By Josh Brown
TROY — The more things change, the more they stay the same for Jarred Ganger
For Ryan Ford, it was all about overcoming last year’s disappointment.
And for A.J. Ouellette, it was one more step towards a personal goal — with some vengeance for the team mixed in for good measure.
All in all, the Covington Buccaneers will send a school-record five wrestlers to next week’s state tournament, with Ganger, Ford and Ouellette all winning district championships at Saturday’s Division III district finals at Hobart Arena. Miami East had a pair of state qualifiers with one district runner-up, while Versailles had two district runneups advance to state as well.
The Buccs had qualified all 13 of their wrestlers to the district tournament, and on Saturday four of them ended up wrestling in championship matches and five of them finished in the top four to guarantee themselves state berths, while a grand total of six Covington wrestlers earned spots on the podium.
First up in the finals was Ganger (126), who won a state title for the Troy Christian Eagles last season. Before this season, though, he had though, he had Tommy John surgery and didn’t even know if he’d get the chance to defend the title.
Well, he did know.
“Coming back from the surgery, the docs said it’d probably be a year to recover,” Ganger said. “But I told them I was definitely coming back to defend my title. And as for switching schools, it is what it is. I just focus on my wrestling and my family.”
And Ganger was so focused that he never gave Versailles’ Matt Mangen a chance, winning with a 13-5 major decision. After all, Ganger knows what can happen — and even after winning a state title, going back never gets old.
“Anything can go at district,” he said. “Last year I finished third at district, then I beat the kid that beat me for the state title. Not everyone gets to go to state, so it’s always exciting.”
And arguably no one was more excited than Ford (132).
After finishing fifth at district and missing out on state entirely last year thanks to a pair of 1-0 losses, Ford won a narrow 3-1 overtime semifinal match over Chaminade Julienne’s Lyle Plummer to ensure his place at state this time around. He then faced Troy Christian’s Cody Ohnmeiss in the title match and held on for another 3-1 win, this time in regulation.
“Especially after last year, it’s amazing,” Ford said. “I knew my semifinal was going to be tough. I thought I’d be facing him in the final until I saw the bracket and saw that it’d be earlier. It’s great to finally make it (to state).
“I felt like I controlled the match (against Ohnmeiss). This was the third time I’ve wrestled him this year, and I took him down pretty easily the first two times. But he adjusted really well today, and it was a tough match.”
The two had met in the sectional title match just last week, which Ford won 9-3. This time, though, Ohnmeiss got Ford in trouble in the first period, but Ford was able to hold onto his opponent’s leg for the final minute of the period to keep the score 0-0.
“Just don’t let go, no matter what,” Ford said when asked what ran through his head. “Of course, you have to let go if it gets to be too much, but it never got to that point. He got me in that position and tried that both times before, but he hasn’t scored with it yet.”
After Ford went up 3-0 after two periods with an early escape and a late takedown in the second, it happened again in the third period — and again Ohnmeiss couldn’t break Ford’s grip on his leg.
Following that match, though, Covington’s next shot at a district title turned sour in the end.
Ben Miller (170) was trailing 3-0 heading into the third period, but a strong flip-reversal straight into a pinning situation proved to be a five-point swing. National Trail’s Zach Sullivan reversed his way out of it to tie the match at 5-5, and Miller couldn’t get the late escape in the closing seconds, sending the match into overtime.
A mere 11 seconds into that sudden-death period, Miller took Sullivan to the ground while both were falling out of bounds, seeming to end the match. But the officials ruled them out of bounds, stunning the Covington faithful. Sullivan capitalized, scoring a quick takedown immediately after the reset to steal a 7-5 victory, leaving Miller the runner-up — but still state-bound.
Two matches later, Ouellette (195) got the chance to wash the taste of that loss out of the team’s mouth.
“I wish I’d been 182 so I could’ve gone right after that,” Ouellette said. “Something like that happening gets you real pumped up to wrestle. It was important for the team (that Ouellette win).”
Ouellete scored an escape early in the second period to break the scoreless tie between he and Versailles’ Kyle Dieringer, then quickly took him down to grab a 3-0 edge — and he led 3-1 after two periods. Ouellette let Dieringer up to start the third then held him off for the full two minutes to claim a 3-2 victory and his first district title.
“I was third here last year, then I placed fourth at state,” Ouellette said. “This is the fifth time I’d wrestled (Dieringer) this year, and I’m 4-1 against him. He beat me at Versailles in front of his home crowd. I know all his takedowns, and he knows all of mine, so I knew this would be a low-scoring match.
“It’s sweet. This year has been the most fun ever. We’re taking five guys to state, which is a school record. And we brought 13 guys here to district, another school record — and the only reason we didn’t bring all 14 spots was because we didn’t have a 182-pounder. I’m so glad this all happened in my senior year. It’s just been the most fun.”
Daniel Jennings (152) also will be competing at the state tournament. He placed fourth, falling in his final match 6-4 to Deer Park’s Austin Siemon. Connor Ryan narrowly missed a trip to state, placing fifth with a 1-0 victory over Clinton-Massie’s Justin Gibbs to earn a spot as a state alternate.
“I’m proud of all of the kids, not just the champs,” Covington coach Tom Barbee said. “The ones that didn’t quite make it, they all made these champs in the wrestling room in practice. I’m very proud of each and every one of them.”
As a team, Covington finished second overall with 140.5 points behind district champ Dayton Christian’s 212.5.
Miami East’s Austin Rush (138) and Ben Ferguson (285) both qualified for the state meet, as well, and helped the Vikings finish 13th as a team with 49.5 points.
Ferguson rallied in his semifinal match against Spencerville’s Logan Vandemark, scoring a pin to punch his ticket to state. He finished as a district runner-up, falling 9-4 to Dayton Christian’s Nate Jackson.
And Rush, only recently back from a knee surgery, placed fourth, falling 11-2 to Clinton-Massie’s Davey Tunon — but still qualifying for state for the first time in his senior season.
“Our lone senior, just back from knee surgery, a two-time state alternate and he’s finally going,” Miami East coach Mark Rose said of Rush. “He’s only had eight practices since his surgery, and the sectional tournament was his first meet back. That’s a really impressive feat for him to get to state.
“Ben wrestled out of his mind at this tournament,” Rose said of Ferguson. “The guy he beat in the semis had beaten him just a month and a half ago, and then Ben pins him to get to state. I’m real proud of Ben, of Austin, of the whole team.”
Matt Mangen (126) and Kyle Dieringer (195) both finished second to advance for Versailles.
Mangen advanced to the finals by pinning Jake Guitterez of Catholic Central in 42 seconds before losing to Ganger in the finals.
Dieringer decisioned Jacob Campbell of Dixie 7-2 in the semifinals, before losing to Ouellette in the finals.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 440-5251 or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.