GALLIPOLIS — The Miami Trace Panthers sent 11 competitors to the Division II District wrestling tournament at Gallia Academy High School this past Friday and Saturday.
With 11 out of a possible 14 taking part, the Panthers felt they had a chance to win the District title.
They certainly were in the mix.
The team competition boiled down to five schools.
Minerva ended up winning the District with 139.5 points.
West Holmes was second with 134.5 points and Miami Trace was third with 131.5 points.
Beaver Local was fourth with 128.5 points and Indian Creeks was fifth with 121.5 points.
Miami Trace will be sending four of its team members to the State tournament at the Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University where the tournament will be held for the first time since the pre-COVID days of 2019.
Senior Weston Melvin went 4-0 to win the 144-pound District title and senior Kylan Knapp went 4-0 at 175 pounds to earn the championship.
Senior Bryce Bennett placed third at 215 pounds and freshman Lyric Dickerson placed fourth at 106 pounds.
Melvin started the District with a 4-2 win over Nathaniel Gibson of Union Local.
Next was a 4-0 decision over Isaiah Armstrong of Tri-Valley.
In the semifinals, Melvin pinned Tyler Beckley of Indian Valley in 4:36.
In the finals, Melvin won a 9-8 decision over C.J. Spencer of Indian Creek.
Knapp began with a pin of Tyler Virgin of Jackson in 1:09.
He then pinned Jaxon Burcher of Indian Valley in 1:48.
In the semifinals, Knapp won a 5-4 decision over Caden Kenworthy of Cambridge.
In the finals, Knapp earned a major decision of Brandon Kiser of Dover, 11-3.
Bennett began with a pin of Jimmy Hughes of Beaver Local in 1:08.
Bennett then lost a match, 5-2 to Elisha Baldridge of West Holmes.
He received a forfeit from Braxton Springer of Athens and he then pinned Charles Souther of Washington in 2:03.
Bennett pinned Gavin Dondzilla of Indian Creek in 1:33.
Bennett then had a rematch with Baldridge and won by a 5-2 decision.
Dickerson began his journey to State-qualification with a 23-7 tech fall of Vince Coleman of Zanesville.
Dickerson pinned Dane Fawcett of Claymont in 3:04.
In the semifinals, Dickerson lost to Landon Jenkins of Carrollton, 3-0.
Dickerson won a 12-5 decision over Layton Vennon of Unioto and in the match for third place, he was pinned by Ethan Burkhart of New Lexington.
At 120 pounds, Corbin Melvin went 3-2, placing sixth.
At 132 pounds, Riston LeBeau went 0-2.
At 138 pounds, Aiden Johnson went 2-2.
Asher LeBeau went 0-2 at 150 pounds.
Ethynn Munro went 1-2 at 157 pounds.
Vincent Munro went 2-2 at 165 pounds, placing sixth.
Jayden LeBeau placed fifth at 190 and is a State-alternate. He finished the tournament going 3-2.
“All of our guys came in wanting to be competitive,” Miami Trace head coach Ben Fondale said. “We had most of our guys reach their goals. We had a few who fell short of their goals, but they still brought their competitive nature. They understood the opportunity they had to place high at Districts and they didn’t want to squander it. We’re proud of their performance.
“Weston had a pretty tough weight class,” Fondale said. “He had a lot of close matches. He wrestled really well in his semifinals match. He had a tough kid from Indian Creek in the finals. He ended up wrestling him really well, commanding the match for the most part.”
This is Melvin’s third time qualifying to State. He didn’t get to compete at State in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“Kylan pretty much dominated his way through the whole weight class,” Fondale said. “His closest match was against the Cambridge wrestler. He ended up winning that match, 5-2. It was a pretty commanding performance by Kylan.
“Lyric Dickerson got fourth place as a freshman at 106 pounds,” Fondale said. “We liked the draw that he had. He had two really tough kids in his weight class. Our placement in the bracket allowed him the opportunity and he earned the opportunity to put himself in a good spot to make it (to State). He wrestled well. He had a couple of pins.
“He lost a really close match to the Carrollton wrestler, who is a very solid kid,” Fondale said. “He had to beat the Unioto wrestler to make it to the State tournament.
“Bryce Bennett placed third at 215,” Fondale said. “This will be Bryce’s second time at State. He made it to State last year. His goal this year has always been to be a State-placer.
“He had a really tough quarterfinals match with a kid from West Holmes that he lost to earlier this season,” Fondale said. “He ended up losing that match but winning all the way through the bottom part of the bracket to qualify to State. He pinned a really good Indian Creek kid to make it to State. It was nice he ended up changing his strategy a little bit and he ended up third instead of fourth.
“Jayden is a State-alternate this year,” Fondale said. “He finished fifth in the 190-pound weight class. Somebody in his weight class at our District has to either get hurt, not pass skin checks or not make weight, one of those things has to happen for him to make the State.
“Jayden had a good District tournament,” Fondale said. “He just had a few slip-ups. He wrestled hard. The effort was there. Sometimes you just fall a little bit short of your goals. He had a real good career.
“Weston and Bryce are returning State qualifiers,” Fondale said. “They’ve gotten those first-time State-qualifier feelings, those butterflies, out of the way. They’ve been wanting to place at State all year. They’re not going to be happy just qualifying to State. Their goal is to get on the podium; high on the podium, not just seventh or eighth.
“With Kylan, for somebody who dominated his way through the District tournament, there’s no reason he shouldn’t also place at the State tournament,” Fondale said. “I think he’s starting to gain confidence in himself. He’s starting to change his goals from State-qualifier to State-placer because he realizes where he’s at in his weight class.
“Lyric being a freshman, his goal was to make it to State,” Fondale said. “I’m not sure if he fully understood what that entailed. He worked real hard all season. He’s very coach-able. He does everything the coaches ask him to do, at practice and during his matches.
“The kids like being around him,” Fondale said. “I know he’s an underclassman, but, everybody’s friends with him on the team. In the District tournament, we were taking one match at a time in an effort to get to State. Now that he’s qualified to State, he’s redirecting his goals a little bit to win a couple of matches at State, at least.”
As for the team’s placement, Fondale said, “There really wasn’t one team that stood out above the other teams. It really came down to just a few placement matches, a couple of pins here and there.
“We had beaten West Holmes previously,” Fondale said. “And we competed with Minerva and we beat them at Cambridge. They just out-performed us at the District tournament.
“All three of our seniors should place at State,” Fondale said. “There’s a chance they could be in the top three. With Lyric, obviously our goal is to place. We’re not going up there just to make weight. We’re going up there to compete and he is a competitor.
Bryce Bennett went 0-2 at the State last season.
“In the first round (last year at State) I went up against the State runner-up,” Bennett said. “He pinned me in the first period. In the second match, I ran into a tough kid who just so happened to be wrestling better than me in that match.
“I split my first two matches this year at the District,” Bennett said. “I received a forfeit in my first match on Saturday. In my second match, I earned the 100th win of my high school career.
“I won my go-to match,” Bennett said. “In (the match for third place) I wrestled the exact same kid who beat me in the quarterfinals. I ended up beating him 5-2 for third place.
“My goal ever since the start of the season has been to place at State,” Bennett said. “Ever since I walked through those doors (to the wrestling room) in November, I’ve been working for my goal to place; to stand on the podium at State.
“If I win my first match Friday, I’m done until Saturday,” Bennett said. “If I lose my first match, I’ll have to wrestle later Friday. If I win my first two matches, I’ll place. I’m looking to be in the top six.”
“It was really nice for me, actually,” Dickerson said of his first experience at the District tournament. “I thought I did a lot better than I expected to do. I dominated more than I thought I was going to.
“I’m just happy to be (at State) as a freshman,” Dickerson said. “To even win a match there would be amazing to me. That’s pretty much all I hoped for this season. I’m happy with (qualifying to State).”
Knapp went 4-0 at the District tournament.
“That was part of the experience,” Knapp said. “Caden Kenworthy of Cambridge, he was ranked No. 4 in the State.” Knapp won that match, 5-4.
“There were two good kids I shouldn’t have beaten, but I did,” Knapp said. “It was surreal for a long time. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t expect to do that good. I just took it match by match.”
As for his hopes or expectations for State, Knapp said, “Like I said, (take it) match by match and try to get on the podium, definitely. Top four maybe; do the best I can.”
Weston Melvin is a three-time State-qualifier making his second appearance at State in as many years.
“It was pretty good,” Melvin said of his District tournament. “I went in there and wrestled like I know how to. I got it done. I had some really tough kids, but I still fought through.”
Melvin went 0-2 at State last season.
“I should do pretty well (at State),” Melvin said. “Some of the kids who are there I’ve already wrestled and done pretty well against. So, I’m hoping to come out with a few wins and a placement.”
Wrestling starts Friday at 3 p.m.
Editor’s note: The Washington Blue Lions have two wrestlers, seniors both, Mason Mustain (285) and Branton Dawes (126), heading to the State tournament.
The Record-Herald will have a story on them in our Wednesday edition.