Division I district wrestling: Mentor qualifies five to state tournament

Mar. 2—NORTH CANTON — They came into wrestling together, they'll go out together.

As Antonio Shelley stood matside of the Division I wrestling tournament watching his teammates clinch spot after spot in next weekend's state tournament, he harkened back to the days that he and classmates Diego Stropko, Nick Blackburn and Jack DeBoe all toddled into the Mentor wrestling room to take the first steps in the sport they'd soon become to love.

"The four of us, plus Liam (Lloyd), grew up together," Shelley said. "We've been wrestling together every day since like third grade. Seeing those guys succeed while also succeeding myself is a great feeling."

With their strong performances in the North Canton Hoover District on March 2, all five of those Cardinals will flock together at Jerome Schottenstein Center next weekend for the Division I state tournament — Stropko at 126, DeBoe at 132, Blackburn at 138, Shelley at 144 and Lloyd (a junior) at 175. The five state qualifiers equals the quintet Mentor sent to Columbus in 2009 and is just short of the six qualifiers Mentor snapped up in 2003.

Antonio Shelley discusses being the first 4x state qualifier in @MentorWrestling history after his semifinal win. Plus sharing his final trip with his Senior teammates

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The Mentor Five will be joined at the state tournament next weekend by Riverside's tandem of David Rocha (120) and Antonio Bottiggi (285). An eighth area Division I qualifier, Chardon's Will Vucetic, will arrive after qualifying out of the Perrysburg District.

"I fell short the past couple years, and Nick fell short his first two," Stropko said after his state-clinching semifinal win. "Now that we're all going (to state) together I think is going to be a great energy. I think the room is going to be fun. This is our last state tournament — we're really grateful. We're just going to stay in the present and enjoy this moment."

With a 5-3 decision over Wadsworth's Jack Dinwiddie in the semifinal round, Shelley became the first four-time state qualifier in program history. The previous best was Jordan Victor, now a Mentor assistant, qualifying three times. A first-team All-Ohioan in football, Shelley heads to Columbus hoping to become a three-time state placer and hopefully state champion.

Diego Stropko of @MentorWrestling is trying to stay on an even keel after clinching a state berth via a semifinal win.

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) March 2, 2024

"It feels good to get that record by my name and win some matches," said Shelley, who placed second via a 12-5 loss to Nordonia's Israel Petite in the finals.

Blackburn will make his second straight trip to Columbus thanks to a 6-2 sudden victory over Brecksville's Jace Jett in the semis. He gave up a late takedown in the finals to Massillon Perry's Charles Curtis for a 5-3 loss in the finals to place second.

"It's a big day," Blackburn said. "I knew coming in here I had to be super focused and dialed in. This is my last year. I want to soak it all in and savor the moment."

Blackburn emerged from the Hoover District last year as a 4-seed and went on to place third at state. He said having a group of friends with him in Columbus next week will be nice.

Nick Blackburn of @MentorWrestling clinches a state berth with his semifinal win. He will have plenty of his buddies with him in Columbus

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"Diego is my guy. Me and him have been together forever," he said. "I've been drilling with Antonio since I was 5 years old. We have that chemistry. It's just a great group of guys."

Blackburn was matside watching Stropko pull out a 3-1 sudden victory in the semifinals, as well as in the finals when he lost a late 8-6 decision to Brecksville's Harrison Haffner. Stropko finished as a state alternate a year ago.

"I just kept my composure and stayed in the match," he said. "I was just flowing and allowing my muscle memory to take over."

Lloyd was sidelined at last year's district tournament with an injury. But with a 4-3 decision over Nordonia's Gino Perrine in the semis, the junior 175-pounder clinched a state berth. He fought off Perrine's late attempt for a takedown, and it wasn't easy.

He missed last years district tournament with an injury, but with his semifinal win Saturday @MentorWrestling Liam Lloyd is state-bound

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) March 2, 2024

"With 15 seconds left I threw up on the mat. I was gassed," Lloyd said. "I was looking at the clock; I shouldn't have done that. But I held on until it was over.

"Having my teammates all there yelling for me was amazing, nothing like I've ever felt before."

Lloyd finished second after he was pinned by Massillon Perry's Caige Horak in the finals.

DeBoe lost his semifinal match, but then was two in a row, including a pin over Walsh Jesuit's Jonathan Campbell, to place third.

David Rocha of @RiversideWrest1 discusses qualifying for the D1 state tournament

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Riverside's David Rocha lost his semifinal match, but posted a 6-4 win over Brunswick's Edward Skiba in the consolation semifinals to clinch a state berth. He placed fourth via a 3-0 loss to Brecksville's Brett Stanley in the finals.

Teammate Antonio Bottiggi lost a 7-2 semifinal to the state's top-ranked Division I heavyweight Aidan Fockler, but he bounced back with a 5-0 win over Massillon's Chris Fair in the consi semis to clinch a return trip to state. He did so by fighting off an illness.

Antonio Bottiggi of @RiversideWrest1 discusses fighting off illness to clinch a state berth today.

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) March 2, 2024

"I had a 102-degree fever last night and didn't sleep really at all," Bottiggi said. "I got some rest and am feeling a lot better. I tried to conserve energy in my matches today.

"I'm really excited (to return to state). Now I have my teammate David Rocha qualify, too, so that's exciting."