While the Olentangy Liberty wrestling team earned top 10 finishes at the Division I state tournament during each of his first three prep seasons, Jadon Brownlee watched and waited.

The opportunity to break into the lineup finally came this winter, and the senior heavyweight seized it.

"I wrestled mostly (junior varsity the previous three seasons) and just continued to work in the room," Brownlee said.

The reward for biding his time came when Brownlee became one of the Patriots' four qualifiers for this year's state tournament, which was to have been held March 13-15 at Ohio State before it was postponed and later canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Brownlee turned in a fourth-place finish at district March 7 at Hilliard Darby and finished 36-14.

"Qualifying for state this year meant the world to me," he said. "That was my goal at the beginning of the season and not many people believed I could make it. Not getting an opportunity to compete at state has been frustrating, not only for me, but also for my coaches and teammates who got me here. It's disappointing to have achieved my goal and not have the opportunity to compete."

Brownlee, an Ohio Northern commit, was the only senior among the state qualifiers for the Patriots. The other qualifiers were juniors Hunter Ford (120) and Lucas Uliano (145) and freshman Dylan Russo (195).

Uliano pinned Delaware's Tristan Burton in 44 seconds for the district championship and was 33-2 heading into state. He placed seventh at state last season at 126.

Ford was a fourth-place district finisher and was 34-11 heading into state.

"This season was amazing," Ford said. "The feeling of putting in work for years and years to reach this point is extremely fulfilling. If anything, this season has taught me that I have a great set of coaches. I learned that you have to trust the process and buy in to what your coaches say in order to improve. Going into next season, I now know firsthand that hard work and determination will lead to success."

Russo was 38-5 after a district runner-up finish.

"Hunter Ford got hot at the right time and took advantage of it," coach Mark Marinelli said. "Lucas Uliano probably made the biggest strides mentally and I think he was going to push for a championship this year. Dylan Russo was like a glove to hand with this team, coming in as a big-time wrestler and competing with everybody. He might've enjoyed this year of wrestling more than any other.

"(There's) not much we can say or do, but I like to tell them that wrestling and sports are a vehicle for you to use temporarily to help you get to places and things. I'm sure this year and experience will help them along the way."

The Patriots finished second (4-1) in the OCC-Buckeye Division behind Westerville North (5-0) as their run of five consecutive league titles ended.

Their other district competitors were seniors Austin Bensman (138, 24-15), Ben Cox (182, 36-12), Nick Rutsky (106, 32-15), Ethan Stamp (152, 28-12) and Kaden Tong (220, 17-5) and juniors Jayce Fitzpatrick (160, 31-12), Adam Gintert (126, 19-13) and Josh Sutton (113, 26-17).

"Jadon Brownlee just kept improving and trusting the plan," Marinelli said. "He improved so much from his freshman year to now. Kaden Tong and Ben Cox were guys that kept our team together and did it with spirit. Kaden was hampered for two months with knee issues and came close but needed a few more weeks to get back to form. Ben was a competitor non-stop down to his last match and he cherished competing for Liberty. All our seniors were excellent and pitched in all the time."

Fitzpatrick, who was a state qualifier at 145 last season, as well as Gintert, Sutton, junior Stephen Dirksmeier (170, 20-16) and sophomore Nico Leary (132, 22-16) should join Ford, Russo and Uliano as key wrestlers next season.

Russo was first-team all-league, Brownlee and Rutsky were second-team all-league and Stamp made the third team.

"This team was awesome and I'm really proud of them for who they are," Marinelli said. "This was one of my most enjoyable teams and seasons ever."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek