The Miami Trace Panthers wrestling program just keeps on rolling.
The Panthers completed their fourth consecutive Frontier Athletic Conference championship with a win of the conference tournament, held at Washington High School, Friday, Feb. 12.
Miami Trace had already gone 5-0 in conference dual meets during the season.
They proved, again, that they have the best wrestling program in the conference as they scored 237.5 team points in the tournament.
The Washington Blue Lions placed second during the season, going 4-1 and finished second in the tournament with 142 team points.
Hillsboro was third in the tournament with 113 points, followed by Chillicothe with 84 points, Jackson with 79 and McClain with 58 points.
The Panthers had nine conference champions out of the 14 weight classes: Corbin Melvin, 106; Weston Melvin, 126; Riston LeBeau, 132; Asher LeBeau, 145; Mcale Callahan, 152; Vincent Munro, 160; Kylan Knapp, 170; Graham Carson, 182, and Luke Anders, 220.
Titus Lehr (113) and Jayden LeBeau (195) were conference runners-up.
The Washington Blue Lions had two FAC champions: Branton Dawes at 120 pounds and Mason Mustain at 285 pounds. There were three runners-up for the Blue Lions: Jared Kuhn, 170; Brayden Kettles, 182 and Brady Rohrer, 220.
Three other schools each had one weight class champion: Kaiden Boris, Hillsboro (113); Cody Brown, Jackson (138) and Justin Kegley, McClain (195).
The weather delays leading up to the tournament finally taking place did not deter the Panthers from their goal of another conference title.
“With the rescheduling of the tournament, our guys were still able to remain focused,” Miami Trace head coach Ben Fondale said.
“The kids really support one another,” Fondale said. “It was nice to see kids who weren’t wrestling were watching their teammates, cheering them on.”
Speaking of Jayden LeBeau’s match against Justin Kegley of McClain, Fondale said, “Sometimes you have a good match and you just get caught; you make one little mistake and that’s enough.
“Riston LeBeau had a really good win in overtime,” Fondale said of the Panthers’ 132-pounder defeating Blake Sheeter of Jackson, 4-2 in overtime in the championship match. That was probably one of the most exciting matches of the night.”
Eight of Miami Trace’s nine first-place matches were concluded by pin, including two in under one minute (Corbin Melvin at 106 and Mcale Callahan at 152).
“We plan on having a little bit of fun at the next practice we’re allowed to have,” Fondale said. “Just kind of slow things down a little bit. But, after that, we’re going to get right back after it. We’re trying to peak now that we’re (near) the end of the season. We want to be performing at our best.”
Washington High School will be the site of the Division II Sectional tournament Saturday, Feb. 27.
This year’s tournament will be divided into two sessions, with wrestlers from 106 pounds to 145 pounds competing in the first session, beginning at 9 a.m.
The second half of the Sectional (from 152 pounds through heavyweight) will be contested starting around 3 p.m. on the 27th.
Fondale was asked how he thinks his wrestlers will fare at the Sectional. The top four placers in each weight class advance to the District tournament, which is scheduled for March 5 and 6 at Gallia Academy High School in Gallipolis.
“I would say that everybody in our line-up has a chance to advance,” Fondale said. “That would be 13, because we don’t have a 120-pounder. I don’t see any gaps in our line-up. Our plan is to have everyone make it out (to Districts). It’s a realistic goal for everyone to be a District qualifier.
“Our next team goal is to be Sectional champions,” Fondale said.
“We were really happy with the way we competed,” Washington Blue Lion head coach Louis Reid said. “We knew going in that it would take a tremendous team effort in order to beat Miami Trace. Every year, year-in and year-out, they are the team to beat until someone knocks them off.
“This year was no different,” Reid said. “It’s one of the top Trace teams I’ve seen. I can’t say it’s not the best, but, it’s one of the better Trace teams I’ve seen. I think it’s their best sports program out there, year-in and year-out. They’ve won so many FAC and SCOL titles.
“We were disappointed that Branton Dawes (120 pounds) did not get a match,” Reid said. “For the league meet, people either went up a weight class or down a weight class. There’s nothing we can do about that.
“That is Branton’s third league title,” Reid said. “He moves into an exclusive category there. We haven’t had many kids that have won three league titles.
“This is Mason’s first-ever league title,” Reid said. “He’s been second the past two years. He’s always been in a tough weight class. He won in dominating fashion. He now has 99 career wins.
“Mason’s dad (Todd Mustain) won two or three league titles back in the BAC (Buckeye Athletic Conference) and Collier Brown and Blanton Brown are the only other father-son duo to win conference titles,” Reid said. “It was great for assistant coach Mustain to see his son win it.”
Reid commented on the split session format for the Sectional tournament (as mentioned above).
“The upper weight kids can’t be there at the same time as the lower weights,” Reid said. “That’s a huge difference. You’re used to all of your teammates being there and for the Sectional, they won’t be.”
It will soon be one year since the wrestling tournaments were cancelled following the District tournaments, leaving many State-qualifiers to wonder what might have been.
“We had a State-alternate last year (Dawes),” Reid said. “So, that snapped our streak of, I believe, 10 straight years of having at least one State-qualifier. So, we’re looking to start a new streak this year. Branton lost in the championship semifinals at Districts to a returning State-placer. Then he lost in the consolation semifinals to another State-placer.”
As for this year’s prognostication for the Sectional, Reid had these thoughts:
“We’re hoping to have anywhere from 10 to the whole team (qualify to Districts),” Reid said. “Last year, we had 12 District qualifiers. Our team is starting to peak at the right time. We talk about our team trusting the process. We’ve been doing some fundamental drilling and our kids are listening and beginning to pick it up.
“At the league tournament, we saw all of our kids, pretty much, step up,” Reid said. “We were excited to see that. Almost all of our kids picked up at least one win at the league meet. We have some kids who aren’t wrestling at the right weight classes. They wrestled up a weight class, just to give us a chance to try and win a league title.
“For the Sectional, everyone will be at their proper weight class,” Reid said. “Hopefully the team is firing on all cylinders heading into the Sectional.
“Jared Kuhn, one of our seniors and a returning District qualifier, I was really happy with him at the league meet,” Reid said. “He’s come a long way. He finished second. He’s come a long way from his freshman year. His hard work is paying off for him. It’s going to pay off for you sooner, rather than later, if you keep working hard. We’re really proud of him. We’re excited for his progress.”