By Garth Shanklin
Two Williamsburg Wildcat wrestlers made history at the individual state wrestling tournament, held at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus from March 9-11.
Juniors Brian Stears and Wyatt Lefker both placed in the tournament, marking the first time in school history more than one wrestler has placed in a season. Stears posted a fourth-place finish in the 285-pound class, the highest finish for a Wildcat grappler since Keith Gregory placed third in 1991. Lefker placed eighth in the 152-pound division, marking his second appearance on a state podium in less than a year. Lefker placed sixth in the state in the pole vault at the 2016 track and field championships last June.
Neither wrestler had an easy path to the podium. Lefker was disqualified in his first match after a pair of illegal slams. The loss dropped Lefker to the consolation bracket, where he faced Ashland Mapleton’s Ian Maund. Lefker dominated the match, winning 6-0 to advance to the next round.
His next opponent was Galion Northmor senior Matthew Ross. Ross won his opening-round match 7-5 before falling to Oak Harbor’s Jake Huston. Again, Lefker dominated, pinning Ross in 1:36 to clinch a spot on the podium.
Lefker advanced to the consolation quarterfinals with the victory, where he fell to Smithville’s Riley Smucker in a 14-2 major decision to drop him to the seventh-place match. Defiance Tinora’s Bailey Slattman defeated Lefker 2-0 to end his tournament run.
Lefker finished the season 45-15 on the year, and said the season as a whole was above his expectations.
“It was a lot better than I thought,” Lefker said. “I started undefeated for the first two meets, then we went to a tough meet and I kind of got my butt handed to me. [Coach Dean] explained to me that it was a Division I meet, it was one of the toughest meets in the state. I didn’t think I’d make it this far, I never thought I’d be a state placer in wrestling as a junior.”
Williamsburg head coach Brandon Dean was happy with how Lefker’s season unfolded, noting that the team’s schedule was designed specifically to challenge the team’s two state placers.
“I think he did great,” Dean said. “I knew he was good enough to be a state placer going into the season, that’s why I set our schedule up the way I did. I knew going in that we were going to have a bit of a rough team year because we graduated all those seniors last year. We had some young kids coming through, but I also knew we had some state-level talent and we needed to get those kids to some tougher tournaments.”
The team was able to do just that, competing at several difficult tournaments throughout the tri-state area this past season.
“It worked out,” Dean said. “We went to the Coaches Classic, which is the toughest tournament in Cincinnati. We went to GMVWA up in Dayton, which is Dayton’s toughest tournament. We got to wrestle a lot of great kids that are up here this weekend, and see what we were going to see when we got here and it really paid of in the long run. We got them both up here and we got them both on the podium.”
Lefker has higher aspirations than just making the podium in his senior year.
“I’m going for gold next year, definitely,” Lefker said. “Nothing’s going to stop me.”
Next season’s goals aside, For Lefker, being apart of the first-ever duo to place in the same season for Williamsburg is “an honor.”
“I love the sport and everything, but I love winning a whole lot,”Lefker said. “It’s a really big accomplishment, to do something for the first time in 25 years and the first time ever with Brian [Stears]. It’s such an honor.”
Teammate Brian Stears had a bit of a revenge tour through the 285-pound class, according to his head coach
“He had a phenomenal year,” Dean said. “We went into the district tournament 42-3, all three of our losses were to state placers. We had a bad district tournament, we ended up fourth. We should’ve won it. He beat all three kids that finished ahead of him in the last three days at the state tournament.”.
Stears lost the first match of the state tournament to Defiance Tinora’s Derek Smith via pin with 15 seconds left. Stears led the match 5-4 until an attempted reverse failed, resulting in the pin. Smith ended up placing second in the tournament.
In the consolation bracket, Stears faced off against Smithville’s Joe Warren in his first match, which he won handily 8-1. The second match was more difficult. Stears drew Mechanicsburg’s Dylan Hartley in his next match. Hartley defeated Stears 3-2 in the third-place match at the district tournament earlier in the month, but Stears got the last laugh in the state tournament, taking Hartley down to win 3-1.
That victory set up another revenge match against Troy Christian’s Seth Douglas. Douglas defeated Stears 2-1 in the championship quarterfinals of the district tournament, but again Stears would earn revenge, defeating Douglas via pin in 3:32 to advance to the consolation semifinals.
He drew his third familiar opponent in that round: New Lebanon Dixie’s Cameron Coffman. Though the two never wrestled in the district tournament, Coffman won the title in Troy. Stears defeated him as well, earning a 3-0 decision and a trip to the third-place match.
His opponent was Martins Ferry’s Dom Wallace. The match was close, with each wrestler picking up a point in the second and third periods. Wallace took Stears down late, winning the match in a sudden 3-1 victory.
“I know he’s upset about that last match, but we lost to a good kid in overtime,” Dean said. “It could’ve gone either way.”
Dean added the Wildcats were aware of how high Stears could place entering the tournament, and noted next season could be something special for the heavyweight.
“We knew coming in that he had a shot of making the state finals,”Dean said. “He had a legit shot at being a state champion. His future’s bright, I fully expect going into next season he’ll be projected to be the state champion in heavyweight in Division III.”