Prep wrestling: 13 area athletes begin hunt for state titles in Columbus

Madison’s Devin Oligee grabs an opponent during a recent match. He’s headed for the Division III state tournament in Columbus at 170 pounds. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY GREG BILLING
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Madison’s Devin Oligee grabs an opponent during a recent match. He’s headed for the Division III state tournament in Columbus at 170 pounds. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY GREG BILLING

FRANKLIN — At the start of the season the Franklin High School wrestling room featured the Four Horsemen, the Wildcats’ four wrestlers with likely the best chance to reach the Division II state tournament.

Two remain. Together they hope to do a little damage in Columbus.

Junior Gage Johnson and sophomore Tyler Woods compete in the three-day tournament that starts Thursday at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center. Johnson qualified last season and Woods goes for the first time.

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Having Johnson’s experience should be a boost for Woods. The atmosphere is intimidating with 10 mats going at one time and thousands in the stands cheering. Last year’s state tournament drew 53,401 spectators for all three days. The attendance for Saturday’s championship matches was 12,271.

“When (Johnson) goes through the tunnel and walks out and sees all these people there, that’s a little shocking,” Franklin coach Matt Franklin said of Johnson’s initial reaction to walking out on the floor for the first time last season. “Now that he’s seen that, I think he knows he can wrestle those kids. Tyler is just going to go out there and experience it. Gage has talked to him a lot about it.”

Johnson enters the state meet 31-7 in the 170-pound weight class. Woods is 35-9 at 120. Both finished fourth at the D-II district tournament in Wilmington last week, claiming the fourth and final qualifying spot. That means they’ll have to wrestle a district champion in the first round.

Johnson went 0-2 at state last season. Both losses came to wrestlers who placed among the top eight in the state.

“He’s learned a lot from last year,” Franklin said. “He’s developed more from last year. Gage has always had raw talent and he’s physically gifted. I think just getting experience he’s able to compete at this high level. He can take down about any person in the state if he wants to. I think he’s got a real shot to make some noise this year.”

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Woods rebounded from a tough district tournament in 2018 where he lost both his matche by one point. That trend of close losses has continued. Franklin said Woods’ losses this season have been by mostly by one or two points.

“I’m hoping he gets a couple wins there. Tyler wrestles everybody tough,” Franklin said. “He’s got a very good shot at winning some matches and competing at that level. He’s kind of got that old-school Franklin attitude where he’s a little bit mean. I think that’s going to help him excel at state.”

The Wildcats have advanced at least one wrestler to state since 2011. They were hoping to qualify senior Logan Raney at 145 pounds and junior Jared Kremer at 182, who made up the other half of the Four Horsemen. Raney’s graduation leaves an opening on the Four Horsemen for next season.

“He was a true leader. He was kind of the one that held the team together that everyone looked up to,” Franklin said of his four-time district qualifier. “He went to every single practice and did exactly what he was supposed to.”

Thirteen wrestlers from eight area schools qualified for the state meet.

Fairfield leads with three qualifiers in Division I with senior Moustapha Bal (41-2 at 120), and brothers Jabari Thomas (39-2, 126) and Amar Thomas (41-4, 152).

Lebanon freshman Luke Marsh (38-9, 132) and Talawanda senior Sean Mondello (35-6, 160) also advanced in D-I.

In addition to Franklin in D-II, Ross qualified senior Logan Iams (42-5, 182) and junior Alex Coleman (45-3, 285) and Monroe sent sophomore Caleb Thomas (40-6, 106) and senior Sam Price (27-4, 152).

In D-III, Carlisle junior Justin Ritchie (33-12, 126) and Madison sophomore Devin Oligee (45-1, 170) qualified.