The goal for the Thomas Worthington High School wrestling team entering the Division I district tournament was to have at least three of its seven competitors reach state.
The mission was accomplished, albeit in a non-traditional way.
James Ford placed third at 220 pounds and Ben Hooff finished fourth at 145 at district Feb. 21 and 22 at Hilliard Darby to secure state berths, as the top four finishers in each weight class qualified for the state tournament, which runs Thursday, Feb. 27, through Saturday, March 1, at Ohio State.
Ford and Hooff will be joined at state by senior Noah Messerall, who placed fifth at district at 138. A state alternate, Messerall will compete in place of Mount Vernon's Lane Hinkle, who withdrew because of a knee injury sustained during his district title match against Marysville's David Sparks.
"I think Noah wrestled well and hard all the way through district and 138 was the toughest class in the Central District," coach Mark Gundling said. "Four of the top six-ranked kids in the state are in this district. I'm very proud of Noah and happy for him.
"He's a senior who was a state alternate last year and he finished fifth again, but he didn't tank (the fifth-place match) because he was upset he wasn't wrestling for a top-four finish. He has pride in himself and he went out to win that (fifth-place match). He didn't know it was going to change anything. He just wanted to win another match."
Messerall went 3-2 at district to improve to 35-8 on the season. He pinned Central Crossing's Ethan Leapley in 2 minutes, 56 seconds in the fifth-place match.
Messerall opened district by pinning Licking Heights' L.A. Kelly in 1:35 before losing to Hinkle 10-2 in his second match. He then pinned Walnut Ridge's Romero White in 3:33 and lost to Dublin Coffman's Dominick Demas 11-3 in the state-qualifying match before competing against Leapley.
Messerall replaces Hinkle as the second seed at state and will open against Massillon Perry's Nick Steed (26-5).
Ford went 5-1 at district to improve to 32-4. He opened with a 6-5 win over Dublin Scioto's Ras Lumpkins before losing to Hamilton Township's Alonzo Jewel 3-2 in his second match.
Ford responded to the loss by pinning Lancaster's Brad Rutter in 2:48, defeating Olentangy's Chase Carter 5-2 and beating Westerville North's Andy Struttmann 4-2 in the state-qualifying match before pinning Grove City's Chandler Evanichko in 2:58 in the third-place match.
"The match I lost could've gone either way, but to lose it was tough because I had to win four in a row then," Ford said. "My goal is just to compete as well as I can. I'm hoping that would make me a state placer. I will approach it just like at district, one match at a time."
Ford will face Bedford's Marquise Copeland (43-3) in his opening match at state.
Hooff, who went 4-2 at district to improve to 32-8, faced a difficult road to qualify for state after losing his first-round match to Dresden Tri-Valley's Kade Kowalski 5-3. He then won four matches in a row, defeating Groveport's Dayrel Billingsley 10-0, pinning Teay's Valley's Colton Carroll in 3:26, beating Delaware's Nick Beyer 12-3 and defeating Pickerington North's Cody Notestine 8-4 in the state-qualifying match, to advance to state.
Hooff then was pinned by Lancaster's Tanner Miller in 1:41 in the third-place match.
"Ben wrestled outstanding and beat a lot of real good opponents," Gundling said. "He has a lot of natural balance and coordination and he has endurance. I think James and Ben were great. They're very determined and confident and I think both of them can place at state."
Hooff will open state against Fairfield's Dillon Leneave (36-4).
Also competing at district were senior Will Coleman (152) and sophomores Martice Johnson (113), A.J. Jones (182) and Tyler Norris (106). Jones (21-9) and Norris (23-7) both went 2-2 and Coleman (13-15) and Johnson (18-11) both went 1-2.
Thomas scored 60 points to finish 13th behind champion Marysville (147.5).
Wolves' season ends in district tourney
None of Kilbourne's three Division I district qualifiers advanced to state.
Senior Lucky Shaut, who went 3-2 at district at 182 to finish 29-7, placed fifth. He won his first two matches, beating Reynoldsburg's James Love 6-1 and Hilliard Bradley's Patrick Yeo 9-6, before losing to the eventual district champion, Mount Vernon's Matthew Lybarger, 11-2. He then faced Love again in the consolation bracket and was pinned in 3:04, but he responded by beating Delaware's Shawn Johnson 3-2 in the fifth-place match.
Senior Austin Oberly went 3-3 at district at 106 and placed sixth. He lost to Mount Vernon's Ben Tate 5-2 in his opening match before beating Licking Heights' Anthony Haist 14-3, Lancaster's Coleton Chase 8-4 and Norris 7-3. Oberly then lost his state-qualifying match to Central Crossing's Jackson Lakso 5-3 before losing to Dublin Jerome's Seth Transue 4-1 in the fifth-place match to finish 32-12.
Also competing was senior Danny Darby, who went 0-2 at 152 to finish 21-16. Kilbourne scored 16 points to tie Canal Winchester for 27th.