Greg Briggs and Conner Carneal didn’t need to be reminded last weekend.
The two could not only tell you the year the last time a wrestler from Cloverleaf reached the state tournament, they could tell you it was Kurt Wentink. Heck, if hard-pressed they could probably tell you the exact date Wentink finished seventh in 2007.
In the past, state qualifiers and the Colts haven’t exactly been on the same page, which is why it meant so much to the two to break a nine-year hex together.
“When we go into tournaments, we always count on them to win,” Cloverleaf coach Bob Scandlon said. “We always count on them to be in one of the top two places. They always have pressure on them. Being their senior years, they knew they had to back up the talk now.
“Pressure made them better wrestlers. When you’re in a tight match and you are one or two points away from winning, you have to show it. You can’t tell guys not to give up. It makes the kids that look up to them wrestle better. They have to dig a little deeper.”
The two head to Value City Arena today to compete in the Division II State Tournament and do it knowing they have an entire school system watching their every move.
That Briggs (138 pounds) and Carneal (170) did it the hard way last weekend at the Fostoria District makes things even sweeter.
Briggs came into Fostoria a Brookside Sectional champion and promptly lost his first match, leaving four do-or-die matches ahead for the three-time district qualifier.
Carneal reached the semifinals and then lost, leaving both with blood matches to go to state. Win and you are in. Lose, and well, it’s better luck next season. Only for these two there wasn’t a next season.
Briggs won his go-to match over two-time state qualifier Juwan Minnifield of Sandusky Perkins by two to beat Carneal to the punch as the first state qualifier in almost a decade.
“It sounds funny, but my focus came from pops,” Briggs said. “He’s the only reason I wrestle. Knowing this is all for him and seeing him more nervous than I was. How much he wanted it for me is ridiculous. It was awesome to see how excited he was. I enjoyed the ride. I thought it was more fun than making the finals and not having that pressure.”
Carneal made things much easier on himself by winning his first two matches to reach a semifinal with Norwalk’s Braden Neuberger, who was ranked seventh in the state.
Although the senior lost, it made things a little bit easier because Carneal only fell by a single point. Just 45 minutes later, he was facing Ashland’s Devin Goschinski for the right to go to state.
“I woke up that day and I was feeling good,” Carneal said. “When I went to that semifinal match, I was feeling pretty good. He finished eighth last year and I only lost 6-5. I knew I was ready. I went out there and wrestled smart and did what I needed to do.”
What makes it even more special is the two are headed to Columbus together to fulfill a dream.
Friends since their days in youth wrestling, the two are not only captains but drill partners in the room.
“It meant everything,” Carneal said. “That was our main goal at the beginning of the season. That’s what we pushed for. I’m expecting it to be pretty crazy. I was there in eighth grade and I know it was intense. This will be a lot more.”
It will also mean a lot more for the program as the words of Briggs and Carneal mean a little bit more this afternoon.
Both have tough first-round opponents, but for the two seniors getting to state was as much about reaching a goal as it was advancing the program at Cloverleaf.
“The places we’re at now, it’ll hit them sooner,” Briggs said. “The sophomore class we have now is a competitive bunch. I think they’ll be making it to state next year. There’s no doubt in my mind. They’ll have multiple kids from that class making it to state and coming pretty close to placing.”
As for what they expect, it’s not just a weekend of competition. It’s a weekend of laughs.
“It’ll be a lot more fun going down with someone,” Briggs said. “Win or lose it’s going to be a good time.”
Contact Brad Bournival at email@example.com.