The 85th annual OHSAA Division II State Wrestling Championship tournament will begin Friday afternoon at Ohio State’s Jerome Schottenstein Center.
And for the first time, there will be four Wilmington High School wrestlers on the mat.
Juniors Carson Hibbs, Thane McCoy and Thad Stuckey, along with senior Brett Brooks will be competing for their weight class state championships.
Also, Blanchester’s Zane Panetta has earned his first trip to Columbus.
Hibbs and Brooks are returning state qualifiers. McCoy, Stuckey and Panetta are qualifying for the first time.
Hibbs has a 42-10 record, the most matches of any of the county qualifiers. He’ll meet Donovan Paes of Streetsboro in the first round. Paes is 36-0 this season. He won a match in last year’s state tournament.
The WHS 132-pounder lost two matches at 120 pounds in last year’s state.
“Last year, I really struggled in neutral and this year I really tired to get better with that,” he said.
Hibbs knows nothing of Paes, other than “he’s good” but everybody at this level is good, it should be noted.
“I don’t really worry to much about that,” said Hibbs.
Hibbs has 22 pins among his 42 victories this season but prides himself on going the distance if needed.
“Our coaches always prepare us (for long matches),” said Hibbs. “They always say we have the best lungs. That’s one of the key things that helps you win the match in the third period.”
Hibbs won three matches last week at the district tournament by scores of 2-1, 3-1 and 3-2. His losses were by scores of 9-4 and 2-0.
“If you have better lungs, you can outlast the guy,” he said. “If I can (pin) I definitely will try but there’s always going to be guys you just can’t pin.”
Hibbs wrestled last season in the state tournament at Highland High School in Marengo. He’s excited to get a berth in a much bigger venue this season.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it a lot more with the big crowds,” he said.
After a quarterfinal loss to eventual district champion Conner Roback of Licking Valley, McCoy ripped through the consolation bracket with four straight wins at last week’s district tournament.
All four wins went the five minute distance, including a win over Clinton-Massie’s Grant Moorman 3-0 in the state go-to match. McCoy is 2-1 this season against Moorman.
“I was excited (to face Moorman) again because I knew how I needed to beat him and knew I could beat him,” McCoy said.
McCoy’s match with Roback was the closest the district champ had last week, which bodes well for McCoy. The win over Moorman, though, was as much a relief as anything.
“I was relieved,” McCoy said. “Because this (making state) has been a goal of mine. I felt like I should have been there (before). I was going to be really upset if I didn’t (make it).”
McCoy sports a 37-7 record this season. He’ll get Egidio DiFazio (40-6) of Dover in the first round. McCoy has not been pinned this season and has just 15 pins of his own.
“If it’s a kid I think I should pin, I go for the pin,” he said. “But it depends on the match. I like to make it last all three periods, push the pace.”
Sometimes, though, McCoy has to be reminded he’s just as good in the sixth minute as he is the first, so a pin isn’t always necessary.
“I have a habit of wasting energy like that (for a pin),” he said. “My coaches will let me know to give it up.”
Thane advancing to state puts the McCoy family in a rarified air. Thane and his uncle Ben McCoy and father Andrew McCoy all have qualified for the state tournament. The McCoys are the second father-son duo at WHS to qualify, with Hurricane head coach Kelly Tolliver and his son RJ Tolliver being the first.
There are wrestlers who go out on the mat with a stoic countenance. Others wear their emotions on their sleeves.
Stuckey is definitely the latter, a status he embraces as a leader of the Hurricane wrestling team. Being emotion, though, can have its downside. The coaches know that and won’t allow it to be a long-standing issue.
“The coaches have a rule,” he said. “Once you lose, you have five minutes to recooperate and move on, get your mind clear.”
Stuckey (42-8) hasn’t had to worry about that much this season. He’s lost just eight times in 50 matches this season.
“It’s just how I was raised, always raised to be a leader,” he said. “The coaches, we talk and they said I’m the guy to step up. I like it when everybody gets hyped. I like that feeling. I like to be the leader with that.”
He’ll meet Remmington Myers (38-4) of Indian Valley in the first round Friday afternoon.
Myers wrestled districts at Gallia Academy, where Miami Trace competed. Stuckey went to Miami Trace before coming to Wilmington so he’ll get intel on Myers from former classmates.
“You make it to state, you’re pretty good,” he said. “I just have to go out and wrestle. I go in with a faceless opponent. I don’t care who I wrestle, I’m just there to win. I’ll be prepared for it, but I’ll go in there and do what I do.”
While Stuckey doesn’t like losing, he likes getting pinned even less. He has yet to be pinned this season while winning 23 by pinfall this year.
“I think toward the end of last year I may have been pinned once or twice,” he said. “Before this year started, that was a goal I set for myself, not to get pinned at all this year.”
Panetta is a quiet type, much like his father John who also wrestled in the state tournament.
The younger Panetta lets his wrestling do his talking. He’s is 37-7 with 28 pins. He has not been pinned this season. The BHS senior will face Kylan Knapp (38-4) of Miami Trace in the opening round. Knapp did not qualify for state last season.
“I haven’t seen him yet,” Panetta said of Knapp. “I’ll look at brackets, try to find some video, ask people. I’d like to know what he does before I go in there.”
Panetta had a solid run through last week’s district tournament. He opened with a 35-second pin, then a 21-6 tech fall. In the semifinals he lost to Zack Burroughs of Graham in a close match, 6-1. Burroughs is projected as a top three finisher in the state.
In the consolation bracket, Panetta pinned Aidan Gross of Springfield Northwestern to earn his state berth.
“I was pretty nervous,” he said. “It was nerve-wracking. I just try to focus on the match and worry about what I have to do to win it.
“It was a great feeling. All the stress was gone from the week before. I’m less stressful than I was last week with districts. I know I’ve had a good season. I’ll just go in and wrestle my best match.”
Among the 29 matches in the 285-pound weight class in last week’s district tournament, 21 ended with a pin.
Only eight matches went the distance.
Brooks had three of those decisions, winning each en route to a runnerup finish.
“Our conditioning is some of the best,” he said. “We should be able to go six minutes. I think we (Hurricane wrestlers) all do. That’s what they (the coaches) build on in (the practice room).”
Brooks is 38-8 this season, just his second ever as a wrestler. He qualified for state last season and lost both matches. He will face Cameron Brazek of Louisville (42-4) in the opening round. Brazek was eighth in the state at 285 last season.
Brooks went 0-2 at state last year in his first season as a wrestler. He played basketball prior to that.
“I probably should have wrestled earlier,” he said. “It opened my eyes a bit. Instead of playing basketball maybe I should have wrestled.”
Brooks would like to win a couple matches, earn a place on the podium and join cousins Monica and Ashley Howard in the WHS Wall of Fame.
“I should be one of the strongest going in,” he said. “Technique-wise, there will be lof of guys who know more, been doing it longer. I just have to use the physical strength God gave me and see what I can do.”
Zach Ison, a former wrestling coach at Blanchester High School, is the 2022 OHSAA Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity Award Winner.
Ison coached at BHS in 1983, a Wildcat team that went unbeaten while winning the sectional championship.
A 1976 graduate of Clermont Northeastern High School, Ison wrestled and played football in high school. He went on to graduate from Wilmington College (1982) and was a teacher at Clermont Northeastern from 1984‐2011. He was a student-teacher at Blanchester High School.
During his years of teaching, Ison was the head coach at Batavia High School, assistant coach at BHS, Clermont Northeastern and Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller. He has been active with USA Wrestling and Team Ohio Wrestling, serving as an assistant coach, head Greco leader, and Greco Director. He was team leader of the Cadet Pan Am Team 2017 and Junior Greco Pan Am head coach in 2019. Ison has served as past Vice President of SWOWCA and a director of SWOWCA wrestling tournament.