The Miami Trace Panthers wrestling team has made it to their first-ever apperance at the State Dual Team Tournament.
Miami Trace won four matches to capture a Regional championship and a spot in the final eight at the State. The tournament is being contested at legendary St. John Arena on the campus of The Ohio State University beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday.
This is the fifth year for the dual team tournament.
Miami Trace hosted the first two rounds, beating Springfield Shawnee, 75-6 and the Washington Blue Lions, 43-31 on Jan. 25.
Then, on Feb. 1, the Panthers beat Logan Elm, 39-35 to advance to the Regional finals, where they defeated Whitehall-Yearling, 39-30.
The Panthers were seeded No. 8 in the State quarterfinals and are pitted against one of the best wrestling programs in the state in St. Paris Graham (seeded No. 1).
Other match-ups include: No. 5 Western Brown vs No. 4 Mentor Lake Catholic, No. 3 Carrollton vs No. 6 Ashland and No. 7 Peninsual Woodridge vs No. 2 Wauseon.
It will be the first time in school history that Miami Trace has wrestled a dual meet against Graham, although individuals from Miami Trace have wrestled individuals from Graham many times, including at the District and State tournaments through the years.
Graham is by far the top Division II wrestling program in Ohio in the 21st century.
The Falcons have won 16 State championships in a row at the individual tournament.
In 2000, the Falcons placed 15th at State. They won the State tournament beginning in 2001 and every year since.
Graham has also won the previous four State dual team tournament titles.
Graham has eight returning State placers from 2016, including two returning State champions.
This is the task, the challenge set before the Panther wrestlers.
The Record-Herald visited the Panthers’ wrestling room Thursday and spoke with the team’s three seniors and head coach, Ben Fondale.
Senior Chris Powell (170) is in his first year on the Panthers’ wrestling team.
“I do know that Graham is a pretty good wrestling team,” Powell said. “I think if we go out there and give it all we’ve got, we can beat them.”
Senior Jared Fenner (195) is in his fourth year on the Miami Trace wrestling team. He was a State-qualifier to the individual tournament last year.
“This will be the first kid I’ve ever wrestled from Graham,” Fenner said. “It’s a challenge, but, it’ll be fun to go out there. This is the first time we’ve ever been to the State duals, so, it’ll be a fun experience.
Senior Dereck Moore (152) is also in his fourth season as a Panther wrestler.
Moore wrestled a competitor from Graham earlier this season at the Greater Miami Valley Wrestling Association tournament.
“It’s the same kid, Rocky Jordan,” Moore said. “He’s a State champ.
“It’s like wrestling every other team,” Moore said. “We practice the same; there’s nothing different. Everyone is working hard, practicing hard, doing stuff right.”
“Graham’s a great team with a great wrestling tradition,” Fondale said. “You can’t forget the traditions that Miami Trace has, also. (Miami Trace) had a strong wrestling program before I came here, while I was wrestling in high school, Miami Trace has always had a strong, successful program.
“You can look at Graham’s accomplishments, and, yes, they’ve accomplished a lot,” Fondale said. “But, you can’t overlook the good things Miami Trace has done. That’s what we’ve talked with our kids about; it’s about the program here, it’s not necessarily about individuals.
“This (State dual) is a pretty rare oppourtunity,” Fondale said. “It’s one that we hope to continue in years to come, but, this is a pretty rare oppourtunity that we get.
“When we design our schedule, we try to go to some tough tournaments,” Fondale said. “We try to face good competition and this Sunday, we get to face another good, competitive team. This is what we want; we want the oppourtunity to prove ourselves, to wrestle the best. When you wrestle better competition, you prepare yourselves for Sectionals, Districts and State.
“We told our kids that they don’t have anything to lose,” Fondale said. “Miami Trace having the strong traditions that we do have, a lot of times, Miami Trace is the team to beat in certain tournaments and certain duals and the other team will wrestle us with the attitude of having nothing to lose.
“Now, we get to see that from the other side,” Fondale said. “Our kids are going to be prepared. They just have to block out things that have been said and done. Our kids have accomplished a lot themselves.”
The final South Central Ohio League wrestling tournament is set for Saturday, Feb. 18 at Hillsboro High School.
The Sectional tournament will be held Feb. 24 and 25 at Washington High School.
The District tournament is being contested at Wilmington High School March 1 and 2 and the State tournament will be at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University Thursday through Saturday, March 9-11.
Reach Chris Hoppes at 740-335-3611, ext. 1104, or on Twitter @choppes1