By Garth Shanklin
The Bethel-Tate Tigers wrestling team traveled to Columbus this past weekend to participate in the state dual tournament for the first time in school history. The eighth-seeded Tigers held an early lead against top-ranked Mechaniscburg, but in the end Bethel-Tate fell 49-25.
The Tigers won the first two matches of the dual. Zack Gutknecht defeated Mechanicsburg’s Dakota Lay in an 11-3 major decision to put the Tigers ahead 4-0. Trey Sander then pinned David Maxwell at 5:32 to give the Tigers a 10-0 lead.
Mechaincsburg answered by winning the next three matches. Ben Straud defeated Justin Royer 10-1, Tyler Wetzel pinned Mike Whittington in 1:07, and Robby Perkins was pinned by Alex Rhine in 1:50. Bethel-Tate trailed 16-10 at this point in the dual.
The Tigers tied the match at 16 with Matt Hall’s pin of Frank Magyar in the 138-pound class.
Mechanicsburg then went on a run. Tanner Smith pinned Jonah Blankenship in 1:02. Colt Yinger pinned Ryan Peters in 55 seconds, then Corey Bogan defeated Jordan Newberry in a 6-1 decision. After a forfeit by the Tigers at 170, Bethel-Tate’s Owen Holtke defeated Dustin Knapp in a 4-2 decision that took overtime to decide a winner.
Teammate Wyatt O’Neil followed Holtke’s win with a pin of Alex Walton in 5:25, putting the Tigers behind 37-25 with two matches left.
Dylan Hartman pinned Bradley Lewis in 1:18 in the 220-pound match. Dylan Hartley then pinned Kermit Beckworth to finish off the Mechanicsburg victory.
Bethel-Tate head coach Tom Donahue said he was happy with the way his team handled themselvs on the mat.
“I’m extremely proud of the way our team competed,” Donahue said. “We knew Mechanicsburg had 7 returning state qualifiers with 6 returning state placers and that we’d have our work cut out for us but the dual meet played out pretty much the way we expected up through the 152lb match. We were expecting to get wins at 106, 113, 138 and 195 and were expecting ‘swing matches’ that could go either way at 160, 182, 220 and 285…So we were right there battling toe to toe with the number one team in the state where if we pin in the last two matches, we tie 37-37 and it goes to criteria. I think our guys opened some eyes with how they fought.”
Donahue added that the trip to state was an experience that brought back memories of his wrestling career.
“It was an absolutely incredible experience,” Donahue said. “For me personally, the entire process brought back a ton of memories from when I was fortunate enough to wrestle in the old St. John Arena 28 years ago when the individual state tournament was held there. Everything, from the team send-off from the community to the welcome package at the hotel to the running of the tournament, was a great experience and something we were blessed to be a part of.”
The individual tournament is next on the table for the Tigers. Donahue hopes the experience the Tiger wrestlers got in Columbus serves as motivation to return.
“We have 4 or 5 guys that have a legitimate shot to be at least state qualifiers this year if they build off this momentum and keep improving,” Donahue said. “I’m hoping that this builds some confidence in our guys and that they realize they can compete with anyone in the state. I”m also hoping that getting to go through some of the logistics of a big tournament like this (like going through the weigh in process, wrestling on OSU’s campus, and even getting enough rest at the hotel) will help prepare our guys when their opportunity arises to be able to compete at the individual state tournament.”
The Tigers have several key wrestlers making impacts this season. Beckworth picked up his 100th career win at the Madeira Invitational in early January, according to Donahue. O’Neil currently sits at 99 career victories and could eclipse the 100-win mark as soon as Feb. 18, when the Tigers compete at New Richmond in the Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference tournament. In addition to the strong performance on the mats, the Tigers are also receiving support from the community.
“The support from the Bethel-Tate community was awesome,” Donahue said. “You expect most parents to make the two-hour trip to watch their kids wrestle but the fact that we packed a corner of that arena with several friends and families that aren’t involved in wrestling, that was overwhelming.”
Donahue said several other sports at the school sent support to Columbus, as well as some of his family members.
“We had families of boys basketball team members there, we had families of girls basketball team members there, my brother and his family came up from Cincinnati, my sister and her family came from West Virginia with my mother, we had former wrestling alumni, parents of former alumni, teachers, school board members, the principal, the AD and several others along with our normal support group cheering these young men on. I can’t thank them enough. That crowd, along with the send off through the halls of all the schools with the police and fire escort, helped create a wonderful memory that these guys will never forget.”