In the immediate aftermath of qualifying for his first Division I state tournament, Groveport Madison wrestler Jake Nelson wasn't sure how to feel.
The junior placed sixth at district as both a freshman and sophomore but broke through March 7 at Hilliard Darby by going 3-1 and finishing second at 220 pounds, losing to Dublin Coffman's Riley Ucker 6-3 in the championship match.
"It's kind of weird. I've been right there on the edge two years in a row and wrestled three different weight classes (160, 170 and 195) and now coming up to 220, maybe the hardest class at district, you just can't quit," Nelson said. "You go six minutes or however long it takes. You keep going. Breaking through is pretty awesome. I am excited to wrestle (this) weekend."
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state, which runs Friday, March 13, through Sunday, March 15, at Ohio State.
Nelson, who is 45-3 on the season, is the Cruisers' first state qualifier since Shakur Laney in 2014. Laney, who placed fifth at 113 that year and fourth at 106 in 2013, now wrestles at Ohio University.
Nelson began the district tournament March 6 by pinning Watkins Memorial's Robert Soto in 3 minutes, 57 seconds in the first round and beat Delaware's Nathan Robinson 6-4 in a second-round match the next day. Nelson qualified for state with a 7-3 semifinal win over Dublin Jerome's Joe Huber.
"It's a great feeling. You see a guy that puts a lot into it and has been so close be rewarded and that's pretty special," coach Brian Brison said. "It's been a dream of his for a long time to go to state. He's been wrestling his whole life and thinking about that. With his skillset, he can do some damage. We will not be happy with just advancing to state. I am excited for him and to see what we can do at that next level.
"(District) wasn't the end of it for him. We're already talking about what he can do next."
Nelson said he competed last weekend with a chip on his shoulder after seeing predictions that he and Ucker would compete for third place, not first. They also met in a sectional final Feb. 29 at Newark, with Ucker winning 3-1.
"He got me in a couple scramble spots (March 7) and beat me where it mattered in scrambling situations," Nelson said. "I just tried to tie it at the end, taking a shot, and he scored off it. Our styles are pretty similar. It was a good matchup."
Also competing at district but failing to advance were Muhamad Conteh (126, sixth, 3-3), A.J. Joyce (195, 1-2) and Derrick Sells (182, 0-2).
Groveport finished 19th (30 points) behind champion Coffman (174.5) as 40 teams scored.
Despite Nelson competing on the state's biggest stage next weekend, Brison thinks he might face less pressure than he felt at district.
"There's been some pressure on him to make it to state," Brison said. "Now, some of the pressure can be lifted. He can just go wrestle hard and see how far he can go."
Boys bowling team hopes to reload
Although the boys bowling team will lose four of its top five scorers to graduation after finishing 16th in the Division I district tournament Feb. 29 at HP Lanes, coach Christi Middendorf is hoping the Cruisers won't find themselves rebuilding next year.
Sophomore Hunter Rathburn had a 184.7 average to lead Groveport, which finished 12-3 overall, 9-3 in the COHSBC-B Division and 5-2 in the OCC-Cardinal. Rathburn was followed by seniors Austin Snyder (180.2), William Lawson (179.8), Jake Benline (172.1) and Jeremiah Slonaker (169.5).
"I'm very happy with this year's results," Middendorf said. "The (junior varsity) will all be back next year, plus Hunter, and (the j.v. was) undefeated. They won the (COHSBC) j.v. tournament by over 280 pins. We're going to be strong next year. Any of them could have bowled on the varsity, but there was no room. I can take eight people on varsity, but why have three sit out when they can do well bowling junior varsity? I'd rather see the better bowlers bowling than sitting."
Junior Jeremiah DeLong and sophomore Mitchell Ashburn also saw limited varsity time.
Benline is a Finlandia soccer recruit, while Snyder, who also plays baseball, football and soccer, has signed to kick for the Findlay football team.
Four of the girls team's top six bowlers are eligible to return after a season in which it went 2-12 overall, 2-8 in the COHSBC-B and 1-6 in the OCC-Cardinal.
Senior Jessica Clayton led the Cruisers with a 130.2 average, ahead of junior Suzie Francis (123.2), senior Amanda Comehn (120), juniors Kayla Sheets (109.9) and Makayla Harold (107.6) and sophomore Ellisia Little (107.5).
"I'm very happy with this team," Middendorf said. "The balance has been great. Knowing their talent, that's what I expected."