A defending state-runner up, a wrestler making a third trip to Columbus and two first-time attendees make up Clinton County’s contingent at the 81st OHSAA state wrestling tournament.
Wrestling will begin at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of the Ohio State University. Division III first round will start, followed by Division II.
For East Clinton’s Wyatt Riddle, he returns with a new school but a familiar mission. After a dominating run through the district last week, his goal is to finish one spot higher on the podium than his runner-up finish a year ago.
Blanchester’s Clayton Schirmer had a difficult path to district runner-up last weekend in Troy. He earned his first trip to Columbus and hopes to make the most of the trip with a finish on the podium.
As for two Wilmington teammates, Isaac Allen and Conner Barton, two very different career paths have led them to wrestling’s biggest stage.
Third time’s the charm
Two years in a row, Allen stood on the mat in the district consolation semifinals with a spot in the state wrestling meet standing in front him. Both years, he came up short.
A fifth-place district placer in 2016 and 2017, Allen made the trip to Columbus to serve as an alternate for state. He practiced with those competing in the tournament, but when all of them began the first round, Allen was forced to watch instead of competing.
This year, Allen made sure there would be no district consolation bouts.
The Wilmington senior pinned Alter’s Jack Forschner in the championship semifinals to earn a spot in the final and secure a third trip to Columbus.
It was an outpouring of emotion for Allen after the referee slapped the mat.
“It’s hard to explain,” Allen said. “There were a lot of feelings in there. It’s a lot of excitement. It’s the greatest feeling you could probably feel.”
Allen won’t have to watch this year. He’ll have his shot to compete.
“It’s amazing,” Allen said. “I’ve been waiting for this since freshman year. It’s just unbelievable to me.”
WHS head coach Kelly Tolliver believes having been at the state tournament the last two years should help Allen through the experience of competing for the first time.
“He’s not going to be freaked out by the surroundings,” WHS head coach Kelly Tolliver said. “It’s old-hat to him. He’s really underrated.”
While the experience of being an alternate should help Allen, he’ll likely enjoy this trip to Columbus much more.
“Being an alternate is not fun,” Allen said. “You know you need to improve when you are an alternate. That’s what I’ve been doing the last two years.
Competing in the 160-pound weight class, Allen will open with Wesley Pauley of McConnelsville Morgan (junior, 51-5). A win in the first round could potentially set up a bout with three-time state placer Kevon Freeman of Mentor Lake Catholic in the quarterfinals.
After having faced the third-ranked wrestler in the nation in the district final, Graham’s Ryan Thomas, Allen won’t be surprised by anyone he faces in Columbus. However, he believes the nerves will be there.
“My nerves will be through the roof,” Allen said. “It’s going to be really nerve-wracking. It’s very exciting.”
A meteoric rise
Barton wasn’t even a member of the Wilmington wrestling team when Allen made his first trip to Columbus as an alternate.
Just two years later, not only is Barton going to Columbus, but he goes there as a district champion.
To win a district championship in Wilmington means you must go through a wrestler from Graham, the fifth-ranked team in the United States according to InterMat Wrestling.
Barton earned his spot at state by defeating a Graham wrestler, Khrizdon Van Hoose. He pinned Van Hoose in the championship semifinals of the 285-pound weight class.
“I knew that was my ticket to state,” Barton said. “I gave it my all.”
In the final, he defeated Hillsboro’s Lane Cluff to win the district title.
“I knew he was strong and I couldn’t get caught with him throwing me,” Barton said. “I could feel when he was getting ready to go for a leg. I took care of that and took him down instead.”
The senior heavyweight will open the state tournament against Lyle Clark of Uhrichsville Claymont (senior, 29-14). There are no returning state placers in Barton’s half of the draw.
It’s a great opportunity for the second-year wrestler.
“Just seeing yourself at state on the podium, that’s why I worked so much harder in practice,” Barton said. “It’s going to be hard. I definitely expect to see a lot of good guys up there. There’s going to be a lot of nerves. If I go out there and get a victory, it’s going to feel great.”
According to Tolliver, Barton continues to take lessons learned in practice to the mat, and it has helped spur his rapid improvement.
“He’s got better techniques,” Tolliver said. “He didn’t have some of the fundamentals yet. He knows how to control his hips better now. He can get a multiple variety of takedowns. In the beginning, he only had one takedown.
“He’s gutted out so many overtime matches because being in shape is never a problem for him. His stamina is outstanding for a guy his size.”
Tolliver said he believes Allen and Barton won’t just be happy to be in Columbus this weekend. He thinks both can place.
“I think both of these guys are going to get on the podium in Columbus this weekend,” Tolliver said. “They didn’t do this just to make it there. They want to place, which is where this program needs to be.
“We don’t just want qualifiers. We want someone on the podium.”
As a freshman representing Xenia’s Legacy Christian, Riddle got all the way to the state championship match before coming up short.
In 2018, wearing the colors of East Clinton High School, Riddle has only one goal in mind: state champion.
“I’m trying to stay focused and look at every match leading up to it, but my minds definitely on finals and winning a state title,” Riddle said.
It was a dominating display a week ago at the Division III district wrestling tournament in Troy. Riddle wrestled four bouts, winning three by major decision (more than eight points) and one by technical fall (more than 15 points).
“You see a lot of these kids that just pin their way through the tournament,” EC head coach Doug Stehlin said. “They’re good wrestlers too, but when you get three majors and a tech, it really makes a statement that you went six minutes wrestling tough and you had some good competition along the way.”
More impressively, the Astro sophomore allowed just one point.
“To be honest, I wasn’t too happy to give up that one point,” Riddle said. “As great as it was, the match I gave it up I was looking to tech fall the kid. I gave him an escape to try to get another takedown.
“If you focus on what you’re doing and score points, then all the other things fall into place. That’s why nobody scored on me because I was focused on scoring on them.”
Riddle locked up his spot by defeating the highly-touted freshman, Olivia Shore of Miami East, 10-0 in the semifinals.
“I like going into matches where you’re wrestling somebody who’s got a really big name,” Riddle said. “You know coming out of that, if you win, they’re all going to be looking at you too.”
Riddle will open the state tournament when Division III takes the mat at 3 p.m. Thursday. He starts on mat 8 against Sarahsville Shenandoah freshman Alex Overly (34-11).
Only two state placers besides Riddle return at 106 pounds. The wrestler who denied Riddle the title a year ago, Genoa Area’s Oscar Sanchez, moved up to the 113-pound weight class this year.
Riddle hopes to finish his second postseason run with a title. It is the time of year when the EC sophomore believes he’s at his best.
“When sectionals, district and state come around, a switch flips,” Riddle said. “I know if I don’t win, I’m not going to go on. That pushes me to do my best.”
A fitting reward
Blanchester head coach Scott Nicely gave Schirmer a choice as to who his roommate would be in Troy a week ago.
“I knew Clayton had a shot,” Nicely said. “I knew our draw wasn’t the greatest. I wanted him to be in the best position. I asked him, “Who do you want to room with you? I’ll put the other three in the other room.’ He said Johnny, his brother.
“He wanted to make sure Johnny got the rest he needed. That’s the kind of kid Clayton is. For a kid who’s like that to get to go to state, it’s awesome. It really is.”
For many siblings, sharing a room on the road wouldn’t make for the most peaceful environment before a huge weekend of wrestling. It was an easy choice for Clayton.
“I knew Johnny had a shot to make it out (to state),” Schirmer said. “I just wanted to make sure that outside of the actual wrestling, that I was going to try to give him the best shot that I could. It was just for him.
“Even though we do get frustrated (with each other) when it comes to wrestling, we don’t butt heads as much. We put all of our differences aside and go to the same goal.”
Schirmer fought through three tough district opponents to get to the 152-pound final before falling to Bethel-Tate’s Matt Hall.
His place in state was assured with a hard-fought 6-2 win over Josh Fink of Coldwater.
“Knowing all the hard work paid off, knowing I was going to be able to go up there to the Schottenstein center, it felt good,” Schirmer said.
He’ll make his state wrestling debut Thursday against Rossford’s Carlton Roberts (sophomore, 43-6). A match-up with two-time state placer Gavin Stika (51-1) could await Schirmer in the second round.
“It feels good,” Schirmer said. “I’m really just grateful for everything – all the support I got from the school, teammates and coaches. It just feels good.”
Like the other three Clinton County wrestlers, Schirmer has set his sights on placing in this weekend’s state tournament.
“The goal ultimately is to win it,” Schirmer said. “Realistically, I’m just looking to get on the podium. I’ve got nothing to lose right now. I’ve just got to go up there and wrestle well.”