COLUMBUS: A year ago, Perry coach Dave Riggs knew he had something special in his returning wrestlers as the Panthers left the state wrestling individual tournament with yet another second-place finish in the team standings.
One day short of a calendar year, Riggs’ predictions came true and then some, as Perry sent seven wrestlers to the state finals and clinched a team state championship a day early at Value City Arena on Friday night.
“Last March, we walked out of here and knew it could happen,” Riggs said. “We knew this group could be special. I could see it coming last year. We took a lot of lumps.”
Perry had taken second in the team standings in nine of the past 11 years, most of them to St. Edward High School. The emergence of Perry wrestling came swift and strong Friday — the Panthers have 163 team points, more than 100 over second-place Marysville. St. Ed, meanwhile, isn’t sending a wrestler to the finals for the first time since 1977.
“To go seven-for-seven is really special,” Riggs said. “These kids have such big hearts and they’re so determined. And the parents have been so important to our program. A night like this, we’re just really grateful. We want to thank St. Ed’s for setting the bar. They created this over all the years and we’re grateful to compete against them.”
Perry’s seven state finalists are senior Tommy Genetin (44-6), who will face Wadsworth sophomore Noah Baughman (46-2) for the 106-pound state title; junior Jose Rodriguez (28-2), a returning state title winner at 113 pounds; junior Jake Newhouse (40-9), who will take on Walsh Jesuit sophomore Alex Mackall (39-7) in the 120-pound title match; senior David Bavery (50-5) at 126 pounds; junior Nick Steed (29-5), who will face Walsh Jesuit senior Mike Kostandaras (39-6) for the 138-pound title; senior Casey Sparkman (50-5) at 152 pounds; and senior Tony Dailey (42-4) in the 160-pound weight class.
Sparkman had perhaps the best move of the tournament. He was tied with Perrysburg senior J.P. Newton 1-1 with four seconds remaining in the third period. Instead of waiting for overtime, Sparkman lunged forward, got Newton off balance and locked him up for the win at the buzzer.
“I don’t even know what I did. My coaches told me he was tired and to get after him,” Sparkman said. “I just went. People let off with short time so I knew if I just ran through he’d fall.”
Sparkman said he and his teammates have had conversations about what Perry could accomplish in 2014. And for him individually, his matches have been the matches of his dreams.
“Literally, the past few weeks, I’ve been having dreams about every single match, visually who I’m going to have,” Sparkman said. “We knew we had a scary lineup. I feel like we can go up against some college teams and win a dual meet. We came down here and had fun and it’s a lot more fun when you get your hand raised.”
Division II title shot
Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy senior Tyler Maclellan (38-5) will face Crestwood senior Kenny Jackson (38-5) for a Division II state title at 195 pounds tonight.
For Maclellan, who has been a known contender for a couple of years, it’s the chance to fulfill a dream.
“I’ve been working my whole life on wrestling,” Maclellan said. “To see it finally paying off and going for a state championship, it feels pretty good. All my hard work is finally paying off and it feels pretty awesome.”
Maclellan also had a star-studded audience, as former four-time state champion Nathan Tomasello stood just off the mat. Tomasello now wrestles for Ohio State but wore a CVCA sweatshirt in support of Maclellan and the Royals.
On Friday night, Brunswick freshman Nick Kiussis (32-4) became the first freshman wrestler to reach the state finals for Brunswick since Richie Spicel in 2005.
“All the hard work has paid off,” said Kiussis, now a state finalist at 132 pounds. “I want to give a big shout out to all my teammates, coaches and family.”
Coach of the year
Brecksville-Broadview Heights coach Todd Haverdill was named the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association Coaches of the Year Friday night. Haverdill has led Brecksville to nine straight Southwestern Conference team titles and coached three state champions.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.