For now, Aaron Yarger is fine with being sixth.
The Pickerington High School Central junior wrestler wants to be better next year.
Yarger finished sixth at 152 pounds in the Division I state tournament held Feb. 28-March 2 at Ohio State. One of three Tigers to qualify, Yarger started with two wins before losing three in a row. He fell to eventual state runner-up Markus Scheidel of Lakewood St. Edward 17-6 in a semifinal, lost to New Carlisle Tecumseh's Chuck Robinson 9-5 in a consolation semifinal and lost to Massillon Perry's Tony Dailey 11-6 in the fifth-place match.
Despite his struggles in the later rounds, Yarger became Central's 26th state placer and first since Josh Horne won the 140-pound championship -- the program's seventh title -- in 2005.
"This feels good. Last year, I dropped in the semis in districts and didn't qualify (for state) and it was pretty much a heartbreaker," said Yarger, who finished 40-14. "Next year is going to be even more fun. I'm excited."
Central's other two qualifiers did not place. Senior A.J. Bondurant was 0-2 at 160 pounds, losing to Hudson's Michael Coleman 7-2 in the first round and Robbie Rogers of St. Edward 5-1 in the first round of consolation action. Senior Ason Sunkle went 1-2 at 170, defeating Tim Knipl of Wadsworth 7-3 before losing to Beavercreek's Nick Corba 11-8 and Loveland's Michael Weber 9-8.
Bondurant finished 40-11. Sunkle went 43-5.
North senior Payton Gutierrez placed for the third consecutive year, finishing eighth at 106. He was sixth in that class as a junior and seventh at 103 in Division II as a sophomore at DeSales after going 1-2 in that class at state as a freshman.
Gutierrez, who went 2-3 at state to finish 36-13, clinched his spot on the podium by defeating Eastlake North's Kenny Hoberney 8-5 in the second consolation round. Gutierrez then lost to Perrysburg's Mario Guillen 5-2 and fell to the seventh-place match, where he lost to Olentangy Liberty's Jonathan Furnas 5-3.
"He's experienced. He dug down deep and he took what was there," Panthers coach Brad Harris said of Gutierrez's win over Hoberney. "That was typical Payton Gutierrez there. It was a stressful match and a big hump to get over."
The Panthers' other state qualifier, junior heavyweight Geno Rollo, went 1-2. He was pinned in 5 minutes, 17 seconds by Liberty Township Lakota East's Jacob Burton in the first round, rebounded to pin Oregon Clay's Antonio Zapata in 1:55 and lost to Ashtabula Lakeside's Chuck Morgan 2-1.
"I was on top, trying to keep my pressure down on him and he was able to get up and turn around and grab my leg," said Rollo, who finished 26-11 and led Morgan 1-0 in the third period before losing on a reversal. "It was tough for me to get out from the bottom. I didn't have enough time. But I definitely didn't expect anything like this this season. I proved a lot to myself."
Central scored nine points and tied Lakota East and Lancaster for 48th behind champion St. Edward (117) as 89 teams scored. North scored six points and tied for 55th with Dublin Coffman and Wadsworth.
North's 36-27 win over visiting Central on Feb. 7 in the OCC-Ohio Division finale meant the Tigers and Panthers tied for the league title at 6-1. They were followed by Gahanna (5-2), Lancaster (5-2), Grove City (3-4), Reynoldsburg (2-5), Groveport (1-6) and Newark (0-7).
North loses four seniors in Gutierrez, Nick Mitchell (220), Jake Snyder (126) and Josh Snyder (120). Central graduates three in Bondurant, James Pearson (170) and Sunkle.
Both teams placed second in Division I sectional tournaments Feb. 16. Central (200.5) finished behind Hilliard Bradley (205) at Watkins Memorial and advanced 12 wrestlers to district. North's 202 points in its home sectional were just shy of champion Hilliard Darby (212.5) in the 10-team field as it advanced nine wrestlers.
In the district meet Feb. 22 and 23 at Darby, Central was fourth (88) and North was 17th (49) behind champion Marysville (163) as 35 teams scored.
The Tigers and Panthers almost met in a Division I, Region 6 semifinal of the state dual tournament. In Region 6-B, second-seeded Central defeated seventh-seeded Watkins Memorial 56-22 in a first-round match Jan. 23, sixth-seeded Gahanna 42-28 in the second round Jan. 30 and top-seeded Mount Vernon 37-35 in a regional semifinal the same night before beating Hilliard Davidson 40-31 in a regional final Feb. 7. The Tigers then lost 66-4 to eventual champion St. Edward in a state quarterfinal Feb. 9 at Ohio State.
Fifth-seeded North defeated fourth-seeded Lancaster by default in the first round of Region 6-B but lost to Mount Vernon 35-34 in the second round.