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Seven Big Red wrestlers headed to Columbus chasing state titles

ALL SMILES — Anthony Rice smiles as the final seconds of his district championship win Saturday at the Division II Tournament at Heath High School. (Staff Photo)

HEATH — Sixteen local wrestlers came to the Division II District Tournament at Heath Friday and Saturday looking for a spot at this week’s state tournament. Seven found what they were looking for. All seven donned Big Red singlets, as Steubenville had two wrestlers win district crowns, three finish as district runner-ups, one wrestler take third and one fight to a fourth-place finish, as Big Red advanced 50 percent of its lineup to Columbus.

“We had seven of our 14 weight classes make it to the state tournament,” Big Red coach Mike Blackburn said. “That’s pretty good. We would have liked to send more on, but overall we had a pretty good couple two weeks, and we had a lot of kids step up and do what we expected them to do.”

Senior Anthony Rice defended last year’s district title with a 15-10 decision over Licking Valley’s Dylan Dodson for the 152-pound crown. Rice recorded a pin and a major on his way to the championship. Sophomore Tyler Muldrew won the other district title for Big Red by turning away Indian Valley’s Brady O’Connor with a 13-1 major decision at 132. Muldrew’s closest match of the tournament was a 6-0 win in the quarterfinals.

“That’s what they wanted,” Blackburn said of the district titles. “That’s the goal for all of our wrestlers when we get here. I was happy for Anthony and Tyler. They both wrestled hard, had a great tournament and it paid off with district championships.”

Tyler’s brother, Jacson, also advanced to the finals, but dropped a 6-3 decision to Micah Woods of Bishop Hartley. Jacson had two pins and a decision to pave his way to the 138-pound championship match.

Keith Bodnar, Big Red’s 195-pounder, followed up his 100th career win on Friday with a second-place finish on Saturday. Bodnar took on Hartley’s Griffith Rathburn in the title bout, but ended up on the bottom of a 2-1 heartbreaker. The junior had two pins on Friday and 6-2 victory in the semifinals to earn his first trip to the state tournament.

At 126, senior Peyton Blasko couldn’t follow up his OVAC and sectional crowns with a district title. No. 2 state-ranked Blasko fell to top-ranked Peyton Kellar of Warren Vincent in a 7-2 final. Blasko earned his spot in the finals with two pins — including one in 38 seconds — and a major decision.

Junior David Tuttle just missed out on a district championship berth when he lost his 182-pound semifinal in sudden victory to Keegan Vanmeter of Granville. Vanmeter went on to win the district title by major decision. Tuttle, meanwhile, wrestled back for a third-place finish, defeating Sheridan’s Chance King, 7-1, in the consolation finals.

Ethan Pappas battled back for fourth place after falling in the 160-pound semifinals. Pappas survived the blood round with a win over Brenden Severs of Beaver Local. It was the fourth time this season the two wrestlers met on the mat. The first meeting came in the OVAC finals where Severs prevailed. They met again in a dual at Big Red with Severs holding Pappas off for a second time. But in the sectional finals, Pappas came away with the win. He made it two-in-a-row over Severs with a 6-2 decision in Saturday’s consolation semifinals. Pappas went on to lose to Zach Love of Indian Valley, but his fourth-place finish was enough to send the sophomore back to Columbus for the second year in a row. Pappas opened the tournament with a pin and major decision on Friday.

Other Big Red wrestlers had strong showings in the district but fell short in their state-qualifying bids. Senior Bill Murray, a fourth-seed, pulled off a first-round upset of Buckeye Valley’s Ethan Szanati, the sectional champion from Licking Valley. Murray wrestled all the way to the semifinals before taking his first loss of the tournament. He would finish in sixth place as a second state alternate. Fellow Big Red senior Zane Minella also competed at the district, winning on Friday but falling short on Day 2.

“Bill and Zane both finished their careers with us today, but have a lot to be proud of,” Blackburn said. “Bill stepped up when we had an injury in the lineup and made the most of it. And Zane has been a big part of our team and lineup for years. He is an OVAC placer and four-year starter for us. It will be hard to replace both of those guys.”

While Murray and Minella closed the book on their Steubenville careers, Big Red’s other district qualifier, Anthony Shevlin, just kicked his off. The freshman hung tough in his first district tournament, nearly pulling off an upset of his own in the first round and dropping a closely-contested match in his second match.

The OHSAA State Wrestling Championships begin Thursday at Ohio State University and continue through Saturday.

To prepare, Blackburn doesn’t plan to change what has been working all season.

“We’re going into this week, the same way we do every week,” he said. “We’re not going to change anything. Our attitude remains the same. We want to get after it at practice, wrestle with high expectations and go win two in Columbus.”

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