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Poland’s Smith heads to state as district champion

Staff photo / Joe Simon
Dillon Smith, right, of Poland wrestles against Johnny Black from Cleveland Central Catholic on Saturday. Smith pinned Black in the 195-pound Division II district final at Perry.

PERRY — Dillon Smith’s weekend started off strong and finished with a bang — or better put, a smack.

The Poland junior was a No. 3 seed going into a Division II Perry District wrestling tournament at Perry High School, meaning he took third at the sectional, and he was an admitted underdog at the district.

He won’t be an underdog at this week’s state tournament.

The 195-pound Smith shocked the field by winning four straight matches — including a first-period pin of Cleveland Central Catholic’s Johnny Black in the district championship match — to earn a berth in the state tournament.

He’ll see a familiar face at Marengo Highland High School, the site of the Division II state tournament, as 145-pound senior Jacob Caudle finished fourth to qualify as well. The top four finishers in each weight class advanced.

Reaching state is the pinnacle achievement for many wrestlers, and Smith couldn’t have asked for a better way to do it than by securing a pin in the district final.

“It was the most exciting thing that I’ve ever (accomplished),” said a grinning Smith of hearing the referee smack the mat to indicate a pin in the title match. “I took some lumps this year, so having that happen, it’s really exciting.”

He provided the lumps over the weekend, with three pins in his four victories.

Ranked 22nd in the state, Smith (30-8) upset Noah Peterson of Louisville in the semifinal round (Peterson beat Smith just last week in the sectional). That put Smith in the final and gave him a lot of confidence. He and Poland coach Jamie Jameson also liked the matchup with Black, who immediately went after Smith to start the match and had two leads in a wild first period.

“We didn’t know anything about him,” said Jameson, in his second year as coach of the Bulldogs. “We didn’t get a chance to watch him wrestle until semis. Once we saw that match, I knew. It plays right into our style. He’s longer, he’s heavy up top. He likes to roll, throw boots. (Smith) is just a funky kid. His hips are great. He loves that stuff. He loves rolling through. He loves catching kids (in bad positions), and it just played right into his wrestling.”

There was plenty of action in a match that only lasted 1 minute, 50 seconds.

Black, who was 22-3 entering the match, quickly took Smith down. Smith got a reversal, then Black answered with a reversal of his own, and that’s when things really got interesting. Smith caught Black out of position, earned another reversal and somehow managed to work in a half nelson. He finished with a double arm-bar and eventually secured the pin.

“I actually really favor that — the flipping and the reversals — that’s my strong point,” Smith said. “(The pinning combination) started off as a half, and then — he was really flexible with everything he did — and his arms bent back and I ended up locking (the arm-bar) up.”

Caudle took a different route.

He was a sectional champion and had to win three straight to earn his state berth after losing his quarterfinal bout. He did just that, winning 7-3 over Gavin Butler of Revere in the consolation semifinal round to secure his spot.

“The gameplan coming in was ‘short-term memory,’ ” Jameson said. “Whatever happens, it’s over. Don’t let it beat you twice. (Caudle) knew that. He was poised. He wrestled back one match at a time. That was the goal. I believed in him, and more importantly, he believed every second that he was going to get there. That belief system, with these young kids, it’s everything.”

The wave of emotions was evident throughout the gym, never more so than when Hubbard freshman Nick Bowser wrestled in the 285-pound consolation final.

Bowser already qualified for state when he locked up with Alistair Larson of Woodridge right of the whistle. As Bowser attempted a throw, his ankle got twisted, and he let out a scream as he landed on the mat, riving in pain. He had to be taken off the mat on a wheelchair. Eagles coach Ralph Streb said an initial diagnosis didn’t show a break, but it’s too early to tell.

Regardless of the injury, he was incredibly proud of Bowser, Hubbard’s first state qualifier since Tyler Lias in 2011.

“This is phenomenal — for him, our school, everyone,” said Streb, who added that he thinks Bowser is the first Hubbard freshman to reach state. “We haven’t had a state qualifier in long time. We’re so proud of him. That’s what his mom and dad kept telling him on the way (to the hospital) — no matter what happens, you are a state qualifier. He’s so upset, but in the same sense, we’re trying to keep his spirits up.”

The state tournament takes place Saturday and Sunday in three different locations. Division II is at Marengo Highland. Joining Bowser and the Poland duo are: Canfield sophomore Tyler Stricker (fourth place, 106 pounds), Salem senior Caiden Hart (fourth, 170), West Branch senior Kenny Marra (second, 220) and Howland junior Gage Gibson (second, 285).

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