By Chris Chaney
For some of the best wrestlers in Clermont County, the work on the mat doesn’t stop when the scholastic season ends.
Headed up by Bethel-Tate head coach Tom Donahue, six Clermont County wrestlers joined 25 of the best wrestlers from around the state to compete as the Ohio Freestyle Wrestling National Dual Team, sanctioned under USA Wrestling, at the Junior National Dual Tournament in Oklahoma City on June 27 and 28.
Bethel-Tate’s Aric Peters and BJ Ratcliff, Glen Este’s Brandon Hertel, Brandon Smith and Matt Sicurella and Williamsburg’s Patrick Keown all traveled as members of the team, but they weren’t chosen simply because the coach was familiar with them.
“We want to put the best team out there, so we recruit throughout the entire state of Ohio,” Donahue explained. “The majority of the guys that committed to the team, we talked to at the freestyle state tournament. But, there are a handful of wrestlers that don’t have a lot of experience with freestyle wrestling that did well during the high school season that we have on the team also.”
Freestyle wresting differs from folkstyle, the scholastic wrestling style used by the Ohio High School Athletic Association and schools around the country. Freestyle wrestling is scored differently and other skill sets are utilized, such as more emphasis being placed on wrestling while on your feet as opposed to on the mat.
After convening Monday morning, June 23 at Olentangy High School north of Columbus, Team Ohio made the more-than 14-hour drive to Pratt Community Junior College outside of Wichita, Kan. where they would work out together for a few days of training camp.
“We had three practices on Tuesday to get everybody’s weight in order and find out what they needed to drop to get where they needed to be,” Donahue explained. “We had to get everybody reacclimated to freestyle and then we worked on scoring techniques and did some live wrestling. When you get the best kids from across the state wrestling against one another, that’s a good experience.”
Traveling another four hours to Oklahoma City University for the tournament, Team Ohio won their first dual match over South Carolina on Friday, 49-19. Glen Este standout Gage Branson, who wrestles for Team Ohio at 120 pounds, was unable to compete and travel due to a back injury, forcing the team to forfeit the weight class in each match, costing them five points.
“We were able to beat South Carolina and then we had to wrestle six-time national champions, Illinois,” Donahue said. “We knew we’d be hard-pressed to beat them, but we put up a good fight (losing 44-23). That loss dropped us into the consolation side of our pool and the swing match that we lost that we could have won was against Kansas. If we would have beaten Kansas, we would have had a good chance to finish top-eight, which is All-American status.”
With the 45-23 loss to Kansas, Team Ohio was eliminated from top billing, but the team wrestled well through the remainder of the weekend notching victories over Indiana (42-25), Texas (43-27), Arkansas (42-18) and Connecticut (37-36). The team’s only other loss came in a close match against Iowa, 38-34.
“The whole reason I started doing this was to help get local kids to wrestle freestyle and get them to take trips like this,” Donahue said. “While the rules in freestyle are different, there are certain skills that transfer over into folkstyle that will help them out in the high school season.”
Donahue said that among the locals, Sicurella of Glen Este had the best tournament at National Duals, while Smith, Hertel and Peters also won some matches. For Williamsburg’s Keown, Donahue said that the experience of competing against the best wrestlers in the country, including practicing with Ohio’s Division I runner-up AJ Kowal of Princeton, is going to make him a better grappler in the years to come.
For Team Ohio, the rest of the freestyle season consists of the National Tournament in Fargo, N.D. in late July and then various camps and workouts around the area.
For more information about Ohio’s USA Wrestling teams, log on to their website at usawrestling-ohio.org.