MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon’s Dane Cullen and Collin Riley, along with Utica’s Dylan Wheeler and Highland’s Mike Shepard lead an octet of area wrestlers who will attempt to gain a spot on the podium with the very best wrestlers in Ohio at the 2010 OHSAA State Wrestling Championships at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus this weekend.
All eight placed in the top four in last weekend’s district championships to qualify for a state berth.
Cullen, who lost the championship final to two-time state placer Nate Weeks of Marysville in a major decision, placed second among 215-pounders in the Division I Central District Championship at Hilliard Darby. For Cullen, who wrestled most of the year as a heavyweight, 215 is much easier.
“Actually, wrestling as a heavyweight made (215) a whole lot easier,” said Cullen. “Heavyweights are so much stronger than 215s. When you wrestle the heavier weights, it so much harder to control what you are doing with them on everything that you are trying to do. It also made me more comfortable on my shots. I knew I could make them and actually get the moves.”
Along with his coaches, Cullen has his friend, Josh Wright, who will work with him and follow him to the state tournament.
“Monday, I have to have a good, hard practice,” said Cullen. “This week they all have to be good practices to get me better and get me confident for the state.”
“Dane did an outstanding job,” said Mount Vernon coach John Brown. “Weeks was his first loss at 215. All of his other losses were as a heavyweight — state-ranked heavyweights. We started him at heavyweight to see if that would be a better fit for him and we wrestled some of the best heavyweights in the state and wrestled them close. It was just too much weight for us to carry. So we chose to go back down to 215, where it’s a more comfortable weight and everyone is his size.”
Riley dropped a close third-place final to a very tough Jay Kunzi of Watkins Memorial, 4-2. Kunzi is formerly of Mount Vernon.
“I won the first two matches over the weekend and they were real tough,” said Riley. “On Saturday, I wrestled in the semifinals against a kid from Thomas Worthington and I was beating him by three or four. In the last 10 seconds, he ends up switching and beating me. That brought me down to the consolation (bracket). When I wrestled Kunzi, I had him by two until about five seconds left. Then, he got me in a takedown so I ended up getting fourth.”
Riley knows that he can wrestle with the best, but he can’t afford to slow down this week and he won’t, with a little help from his teammates.
“I’m going to go as hard as I can in practice this week,” said Riley. “That’s my main goal. Kyle Horner and Nick Yashnyk are going to spar with me.”
Brown is amazed at Riley’s dramatic rise this season.
“Collin has gone from last year, wrestling on our jayvee to being an outstanding wrestler in a year,” said Brown. “If not for the last 22 seconds of his semifinal match, he was winning by three points. With 10 seconds left, he made a mistake, it cost four points and we lose by one. That was a hard one to swallow but he came back and won his next match. Then he met Kunzi, who was rated No. 1 in All-Metro, for third and fourth place. Collin had him 2-2 at the buzzer. Somehow, the referee decided there was two points that I didn’t see and we ended up losing that match too, supposedly, the best kid in the area. I told (Riley), ‘You ran with the big dogs this weekend and you did it.’”
The Yellow Jackets ended up ninth as a team with 52 points.
“That was an impressive performance, considering that everyone said we were in a rebuilding year,” said Brown. “We turned around with eight District qualifiers, two state placers and ninth in the District again. It was an impressive performance throughout, I think, coming down the stretch.”
Wheeler is one of three 130-pounders to go to the state from this area — each from a different division. Wheeler was runner up in the DIII district tournament at Heath. Scott Callerick of St. Clairesville stopped Wheeler, 13-8, in a close championship final. That loss was only his second of the season.
“(Getting a state berth) felt pretty good,” said Wheeler. “I accomplished a lot. In my second-round match, I ran into a bit of a wall. I had to think on my feet out there. I had to use my talent in a match and not just out-muscle everyone around. The more I got into the tournament, the tougher the competition got. I had to use a lot of my knowledge and know where my strong points were and where I needed to do my moves and not let them do theirs.”
Wheeler is always learning and this tournament was no exception.
“I found out that my neutral is not as good as I thought it was,” said Wheeler. “I can still be taken down, whenever. I did learn that I can think on my feet and actually come back in a match and win it. I also learned that I should go in there (confident) and not worry about a kid’s record or anything because I can hang with anyone. The whole field is level, now. It’s the state and everyone there is just the top.”
Shepard made it to the 130-pound DII final at Claymont High School, where he was pinned by Claymont’s Kyle Warner at 1:37. He goes to the state for the fourth time.
Highland coach Adam Gilmore said, “I think that Mike can definitely get on the podium this year. He needs to put together two wins, which I think he can do. It’s a three-day tournament and you have to put it all together. You have to get in there on Thursday and get the win. If you lose round one you have to come in that night and pick up your first round consolation match. We’ve just got to make sure he’s ready to go on Thursday afternoon.”
Also gaining a berth at the state is Loudonville’s Brent Allerding (215 in DIII), Johnstown’s Scotty Robinson (152 in DIII) along with Clear Fork’s Brandon O’Neill (171 in DIII) and Austin Maneese (140 in DIII) will head to the state as well.
Notes: Cullen and Riley also won All-Metro Awards and they were also honored at the annual OCC meeting.
“Weeks and Dane wound up 1-2 in the Metro meeting,” said Brown. “Weeks was No. 1 in the whole area and Dane was No. 2. That’s how much he was respected. There were two other District champs that Dane was thrown in ahead of, in other divisions. That’s what the area thinks of what he is capable of.”
Collin Riley was All-Metro Honorable Mention.
It’s a big boost for the whole Mount Vernon program.
“To have two kids like that, as either honorable mention and second team, yeah, that’s pretty good,” said Brown.
The OCC Awards saw the Jackets place five First Team winners. Aside from Riley and Cullen, the winners were Dylan Pauley (112), Jordan Montgomery (160) and Nate Fry (171). Incidentally, Cullen won the Metro as a 215-pounder, but he won the OCC award as a heavyweight.
OCC Second Team winner was Ceth Miller (189). Named to the third team were Nick Yashnyk (125) and Josh Wright (215). Fourth were Kyle Warner (140) and Alex Gamble (145). The Yellow Jackets were second as a team to Olentangy Orange in the conference.
“We grew up real quick,” said Brown of his young Yellow Jackets. “There were times, early in the season when we weren’t very good. It turned into one of the most rewarding seasons I’ve had because of the growth we had throughout the season. By the time it ended, we were a seasoned team.”