By Tom Gamble, GCL South Commissioner
Led by a trio of senior wrestlers who each have won more than 100 matches in their careers, and a deep, talent-laden team coming off an impressive victory in the regional last weekend that has earned La Salle the No. 1 seed in the state tournament, the Lancers are hoping to become the first school from Southwest Ohio to bring home a state title Sunday when they represent the Greater Catholic League South Division and SW Ohio (along with Mason) in the eight-team Ohio High School Athletic Association Team Wrestling State Tournament at St. John Arena on The Ohio State University in Columbus.
La Salle will oppose Lancaster, the No. 8 seed, in a first-round match in the upper bracket at 11 a.m. If victorious, the Lancers will advance to meet the winner of No. 4 Elyria and No. 5 Wadsworth, which also wrestle in the first round at 11, in the state semifinals at 3:30 p.m. Other first-round competition in the lower bracket includes No. 2 seed and perennial state power Lakewood ST. Edward against No. 7 Dublin Coffman at 1:15 p.m. and No. 3 Brecksville-Broadview Heights versus No. 6 Mason, also at 1:15. Those winners advance to the lower bracket semis at 3:30.
The championship match is set for 7:30 p.m.
La Salle is coming off an impressive performance in the OHSAA DI Region 8 Tournament last Saturday at Lakota East high School in Liberty Township. Competing against the other three GCL South schools, the Lancers defeated Middletown, 63-18, in the first round, then bested GCL South member St. Xavier, 76-10, in the quarterfinals before getting past Sycamore, 68-9, in the semifinals, before ultimately knocking off league rival Elder, 54-15, in the title match. Elder made it to the finals with victories against Hamilton, 76-3, Lakota East, 57-20, and Fairfield, 40-27, in the semifinals. St. Xavier opened the tourney with a 42-34 win against Colerain before running into La Salle.
Moeller also competed in the regional. The Crusaders got past Anderson, 53-30, in the first round before facing Sycamore in the quarterfinals. The Aviators won that match, 46-27. Mason also advanced to the OHSAA State Wrestling Tournament by winning the Region 7 crown held last Saturday at Beavercreek High School near Dayton.
La Salle, which has been nationally ranked all season long, is led by a talented trio of seniors – Lucas Byrd, Michael Baker and Trey Sizemore. Byrd, who is 29-1 this season and has 155 victories in his high school career, is a three-time state placer and an individual state champion last year at 113 pounds. Byrd is currently ranked No. 1 at 120 pounds nationally by Flowrestling.com. He is committed to attend and wrestle at the University of Maryland, studying criminal justice, upon graduation.
Baker, who is 22-4 and has 145 wins in his career, is a three-time state qualifier and was a state placer last year (sixth at 195). He plans to attend and wrestle at Columbia University, where he intends to study pre-med. Sizemore, like Baker, intends to attend and wrestle at an Ivy League School. Sizemore, 29-4 with 117 wins in his prep career, will go to Brown University and plans on studying engineering. He placed sixth at 160 last year.
Quite an impressive trio, but the Lancers and coach Ryan Root have other talented grapplers as well. Other key wrestlers include senior Robert Brown, who is currently ranked as the No. 4 DI heavyweight in Ohio by Borofanohio.net; sophomore Cole Skinner currently ranked No. 20 nationally at 106 pounds by Flowrestling; sophomore Dustin Norris, a returning state finalist (106 last year) who is ranked No. 11 in the nation at 113 by Flowrestling.com; junior Antione Allen, a returning state placer (fifth at 120); and junior Casey Wiles, who also placed at the state meet (third at 126)last year.
Should the seeds hold up Sunday, La Salle would meet St. Edward for the second time this season in a dual match. The Lancers beat St. Edward, 35-27, at La Salle on December 15 in a match that saw La Salle post wins in the final three weight classes; Baker (195), Garrett Bledsoe (220) and Brown (285) to seal the victory. St. Edward has won more OHSAA State Individual Wrestling Tournaments, 32, than any other DI program in Ohio history. The Eagles also have won the state duals in 2013 and back-to-back in 2016 and 2017.
La Salle should be plenty prepared for the state duals, having faced off against an arduous schedule designed to prepare the Lancers for meets like this Sunday. Root took his team to the Walsh Jesuit Iron Man, where La Salle finished third as a team December 7-8 in Northeast Ohio. They also competed in the Al Dvorak Memorial Invitational December 22-23 at Harlem High School in Machesney Park, Ill., finishing second after having 10 wrestlers place in the event; and also participated in the 2019 Escape the Rock from January 19-20 at Council Rock High School in Southampton, Pa., where the Lancers were second with eight placers.
After the state duals, the GCL South teams will then target the OHSAA Individual State Wrestling Tournament that is scheduled for March 7-9 at the Jerome C. Schottenstein Center at OSU. The GCL South was well represented there this past March, with La Salle finishing in fourth place, Elder coming in sixth and Moeller ending at No. 12. Lakewood St. Edward has dominated this tournament over the years, capturing all but eight state crowns since 1978 and winning all but one DI championship this century, that being 2014.