PARK HILLS –
The first Senior Night in the history of Covington Catholic wrestling was a memorable one for the three 12th-graders on the fledgling Colonels program.
Craig McGhee, Alex Beckes and Joe Marino had perfect nights Jan. 6, going 2-0 in their matches with a combined four pins out of six contests. They helped the Colonels roll to big meet wins over Cincinnati foes Roger Bacon and Western Hills.
Not only were the three seniors honored in a ceremony, but the night marked the first time Cov Cath has hosted a wrestling meet in its two-year existence as a program. Holmes was also at the meet and wrestled the two Cincy foes as well.
The Cov Cath community gets boisterous in support of its sports, and the new sport in town was no exception.
“It was a really great night,” said head coach Dave Johnson. “We had a great turnout from the student body, the faculty and alumni. A lot of folks were curious and it was a great way to give exposure to the sport. A lot of people came up to me after and said they were excited to see what it was all about. I got a lot of texts and calls. I took nothing but positives from the whole night.”
Michael Meyer, Daniel Branch and Jacob Lentsch also went 2-0 in the meet. CCH improved to 6-6 in dual matches, an improvement over 1-7 last season.
“I really liked that the school was able to get together, and that was the best part,” Marino said. “It was great to get some support from the school and the faculty. Our principal and AD gave us a pep talk. Our performance that night was a result of the school backing us up. I’m glad we did as well as we did.”
Marino was the team’s first state qualifier last year, advancing in the heavyweight division. He has expanded on that to go 21-3 so far this season, including a runner-up finish in the conference championships Jan. 2. He is the first NKAC finalist in team history. He has won 12 matches by pin.
Covington Catholic hosted its first ever home wrestling match Tuesday night. CovCath’s Luke Rolfsen tries to pin Roger Bacon’s George Vieth.
“My coaches are a big part of it,” Marino said. “I always listen to my coaches and I take their advice to heart. Whenever there’s a pause, I’ll look over to (Johnson) and he’ll give me tips. My main thing is listening to my coaches and I get in extra time in training.”
Marino is hoping to attend school at a service academy and has been training for a fitness exam as part of that process. Marino was elected a co-captain this season.
“He’s a second-year wrestler, and he’s competing against guys who have been doing it for a lot longer,” Johnson said. “He is quickly closing the gap.”
Marino’s father was a high-school star wrestler in Connecticut but Joe never had an opportunity to try the sport himself until the Colonels started their program.
“I fell in love with it ever since I was a kid,” he said. “I know we have a lot of top-notch programs at Cov Cath and wrestling was different and I was ready…The only people that can succeed in wrestling are the people who have strong character because it’s such a difficult sport that if you weren’t a strong person, you wouldn’t be able to come back each day and do everything wrestling demands.”
CCH has 17 wrestlers in the program. Meyer is 16-11, with 11 wins by pin. Daniel Branch (11-10), McGhee (11-9), Luke Rolfsen (11-10) and Lentsch (10-11) are also in double digits in wins, with Cullen Higgins (9-4) about to get there.
Lentsch finished fourth at 160 in the conference tournament, and Meyer was fifth at 152. The NKAC doesn’t have Walton-Verona, who always has several strong wrestlers, but the conference meet is often a good indicator of how the Region 6 tournament will go. The top four finishers in each weight class at regionals go to the state meet.
“We hope to send more than one guy to state,” Johnson said. “We have guys who are competitive enough and should be in the mix.”
Follow James on Twitter, @JWeberSports