Area high school wrestlers battle through emotions during state competition

By Mark Altstaetter - Guest Columnist

This past weekend, I thought longtime Allen East head wrestling coach Mike Abbey summed up the state wrestling tournament the best by stating: “The lows are mighty, mighty low. But the highs are mighty, mighty high.”

I’ve had the privilege to cover the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Wrestling Championships the 20 years that I have been at The Lima News.

In 2020, the state tournament was canceled because of COVID-19. Last season, the state tournament was held at three separate high schools for the three divisions due to the COVID-19 restrictions

Every year, I witness the rollercoaster of emotions that run rampant throughout the three-day tournament.

This past weekend, 20 Lima area wrestlers competed at the state tournament, which was finally moved back to the Jerome Schottenstein Center at Ohio State.

When it was all said and done, there were nine local athletes standing on the awards podium Sunday night. However, there were 11 area state qualifiers who competed at least one day of the tournament, watching from the stands. The top eight placers in each weight class make the awards podium.

As a writer, my job is to tell a story about these dedicated young athletes. Most of them desire nothing less than to be a state-placer.

However, the most accurate story is what I witness in the hallways at the Schottenstein Center immediately after their matches. I don’t need to witness the outcome from the matches to see what has transpired.

The expressions on their faces tell the story.

Allen East’s Kade Wireman (Division III, 150-pound weight class) and Eli Criblez (Division III, 285) found themselves surfing the waves of emotion this past weekend.

Wireman and Criblez were sitting in a favorable position Saturday, as both were scheduled to wrestle in their respective semifinal matches. A win in the semifinals would put them in the championship matches Sunday night.

Wireman, a three-time state qualifier, was focused on making it to Sunday’s title match.

However, Wireman’s semifinal did not go well for him. The junior standout was pinned late in the first period by Mechanicsburg’s Westyn Moyer.

Wireman had to quickly shrug off the tough loss and wrestle back through consolations, while also battling a nagging knee injury. He made the most of his opportunity and finished third Sunday.

Wireman told me after Saturday’s tough semifinal loss that he had to quickly forget about that match.

Wireman (49-6) surely did that as he went on to eventually notch third place.

Not long after his win in his third-place match, Wireman was already looking forward to next season. He vowed to work even harder, return to the state tournament, make the finals and hopefully win the state title.

Criblez, last year’s Division III state runner-up at 285, also suffered a loss in the semifinals.

Criblez, a junior, managed to come back and eventually place fourth. Criblez (47-3) lost a hard-fought match in the third-place bout with Black River’s Travis Owen, 1-0.

Criblez was overwhelmed with emotion after his tough loss. However, I would not count out Criblez for a state title run next season.

For Lima Central Catholic senior Gavin Caprella (37-6), who placed fifth in the 120-pound weight class in Division III this past weekend, it was the realization that his high school wrestling career was officially over.

The finality of the season overwhelmed Caprella with emotion after he won his fifth-place match – his second fifth-place finish in the past two seasons. Caprella was pleased with his performance, but he spoke after that match about the goals he had coming in. Despite battling a knee injury throughout the postseason, Caprella still pursued his dream of being a state champion.

Caprella and LCC head coach Nick Sanchez were very emotional following their last match Sunday.

Sanchez and Caprella knew their mission at the high school level was complete. Caprella will compete at the next level, when he attends the U.S. Air Force Academy next school year.

Elida’s Conner Douglass, a four-time Western Buckeye League champion, came into this year’s Division II state tournament (150-pounder) as a first-time state-qualifier.

The first day of the state tournament, Douglass lost his opening match. However, after that loss, he won three consecutive consolation matches before he suffered another setback. Douglass took home a fifth-place medal Sunday.

After his final match Sunday, Douglass (42-5) said he was prepared to move on to the track-and-field season. However, he reflected on all the hard work he put in during the years in wrestling. It felt like part of him was not quite ready to move on.

An emotional Douglass said after his final match, “To be honest, the little freshman in me would not have ever dreamed of placing in the top five in the state, much less just getting here. I think it’s a very good ending of a 13-year chapter of my life.”

Douglass was a state-qualifier in the pole vault last spring track season. He will be vaulting for the University of Findlay next school year.

Bluffton senior Kaden Basil was a three-time state qualifier.

He competed as a 113-pounder his freshman season and in the 138-pound weight class his sophomore season. Last year, he competed at 160 pounds. This season, he competed at 175.

Basil’s goal was to place at the state tournament. Before this season, he never made it to the third day of the tournament.

The smile on his face after his final match Sunday told the story. Basil (40-7) was very content on how he closed out his high school career by placing fourth (D-III, 175).

Mission accomplished for the Bluffton standout.

As I made the walk Sunday night from the Schottenstein Center to the parking lot, the fatigue started to set in.

I also experienced a rollercoaster of emotions during the three-day tournament.

There was a part of me that felt connected to what the athletes were going through. For weeks, these same local athletes spilled out their feelings to me when I would ask them in the interviews about what their goals were.

I realized on my drive home that I wasn’t the only one telling a story. In their own special way, these young athletes were telling their own stories.

The statement from Coach Abbey from the weekend kept echoing in my head during my long drive home: “The lows are mighty, mighty low. But the highs are mighty, mighty high.”

By Mark Altstaetter

Guest Columnist

Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.

Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.

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