LIMA — The one thing that always comes with success is the pressure of staying at the top.
Lima Senior’s Naeem Russell welcomes that pressure with open arms.
After notching a fifth-place finish at last year’s Division I state wrestling tournament in the 152-pound weight class, Russell is taking everyone’s best shot this season.
So far, Russell has rose to the occasion, sporting a perfect 20-0 record, after winning the 160-pound title at Saturday’s Spartan Invitational at Lima Senior.
In Saturday’s title match against St. Marys’ Tommy Mabry, Russell had to fight through some adversity. However, Russell turned the adversity into motivation as he pinned Mabry a little more than midway through the first period.
“I was going for a go-behind spin,” Russell said. “He still had my arm, so it popped in and popped out. I don’t know. … It felt a little different. When that happened, I thought that I might as well end it. You never know what can happen.”
Russell’s injury did not appear to be anything serious.
Russell, a senior, realizes that after last season’s success, that every opponent will be gunning to knock him off.
“I like it (being the target),” Russell said. “I’ve never been through that before, because I’ve always been the person who would come in and try to upset people. It’s kind of cool, but at the same time it humbles me. I know I can’t underestimate anybody.”
Russell won’t be satisfied to just make it back to the state tournament this season.
“The coaches have really been working me in the (wrestling) room, getting me ready for March (the state tournament). My goal is to win state,” Russell said.
For his performance Saturday, the coaches voted Russell the most valuable wrestler for the tournament.
Eastwood won Saturday’s team title, scoring 239 points. Mechanicsburg finished second (195). St. Marys (174), Elida (148) and Delphos St. Johns’ (145.5) rounded out the top five squads in the 19-team field.
Lima Central Catholic senior Joey Caprella also has a bulls-eye on his back, after placing fifth at last year’s Division III state tournament at 145 pounds.
At Saturday’s Spartan Invite, Caprella steamrolled through the competition, en route to the title at 152.
Caprella (26-1) pinned Willard’s D.J. Slone in the first period of Saturday’s championship match.
“I lost at my last tournament and that kind of opened my eyes, because I haven’t lost a regular-season match in a long time,” Caprella said. “(LCC head) Coach (Nick) Sanchez and I had a good two weeks leading up to this. I’m just looking forward to the rest of the season.
“I know I have a target on my back right now. But I just have to do what I do, regardless. Honestly, it kind of motivates me.”
The Vonderwell brothers from Delphos St. John’s – Mason Vonderwell (freshman, 145) and Trent Vonderwell (senior, 220) – both notched titles Saturday.
Mason garnered his first-ever title of his young high school career Saturday, when he pinned Lima Senior freshman Dalton Hahn.
Vonderwell and Hahn know each other rather well. Vonderwell defeated Hahn at this year’s Allen County Tournament.
“It was a really close match,” Vonderwell said of their Allen County match. “Toward the end of the third period I was up by only two; and I ended up winning.”
For Trent Vonderwell, Saturday’s title also came by way of a pin. Vonderwell put Eastwood’s Austen Nissen to the mat, early in the second period.
“It was pretty tough,” Trent Vonderwell said. “There was almost nothing I could do in the beginning. In the second period, I knew I had to do something. So, I went for it, and I got it.”
The two Vonderwell brothers are following in the footsteps of their oldest brother, Brett. In the 2016-17 season, Brett Vonderwell was state runner-up in Division III at 170.
Other champions Saturday included Bath’s Fielden Deeds (195), Cory Rawson’s Deontaè Davis (170), Eastwood’s Gavin Owens (106), Brandon Hahn (120), Elida’s Conner Douglass (126), Liberty-Benton’s Nathan Dire (182), Mechanicsburg’s Trey Allen (113), Jake Hurst (132), Westyn Moyer (138), Willard’s Raven Brant (285).
Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.