There has yet to be an Ohio opponent to defeat the Perry wrestling team this season.
Perry coach Dave Riggs and his 11 individual state qualifiers are hoping to keep that fact in tact this weekend in Columbus when the Division I state meet takes place in Value City Arena on the campus of Ohio State University.
The Panthers won the Division I State Dual Team championship earlier this month and also have won state dual team titles at the regional level along with Federal League, sectional and district titles.
Perry’s 11 state qualifiers are the most in this year’s Division I state tournament, ahead of Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller (nine), Brecksville (eight), Perrysburg (eight) and Lakewood St. Edward (six). Area schools Wadsworth and Lake are both taking five.
“The numbers certainly help and it is proven that that has been favorable for teams in the past,” Riggs said. “We have the highest number of guys going to Columbus now and we feel all of our guys can score. We are taking it one at a time, of course, but we feel very confident.”
Perry qualified nine wrestlers for state last year and had two champions, Jose Rodriguez at 106 pounds and JoJo Tayse at 195 pounds. Rodriguez is back this year at 113 pounds, and Tayse graduated and is a football player at Ashland University.
Rodriguez is one of six Perry wrestlers who won district titles last week at Mentor. Seniors Tommy Genetin (106), David Bavery (126), Casey Sparkman (152), Isaac Bast (170) and Stefano Millin (220) are the others.
“First off, I am very grateful for this opportunity,” said Genetin, who is looking at Baldwin Wallace and Mount Union. “The opportunity I have this weekend with my teammates is going to be special. I definitely want to end the season off right.”
Perry has finished in the top three the past 11 years — second nine times and third two times — in the Division I state team standings. The Panthers beat Delaware Hayes (54-9), St. Edward (48-15) and Brecksville (48-9) in the state dual team finals at St. John Arena.
“We knew this group we had coming back was going to be a great team,” Riggs said. “We wanted to put in a good preseason and we feel the kids have done that and put together a good season. It has been a total team commitment.
“St. Ed is the one who set the bar. They are the one who drove us to this point. We have to credit them for this. We wanted to get better and compete against schools like them.”
Bavery was third at state at 120 last year, a state champion at 106 the year prior and second at 103 as a freshman. He is generating interest from Pittsburgh, Ohio, North Carolina State and Notre Dame College.
“I am excited,” Bavery said. “I feel like I am ready to compete. That is my stage and where I want to compete at my best. I want to peak in this tournament every year. I am going down there to finish my business and so are my teammates.”
Sparkman, who was fourth at state at 138 last year, is garnering interest from N.C. State, Virginia, West Virginia and Mid-American schools such as Kent State.
“It is pretty awesome,” Sparkman said. “We know we are expected to win these tournaments, and it is fun to go out there and get it done. We are working very hard.”
Bast was eighth at state at 145 last year and seventh at 132 the year prior. He is drawing interest from Cleveland State, KSU, OU, N.C. State, Northern Illinois and Bloomsburg.
“Right now we are doing very well,” Bast said. “A lot of hard work is paying off. It is really exciting to get to this part of the season. We really want to keep the momentum going and keep winning.”
Millin, a 6-foot-6 Kent State University football recruit, is normally 255 pounds. He is competing on the mat at 220.
“This is my last time wrestling,” Millin said. “I am excited and nervous at the same time. I have been here before so I am more excited than nervous. The good thing is we have not been looking ahead. Obviously, everybody envisions being in the finals Saturday night, but you have to look at your next opponent and take each match as it comes.”
The other five Panthers who will compete this weekend are juniors Jake Newhouse (120), Jason Spencer (132) and Nick Steed (138) and seniors Tony Dailey (160) and Seth Maylor (285). They each placed in the top four at district to advance. Dailey is a Notre Dame College wrestling recruit.
“At the beginning of the year we realized this could be a special group because we returned a lot of guys from last year’s team,” Millin said. “We all knew what we had to do. We have lost to St. Ed a lot in the past and have been hungry to beat them and everyone else this year. We are fortunate to have a good group of guys, and two guys that have won state championships.”
This is Riggs’ 28th season being affiliated with the Perry wrestling program, 23 as coach. He was an assistant under Brian Dolph and Brent McBurney.
Riggs, 58, was born in Akron and was a standout wrestler at Coventry High School and the University of Arizona.
“It is a lot of fun coaching these guys,” Riggs said. “We are really enjoying ourselves this year. We have a great attitude. We have kids that are very respectful and first class.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.