By John Bassetti
Howland’s Gabe Stark won a championship at 145 and the Sharp brothers from West Branch — Connor (285) and Logan (220) — advanced to the state tournament along with seven other area wrestlers during Saturday’s action of the Divsion II district wrestling tournament at Alliance High School.
Canfield’s John Poullas (170), Howland’s David Brian Whisler (152), Jordan Radich (160) and Josh Grodesky (182) also qualified for state, as well as the Poland pair of Dante Ginnetti (106) and Mike Audi (170) and West Branch’s Kenneth Faulkner (152).
Connor Sharp becomes a three-time qualifier, while Stark repeats after placing fifth at state at 138 at the conclusion of the 2011-2012 season,
Logan Sharp, Poullas, Ginnetti, Audi, Whisler, Grodesky, Radich and Faulkner are first-time state qualifiers.
The Sharps, Poullas and Whisler were after district titles, while the rest were vying for third or fourth places.
The top four finishers in each weight class advance to Columbus.
Connor Sharp was in a district championship match for the first time after finishing fourth in districts as a sophomore and third as a junior.
On Saturday, Connor won his semifinal match by pinning Coventry’s Travis Gosnell in 1:12. Sharp said he also wrestled Gosnell as a sophomore, but didn’t remember much about the outcome.
“That was a long time ago,” said Sharp, who dropped his championship match to Perry’s Billy Miller.
Prior to Saturday night’s match against Miller, Connor said he wrestled him four times and won three of them.
Logan Sharp said that qualifying for state was “one of best feelings in the world” because watching Connor the last two years was frustrating, especially when Logan knew that he was barely losing wrestle-offs to his brother in practice.
To reach Saturday’s semifinals, the 17-year-old Logan, a junior, beat Conneaut’s Billy Post, 9-7, in sudden victory.
“The first one to score in the first one-minute overtime wins,” said Logan, who brought the match to a conclusion 40 seconds into the extra period.
Logan dropped to 220 after repeated close losses to his brother.
“As a sophomore heavyweight, I couldn’t beat Connor in wrestle-offs, so I decided to drop down to 220. I was barely making the 285 weight last year, so I was at a handicap,” said Logan, whose natural weight is 260.
“I just decided to start losing weight during football season and it worked out well,” said Logan, 22-6 after losing Saturday night’s title match to Norton’s Sean Rutherford.
In his semifinal match, Stark beat Hoban’s Michael Belknap, 8-2.
“It feels great to know all the work paid off,” said Stark, a senior.
Although he already qualified for Columbus before wrestling CVCA’s Jeff Hojnacki in the championship match, Stark said that “It’s a relief, but I’m still pumped up [to wrestle for the title Saturday night].” Stark won, 4-1.
Grodesky, a senior, lost his first match on Friday afternoon, then won four straight starting Friday night. On Saturday night, he was shooting for 4th-5th place.
In his state-qualifying match on Saturday, Grodesky beat Canfield’s Stan Socha via a 4-2 win in sudden victory. It came via pin with about 20 seconds remaining in the first extra period.
“I had a little juice left in the tank, while I feel I wore him out pretty good,” said Grodesky, who had two previous losses to Socha.
“The third time’s a charm,” said Grodesky (35-12), who gave much credit to the family of his teammate, Whisler.
“They help me a lot, especially with training in the summer.”
Socha, a junior, won his first two matches on Friday, then lost two, then won again for a 5th-place alternate spot.
Poullas, a senior, becomes Canfield’s first state qualifier since Robby Reed and Alex Benedict two years ago.
In the semifinals, Poullas beat Audi, 6-0.
The 170 bracket is a 3/4 replica of the West Branch sectional where Poullas, Audi and Brandon James of Southeast advanced to Alliance.
“It was definitely a challenging sectional,” Poullas said of three of the four state qualifiers at 170 coming through the West Branch tournament.
Poullas, the son of George and Tammy Poullas of Canfield, was 44-4 entering his title match against James.
Whisler, a sophomore, qualified for state by beating Lake Catholic’s Matt Ludwig, 3-1, in sudden victory.
“I was on offense most of the match and knew that if I kept up, I’d eventually get the takedown,” said Whisler (30-4).
“It feels awesome knowing that all the time I put in got me this far,” Whisler said of his reaction upon state qualification.
Although Poland is still a club sport and Ginnetti and Audi become the school’s first multiple state qualifiers, the Bulldogs had representation in Columbus when Max and Ben Pearce wrestled independently in the mid-2000’s.
In his match against West Branch’s Alec Schopfer, Ginnetti won 10-8, before losing to Field’s Cory Simpson via pin to decide 3rd-4th.
“It’s the best day of my life,” Ginnetti, a freshman, said of reaching state. “I start slow, then halfway through the first period I start to kick in and wrestle better.”
Audi, a junior, said that state qualification has a deeper meaning.
“Because we’re a new program, it brings some respectability against the better teams,” said Audi, whose record was 35-8 after losing to CVCA’s Tyler Maclellan, 1-0, on Saturday night.