A.J. Bondurant of the Pickerington High School Central wrestling team never has attended the state tournament, even as a spectator.
One quick move in a Division I district semifinal Feb. 23 at Hilliard Darby ended that streak for the junior 160-pounder.
Trailing 3-0 late in the second period against Lancaster's Ethan Bond, Bondurant shot in for a low single-leg takedown but saw the opportunity for a better move.
"I saw the chance to throw in an arm and I was able to get in the half (Nelson) and I knew I could turn him," Bondurant said. "Once I got him on his back, I wasn't going to let him up."
Bondurant pinned Boyd in 3 minutes, 32 seconds to clinch his first state berth. He went 3-1 at district, losing to Marysville's Chase Boyd 3-0 in the final to enter state with a 40-9 record.
"I didn't even place at district last year, and now I'm going to state," Bondurant said. "The hard work I put in during the offseason has paid off."
Bondurant is one of three Tigers who will compete for the first time at state, which begins Thursday, Feb. 28, at Ohio State and continues through Saturday, March 2. Junior Aaron Yarger went 3-1 and placed second at 152 at district, and senior Ason Sunkle went 4-1 and finished third at 170.
Central scored 88 points and placed fourth behind champion Marysville (163) as 35 teams scored. The top four placers in each weight class advanced to state.
"We had three that we planned on going and we had two others that placed sixth (in freshman Joseph Terry at 120 and junior Tyler Hogue at 126)," coach Jason Allen said. "We're really pleased with the way the team overall wrestled. Pretty much everybody on our team, 12 guys, contributed to the team score and they're young."
Yarger lost to Lancaster's Scott Deluse 6-3 in a final. Sunkle was pinned by Darby's Matthew Walker in 5:03 in a championship semifinal and rebounded to defeat Hilliard Bradley's Jake Stratton 16-7 in the third-place match.
At state, Bondurant will open against Hudson junior Michael Coleman (41-5). Sunkle will wrestle Wadsworth sophomore Tim Knipl (40-9) in the first round, and Yarger will start against Maple Heights senior Deshon Johnson (43-7).
Yarger is 38-11 and Sunkle is 42-10.
"Our ultimate goal is to have all three guys place and not just get there," Allen said. "We've been preaching that to those three and to the team all year long."
Also competing at district but failing to advance were sophomores Devin Johnson (106, 1-2) and Ryan McElwee (113, 0-2), Terry (3-3), Hogue (3-3), sophomore Dalton Dunnette (138, 1-2), juniors Jordan Pieczynski (145, 1-2), Dylan McDowell (182, 1-2) and Jordan Maynard (195, 0-2) and sophomore Arron Morefield (heavyweight, 0-2).
Panthers' Gutierrez, Rollo advance
North senior Payton Gutierrez advanced to state for the fourth consecutive year, finishing third at 106 at district, and junior heavyweight Geno Rollo earned his first trip as the Panthers finished 17th with 49 points.
Gutierrez was sixth at 106 last year at state, after finishing seventh at 103 in Division II in 2010 for DeSales and going 1-2 in that class as a freshman.
Gutierrez went 4-1 at district and defeated Teays Valley's Luke Nace 4-3 in the third-place match. He lost a championship semifinal 4-2 to Olentangy Liberty's Jonathan Furnas but rebounded to defeat Central Crossing's Jackson Lakso 1-0 in a consolation semifinal.
"Usually the consolation semifinals are tough. Those are the toughest matches in the tournament, I think," said Gutierrez, who is 34-10. "In my case, you have one kid who had nothing to lose. He's a freshman and you've got me riding my fourth state berth."
Rollo is 25-9 after going 4-1 at district, defeating Teays Valley's Brandyn Darnell 7-1 in their third-place match.
"Not many people expected me to do as well as I did," Rollo said. "I struggled at the beginning of the season, but I came through toward the end."
Gutierrez will wrestle Brunswick freshman Josh Heil (36-4) in the first round at state. Rollo will start against Liberty Township Lakota East senior Jacob Burton (34-4).
Also competing at district but failing to advance were sophomore Matt Myers (113, 0-2), seniors Josh Snyder (120, 1-2) and Jake Snyder (132, 1-2), sophomores Tyler McCafferty (138, 2-2) and Nick Notestine (152, 0-2), junior George Dial (170, fifth, 4-2) and senior Wyatt Starkey (182, 0-2).
Dial, a state alternate, fell just short of a state berth, losing to Central's Sunkle 14-10 in a consolation semifinal.