Knights cap off record season by placing four on podium

Knights cap off record season by placing four on podium

Image Credit: Justin Smith

The West Holmes High School wrestling state qualifiers had a great weekend as 113-pound junior Mason Taylor earned state runner-up honors and seniors Brady Smith placed seventh at 106-pounds, while Dylan Strouse placed eighth at 138-pounds and Tucker Kaufman finished eighth at 144-pounds.

All stood on the top 8 podium with All-Ohio honors at the conclusion of the 2022 Ohio High School Athletic Association Div. II State Championship Tournament held March 11-13 at Value City Arena inside the Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus.

The four All-Ohioans sets a school mark for the West Holmes program.

In the team race, the Knights wound up eighth in the 98-team field scoring 39 points. That gave WHHS its fourth-ever top 10 team finish at the state tournament.

Taylor (3-1) faced St. Paris Graham freshman Brogan Tucker for the 113-pound state championship, but the talented Falcon freshman put Taylor in a 7-1 hole after two periods courtesy of a first-period takedown and a second-period escape and two takedowns sandwiched around a Taylor escape. The final period ticked off with no scoring from either wrestler.

To get to the championship tilt Taylor rolled to a 11-5 decision win over Joey Romano of Mentor Lake Catholic in Saturday evening’s championship semifinal. Taylor, now a two-time state placer, finished his junior season 46-6 with 20 falls.

“What a tournament for Mason Taylor,” Knights wrestling head coach Scott Vaughn said following Taylor’s state runner-up finish. “He has been on a roll the past four weeks. In his championship quarter and semi he avenged earlier losses from both of his opponents.

“As coaches, we knew when we saw his path, he had a chance, but knew it was going to be tough. He wrestled smart and aggressive all weekend. He controlled all his matches, other than in the finals. Considering his finals opponent was No. 9 ranked in the country, I think Mason put together a pretty good match. Mason won’t get much rest. He will be training for Junior Nationals that start in two weeks.”

Smith (3-2) scored his seventh-place finish by pinning Logan Dean of Bethel-Tate at the 1:57 mark. Smith scored a takedown late in the first period for a 2-0 lead. Choosing bottom to start the second period, Smith worked a quick escape followed by another takedown and then the eventual pin. Smith wraps up his senior campaign at 42-3 with 22 falls. Smith completes his high school career 80-14 with 37 falls and two state appearances in only 3 years of wrestling.

“Brady got an opportunity to end his career with a win,” Vaughn said. “That is something that a lot of athletes don’t get to do. It is also impressive that he ended his third overall season as a two-time state qualifier and seventh-place state finisher. As someone that has dedicated their life to the sport, it is insane to think about what Brady has accomplished in such a short amount of time. That speaks volumes as to how much work he has put in these past three years.”

A win in their final high school wrestling match wasn’t meant to be for Strouse (2-3, one fall) or Kaufman (2-3, one fall). Strouse lost a 7-2 decision to Jack Sparent of West Geauga, while Kaufman dropped a heart-breaking 7-6 decision to Cade Cass of Cloverleaf.

Strouse ends his senior season 35-9 with 25 falls. In his four-year high school career, Strouse finishes with a record of 117-46 with 69 pins and two state tournament berths. His 69 fall wins puts him seventh on the school’s Top 10 list in that category.

“Dylan Strouse, eighth place, what an accomplishment,” Vaughn said of his four-year starter and team co-captain. “Dylan has come a long way in his four years. I am proud of how much he has grown. Dylan never gives up, even when things are stacked against him. He has put a lot of time into this sport to achieve such a special accomplishment.”

Kaufman’s match with Cass was a back-and-forth affair not decided until the final horn. Kaufman trailed 2-0 after a Cass first period takedown but came roaring back in the second stanza scoring five points via a reversal and three point near-fall to lead 5-2 after two periods. Cass escaped Kaufman early in the third period then scored a takedown with less than a minute left to knot the score at 5-5. Kaufman got an escape with :45 remaining to go ahead 6-5 but Cass was awarded a takedown as the buzzer sounded to win the bout.

Kaufman ends the season with a mark of 43-6 and 32 falls. For his career Kaufman finishes 150-37 with 110 pins and two state tournament trips. His career wins, pins and winning percentage place him sixth in wins, second in pins, and eighth in winning percentage among the school’s all-time top 10.

“Tucker has learned a lot of life lessons in his high school career that I think will carry over to him being a successful citizen,” Vaughn said of the 4-year letterwinner and team co-captain. “Like Dylan, he has put a lot of time into this sport and placing at the Ohio state tournament is not an easy thing to achieve. He is still deciding on whether he is going to play football or wrestle in college, I think he will be successful at whichever he chooses.”

Unfortunately for the Knights fifth state qualifier, junior 215-pounder Elisha Baldridge came up one win shy of a top eight finish dropping a heart breaking 2-1 decision to Bryce Bennett of Miami Trace in the consolation second round Saturday afternoon. Baldridge finishes his junior season at 31-11 with 21 wins by fall.

“Elisha had an amazing and young weight class,” Vaughn said. “I am proud of how much ‘E’ improved from last year, going from a state alternate to a qualifier. He nearly placed. I can’t wait to see what he is able to do next year.”

During Saturday morning’s wrestling, Taylor punched his ticket to a podium finish with a come from behind 7–4 decision win over Kolten Barker of Louisville in the championship quarterfinals.

Smith, Strouse and Kaufman all did the same, scoring consolation second round victories to earn their first All-Ohio status. Smith eked out a 3–2 decision win over Ethan Burkhart of New Lexington; Strouse nailed Cohen Bunting of John Glenn by fall at 4:57; and Kaufman earned a 11–6 decision triumph over Calvin Rowan of Perry.

“It was so nice to be back at the ‘Schott’,” Vaughn said. “Last year did not feel like the state tournament with it being at (Marengo) Highland High School. I was very thankful that all these boys got to experience this.

“There is no other state tournament in the country that puts a show on like the OHSAA does for the wrestling state tournament. I am so proud of how these kids competed. Not only all the kids wrestling this weekend, but our team. This weekend capped a great season.”

Knights notes

—Kaufman reached a high school wrestling pinnacle with 150 career wins. Kaufman established the mark when he sewed up All-Ohio status with his 11-6 decision victory in the consolation second round.

—With Taylor, Smith, Strouse and Kaufman all earning top 8 podium places, they set a new school record for most state placers in a season. The previous record was three placers set in 2000 (Alex Baker, Chris Hart, Clif Hummel) and then tied by 2004 placers (George Kerr, Clint Sponseller, Scott Vaughn); 2007 placers (Colton Collett, Colt Sponseller, Tyler Hawkins); and 2012 placers (Max Rohskopf, Justin Stitzlein, Marshall Overholt).

—Taylor’s runner-up finish makes him the fifth Knight in school history to snare state runner-up honors. Others to earn the state championship silver medal for WHHS were Clint Carmony (2001); now Knights wrestling head coach Scott Vaughn (2004); Cole Woods (2014); and Cael Woods (2019).

The 2022 Knights became the fourth team in school history to finish in the top 10 team race at the state tournament joining the 2004 squad (seventh); 2008 team (eighth); and 2006 team (10th).

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