COLUMBUS, Ohio — The tradition continues … and so does the history.
The Gallia Academy wrestling program scored at least one point for a fourth consecutive postseason while earning its fourth podium finish in four years this past weekend at the 2013 OHSAA Division II Wrestling Championships held at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of the Ohio State University in Franklin County.
The Blue Devils received an historic effort from first-time state qualifier Cole Tawney, who became the youngest grappler in school history to both win a match and also place within his weight class. Tawney — who finished the Thursday, Friday and Saturday sessions with a 4-2 overall mark — placed fifth overall as a sophomore in the 120-pound division.
Tawney — who qualified for state by placing fourth at the Goshen district meet — lasted only 24 seconds in his opening match on Thursday after being by pinned by eventual state runner-up Joey Miller of Carrollton.
Tawney, however, regained his composure in the consolation round, winning three straight matches to secure a spot in the top-eight of the 120-pound weight class. Those trio of wins included a pinfall win (4:11) over C.J. Ball of Rossford, a 7-2 decision over Lyle Plummer of Dayton Chaminade-Julienne, and a 9-2 decision over Jerad Patterson of Byesville Meadowbrook.
Tawney suffered a 17-2 technical fall to eventual third-place finisher Brent Moore of St. Paris Graham in a consolation semifinal Saturday morning, but ultimately closed his weekend with a pinfall victory (1:39) over Conner Nemec of Mantua Crestwood.
The triumph over Nemec allowed Tawney to secure fifth place overall, and also allowed the sophomore to join Jeptha Robinson (1988), Jared Gravely (2010), Brandon Taylor (2012) and Zack Tackett (2012) as the only podium finishers in Blue Devil history.
Tawney — who joined Ben Doolittle (2002) as the only GAHS sophomores to ever qualify for state — also became just the ninth Blue Devil to advance past the district level while becoming the only underclassman to ever place at the state tournament.
Tawney — who finishes the 2012-13 campaign with a 42-6 overall mark — scored 12 points for the Blue Devils, allowing GAHS to finish in a three-way tie for 41st with both Parma Padua Franciscan and Springfield Northwestern.
His dozen points are also the second-best total ever produced by an individual grappler from GAHS, with Taylor setting the record last season with 18 points and a school-best third place finish.
As the sophomore reflected on his three-day weekend in Columbus, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of achievement. He also noted that it was very educational experience.
“It was a really great weekend for me because I wasn’t really sure how well I would do, especially after losing that first match the way I did,” Tawney said. “I ended up fighting my way back through the consolation round with three straight wins and ultimately made it to the podium, and it even ended with a pinfall win.
“I got to stand on the podium with some great wrestlers like Nathan Tomasello, a four-time state champ. It was a great eye-opener for the next few years of my career.”
A total of 85 programs scored at least one point at the state meet, and Gallia Academy was the highest finisher from the southeast Ohio sectionals. St. Paris Graham won the Division II team title with 155.5 points, while Perry was the D-2 runner-up with 87.5 points.
Just four years ago, Gallia Academy had only four wrestlers that had ever made it to state — and only one that had ever placed. Those numbers have now more than doubled, proving that the Blue Devils are starting to become more than your average wrestling program.
“It’s another great end to another great season for us,” GAHS first-year head coach Scott Stanley said. “We are kind of building a tradition, at least I feel, in going to state. We are getting kids there and they are performing well enough to place, so now we are starting to look at some higher goals.
“I’m hoping that our success of late will be noticed by the younger guys and we can continue to go back even stronger. We are hoping to get even more people to Columbus next season.”
Tawney — a two-time sectional champion at 120 pounds — plans on being part of the crew that returns to the state tournament next season. He also plans on using some of the knowledge he picked up this weekend to get back to Value City Arena.
“I learned some good lessons this weekend,” Tawney said. “I know that I need to keep working harder than everyone else to get back to where I was, and I learned what I need to do to improve on getting better for the years ahead.”
Tawney is also a two-time Southeastern Ohio Athletic League champion at 120 pounds.
Stanley believes that success is contagious, and he notes that part of Tawney’s accomplishments this weekend come from how the program has fared over the past few years. He also hopes that someone else will step up next year just like Cole did this winter.
“The younger guys have seen how hard Cole works, and how hard people like Brandon Taylor and Zack Tackett and Matt Watts and Jared Gravely worked when they were here. They also see where that hard work got them,” Stanley said. “Stuff like this weekend pushes the other kids harder, and they start striving to be that next wrestler at Gallia Academy to make it to state.
“We’re really building a good tradition here, and I’m really looking forward to the next couple of years.”
With his sophomore season complete, Tawney was finally able to reflect on his stellar 2013 campaign. As happy as he is with the way the weekend turned out, he is still not satisfied with what he’s accomplished.
“It’s kind of cool being the only sophomore from Gallia Academy to ever place or even win a match at the state tournament,” Tawney said. “It’s a pretty big show up there, and there are a lot of talented guys. It let’s me know I have some talent and it let’s me know what I need to do to improve. I really want to be a state champion.”
Complete results of the 2013 OHSAA Wrestling Championships are available on the web at ohsaa.org