Going to the state tournament in any sport is an impressive accomplishment for a high school athlete, but any wrestler, runner of golfer who advances to that level as an individual has a unique challenge at hand.
After competing for an entire season alongside their team, that athlete sees their teammates slowly whittled away with each successive round of the postseason until they’re all that remains. On their own, they represent their school at the highest level, carrying their school name and colors onto the field of play.
Both Green’s Caleb Graber and Springfield’s Jack Rogan did just that at the state wrestling tournament and each walked away with a different outlook based on their experience in Columbus.
"I like the big tournaments and it’s nice to be surrounded by other people wth the same dream as you, to see who wants it the most," Rogan said after his sixth-place finish at 170 pounds in Division II. "I feel like I wrestled really well and I beat a couple of guys who were top-ranked."
Rogan broke his tibia in his right leg in his penultimate match and had to injury default on his fifth-place match, but walked away knowing he planned to wrestling in college, so his injury-shortened final match wouldn’t be his last.
Graber won a match in the consolation bracket, but bowed out of the tournament after a loss in the following match. He too had something to look forward to, although as a junior, unlike Rogan his next step isn’t college. For Graber, it was volunteering with his brother Joey at the NCAA Division I wrestling championships at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
"We got to set up the mats and be on the ground and see all of the good wrestlers," Graber said. "One of our coaches, Rae (McDonald), volunteered us we we taped the mats down and made sure they stayed in the right spots and we also checked people’s passes to make sure they were supposed to be where they were."
While Grbaer and his brother were told not to bother the wrestlers as they prepared for matches or moved through the lower levels of the arena, seeing competitors such as (Olympic gold medalist and Ohio State senior heavyweight) Kyle Snyder and Cornell freshman Yianni Diakomihalis compete left a lasting impression.
"We weren’t allowed to talk to them, but I saw Kyle Snyder and he’s a really big dude," Graber said. "Most of the guys that won, like Spencer Lee (Iowa) and Yianni Diakomihalis, they were really serious and intense and guys who didn’t place were taking it really hard."
Seeing that up close made Graber want to emulate that focused approach on the mat, something Rogan had to do through the pain of injury at the state championships. When he got hurt, he heard a pop and couldn’t stand up, so he knew the injury was serious.
After being helped to the back and examined, he was given crutches and told he couldn’t continue competing. Being on the mat without any of his teammates also competing was different, but didn’t bother him.
"I’m happy my last tournament was the state tournament. Everything happens for a reason and I’m going to be wrestling in college, so it wasn’t my last match," Rogan said. "I had my family around me so it wasn’t too different. My mom, dad and brothers came along with a few teammates. It’s a really big tournament and other schools have only one kid as well, so I felt comfortable."
Having gone to Springfield for most of his life - he left the district to go to Copley in eighth grade before returning a couple of years later - and chasing a dream he’s had since sixth grade, Rogan enjoyed the special, pyrotechnic-enhanced entrance wrestlers received entering the floor of the area at the tournament and the energetic atmosphere at the state tournament most of all on the weekend.
His college options include John Carroll and Alderson Broaddus, but right now he’s still working on narrowing down the list.
Graber had plenty of support at the state tournament as well, with his family and brother both there for support. His drill partner, Tyler Kaminski, was an alternate for the state tournament but didn’t get to wrestle.
"I thought it was pretty cool, the collaboration of everything and how professional it was," Graber said.
The biggest crowds Graber wrestled in front of previously were the Medina Invitational and North Canton Holiday tournament, so being in front of thousands of fans at the state tournament was a very different setting, but he tried to tune out much of the noise because "if you think about it too much, you can get caught up in it."
Both Graber and Rogan were thrilled to be able to represent their respective schools at the state tournament and although they didn’t get to top the podium, they each walked away with memories and pride in how far they’d gone.
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