COLUMBUS — It’s probably a safe bet to assume most high school wrestlers have a difficult time shaking off the jitters when making their first appearance at the state wrestling tournament at Ohio State.
Walking through the tunnel and onto the floor of Value City Arena at the Jerome Schottenstein Center is well-known to be nerve-racking, to say the least.
But for Allen East freshman Drake Carmean, it didn’t take long before he felt right at home.
Carmean’s first-round opponent Thursday in the Division III, 120-pound weight class, Gates Mills Hawken’s J.P. Hlifka, scored two quick points on the Allen East freshman. But Carmean quickly recovered and dominated the match the rest of the way, en route to a 14-6 major decision. With the victory, Carmean (37-5) stays alive in the championship bracket.
“Coming in, I was kind of scared,” Carmean said. “Then I got back into it and got the butterflies out of my system and started wrestling how the coaches have taught me.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, coming out of that tunnel. It’s a huge arena. It feels amazing, going into the next day, and still in the winner’s bracket.”
Along with Carmean, teammates Chase Caprella (113), Lucas Freeman (138) and Garrett Neth (182) are competing at the state tournament.
Neth went 1-1 Thursday to stay in the hunt. However, Caprella and Freeman went 0-2 and were knocked out of the tournament.
Lima Senior junior Naeem Russell (Division I, 152) missed the second half of last season with a season-ending knee injury. On Thursday, Russell made the most of his opportunity by defeating Brecksville-Broadview Heights’ Ben Vanadia in his first-round match, 10-6.
With the win, Russell (40-3) will face three-time state champion, Massillon Perry’s David Carr (36-0) in his first match Friday.
“I got off to a slow start. I was a little nervous in getting the first match out of the way,” Russell said. “I knew after the second take-down that I had him. He started to break a little bit. I’m just excited to get the first one out of the way.”
Russell is the first Lima Senior state-qualifier since 2004. Before then, the previous state-qualifier was in 1993.
“Naeem has been one of those kids who has really earned to be here,” Lima Senior coach PJ Fought said. “He has put in the work. He deserves to be where he’s at.”
Bluffton junior Deandre Nassar came into Thursday’s first-round action of the Division III, 195-pound weight class with one thing on his mind – to win his first match and stay in the championship bracket.
Nassar (39-1) a state-qualifier from a year ago, controlled his match virtually from the start as he decisioned Ashland Crestview’s Colton Campbell, 10-4.
“I felt pretty good,” Nassar said. “I’m just trying to take it one match at a time. I don’t want to get ahead of myself and start thinking about quarterfinals and semifinals. I want to take it one match at a time, because I lost my first one last year and I had to fight my way back – which is kind of rough.”
Added longtime Bluffton coach Jeff Kleman, “There’s not a whole lot to say to Deandre. He knows what he needs to do. He’s solid. He just needs to keep scoring points.”
For Bath senior Collin Mell, winning his first-round match Thursday was extra special.
Mell’s 2-1 overtime thriller over Claymont’s Dakota Bunting (a former state-placer) in the Division II, 145-pound weight class, not only meant he was still alive in the championship bracket, but it also was his 100th career victory.
“That was the main goal – to get down here and win that first match,” Mell said. “I can go back to the hotel room, get a good swim in and rest up for tomorrow.”
Mell (39-3) said he has one goal in mind.
“I don’t see why anyone would want anything less than that – to win a state title,” Mell said.
Ottawa-Glandorf senior Daniel Beemer had no trouble at all in his first-round bout Thursday. Beemer (38-0) defeated Orrville’s Cameron VanBrunt by tech fall, 16-1 in his opening Division III match at 182. Beemer is a two-time state-placer.
Teammate Danny Rosales won his opening match Thursday to stay in the championship bracket at 170 pounds. However, Grant Goecke (160) went 0-2 and was eliminated for the Titans.
Paulding’s Logan Mudel (Div. III, 132) won his opening match Thursday to advance. However, teammate Ryan Woodring (126) went 0-2.
Wapakoneta brought a trio of wrestlers to Columbus.
Evan Kaeck won his first match in the Division II, 220-pound weight class Thursday to stay alive in the championship bracket. The sophomore Kaeck (43-5) decisioned Louisville’s Blake Robbins, 6-3.
“It sets yourself up well,” Wapakoneta coach Jason Rostorfer said. “You have to go one match at a time at this level. If you overlook anyone, it could cost you.”
Teammates Zac Miller (195) and Brenan Knueve (285) went 0-2 and were eliminated.
At 145, in Division III, Lima Central Catholic junior Joey Caprella had a tough match with Rossford’s Austin Eick Thursday, but was able to come away with a hard-fought 5-3 victory. Caprella is now 41-0 and advances in the championship bracket.
Also at 145 pounds in Division III, Ada senior Chase Sumner (33-3) advanced in the championship bracket. Sumner, a two-time state-placer, defeated Fremont St. Joseph’s Nate Vasquez in a thriller, 4-3.
In Division II, Van Wert’s Gabe Steyer won his first-round match over Norwood’s Casey Ragle, 4-2. Teammate Isaiah Bretz (138) went 0-2.
Shawnee’s Bobby Grothjan lost his first match in the Division II, 285-pound weight class, but came back to win his consolation match to stay alive.
“I’m ready to go to the next one (match),” Grothjan said. “I know my season isn’t over yet.”
Columbus Grove freshman Jeff Meyer (Div. III, 285) went 1-1 Thursday, to stay alive in the tournament. Teammate Dylan Sargent (220) went 0-2 and was knocked out of the tournament.
“You win tonight and win tomorrow, then you place,” Columbus Grove coach Eric Siefker said.
Indian Lake’s Dylan Knotts (Div. III, 160) and Connor Dixon (182) advanced in the championship bracket. Teammate Cole Mefford (220) went 1-1 and is still competing.
Coldwater’s Thomas Schwieterman (Div. III, 285) won his first match Thursday.