Four Jefferson High School wrestlers won individual titles Saturday to lead the Dragons in yet another successful bid for a traditional team state championship, the school’s 13th in a row.
Chase Piperato (106 lb.), Ben Kelly (113 lb.), Tyler Marinelli (138 lb.) and Jace McColskey (182 lb.) finished atop their weight classes during the Class AA state traditional meet held Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.
Jake Sherman (152 lb.), who finished second, and a group of six JHS teammates also stood on the podium for placing in the top six and scoring points toward the overall team title.
Coach Doug Thurmond nodded to those who finished in places other than first as truly launching the Dragons (192) ahead of Bremen (133.5) during the consolation round Saturday morning.
Josh Harris (126 lb.), Tanner Thurmond (132 lb.), Jack Dollar (145 lb.), Zach Rhymer (160 lb.), Aaron Anderson (220 lb.) earned third place. Tradd Porter (170 lb.) came in sixth.
The score would’ve been a lot closer, and the pressure of the team result would’ve weighed heavily on the finalists had their teammates not produced Saturday morning.
“We had a tough semifinal round. Several of our guys lost one point matches, which would’ve put them in the finals,” Thurmond said. “I hated the fact they didn’t get done what they wanted to get done. But they did well. All five of those kids who did not win busted their behinds and ended up coming back and (placing). I was extremely proud of them for doing what they did. That clinched it point wise.”
The individual state champions, meanwhile, were excellent, the coach added, with senior Jake Sherman fighting hard despite his second place finish on his 18th birthday.
“Ben Kelly faced a returning state champion from Dublin, which Kelly won in a one-point match. He really wrestled great,” Thurmond said. “Marinelli and Piperato and Jace, they all really jumped on their kids quick.”
Piperato, who had to wait until the final match of the day, said the wait was unnerving but worth it.
He lost in the finals last year. He said that experience helped him prepare for the excitement of Saturday’s final, which he won 10-2.
“It is amazing,” said Piperato, a sophomore. “I finally got what I wanted. I felt like I dominated most of my matches.”
McColskey, a senior, described winning as a “sweet feeling, when you go and get it done.” His toughest battle came in the semifinal, too. (His opponent in the finals was disqualified.) For McColskey, the title was four years in the making.
“I knew it was my last tournament. On Friday, I knew it was my last first match of the tournament ever,” he said. “It was kind of nerve wracking considering everything. I just went out there feeling like I had something to prove.”
There was a close call during the second period of his match during which his opponent scored on a big move and he was on his back for 45 seconds.
“I was able to keep him from pinning me,” McColskey said. “The whole time I was just thinking I don’t want it to end here. I was out there for my grandfather (Ed McColskey). He passed away after the first tournament. I felt like he was out there protecting me in that match.”
McColskey also commented on the effort put out by those who fell short in the semifinal round.
“I’m proud of every single one of them,” the senior said. “They all worked their buts off. We won it in the consolation. That’s what they meant to us.”
Senior Aaron Anderson was among those heartbroken because of the individual result.
He narrowly lost 3-1 to an opponent he’d beaten before but overcame the hurt overnight in order to fight back.
“When I lost it was terrible. But I knew I could come back and wrestle hard and get third. I did not want to look back, quit and know that I was a part of the team that lost. The goals changed overnight. I wanted to be a state champ, after that I just wanted to help the team win,” Anderson said. “We just wanted to leave on a winning note. People remember who the state champions are, but if we would have broken the streak, people would’ve remembered who we were.”
Sherman, who finished in second, was especially moved by the effort of all those who overcame semifinal disappointment, especially Zach Rhymer.
As team captain he pulled Rhymer aside and told the junior a story from the previous year. It involved injury and perseverance despite losing to the same opponent in the finals who he had beaten three times during the season.
“I told him he was going to be something great next year for Jefferson,” Sherman said. “That he did not need to get down on himself ….I told him the team needed to get back up and do well.”
It might be that level of caring and support for one another, and the JHS legacy, that set them apart from other teams, Thurmond said.
“You don’t want any of these kids to leave knowing they were the year that blew it and did not win,” he said. “With this group, there are some really nice, neat kids who are on this team. They really wanted it. They really wanted this one.”