By David Fong
Regional Sports Content Manager
TROY — The next time Bob Stoops returns to his home state of Ohio, he may want to give Troy High School wrestling coach Doug Curnes a call.
“If Bob Stoops lived in Troy, I’d buy him a steak dinner,” Curnes said.
Stoops — a Youngstown native — is the head football coach at Oklahoma University. Soon enough, he’ll be coaching Troy High School senior Alex Dalton, who has signed a national letter of intent to play football for the Sooners. With a 3.9 grade point average, Dalton could very easily have graduated from Troy early and enrolled at Oklahoma to begin his football career and go through spring drills, giving up a leg up on earning playing time as a true freshman.
Instead, however, Dalton decided to finish out his entire high school career at Troy — and that decision has paid off for both Dalton and Curnes, as the heavyweight wrestling will represent Troy this weekend at the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division I state championships.
“There were still a lot of things I wanted to accomplish in high school,” the 6-foot-4, 285-pound Dalton said of his decision to graduate this spring instead of leaving early for Norman, Okla. “One of them was to get to state in wrestling. That’s something not a whole lot of people get to do. I also throw (shot put and discus) in track, so I’d like to get to state in track, too. You only get to go to high school once; you never get your high school years back again. I wanted to stay at Troy and accomplish a few more things before I leave.”
He does so with the full blessing of the Oklahoma coaching staff.
“Bob Stoops played football at Iowa (from 1979-1982) when (legendary wrestling coach) Dan Gable was there, so he understands how important this is,” Curnes said. “Coach Stoops is a big fan of wrestling.”
Curnes said that while he was happy to see Dalton stick around and finish out his wrestling season, he wasn’t particularly surprised.
“Alex is that kid you want in your program, whether it be football or wrestling or whatever,” Curnes said. “He’s humble. He’s grounded. He’s a blue-collar kid. He wants to be a Trojan. He wants his name to be mentioned with some of the greatest athletes ever to walk the halls at Troy. My part in all of this is to help him achieve that. I think wrestling helps make him a better football player and being a football player helps make him a better wrestler.
“I had two goals with Alex this season — to help him be the best wrestler possible and to help keep him in shape for football season. We know what his long-term goals are — and we’ve definitely worked hard to keep him safe and keep him healthy. So far — knock on wood — we’ve done that and will send him to Norman in one piece. When he’s done at Oklahoma and playing on Sundays, hopefully he’ll remember old Coach Curnes when he comes back and builds the ‘Alex Dalton Wrestling Room’ at Troy.”
Dalton, 33-8 on the season, enters the tournament after placing fourth at the Kettering Fairmont district tournament. His opening match will be against Westerville North’s Gage Archer (31-8), who won the Hilliard Darby sectional. Despite taking on a district champion in his first match, both Curnes and Dalton like his chances.
Dalton will have a decided size advantage over Archer, a 6-foot-1, 245-pound junior.
“I feel like I’ve got a pretty good draw,” Dalton said. “I think it will be a good match. Who is to say what will happen? Obviously everyone over there is going to be good — or else they wouldn’t be wrestling at state.”
Curnes said Dalton’s fourth-place finish at the district tournament last week is deceiving.
“We would all be state champs if we wrestled on paper,” he said. “Alex is not a No. 4 seed. He was right there with guys who are ranked pretty high in the state. So we don’t look at him like a true No. 4. The kid he’s going to wrestle has lost to some kids Alex has beat. So we feel pretty good about the draw we got.”
• Division II
The last time a Tippecanoe wrestler qualified for the Division II state tournament, it was Jake Watkins in 2010.
But Austin Robbins’ feat goes back even further.
“The last time an underclassmen wrestled at state for us was probably more than 10 years ago,” Tippecanoe coach Jordan Krebs said. “All the way back in 2002, I think.”
Thursday, Robbins (170), a junior, will represent the Red Devils at the state tournament after placing third in the district over the weekend at Bowling Green. After almost pulling off a semifinal victory, he defeated Buckeye’s Alex Wilt 17-4 in the consolation semis to punch his ticket to state and then routed Perkins’ Alex Tetzloff 22-4 to place third.
“It’s huge for the program overall,” Krebs said. “Austin has been a staple in our program for the last seven or eight years. He started at the club level and even wrestled for me when I was coaching at the middle school. This group has grown up with him and looked up to him this whole time, so it’s kind of fitting that he’s the first one from this group to qualify.
“He’s a hard worker, and he’s bought into the philosophy of our program. He really exemplifies everything we want Tippecanoe wrestling to be all about.”
At the district tournament, Robbins faced the returning state runner-up, Aaron Schuette of Wauseon, in the championship semifinals. He nearly scored a pin in the third period, but Schuette was able to escape and pin Robbins in overtime to win.
“He put the returning state runner-up on his back and very nearly pinned him,” Krebs said. “Right before he stepped onto the mat for his match in the finals later that day, he turns and says ‘I don’t really know what my limit is.’
“That’s the impressive thing about Austin. We knew he’d qualify before he graduates, so the question early this season was if this was the year he’d qualify. But in the last two weeks, that question has become ‘how high can he place once he’s there?’ There’s a very good shot that he could do great things this weekend.”
Robbins will face Carroll Bloom-Carroll’s Zach Gibson in the opening round Thursday.
• Division III
The Covington wrestling team’s secret recipe for sending a school-record five competitors to this weekend’s Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III state wrestling championships was about as complex as a recipe for making ice cubes.
There were no secret ingredients involved.
“Hard work,” Covington coach Tom Barbee said. “It’s as simple as that. We’ve got a good group of kids who worked hard all year. The bottom line is we got kids to buy in and do what they needed to do. That’s just the type of kids we’ve got this year. They’ve worked hard and when we’ve challenged them to improve on things, they’ve done it.”
The Buccaneers will send five wrestlers to state, the most Covington has sent since 1986, when four wrestlers went to Columbus. Three of those five wrestlers were district champions and will enter the tournament — which begins Thursday at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus — amongst the top four seeds in their respective weight classes.
At 126 pounds, junior Jarred Ganger (23-1) will take on Caldwell sophomore Kolby Raynor (37-9) in the first round. Ganger was a state champion for Troy Christian last season. At 132, sophomore Ryan Ford (50-1) will meet Kirtland junior Evan Francis (37-11) in the first round. Covington senior A.J. Oullette (38-3) will face Massillon Tuslaw junior Scott Wolheter (43-9) in the first round at 195 pounds.
Also for Covington, junior Ben Miller — who placed second at districts — will face Castilia Margaretta junior Ryan Green (29-7) in the opening round at 170 pounds, while senior Daniel Jennings (35-11) — who placed fourth at districts at 152 pounds — will face off against Apple Creek Waynesdale senior Dakota Stanley (50-1).
With so many wrestlers going to state — and three district champions — the Buccaneers will have a legitimate shot at finishing “on the board” (in the top 10 in team standings) by the time Covington is finished competing Saturday.
That’s not something Barbee is concerning himself with right now, however.
“If we wrestle like I think we can and get some guys on the podium, we have a chance to do well as a team,” Barbee said. “But you never know what is going to happen over there. We are just going to go over there and do our best.”
• Troy Christian
With only three wrestlers competing in this year’s Division III state championships, the Eagles will face a monumental task in defending its 2013 team title — the fourth overall team championship in school history.
At 113 pounds, Troy Christian freshman Michael Sergent (36-8) — who placed second at districts — will face Cadiz Harrison Central sophomore Brandon White (26-10) in the first round. At 120 pounds, junior Garrett Hancock — the defending state champion — will face Middlefield Cardinal junior Ian Mast (39-8) in the first round. Hancock placed third at districts this year.
At 132 pounds, junior Cody Ohnmeiss (22-7) — who placed second at districts — will face Cuyahoga Heights senior Nate Frye (22-8) in the opening round.
• Miami East
The Vikings are sending a pair of wrestlers to state in Division III. At 138 pounds, senior Austin Rush (18-7) — who placed fourth at districts — will open the tournament against Archbold senior Kenny Price (46-11). Sophomore heavyweight Ben Ferguson (36-8) — who placed second at districts — will face Independence junior Paul Deely (36-7) in the opening round.
Milton-Union will be sending one wrestler to state. At 113 pounds, freshman Kamron Paulus — a No. 3 seed coming out of districts — will meet Branbridge Paint Valley senior Tyler Stoneburner (41-8) in the first round.
TDN Sports Editor Josh Brown also contributed to this report.
Contact David Fong at (937) 440-5228 or email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong