COLUMBUS — The Wadsworth wrestling team shook hands with Carrollton after it beat the Warriors 48-21 to win the Division I, Region 2 final with the same stoic look it has after every win.
While the emotion of reaching the Division I State Duals quarterfinals for the first time since a 2013 format change eventually came out, the Grizzlies knew there was more work to be done.
Nothing has changed in the week leading up to the duals Sunday at St. John Arena.
“They’re pumped up,” Wadsworth coach Clay Wenger said. “It’s big for our school. Like I reminded them, this is one of our goals, but our goal is to go down there and make a statement. We’re going down there with a goal to take care of. Sure, we’re going to go down there and enjoy the team time, but it’s a business trip. We have business to take care of and a goal to accomplish.”
Wenger knows all about taking care of goals. The Wadsworth graduate was on State Duals title teams in 2010 and 2011.
While the eight-team tournament back then was held in his own gymnasium, Wenger knows what it takes to get it done in a field full of the who’s who of D-I wrestling.
“We have the brackets hanging in the room,” Wenger said. “I told them this team believed in each other and believed in what they could do. They truly believed they were going to win. This team is prepared. They know what they need to do and they’re ready. Now they have to put it all together.”
The field is littered with heavy hitters, with top-seeded LaSalle standing tall above No. 2 St. Edward, No. 3 Brecksville, No. 4 Elyria, No. 5 Wadsworth, No. 6 Mason, No. 7 Dublin Coffman and No. 8 Lancaster.
The action starts out in earnest for the Grizzlies (13-2), who open with a familiar opponent in Elyria (12-0).
“It’s going to be a fun team experience as a whole, but we have to keep our focus,” Wadsworth 138-pounder Luke Baughman said. “We have to know that the ultimate goal is to be a team champion. We’ve been working hard all season. We earned this, so we just have to put it all on the line.”
The Grizzlies come in ranked 34th in the nation by IntermatWrestle.com’s Josh Lowe, but know they have company with No. 7 LaSalle, No. 8 St. Edward, No. 27 Elyria and No. 29 Brecksville.
Experience isn’t on Wadsworth’s side, as only Lancaster is making its first trip to Columbus along with the Grizzlies.
Three-time champion and one-time runner-up St. Edward has been to every quarterfinal since 2013, as has one-time champ and two-time runner-up Brecksville.
Elyria, which finished second in 2016, has made it to the last five quarterfinals, while Mason is going for the fifth time in six seasons. LaSalle has been there the last three seasons and Coffman is making its third appearance in four years.
“Ohio is the top wrestling state there is,” Wadsworth 145-pounder Michael North said. “No matter where you go, you’re going to have good matches. … We’re used to the crowd and the pressure.”
The dual with Elyria is loaded with state placers, state qualifiers and nationally-ranked wrestlers.
While state placer Logan Messer will be out for Wadsworth, Baughman, North and Landen Hacker all have been on the podium for the Grizzlies. The Pioneers boast Mick Burnett, Dylan Shawver (6th) and Matt Zuckerman.
Wadsworth has state qualifiers in Mikey Lewarchick and Dom Loparo. Elyria has a qualifier in Jake Evans.
Shawver (6th, 126), North (11th), Burnett (15th, 132) and Baughman (20th) come in with national accolades.
“All those kids at Wadsworth have been to big stuff,” Elyria coach Erik Burnett said. “They’re seasoned. They’ll be ready to go. They have experience, even they’re young guys. They fight hard all the time. They try to win in every position. They’re tough.”