“Happy…, but not satisfied.”
That’s how Aric Peters described his first trip to the state tournament as a competitor.
The Bethel-Tate 120-pound junior grappler challenged for a state title, reaching the state semifinals before losing to eventual state champion Garrett Hancock of Troy Christian. Peters was relegated to the consolation bracket where he won his first match and lost his second to finish in fourth place in the state.
Rewind to Thursday afternoon and the Division III first round. Peters, boasting a 35-4 record on the season, was in the annals of the Schottenstein Center for the first time as a competing member of the state tournament. Having been an alternate as a freshman and a spectator as a sophomore, Peters knew the stage and the size of the arena, but even that first-hand experience couldn’t prepare him for what it would be like to walk out of the tunnel in a Bethel-Tate singlet and headgear.
“Going into the weekend I was pretty excited,” Peters said. “It’s always been one of my goals since I started (wrestling) to make it to the state tournament. Getting there, I was pumped up and my weight was good.
“On Thursday when I wrestled my first match, I walked out of the tunnel and that’s when you realize how big the arena is. My feet just felt like they were a thousand pounds and I could barely breathe.”
Once he got on the mat, however, Peters felt more at home as he prepared for his first-round matchup with Navarre Fairless’ Charles Davis. Well prepared and ready to challenge for the title, Peters took a few periods to get himself calmed down. In fact, head coach Tom Donahue said Peters was so pumped up that the coaches had to remind him to do something that’s so commonplace, most of us don’t even think about it.
“He was a little hyped up. He was wrestling well and dominating the guy, but you could tell he was amped up (and forgetting to breathe), which is easy to do,” Donahue said. “Once you get those nerves going, that’s something that could sap your energy. We just had to calm him down a bit and get him to relax a bit and once he did that he was fine.”
Peters pinned Davis early in the third period to advance to the quarterfinals and, unbeknownst to him, wrestle for a spot on the podium.
Matched up with Swanton’s JD Reisinger, Peters said he didn’t consider the repressions the match would bear.
“Before the match I didn’t even think that — that if I win this match I place,” Peters explained. “I was just thinking about winning the whole thing, not really realizing if I win I place.”
Win and place is what he did. Another pin, this time in the second period secured Peters a spot in the state semifinals against Hancock.
“We wrestled Hancock’s match,” Donahue said of the semifinal. “I think we could have done a little bit better. The final score ended up 6-0, but we let Hancock control the tempo of the match, the pace of the match and the conditioning of the match. Aric wasn’t able to get off and get his shots and score his points the way he usually does because we played into Garrett’s strategy and the way he wrestled, but I think we’d do a better job the next time, just like we did with May.”
May, as in Michael May, the Southwest Ohio District champion who beat Peters in the district final a week earlier, was Peters’ first consolation match opponent. Both wrestler and coach learned from that 13-11 loss a week ago at Troy.
“(Wrestling May in the district) was very beneficial,” Donahue said. “May’s a different kind of wrestler. He’s lanky and funky. He hangs a lot and looks for cradles a lot and the first time you wrestle a kid like that, you’re typically in a good scoring position, but a lot of times you can’t take advantage of that because of the type of wrestler that May is.
“We were ready for that the second time around and made some adjustments for that during the week before state in the off chance that we saw him again, so it worked out for us.”
Peters got past his victor from a week prior, 5-3, and earned a spot in the third-place match against Evan Cheek of Milan Edison, obviously a top wrestler in the state, but one that many picked to be wrestling later Saturday evening in the state title match.
“Cheek’s a tough kid and one that a lot of people had picked as No. 1 in the state,” Donahue said. “It was 0-0 after the first period, then we went down, got turned in a cradle. I’m not sure Aric was quite ready for his strength on top, but Cheek went down in the third when we were down 3-0. We had our opportunities, we almost turned him a couple times, but couldn’t get the extra points.
“We’re right there. Aric was a little bit disappointed, but he’s got another year to prepare and he’s right there with the best in the state.”
Peters echoed his coach’s words.
“This really helps with motivating me,” Peters said of the experience. “I know exactly how it feels and I know what it’s like to be there. I’m happy that I placed at state, but I’m not satisfied at all. I just want to get back out there. I’m still hungry for it.”
Peters has earned a place in the pantheon of Bethel-Tate wrestling with his placement this season as well. Donahue relayed that the Tigers’ wrestling history is rich and full of state placers, but Peters acted as the end of a dry spell, becoming the first Bethel-Tate placer since 1998.
He will have another chance to pad that résumé next season when he returns for his senior season.
Division I state tournament: Glen Este’s Gage Branson didn’t fare as well as Peters in his inaugural state tournament appearance. The 113-pound junior Trojan fell in his first-round match to Grove City Central Crossing’s James Wimer and dropped to the consolation bracket.
A win over Daniel Clement of Solon earned Branson a second-round consolation match with Garrett Lambert of Strongsville. A 2-1 decision loss ended Branson’s season and a chance to place, but as a junior, he still has another chance to continue his climb up the state ranks.
“I think he’s going to have a great season next year,” Glen Este head coach Chris Redmond said. “He does a lot of summer wrestling. He travels all over the United States wrestling Greco Roman and freestyle. He doesn’t take any time off. I think with that kind of time on the mat and with him maturing another year, I look for his season next year to be even better than it was this year.”