By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Conneaut 220-pound wrestler Billy Post is not one to duck top-shelf competition. In fact, he’s more likely than not to seek out and challenge the best.
But that simply isn’t enough for Post. He also knows what he has to do in order to beat the best.
“If he were scared, you wouldn’t know it,” Conneaut coach Matt Bidwell said. “In order to be the best, you have to beat the best. You have to work harder than the kid you’re wrestling. He’s constantly telling himself that and asking me if the guys he will wrestle are working as hard as he is.
“It’s fun for me to coach him as keyed in as he is.”
That’s the kind of mindset that can carry a grappler to heights unknown entering the Division II Ohio State Wrestling Championships today at Ohio State’s Value City Arena.
The Division III wrestlers will jumpstart the action on 10 mats at 3 p.m. Division II will follow at 4:15 and the first session will conclude with Division I, which starts at 5:45. Session two will be the first round of consolation wrestling with Division III starting at 7:25, Division II going at 8 and Division I beginning at 8:45.
Post (45-3) will need to be at the top of his game right out of the gate as he is set to battle Greg Moray of Steubenville (34-0) in his first bout.
“(The record) doesn’t bother him,” Bidwell said. “The week before we wrestled Lakeside, he came to me and said Chuck (Morgan, a state qualifier in Division I for Lakeside) was ranked one or two in the state (and unbeaten at the time) and he wanted to go up to heavyweight to wrestle him.”
A competitor like Post can be a scary proposition for his opponents.
“He can be a very scary prospect,” Bidwell said. “He is a tough wrestler. If you don’t take him seriously, he’ll come out on top. I actually think he’d come out on top, anyway.”
Kyle Conel of Lakeside is four matches shy of a perfect 51-0 season. But he isn’t looking that far ahead as he enters the state tourney.
“He wants to take it one match at a time,” Lakeside coach Jerry Brady said. “Every time he gets on the mat, he puts his feet on the line, shakes hands and it’s time to go.
“(Value City Arena) is a bigger setting than he’s ever wrestled in. I hope it doesn’t affect him. He’ll take it one match at a time. He’ll put his feet on the line and be ready to go. That’s the way he’s going to take it.”
Conel (47-0) is set to open his pursuit of a championship against Moose Al-Najjar of North Olmsted (25-15) at 195 pounds.
“He’s been working since the fall to be the state champion,” Brady said. “He really didn’t have an offseason. He’s got tremendous talent, he’s a good, strong kid with heart. That combination of strength, skill and heart makes him a tough guy to beat. Period.”
Morgan, a favorite to reach the podium and the top-ranked Division I heavyweight at one point, will be facing an uphill battle in Columbus. The senior broke his hand just 12 seconds into the district championship match last weekend at Mentor.
“He tied up with the kid and got his finger caught in his headgear. The doctor said he’d probably have to have surgery as soon as the season ends,” Brady said. “He said that if Chuck can handle the pain, he can go ahead and wrestle. He’s not going to do further damage because it’s already broken.
“He can’t grip anything. Without his grip, he can’t grab hands, legs, ankles or the head.”
Morgan (45-2) will test the hand against Sam Burns (31-5) of Toledo St. Francis de Sales in the first round.
“He wants to try and compete,” Brady said. “There are a couple of really tough kids at heavyweight I’d like to have seen him go up against if he were healthy. He’ll still try and make the podium.
“He had a good career. He’s a talented kid. Anything short of a podium finish would be difficult to take because of the injury.”
Sean Szitas will be the first area competitor to take the mats at Ohio State and Grand Valley teammate Glenn Zaller won’t be far behind.
After losing their first two matches in Columbus a year ago, the two Mustangs are looking for a much better result this time around.
“It’s different for them (this year),” GV coach Steve Paratto said. “You can take the deer-in-the-headlights look out of their first match (this year). They’ve been there, seen it. They’re not going to be affected by their surroundings.”
In his tenure, Paratto has never had the same two wrestlers qualify for the state tournament in consecutive seasons.
“It’s great for the community to hear about,” Paratto said. “I think’s it’s helped the middle school and youth programs out. Word getting out can only help.”
Szitas (36-6) will battle Zach Wilson (45-1) of Bluffton in his opening match at 152. Zaller (40-3) will open against Jared Leasure (41-5) of Caldwell at 182.
“Sean has a pretty tough one in his first match,” Paratto said. “Glenn is set up for a tough second match. However they end up after their first matches, we don’t want it to be because they’re shellshocked.”
Perry has five wrestlers competing in Division II and not a single one of them will be happy with less than finishing on the podium.
“I know we talk about winning not being the most important thing,” Perry assistant Chris Bezzeg, filling in for coach Dave Rowan, said. “But they’re not going to be satisfied… they won’t be happy with just being there. (Most of them) have been down there before. The train will keep chugging along along until it either makes it to the station or comes off the track. Just being there is not enough.”
Bezzeg has done his best to keep things as normal as possible for Collin Dees (113), Aaran Gessic (132), Alec Schenk (160), Evan Nichols (195) and Billy Miller (heavyweight).
“They’re there for each other and the team,” Bezzeg said. “They feed off each other’s successes and they pull for each other. They’re not always the best of friends, but their brothers of their work ethic. They have a great relationship that way.
“It’s been vital to have that wrestling room atmosphere. We’ve even had other guys whose seasons are over coming in as extra drill partners. At practice, they’ve 16 of their own guys to work with. As a coach, it’s really fun to see that. It helps to have a routine and we’ve kep that routine through this last week.”
Dees (38-6) will take on Trent Duffy (45-5) of Washington Courthouse Miami Trace. Gessic (24-1) will match up with Kane Plaugher (26-4) of Lima Shawnee. Schenk (43-5) will go up against Chris Wilson (38-8) of Monroe.
Nichols (27-8) will welcome a match with Darren Scott (43-10) of Thorvnille Sheridan. Miller (41-2), the favorite to claim a state title, which would be the first in school history, will begin his quest against Kevin Phelps (41-13) of Wilmongton.
Riverside’s Nick Boggs, Jake Denman and Evan Rosborough will compete in Division I at 132, 160 and 220, respectively.
Boggs (43-5) first match will be with Nick Durieux (36-8) of Westerville North. Denman (30-9) will go up against Markell Wooden (39-4) of Dublin Coffman. Rosborough (39-2), project to be the state runnerup, will begin his journey against Nathan Martin of Vandalia Butler.
Nick Montgomery is making his third state appearance for Madison at 138 pounds in Division I. He is joined by teammate Jarrad Lasko at 126.
Lasko (27-8) will face Justin DeMicco (14-10) of Brecksville-Broadview Heights. Montgomery (15-1) will accept a challenge from Nick Durieux (36-8) of Westerville North.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.