Experience leads to Schott State Championship for duo Pleasant
COLUMBUS: Perhaps experience is essential.
Of the 14 area wrestlers who entered the state tournament this weekend, it’s no coincidence that two of the three with prior experience at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center made it to championship matches. Sunday evening before press time.
Pleasant seniors Carter Chase and CJ Smith were freshmen in 2019 when the state tournament was last held in the Schott.
“I think it’s really important that they’re here and that they’ve worked their way through their freshman year and been able to stand on the mats and watch the crowd and have been able to see this tunnel and the ‘atmosphere,’ Pleasant coach Joe Robinson said. “Nobody knows what it is until that first time. They think they know, but they don’t. I think it plays.”
Neither Chase nor Smith won enough to place themselves in this appearance a long time ago, but they were close to doing so in 2020 when the encounter was canceled the day before due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, as juniors, the two placed in the Division III state tournament hosted by Marion Harding.
This year, they were both ready.
“When I first came here it felt so much bigger and (I felt like) someone who wasn’t supposed to be here. It was so much bigger and crazy,” Chase said as he remembering that 2019 adventure. “This time around I came away with the idea that it was a normal tournament and the same guys I’ve been battling all year. Nothing new.”
The Jedi spirit trick worked. Chase earned his spot in Sunday night’s 165-pound Division III championship game with a 2:33 pin, a 9-1 decision and a 6-3 semifinal win on Saturday night.
Smith said he’s just as ready.
“In first year, I felt like I froze and didn’t use any attack,” he said. “I was very defensive the first time I was in the Schott. This year I’m letting it go and attacking people.”
Competing at 175, Smith opened the event with a pin in 2:31. In a quarterfinal bout with projected state champion Peyton Lemon of Waynedale, Smith led and then lost the lead and injured his knee. After taking almost all of his injury time out, he bounced back to earn a breakout to get within a point of Lemon. Late in the game, Smith caught him in a bodylock and put his opponent on his back to take the lead and then scored the pin with a second left.
In the semis, Smith made sure there was no more drama and raced to a 6-0 lead before settling for a 10-4 victory.
“I feel good. I have this experience. I’m ready,” he said.
Marion Harding senior Drake Cerny also struggled in the Schott as a rookie for River Valley, placing fifth in Division II at 106 pounds. He was eighth in Division I at 120 pounds a year ago when this event took place at Hilliard, but he didn’t place this weekend.
Pleasant sophomore Daxton Chase is a state placer for the second year in a row, but this is the 132-pounder’s first experience at the Schott.
“It’s a very different atmosphere. A huge stadium and a lot more people, it’s amazing here,” said young Chase. “It was pretty crazy. I came out of that tunnel and seeing all those lights and everyone around was amazing.”
North Union senior Gabe Hansen was also making his state tournament debut in the Schott.
“It was really cool. It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s unlike anything I imagined. It’s massive and when you step onto the mat it’s a big change of pace.”
Nonetheless, he behaved like a seasoned veteran, despite it being his first time.
“It’s just a belief and trust in my training and my coaches,” Hansen said. “I always know they’re going to tell me what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. It’s believing in me and all the training I’ve been through throughout the offseason and regular season. .”
The alternative states
Leaving the district meet in Wilmington, Highland junior Caleb Wetzel thought his season was over. He finished fifth in the Division II 132-pound class, losing his consolation semifinal 3-2.
But earlier in the week he was given a reprieve when Hamilton Ross second student Ryan Foster couldn’t wrestle. Wetzel came in his place as the district state alternate in the class.
“It was super relieving. I’ve never wrestled in state. I’ve never qualified in youth or college, so having this be my first state tournament is kind of cool,” said he declared.
Wetzel was one of five alternates to enter state games in all three divisions.
“I didn’t expect to go to the tournament, so I came here with no pressure,” he admitted. “I go out and have fun. It was pretty cool to have this opportunity even though technically I didn’t qualify. I still had the opportunity and tried to take advantage of it.”
He was one of two substitutes to earn a win at State. Wetzel lost their opener 11-1, but came back to win in the first round of consolations, scoring a pin at 4:18. He was knocked out of the tournament in their next game 7-1.
“Winning a game was pretty cool because it doesn’t always happen with substitutes like that,” he said.
And being a junior, he hopes to have another chance at Schott.
“I always went to camps and everything, but I had never wrestled all year before,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing this summer. That’s the goal at the end of the day, is to be at the top.”
More state wrestling to come
Sunday’s final matches at the state wrestling tournament were not over by press time. Be sure to check out MarionStar.com and its app and grab Tuesday’s Marion Star where more state wrestling stories will appear in the sports section.