GALLIPOLIS — The Miami Trace Panthers wrestling team sent 12 student-athletes to the Division II District tournament held at Gallia Academy High School Friday and Saturday, March 5 and 6.
From that dozen, four team members have qualified to this weekend’s State tournament.
Junior Weston Melvin placed second at 126 pounds; senior Mcale Callahan placed third at 152 pounds; senior Graham Carson finished third at 170 pounds and junior Bryce Bennett placed fourth at 195 pounds.
Overall, the Panthers placed seventh as a team with 87 points.
Lisbon Beaver won the District championship with 150 team points.
Melvin went 3-1 at the District tournament. He won his first three matches, sending him through to the finals.
In his first match, Melvin (now 25-3 on the season) pinned junior Harley Gottke of New Lexington in :28.
Then, Melvin edged freshman Quake Beatty of Indian Valley, 6-5.
In his semifinals match, Melvin won a 13-0 major decision over freshman Harrison Kazmirski of St. Clairsville.
Melvin lost in the finals to senior Joseph Eckelberry of Tri-Valley.
“Weston qualified to State last year also,” Miami Trace head coach Ben Fondale said. “He had a really good District tournament. He had a tough match in the quarterfinals, winning by one point. He ran into a tough kid in the finals.
“I think Weston is pretty hungry,” Fondale said. “As far as not being able to participate at State last year.”
It was shortly after the District tournaments were held in 2020 that high school sports were shutdown in Ohio due to the COVID pandemic.
“I think he feels like he has some unfinished business to do,” Fondale said. “I think he’s out to get recognized as a State-placer. I think that’s his goal.”
“I felt pretty good,” Melvin said of his time at the District tournament. “I thought I could have done better at the end, but, I’ve got State now to improve on.
“I should be able to win a few matches,” Melvin said of the upcoming State tournament. “I should be able to place. It’s going to be tough in the first and second rounds, but, I just have to wrestle tough.”
Callahan was 4-1 in the District tournament.
He began his run to State qualification with a pin of Gallia Academy freshman Hunter Shamblin in 4:20.
Callahan then pinned sophomore Remmington Myers of Indian Valley in 4:46.
Callahan lost in the semifinals to senior Peyten Kellar of Warren, 7-0.
In the consolation bracket, Callahan defeated junior Charlie Gibbs of New Philadelphia by pin in 1:56. That win assured Callahan of going to State.
In the match for third place, Callahan beat junior Brandon Kiser of Dover, 4-1.
Callahan is now 26-4.
“Mcale has always been a solid wrestler for us,” Fondale said. “All the way since his freshman year. He suffered an injury last year and had surgery. He wasn’t feeling well enough to finish the season (last year).
“He’s put in a lot of work to get himself healthy,” Fondale said. “To get himself strong again. I think missing the State tournament last year due to injuries probably hurt him the most. He’s one of those kids who just breathes the sport of wrestling. He really wants to participate at the State level. He was a State-qualifier his sophomore year. He realizes this is his last shot. He’s going to give it everything he’s got.
“At the District, he was losing by one point going into the third period to (Peyten) Kellar, who is the projected State champ,” Fondale said. “Cale has confidence and should have confidence that he can wrestle with the best of them. If he can bring his ‘A’ game to the State tournament this weekend, he should be able to place very high.”
“I had to have surgery in the summer,” Callahan said. “I didn’t really get back on the mat, for live wrestling, until November. I could work on technique, but, I couldn’t do any live wrestling during that period of time.
“It was really fun at the District, actually,” Callahan said. “I think they have a nice school. I’d say it was more fun than sophomore year even. It was a big accomplishment making it (to State) for the first time my sophomore year. The most fun I’ve had at the District tournament was last weekend.
“The semis was really fun,” Callahan said. He went up against senior Peyten Kellar of Warren, who won the District and enters the State with a record of 31-0. “That was a fun match in the semis; I lost that, though, but, it’s alright.
“In my go-to match, the consolation semifinals, that was probably as pumped up I’ve been,” Callahan said. “I wasn’t expecting to pin my guy in my go-to match, so, that was pretty fun.
“I definitely want to secure a spot on the podium,” Callahan said of the State meet. “I really want to make it to the semis. If I do, there’s another guy that I’m practice partners with up in Columbus. So, that would be fun if we faced each other up in the semis.”
Callahan was referring to Granville High School senior Douglas Terry.
Carson won his first match at the District tournament with a 17-2 technical fall of freshman Gabe Morgan of Lisbon Beaver.
In his second match, Carson pinned Minerva junior Nick Chaddock in 4:40.
In the semifinals, Carson lost to senior Ethan Pappas of Steubenville, 5-3.
In the match that would determine if Carson would go to State, he defeated senior Caleb Jacomet of Morgan in a 15-0 technical fall.
Carson then won the match that placed him third, 3-0 over senior Connor Harlan of Claymont.
Carson enters the State tournament with a record of 30-1.
“Graham was a (State) alternate for us last year (placing fifth at the District tournament),” Fondale said. “He’s been wrestling since junior high. He lost 5-3 in the semifinals to the kid who won the District.
“Graham is right up there with the best of them,” Fondale said. “He works hard in the off-season. He attends wrestling clubs and camps, along with Cale.
“Graham has beaten some good kids,” Fondale said. “And he’s lost to one exceptional kid this year. I think he has all the reason to believe and the confidence that he should have that he can wrestle with the best of them. He’s right up there as far as the intensity he can bring to a match and being able to wrestle for the entire six minutes. He should also place high.”
“It felt amazing,” Carson said. “(Qualifying to State) has been a goal of mine since my freshman year. To finally do it feels great. I was really close last year (placing fifth at the District), so, I was disappointed. This year, I was able to win my go-to match in a pretty dominant fashion. I lost a close one in the semis, so, that was a bittersweet feeling, but, it was really good to make it and know that I’m going.
“The goal is always to be a State champion,” Carson said. “When you go there, you always want to compete to the best of your ability. Just like Coach Fondale said, ‘you can always be a bracket-breaker.’ Just because they say you aren’t going to win, doesn’t mean you can’t win. The goal is to win it, but, I would love to place in the top four. Place top three, really, because another of my goals has been to be in the Hall of Fame here.”
Bennett won his first match of the District with a pin in 3:30 over sophomore Zach Robinson of New Lexington.
In his second match, Bennett defeated sophomore Kaiden Haines of Minerva, 11-4.
In the semifinals, Bennett lost to senior Justin Bartlett of Cambridge, 7-3.
In the match to go to State, Bennett pinned junior Brayden Easton of Gallia Academy in 3:26.
In the match for third place, Bennett lost to senior Drake George of Athens, 3-2.
Bennett is currently 10-4 going into the State meet.
“Bryce hurt his ankle about mid-way through the season,” Fondale said. “We decided, Bryce and the other coaches, to opt out of the league tournament, just to make sure his ankle was healthy. We knew he was capable of making it to the State tournament on two healthy ankles. He missed some tournaments before that, just to try to do some rehab and slowly build the strength back up in that ankle.
“He felt pretty good at Sectionals and at Districts,” Fondale said. “He wrestled to his potential. He’s a pretty good defensive wrestler, as far as, he waits for opponents to make mistakes and makes them pay for it. He was able to do that at the District tournament.”
“My freshman year, I wasn’t in the varsity line-up,” Bennett said. “Last year I made it to Districts.
“It was pretty enjoyable, getting to see my buddies wrestle,” Bennett said. “Bringing all of our wrestlers except for one was a great experience. I was able to watch my other wrestlers compete. It was very interesting getting to watch all of the other wrestlers from all over the state. Also, going to a different part of the state was amazing. I had never been to Gallipolis before.
“It was a great time all around,” Bennett said. “Hanging out with my fellow wrestlers, the coaches and my family, it was a good time.
“I would personally love to place,” Bennett said. “But, just making to State is a great accomplishment. My uncle (Michael Smith) was a big wrestler in high school, but he never made it to the State tournament. Making it there feels like such an accomplishment for me. I know I have a pretty tough draw, so, I’m going to have to wrestle my butt off there.”
“What it comes down to is, these guys are just competitors,” Fondale said. “They want to go out and it’s one-on-one. They feel they’ve worked just as hard as anyone else. They’ve trained just as hard as anyone else. They want to go out and represent their school, their coaches, their family and represent all the time they’ve put in and just leave it all on the mat.
“Even though this won’t be like a traditional State tournament, I think when all is said and done, they want to go and compete to the highest of their ability and that means placing at the State tournament,” Fondale said. “Being recognized as some of the top wrestlers in the state of Ohio and some of the best wrestlers to come from Miami Trace.”
At 106 pounds, freshman Corbin Melvin went 1-2 at the District with an 11-7 win over sophomore Hayley Sndyer of Warren. Melvin finishes the season with a record of 17-11.
At 112 pounds, senior Titus Lehr went 0-2 at the District, finishing with a record of 13-12.
Sophomore Riston LeBeau (132) went 0-2 at the District. He finishes the season with a record of 20-9.
Sophomore Aiden Johnson (138) went 0-2 at the District, concluding the 2020-21 season with a record of 10-7.
Freshman Asher LeBeau (145) was 0-2 at Gallia Academy, finishing with a record of 20-6.
At 160 pounds, sophomore Vincent Munro went 2-2 on the tournament, finishing with a record of 20-6.
After losing his first match, Munro beat junior Ethan Rasp of Jackson, 10-4.
In the next consolation match, Munro pinned senior Scott Eastes of Hillsboro in 2:56. He then fell to senior Drake Gamertsfelder of New Philadelphia, 4-3.
Junior Jayden LeBeau (182) went 1-2 at the District tournament.
After a 9-7 loss to senior Karter Jones of Tri-Valley, LeBeau beat sophomore Hunter Zizek of Sheridan by pin in 4:20. He then fell to junior Garrett Hilliard of Minerva, 11-9.
LeBeau finishes the season with a record of 16-8.
Senior Luke Anders went 1-2 at the District. After a first-round loss, Anders beat senior Dylan Keife of Warren by fall in 1:37. Anders lost in his next match to senior Myles Clark of Claymont, 11-0. Anders finishes the season with a record of 7-7.
The Division II State tournament will be held at Marengo Highland High School in Morrow County Saturday and Sunday.