JACKSON TWP. State championship celebrations are typically noisy, energetic affairs.
Teams and athletes who battle all year long and cash in on years of hard work by hoisting a state championship trophy tend to cut loose once they reach their goal, but Jackson senior wrestler Victor Marcelli, his coaches, teammates and family didn’t exactly go crazy after he claimed the Division I state title at 182 pounds.
"It was pretty quiet, some light conversation but that’s about it," Marcelli said with a smile of the van ride back from Columbus.
"We drove home and got home around 3 a.m. and were all so tired. Both of these guys, him and his dad, were on the phone the whole time bombarding them with congratulations," Jackson head coach Joe Knopick said. "It was neat to see people excited to witness somebody like Vic, who does things the right way, achieve the success at that level and truly get what he deserves. In our sport, it’s not always what you deserve, it’s what you get."
Marcelli and teammate Tyler Tolarchyk represented the program at the state tournament, with Marcelli topping the podium in his weight class and Tolarchyk going 1-2, bowing out in the second round of the consolation bracket at 170 pounds. The duo spent the season as training partners and being able to make the trip to Columbus together after putting in hours and hours of hard work together made it all the more fulfilling.
"It was definitely special to be in the tournament together because of all the hours we’ve put in together throughout the year, outside of practice and in practice," Tolarchyk said.
A state championship has been in Marcelli’s crosshairs throughout high school. He entered high school with high expectations as he sought to follow in the footsteps of his father Bryan and brother Lucas, who passed away three and a half years ago in a plane crash after a standout career at Jackson. Throughout his career, Marcelli battled injuries and spent plenty of time working his way back onto the mat.
He reached the state tournament a year ago, placing sixth, and came into his senior season locked in on making his last shot at a gold medal count. When it finally happened and his 3-1 win over Trevor Lawson of Powell Olentangy Liberty became final, a wave of emotions washed over him and his brother also came to mind.
"I knew that I made him proud. It was a huge goal of his … he came up short, but I know that more than anything, he would have wanted me to win a state title," Marcelli said. "I looked back at the clock and I saw there was like six seconds left, and it was pretty much like, ‘I got it,’ then after time ran out, my mind went blank. I felt awesome, like all the weight in the world had been lifted off my shoulders … it was the happiest moment of my life."
Days after the last match of his high school career, Marcelli still carries the battle scars of the state tournament, including a gash over his left eye sustained from a fall just off the edge of the mat. The scrapes, bumps and bruises are part of life for a wrestler and given the way his high school career ended, they’re badges of honor in a way. Knopick, who is in his fourth season at the helm for the Polar Bears, credited his two senior standouts with applying what they’ve been taught and using it to go as far as they could this season.
"It was really more of the same, what these guys have been doing their whole careers. These are guys that have mastered the process that has been taught to them by their coaches their whole lives, working hard, being dedicated and trusting in their coaches. They went out and I saw them do that last weekend and one of them proved to be the best in the state," Knopick said. "What’s exciting is any time you get to watch athletes who work extremely hard and put in extra time and work hard in the offseason, and see them do things the right way. It’s awesome to see them achieve those goals."
He noted that anyone who passes through the school in the morning before classes begins will see wrestlers such as Marcelli and Tolarchyk putting in extra work in the weight room or practice room, but they’ll also see athletes from other sports doing the same. It’s part of a culture of success that has seen the football program make the playoffs this school year, the volleyball team reach the state tournament, the boys cross country team do the same, the boys and girls basketball teams and girls soccer team reach the regional tournament and now, an individual state title in wrestling.
Even for Tolarchyk, who wasn’t able to close out his career on the podium, being a part of the state tournament had a major impact.
"It was definitely a life-changing experience and something I’ve been working for ever since I was in youth wrestling … it was definitely a blessing to be on the state tournament floor this year," Tolarchyk said.
While Marcelli will wrestle for Cleveland State beginning this fall, Tolarchyk isn’t sure where he’ll attend college. He’s received interest from a few colleges about wrestling for them and wherever he goes, he wants to pursue a career in physical therapy so he can help athletes the same way therapists have helped him get healthy after inures throughout his career.
Both wrestlers said that prior to the state tournament, the best advice they received from their fathers - both former wrestlers - was to relax, have fun and know that whatever the results, they could walk off the mat knowing that their dads were proud of them and what they had accomplished.
For Knopick, their success and Marcelli’s state title is a reminder that regardless of the facilities and resources a program has, athletes still have to grind and strive for success if they want to be the best.
"It’s easy to look at Jackson and assume that maybe we’re lucky over here, but these kids work for everything they get," Knopick said.
That combination of hard work, resources and skill proved to be a winning one in the end and while the celebration may not have been loud, the results on the mat said plenty.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB