By ERIC MAUK
It has been nearly 30 years since Brad Gintert brought a high school wrestling state championship to Howland High School, but Gabe Stark will have six minutes tonight to restore the roar to the Tigers’ program.
Stark earned his first state finals berth Friday, taking a pair of hard-fought wins to advance to a Division II 145-pound state championship match. He moved to today’s title match with a 5-0 win over two-time state placer Max Rohskopf of Millersburg West Holmes, after pinning Nate Valentine of Wapakoneta in his first match of the day.
“I expected it. I worked for it,” Stark said after Friday’s victories at the Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University. “You go out there and you can’t have any doubt. He [Rohskopf] was ranked higher than I was, but you can’t think about that. It’s all mental, and I knew if I stayed focused, I would be in a good position to win.”
Stark took his advantage early in the semifinal bout, scoring a takedown that he turned into a three-point near fall to claim an early 5-0 lead. Stark nearly had his third pin in as many matches at the state tourney, but after a couple of attempts at a pinning maneuver were thwarted, he went back to his game plan.
“I pin a lot of kids and I got excited when I got him on his back,” Stark said. “But I tried a couple of moves to pin him and he had his post arm out so I just backed off a little and wrestled smarter. I had the advantage and I just worked on holding it.”
Leading 5-0, Stark started the third period from the bottom position as Rohskopf tried in vain to come up with a way to close the gap. But after Rohskopf failed to move Stark’s body, he went to the head, battering Stark with forearms and legal blows to the head to try and shake the Howland senior.
“He got frustrated and you’re not as good when you’re frustrated, so I was happy to see that,” Stark said. “Then with about 10 seconds left I could just tell that he gave up.”
Stark not only has raised hopes for a championship trophy in Howland, he also represents Tigers head coach Bill Beasom’s first shot at coaching a state champion. Beasom has been working with Stark for more than six years and was every bit as excited as Stark over the prospects of winning a title.
“He and I have been working together for six years and we figured it’s been more than 500 practices and to have it end up like this, I couldn’t be more excited,” Beasom saujd. “It means a lot to the program. Gabe came all the way through our program, he worked hard all summer, after practice and our kids will see now that if you put all that work in, it can pay off and you can get results.”
Stark will face Shelden Struble of Bryan, a senior who joined Stark on the award stand at the state tournament last year — placing seventh at 138 while Stark finished fifth.
Boardman’s Nick Mancini was the other area wrestler to have a shot at a state finals berth after Friday’s quarterfinals, moving to the semis with a 5-0 win over Cincinnati LaSalle’s Anthony Milano. The win advanced him to a meeting with Brecksville Broadview Heights’ senior Aaron Assad — the brother of the wrestler who knocked Mancini out of the tourney last year.
“I felt good going in, felt confident,” Mancini said. “I feel like I can beat anyone right now. I feel I am better than I was last year at this time. I’ve worked a lot harder in practice and worked harder on my weight management and it has made me stronger.”
Mancini and Assad spent a scoreless first period trying to knock each other off of their feet, but the Boardman grappler claimed the first point of the match with an escape to start the second round. He fought off a turning attempt from Assad to take his one-point advantage to the third period, but fell after Assad managed a late reversal to score a 2-1 victory.
“It’s a whole different Nick this year,” said Boardman head coach Dom Mancini, the wrestler’s father. “One of the biggest things you have to do in this sport is to handle adversity. He lost of a couple of matches earlier this year and he recovered so well that you could really see he had taken the next step in his maturity.”
Stark’s Howland teammate David Brian Whisler (152), Crestview’s Matt Hardenbrook (170) and West Branch heavyweight Connor Sharp will join Mancini as area wrestlers with a shot at finishing as high as third in today’s final rounds. Whisler lost his first match of the day, but bounced back with wins over Dover’s Nick Weininger and West Branch’s Kenneth Faulkner.
Sharp also lost his opener in what is called an “ultimate tiebreaker” with Franklin’s Chase Henderson, but came back with wins over Beau Harmon of Bellefountain Ben Logan and Drek Brumley of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. Hardenbrook kept his third-place hopes alive with wins over Joey Meek of West Salem Northwestern and Bobby Sunderhaus of Lima Central Catholic. Hardenbrook carried a 7-2 lead into the third period, but had to scramble at the end to thwart Sunderhaus’ comeback and hold on for a 9-8 win.
The final matches to determine state placing and state champions will take place today at the Schottenstein Center with wrestling starting at 10 a.m.