By BRAD BOURNIVAL
COLUMBUS â€” The only credentials Value City Arena cares about are the ones around the necks of media members. A sporting venue with a reverberant soul, it doesnâ€™t care if you come in with the moniker of state placer or state qualifier.
All it cares about is the fact you bring it every match at the 71st annual state wrestling tournament, and you bring it from the start.
Battling a week-long cold, Highlandâ€™s Bart Young, a 112-pounder who placed fifth in Division II last year, found that out the hard way as did teammate Steve Timoteo, a 152-pound returning state qualifier, in the opening round on Thursday.
Fellow classmates Jake Rininger (119) and Tyler Houska (215), on the other hand, never felt the pressure and as a result sit just one match away from being a state placer.
â€œHey, youâ€™ve got to prepare yourself here,â€ Highland coach Mark Savoia said. â€œYou canâ€™t come down here thinking youâ€™re going to win every match. Sometimes you have to wrestle for the moment.â€
Making his first state appearance, Rininger captured that moment with an upset win over returning state placer Mitch Thompson of Lisbon Beaver.
A third-place finisher at the Fostoria District last week, Rininger stumbled at first, but righted himself quickly to coast to a 9-4 win.
â€œAs soon as I stepped out and saw the lights, I got a little nervous,â€ said Rininger, who will face three-time state placer Johnny Papesh of Aurora in the quarterfinals today. â€œBut within a couple of seconds it felt normal. He took me down quick, but once I got myself up, I knew I had to get back in it and score.
â€œI surprised myself a lot today. Now Iâ€™m thinking one more match. Thatâ€™s the goal. To place at state. Iâ€™ve been wrestling phenomenal the last few weeks. This is huge for me.â€
The same can be said for Houska, who is also making his first appearance in Columbus.
A big win last week over projected state champ Matt Fisher of Sandusky Perkins gave Houska all the confidence he needed for state.
Whatâ€™s a few more lights in a bigger arena when youâ€™ve already beaten the projected best?
Houska came in and made short work of Chesterland West Geaugaâ€™s Zak Poucher, scoring an early takedown and then pinning the Wolverine senior in 1:36.
â€œItâ€™s a little bigger here than the last time I was in middle school states,â€ said Houska, who will see Lewiston Indian Lakeâ€™s Thomas Taylor in the quarterfinals today. â€œItâ€™s double the size, but itâ€™s not intimidating.
â€œOnce I went out there, it felt like I was wrestling another match. Iâ€™ve been against state quality competition before with (Barbertonâ€™s) Adam Cogar. I was ready for it.â€
Heading in, it appeared Young and Timoteo were ready for it as well, having competed in the grueling three-day event before.
But Young dropped a 4-3 decision to Washington Court House Miami Traceâ€™s Codey Neff and Timoteo got pinned by Canal Winchesterâ€™s Harrison Rosch.
Maybe Young was looking ahead to projected runner-up James Inghram of Hunting Valley University School, perhaps Timoteo was peaking around the corner at heavy favorite Coby Boyd of St. Paris Graham. Each would have been the duoâ€™s next match.
Now both will watch Young and Timoteo make their way through the consolation bracket.
â€œSometimes you have to wrestle for the now,â€ Savoia said. â€œSometimes you lose sight or focus. Your opponent wonâ€™t go away. Theyâ€™re there to win just like you.â€
Quarterfinal action starts this morning at 10:40Â with the semifinals slated for 6:30 p.m.
Bournival may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-721-4045.