Noah Ratliff's career with the Reynoldsburg wrestling program ended in a much better position than where it started.

After an ear injury limited him to three wins as a freshman, Ratliff took steps forward each season and broke through with a third-place finish at 152 pounds during the Division I district tournament March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby, qualifying for state for the first time.

The senior wasn't surprised that he reached state, which was to have been held March 13-15 at Ohio State before the OHSAA postponed the event, and later canceled it, because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"In the beginning of the season, I still had a little bit of doubt, but my main goal was to get on the (state) podium this year," Ratliff said. "It sounded crazy to a lot of people because I didn't qualify in past years, but it's because I've been doing a lot of work, have a really good drill partner and really great coaches. They definitely helped me."

Ratliff would have been the Raiders' first state competitor since James Love in 2014.

"It's heart-wrenching," coach Jon Forgy said. "I feel for the athletes and all the hard work they've put in to reach this point. Some have waited their whole career to get to this level."

Ratliff would have entered state as a No. 3 seed after pinning Hilliard Davidson's Dez Gartrell in 3 minutes, 5 seconds in the consolation final at district. That improved his season record to 45-7 and his career record to 119-35.

"Noah qualifying for the state tournament was an exciting experience for our whole program," Forgy said. "Noah put in the time and effort to accomplish this goal. Noah really bought in to what we were trying to do as a staff over the last four years and set the tone for our program. The staff could not be more proud of Noah."

Ratliff won one district match as a sophomore while finishing 36-13. He then went 2-2 at district as a junior and finished 35-9.

"I got a lot of great goals accomplished," Ratliff said. "It was kind of a struggle in past years because I'd get so close (to qualifying for state) and get knocked off."

For the second consecutive season, Reynoldsburg finished 0-5 in the OCC-Ohio Division.

However, the Raiders won the nine-team Kevin Michael Invitational on Jan. 11 at Columbus Academy with 256 points.

"Overall, I think the season was a success," Forgy said. "We did not have the best dual record, but our team improved every week and we had wrestlers placing top four in every tournament we went to this year and those are what you want to see. As a team, we really started to get in stride at the All-North Tournament (on Feb. 15 at Dublin Jerome) as wrestlers started to see what they could accomplish. We also were able to get our first tournament championship as a team in the last five years and that was a great accomplishment for our team."

In a sectional Feb. 29 at Upper Arlington, freshman Logan Smalley won the title at 120, senior Luke Goeschl was runner-up at 126 and junior Dalton Hall was fourth at heavyweight to advance to district.

Goeschl finished 37-12 for the season and 92-46 for his career, and Hall went 22-16 this winter.

Smalley was 30-5 heading into district but was unable to compete because of an injury.

Seniors Aaron Reynolds (132) and Zach Frye (220) each placed sixth at sectional.

The other competitors at sectional were seniors Isaiah Boateng (138), Peighton Irish-Arnett (113) and Romeo White (160), junior Gaven Miller (170), sophomore Gracie Straughter (106) and freshmen Steven Schulze (195) and Caleb Smiley (145).

Miller finished 20-17, Boateng went 22-18 and Reynolds went 23-16.

Irish-Arnett finished fourth at 111 in the inaugural girls state tournament Feb. 22 and 23 at Davidson.

Also eligible to return is junior Michael Dawkins (138).

Ratliff was first-team all-league and Goeschl, Hall and Smalley were third-team all-league.

"As a team, we're losing a good amount of senior leadership, but we have a great group coming back next season," Forgy said. "Our freshmen and sophomores that were in our lineup this past season got some great experience that will only help them in the future. As a staff, we're excited."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek