MARENGO — The four Miami Trace Panthers wrestlers who competed in the Division II State tournament March 12 and 13 may never have heard of Marengo, Ohio, the site of the tournament, but they will doubtless never forget the experience of participating in the scaled-down State event.
Normally, it’s referred to as the Big Show, held in front of thousands of die-hard fans from all over the Buckeye State in Columbus at the Schottenstein Center.
Last year, there was no State tournament due to the COVID pandemic.
This year, it was decided to hold the event in three separate locations.
The Panthers sent four student-athletes to the State tournament, seniors Graham Carson (170) and Mcale Callahan (152) and juniors Weston Melvin (126) and Bryce Bennett (195).
Carson went 4-2 at the tournament, placing fifth.
Callahan went 2-3 at the tournament and placed eighth.
Melvin and Bennett both went 0-2 at the tournament.
Melvin began the tournament with a match against junior Jack Sparent of West Geauga. Sparent won this match, 15-0.
In his second match, Melvin faced senior Jayden Mayes of Bellevue. Mayes won the match by fall in 3:45.
For Bennett, he faced senior Hadyn Danals of Caledonia River Valley. Danals won the match by fall in 1:03.
In his second match, Bennett took on junior Noah Peterson of Louisville. Peterson won this match, 3-1 in overtime.
In his first match, Carson won a 9-1 major decision over sophomore Hunter Hutcheson of Madison Comprehensive.
Carson then lost a tough 7-6 decision to senior Jayden Jackson of Harvey.
In the consolation bracket, Carson defeated senior Simon Taraska of Lake Catholic, 11-4.
Carson then took on and defeated senior Timmy Greenhouse of St. Paris Graham, 6-4.
In his next match, Carson lost to senior Ethan Pappas of Steubenville, 5-2.
In his match for fifth place, Carson received a forfeit as Jackson of Harvey was injured and could not wrestle.
Callahan’s tournament began with a 7-3 win over sophomore John Metzger of Ashland.
In his next match, Callahan lost to junior Max Kirby of Fairless, 8-3 in overtime.
In the consolation rounds, Callahan took on senior Anthony Trivisonno of Lake Catholic. Callahan won this match, 9-2.
In his next match, Callahan lost to senior Tyler Muldrew of Steubenville, 6-0.
In his final match, for seventh place, Callahan lost to junior Cody Matthews of Marengo Highland, 4-3.
“I was very excited when I went,” Bennett said. “Just being able to participate, never having been there before, going up there with two of my best friends that I’ve ever had in this sport.
“It was a great time,” Bennett said. “I felt wonderful wrestling. Even though I did go two and out, I felt very proud of myself. I feel I wrestled to the best of my ability in both of my matches. My opponents were just superior athletes in those situations. It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it.”
Bennett spoke about what’s next for him, as far as athletics are concerned.
“I throw shot and disc for the track team,” Bennett said. “I’m also planning on continuing to stay around Graham and Cale. I plan on lifting a lot with them this summer; get stronger and of course, wrestling together. Even though they are graduating, we can all still wrestle together and make each other better; spend as much time together as we can.
“I’d definitely like to thank my mom and dad (Tiffany and Bruce Bennett),” Bennett said. “They’ve driven me all over the state to wrestle since I was an elementary-age kid. Thanks to the coaches for always pushing me to be the best that I can. Especially thanks to Graham and Cale for pushing me out of my comfort zone and getting me to become the wrestler that I am today.”
“Just all of my hard work paid off,” Callahan said. “That was my goal, to get on the podium, so, it felt really good. My sophomore year (at State) I got one win and I was close to placing. It felt good to get that win when it mattered. That’s all really good.
“It was a mixed feeling,” Callahan said, between nervousness and confidence. “I really wanted to place. It was weird not being out in the Schottenstein (Center). The high school (where the tournament was held) was really small.
“I’m definitely taking some time off the mat, after my injury and stuff,” Callahan said. “I need to get back to full strength. I’ll lift weights. I plan on doing track this spring, so, that’ll be fun.
“My parents (Mindy and Michael Callahan) obviously, have done a lot for me,” Callahan said. “My coaches have put in a lot of time, not just my high school coaches, a ton of other coaches everywhere I’ve gone. I also just thank God for the opportunity.”
“Going in, I thought I was going to be pretty good,” Melvin said. “But, after the tournament, I just figured I needed to work harder. There are a few things I need to (work) on.
“I was nervous, because it was my first time ever being there,” Melvin said. “This was just tough competition, so, I knew it was going to be difficult going in.
“I’m going to continue to do wrestling throughout the spring and summer,” Melvin said. “Going into the next season, preparing for this time next year. I hope the tournament is back at the Schottenstein (Center) next year. It’ll be a whole different atmosphere; it’ll be much better, I think.
“I’d like to thank my parents (Tabitha and Don Melvin), my coaches and my teammates,” Melvin said. “They helped me this year, a lot. I’m just grateful for it.”
“As far as nerves go, I really wasn’t nervous for any of my matches,” Carson said. “I feel like being at such a small venue, compared to the Schottenstein Center, maybe helped with a lot of the wrestlers’ nerves, especially mine. Going into big matches, it kind of felt nice to be in a smaller place with fewer eyes watching. But, at the same time, I would have liked to have been in the Schottenstein (Center). It would have been nice to have that big of a deal in the Schottenstein Center and get all the glory of all the fans seeing you.”
Carson spoke a bit about his first loss at State, 7-6 to Jayden Jackson of Harvey.
“It was a close one,” Carson said. “I got taken down to my back in the first period. Then, I battled all the way back and got two take-downs and a stall point. That made it 6-6. Then I let him up to take him down again and I wasn’t able to get the final take-down to take the lead.”
Beating a wrestler from Graham Local, the team that won the State title for an almost unbelievable 19th time in a row, has to be a little extra special.
“That’s the second time I’ve beaten that kid this year,” Carson said. “I beat him when we wrestled them at home, too.
“I lost to (Pappas of Steubenville) in the semifinals at Districts,” Carson said. “Both of them were really close matches. This one felt closer. In my semifinal at Districts, he kind of controlled the whole match. But, this time when I wrestled him, I was in on his legs. I kind of took him into deep water for a little bit. He was able to get two take-downs off my shots. It was a little unfortunate, but, I felt better about that loss than I did at Districts.”
This was Carson’s first time competing at the State tournament. He was a State alternate (placing fifth at the District meet) last year.
“I’m proud of the accomplishment,” Carson said. “All of the work I’ve put in over the years, it just felt really good for all of that to finally pay off and to finally get on the State podium. Deep down, I wish I could have placed higher, but I’m still proud to be able to place on the State podium out of I don’t know how many people in my weight class throughout the state. It’s still a great accomplishment.
“I definitely thank my mom and dad (Mike and Mary Ann Carson), they take me everywhere,” Carson said. “I’d like to thank all of the coaches I’ve had over the years, especially Ben Fondale, Jake Garringer and Jack Anders. Jack was the one who got me started in wrestling my seventh grade year. My freshman year was when I kind of fell in love with the sport. Those three were always there to help me whenever I needed help. They were there to help me improve.
“I was in the same room with Mcale and Douglas Terry (of Granville) who was runner-up at State at 152,” Carson said. “We were in the room with Joe Heskett, he was our coach two years ago. I’d like to thank Joe for helping me along. He helped me improve so much. And Kollin Moore this year, he helped me a lot, too. A big thank you to all of the coaches who’ve helped me during my high school career.”
Heskett graduated from Walsh Jesuit High School, where he won the State title three times.
He wrestled for Iowa State and won three Big 8 Conference championships. He also was the head coach for wrestling at Army. He is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Moore wrestled for Ohio State and is a Big Ten champion and three-time All-American.
“This week, I’m going to wrestle at a qualifier in Indianapolis,” Carson said. “It’s a recruiting showcase.” If he places in the top five, Carson will get to compete in another tournament in Iowa.
“After that, I’m going to kind of be done with wrestling folk-style,” Carson said. “Then, I will be focusing on track and field. I am hoping to wrestle in college. I haven’t decided where I’m going to go yet. Time will tell, I guess. We’ll just see which door God opens up for me.
“I know that Cale has verbally committed to Otterbein for wrestling,” Carson said.
“Weston qualified to State last year,” Miami Trace head coach Ben Fondale said. Along with then senior, Storm Duffy, that Panther duo was not able to compete due to the tournament being cancelled because of the COVID pandemic.
“It’s pretty tough to go to State more than once,” Fondale said. “It was good for Weston to accomplish that goal again of making it to State, being a District runner-up. There might have been a few butterflies or jitters left to get out.
“He’s going to be a senior next year,” Fondale said. “We’ve already set some goals to place at the State tournament next year. He’s going to put in a lot of work in the off-season. We’re going to work on some of the things we need to, such as getting better at the bottom position for him.”
“Cale’s been a solid kid for us for his entire career,” Fondale said. “He’s very consistent; he’s always putting in the work, throughout the year, whether it’s in the off-season or during the season; whether it’s in the wresting room or the weight room. His goal was to place (at State). I think it might have been to place a little higher. A couple of things didn’t go for us at the State tournament. It’s a tough place to wrestle your best. If you don’t wrestle your best and maybe you make one or two mistakes, it will end up costing you.
“I talked to Cale after his last match and he said, ‘coach, I gave it everything I had,’” Fondale said. “‘I couldn’t ask for more. I’m happy with my performance.’ As a coach, it’s good to hear that coming from even a senior, after his last high school match. I’m glad that he’s still holding his head up high. He should hold his head up high. He’s had a great career.”
Fondale turned his thoughts to Graham Carson.
“Graham was in a similar (situation) as Cale is,” Fondale said. “He put in a ton of work in the off-season and during the season; in the weight room, in the practice room. He started wrestling for us when he was in junior high. He’s come a really long way.
“His fifth place at the State tournament is a testament to how much time and effort he’s put in,” Fondale said. “He’s been very consistent with his performances and he’s gotten significantly better every year. We thought he might have had a shot to make it to the State finals, but, it was really good competition up there.
“We hit a rut in our quarterfinals match that set him back a little bit,” Fondale said. “He ended up bouncing back and beating the St. Paris Graham kid for the second time this year in a really good match that helped him get fifth place. We’re happy with his performance and he’s happy that all the hard work he’s put in paid off for him.
“That was Bryce’s first time going to the State tournament,” Fondale said. “He had set his goals pretty high for his junior year, and that was to make it to the State tournament. He did suffer an injury earlier in the year, but he was able to catch up and put in enough time and work to be in shape and be healthy enough to wrestle well at the District tournament and make it to State.
“He ran into a very tough kid in his first match,” Fondale said. “That was probably not the most fun match for someone for their first time at State. In his second match, he lost in overtime. He faced another good kid. Bryce has always been a pretty good overtime wrestler, as far as always putting the pressure on his opponent. He fell a little bit short. We’ve already talked to him, being a junior, about his goals going forward, to put in a lot of work in the off-season to kind of close the gaps, maybe work on his agility a little to get him where he needs to be so he can place at the State tournament next year.
“At the State tournament, you really have to be performing at your best and you have to really minimize mistakes,” Fondale said.
“I’m absolutely proud of these guys,” Fondale said. “As a coach and as wrestlers, you all consider yourself one big family, because you spend so much time together. There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad. You can really see these kids grow up and mature; supporting each other and having each other’s backs, on and off the mat.
“It’s tough to let the seniors go,” Fondale said. “At the same time, it’s a great feeling knowing that they really have a really good head on their shoulders. And we wish them well.
“With the juniors, you’re happy that you have them for one more year,” Fondale said. “This goes for the seniors, too; you never forget getting them as young wrestlers, as new members of your family; watching them grow and get better and get stronger, more mentally tough throughout the year.”