Carson Kharchla never stopped believing he could be a great wrestler, but this season proved to be a positive refresher course for the Olentangy Liberty High School junior.
After injuries kept him from competing in the postseason as a freshman, Kharchla competed much of last season at 145 pounds and tried to cut down to 138 for the postseason but was not able to make weight for the sectional tournament.
In what was his first postseason this winter, he didn't lose a match.
In the Division I state tournament March 8-10 at Ohio State, Kharchla beat Massillon Jackson's Tyler Tolarchyk 15-7, Cincinnati Moeller's Sam Wyche 13-2, Massillon Perry's Emil Soehnlen 7-2 and Medina's Brady Chrisman 12-3 to capture the 170-pound championship.
"I like to think I keep it together mentally, but last year I kind of got into a little slump not being here and had to wake myself up, get out of that dream and believe in how good I was," said Kharchla, who went 38-2 this season. "Two years of all the drama and pressure of high school wrestling has fallen off my shoulders.
"I wanted to wrestle to win and wrestle to score (team) points. Everyone's been telling me you can wrestle at national tournaments, but there's something about wrestling at the (Schottenstein Center) in Ohio, so I felt it and it was really awesome."
It was the fifth state title won by a Liberty wrestler.
Kharchla's performance helped Liberty finish eighth (52) behind champion Lakewood St. Edward (170.5) as 70 teams scored.
"He stayed positive the whole time," coach Mark Marinelli said. "He's worked real hard and done everything we've asked to a 'T.' "
Marinelli was named Division I state Coach of the Year, 11 years after he earned the honor when he was coaching at DeSales.
"Doing it at DeSales and Liberty, in two different divisions, I don't know if anyone else has ever done that," Marinelli said. "It's two great schools and great programs, so it means a lot."
Also reaching the awards podium for Liberty were senior Trevor Lawson (second at 182) and sophomore Blake Saito (eighth at 132).
Lawson opened state by pinning Vandalia Butler's Jansen Love in 3 minutes, 55 seconds. He beat Massillon Perry's Zach Blackiston 9-1 and Cincinnati La Salle's Blake Wilson 1-0 before falling to Massillon Jackson's Victor Marcelli 3-1 in the title bout.
A state runner-up as a sophomore and a third-place finisher last season, Lawson finished 37-3.
"Trevor hurt his ankle really bad (against Wilson)," Marinelli said. "He's all taped up. He was well less than 100 percent and couldn't walk at the end of the semifinal match. You've got to be at your top when you're here. He had two (second-place finishes) and a third, so I feel really bad for him. He's talented and got a bad break."
Saito was seventh last season at 106. He went 2-3 at state this season and finished 32-8.
"Competing is always a good experience and helps me get better," Saito said. "It's not where I wanted to be, but I'll take it and learn from it for next year. This is a good bracket."
Also closing his prep career at state was senior Jordan Rosselli, who opened with a 5-2 win over Mason's Dylan Waugh but lost to eventual champion Bryce Hepner of St. Edward 6-1 in the second round. He then fell 6-1 to Shaker Heights' Jaivon Jones to finish 18-7 at 126 a year after placing third at state at 120. Rosselli has committed to Oklahoma.
Liberty won the OCC-Buckeye Division title at 5-0, ahead of Westerville North (4-1), Olentangy (3-2), Orange (2-3), Westerville South (1-4) and Westerville Central (0-5).
The Patriots were third (213.5) in a sectional Feb. 24 at Newark behind Lancaster (223) and North (214.5) and third (144.5) at district March 2 and 3 at Hilliard Darby behind Lancaster (170) and Marysville (147). They then scored the most points of any central Ohio team at state.
Junior Connor Brady, who was third at state last season at 152 but missed the postseason with an injury, should join Kharchla and Saito as key returnees.
The other district qualifiers were seniors Luke Blaine (120) and Davin Lambert (heavyweight), sophomore Kaden Tong (220) and freshmen Jayce Fitzpatrick (145), Hunter Ford (106) and Josh Sutton (113). Lambert was fifth and Tong placed sixth at district.
Sophomore Justin Callahan (160) was fifth at sectional.
"It was a great season, a lot of fun," Marinelli said. "We did probably better than most people thought we'd do at the beginning of the year. We should be at probably about the same level next year."
Valz earns honors at state in bowling
Daniel Valz capped his prep career with a 10th-place finish (652) in the Division I state boys bowling tournament March 9 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
That earned him second-team all-state honors.
"Qualifying for states was my only goal, so earning all-state was icing on the cake," Valz said. "A crucial part of my success was being able to stay relaxed. It was an extremely intimidating environment and I knew I had to keep my cool if I wanted to do well."
He opened state with a 235 and followed with games of 199 and 218.
"Daniel did awesome," coach Linda Ridolfo said. "He's a very consistent, solid bowler. He had a 202 average in the regular season and we just wanted him to reach his average or top it and he certainly did that."
Valz was 20th (540) in the sectional Feb. 23 at HP Lanes to advance individually to district, where he turned in a fifth-place finish (596) March 3 at HP Lanes to earn one of three state-qualifying berths.
"My approach coming in was to put the pedal to the metal," Valz said. "I told myself I'm in it to win it. I'm excited by finishing my season like this. I really improved a lot."
Valz was one of three seniors on the boys team along with Nicholas Anderson and Evan Pohlman. While Pohlman finished 11th in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference in average at 207.2, Valz was 19th (202.2).
Liberty finished 8-7 overall, was eighth (6-6) in the COHSBC-A behind champion Westerville Central (12-0) and tied for second (4-3) in the OCC-Buckeye behind Central (7-0).
Eligible to return are juniors Caden Gallagher and Aiden Koknat and freshmen Nick Bateson, Matthew Lawrence and Alex Levy. Gallagher averaged 163.9 in COHSBC action and rolled a 488 at sectional to miss advancing to district by three pins.
The boys were 19th (3,151) in the 38-team sectional as the top 16 teams advanced to district, and the girls were 29th (2,514) in the 37-team sectional Feb. 24 at HP Lanes.
Sophomore Stephanie Greeno led at sectional with a 73rd-place finish (408). She missed advancing to district by seven pins.
Sophomore Brenna Withrow led in COHSBC average at 141.6, followed by the team's only senior in Liz Trent (132.4).
The girls went 4-13 overall, tied for ninth (4-8) in the COHSBC-A behind champion Gahanna (12-0) and tied for seventh (1-6) in the OCC-Buckeye behind champion Olentangy (7-0).
Others eligible to return are junior Lauren Suhodolsky, sophomore Eryn Temby and freshmen Nandini Kasam, Jnapika Palacharia, Karthika Shankar, Manasa Sriram and Meaghan Suhodolsky.
Strong senior class led hockey team
Winning the Adam Allgeyer Memorial Showcase from Dec. 1-3 at Chiller Dublin set the tone for another strong hockey season.
The Patriots went 28-7-3 overall and were district runners-up a year after making it to a state semifinal.
"We had a great year, although we all feel we came up a little short as our goal was the district championship and a return to the (state tournament)," coach Kevin Alexander said. "However, beating (Dublin) Jerome twice in a weekend to take the Allgeyer tourney, beating St. Edward (3-2 on Dec. 15) and Culver (Indiana 5-4 on Jan. 14) while finishing in the top 10 in the state is pretty special. ... This team was one of Liberty's best ever and will never be forgotten."
Alexander began the season as co-coach with Jack Hoogeveen, who stepped down in late February after guiding the program to a 259-113-21 mark in 11 seasons. Alexander assumed head-coaching duties in the postseason, which ended with a 4-1 loss to top-seeded Jerome in the district final March 3 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
Liberty was seeded second for the district tournament and opened the postseason with wins over 16th-seeded Kettering Alter (11-0 on Feb. 18) and 12th-seeded Cincinnati St. Xavier (3-1 on Feb. 24) before beating fourth-seeded Moeller (5-4 on Feb. 25) in a district semifinal.
The Patriots finished second in the Capital Hockey Conference-Red with 27 points (13-2-1), behind Jerome (30, 15-1) and ahead of St. Charles (24, 11-3-1-1), Upper Arlington (20, 9-5-0-2) and New Albany (12, 6-10).
In the Blue Jackets Cup, the second-seeded Patriots beat seventh-seeded Springboro 3-2 on Feb. 8 and third-seeded St. Charles 5-3 on Feb. 9 before falling to top-seeded Jerome 3-1 on Feb. 11 in the final.
The senior class was led by defenseman Sam Turner and forward Connor Hisaw. Both were first-team all-CHC and all-CHC-Red, with Turner earning first-team all-state honors and Hisaw making honorable mention all-state.
Turner finished with 32 goals and 44 assists, and Hisaw had 30 goals and 17 assists.
Other key seniors included forwards Ron Ambrosia (20 goals, 26 assists), Austin Barok (22 goals, 19 assists) and Matthew Taura (10 goals, 11 assists) and goaltender David Dew (14-5-1 record).
Sophomore Andrew Vidrick, who went 12-2-3 in goal, should be among the top returnees along with junior defensemen Grant Bertges (7 goals, 17 assists) and Craig Lutwen (5 goals, 6 assists) and sophomore defenseman Keegan Pullins (6 goals, 12 assists).
Junior forwards Jack Bowden (5 goals, 11 assists) and Kevin Springfield (5 goals, 7 assists) and sophomore forwards Dane Hatfield, Aidan King (6 goals, 11 assists) and Korey Raymond (13 goals, 10 assists) also should be among the top returnees.
@UlreyThisWeekAt a glance
*Record: Boys -- 8-7 overall, 6-6 (eighth) in COHSBC-A, 4-3 (tied for second) in OCC-Buckeye; Girls -- 4-13 overall, 4-8 (tied for ninth) in COHSBC-A, 1-6 (tied for seventh) in OCC-Buckeye
*Seniors lost: Boys -- Nicholas Anderson, Evan Pohlman and Daniel Valz; Girls -- Liz Trent
*Key returnees: Boys -- Nick Bateson, Caden Gallagher, Aiden Koknat and Matthew Lawrence; Girls -- Stephanie Greeno, Lauren Suhodolsky, Meaghan Suhodolsky, Eryn Temby and Brenna Withrow
*Record: 28-7-3 overall, 13-2-1 (second) in CHC-Red
*Seniors lost: Ron Ambrosia, Austin Barok, Carter Bissonette, David Dew, Connor Hisaw, Cohen Koivisto, Harrison Schweitzer, Matthew Taura and Sam Turner
*Key returnees: Grant Bertges, Jack Bowden, Aiden King, Craig Lutwen, Keegan Pullins, Korey Raymond, Kevin Springfield and Andrew Vidrick
*Finishes: First in OCC-Buckeye, third at sectional, third at district, eighth at state
*Seniors lost: Luke Blaine, Davin Lambert, Trevor Lawson, Dante Leary, Colby Quillin, Jordan Rosselli and Ryan Stewart
*Key returnees: Connor Brady, Justin Callahan, Jayce Fitzpatrick, Carson Kharchla, Blake Saito and Kaden Tong