above and beyond the call to provide money for that. It leaves wrestling a bit of a foreign field as the only challenge with the hope of qualifying to the district held at Heath.
“As a coach, I like it better when my wrestlers don’t know the other wrestler,” Jordan said. “Sometimes, wrestlers overthink matches with opponents they are familiar with.”
Pastorius in good position
Newark coach Jose Martinez did not have much choice in where his team ended up for its sectional. Being one of the lowest-seeded teams, Martinez was forced to pick his sectional, then see if higher-seeded teams bumped the Wildcats from that location.
Newark was bumped from Watkins Memorial to Pickerington Central, but it might be a blessing for senior standout Dan Pastorius. Martinez likes the draw at 182. Pastorius has just six losses, none against the field at Pickerington Central.
Pastorius placed second at St. Charles this past Saturday. Pastorius’ fifth and sixth losses this season came two days apart to Reynoldsburg’s James Love. Love will be competing at Watkins.
“I think that might have hurt his confidence a little bit, but he is still working hard,” Martinez said. “We had practice (Monday), and he was still getting after it. He knows he won’t see (Love) until the district meet. I think he is going to feel pretty good going into this sectional.”
Pastorius starts the postseason at 35-6, having recently beaten top opponents from Pickerington North and Lancaster in Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division duals. Pastorius already is climbing the program leaderboards for wins and pins in a season.
At St. Charles, sophomores Jamye Randolph (heavyweight) and Henry Pham (126) each placed fifth. Randolph battled injuries earlier this season, but he could put himself in position to qualify to the district.
“We have been close the past three years (at getting to the state meet), but some unfortunate things happen here and there, and we miss out,” Martinez said. “We have been hoping to get (Pastorius) there and then keep the chain going.”
Unbalance plays pivotal role
Survive and advance is every wrestler’s top goal at the sectional, but those with an eye toward the state want more. A sectional title can line up a wrestler for a perfect run through the district.
The competition at various sectionals, however, will be harder than others. Each of the four Division I sectionals in central Ohio have 11 schools. The numbers are similar in Division II at 13 and 14.
The balance, however, is out of whack in Division III. While fewer small schools have full lineups, NC will encounter 18 other schools at Cardington. Fourteen will be competing at Sandy Valley.