High school wrestlers drop down weight classes to make postseason runs

Feb. 23—The landscape of the postseason wrestling tournament has changed somewhat with a handful of area wrestlers dropping down a weight class heading into this weekend's sectional tournament.

Just how seismic of a shift will be known once the state wrestling tournament runs its course the weekend of March 8-10.

Four Mentor wrestlers — Diego Stropko, Jack DeBoe, Nick Blackburn and Antonio Shelley — have all dropped down a weight class from the classes they wrestled throughout the season in anticipation of what they hope (and expect) to be a long postseason Division I tournament run.

NDCL's Bryce Wheatley, a returning state-placer, has certified at 215 pounds for this week's Division II sectional after wrestling all season at heavyweight.

Sectional tournaments around the state will commence on Feb. 24, which then funnel into distict tournaments March 2-3. The state tournament is March 8-10 at Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of Ohio State University for both boys and girls wrestlers.

"It's really exciting," Mentor senior Nick Blackburn said of the group of four Cardinals who have cut down a weight class for a tournament run. "This group — we never stop. It's good seeing our work paying off. All of our goals and aspirations, we're on a good path for them right now."

Stropko (37-5) wrestled at 132 for most of the year. He will drop down to 126 from here on out. It's a weight at which he certified at a recent dual against Brunswick. He was ranked as the No. 7-ranked 132-pounder in Intermat's state rankings last week and now enters a 126-pound class where Perrysburg's Cole Evans sits atop the rankings.

"I hadn't made the decision I wanted to go down until ast month," said Stropko, a state alternate last year. "I chose to go down because I feel I have a good dshot at a state title at 126 and I was too small for 132. ... I feel good going into this weekend. I feel ready to compete and have fun and just be present these last coule weeks of the season."

DeBoe (27-10) has wrestled at 138 most of this season, but is going down to 132. It's a weight at which he certified early in the season at the Walsh Jesuit Ironman. Now he's heading back to 132 in hopes of bettering the fourth-place finish he took at last year's state tournament at 120 pounds.

Intermat has Perrysburg's Marcus Blaze as the top-ranked Division I 132-pounder. DeBoe's path to Columbus could go through a district bracket including Stow's Robert Davis and Walsh Jesuit's Jonathan Campbell.

Blackburn is coming off a season in which he finished third at 132 pounds. He is 37-4 this season and had previously certified at 138 for a dual at Ashland. Because of the drop in weight classes, he has gone from the fourth-ranked 144-pounder (via Intermat) to a 138-pound bracket loaded with talent in Massillon Perry's Charles Curtis, St. Edward's Kade Brown and Brecksville's Jace Jett — just to name a few.

"I feel good at this weight," Blackburn said. "I think this little cut gives me a little bit of an edge. I feel like I'm in a zone where I am right now."

When asked if he feels the cut makes him a state favorite, Blackburn said, "I consider myself the favorite because I always have. I want others to look at me and say 'Oh, I have to wrestle Nick Blackburn. That's a problem.' That's always been my mindset in the postseason."

Shelley heads into postseason action with a 31-6 record, mostly accrued at 150 pounds. He certified at 144 at the Ashland dual and — just like the other three — wrestled at his new weight class in a dual with Edgewood last week.

An All-Ohio first-teamer in football, Shelley is a three-time state-qualifier who placed fourth at the state tournament last season at 138 pounds. He joins a 144-pound bracket, where Blackburn formerly resides, that includes the likes of Dublin Coffman's Omar Ayoub and St. Edward's Ryan Bennett.

Aside from the Mentor quartet, the other big name from the area to cut down a weight class is NDCL's Wheatley. A three-time state-qualifier and a returning state-placer at 190 pounds, Wheatley is 37-6 this season with all 43 matches wrestled at heavyweight. He nearly made the 215-pound certification at last weekend's Crown Conference Tournament, missing by 3.8 pounds, but certified at 215 this week.

Intermat had Wheatley ranked as the 10th-best Division II heavyweight. He's now in a 215-pound bracket along with Intermat's projected top two in Columbus DeSales' Max Shulaw and Ontario's Landon Campbell. But at the Kenston District in which Wheatley will wrestle, only Girard's Isaac Griffith is in Intermat's top 16 in that weight class.

"I've been slowly dropping (weight) for a few months," Wheatley said. "For me, it was just a change of eating habits. I just stuck to a better diet. (Being at 215) is just a better weight for me. When you're 225-230 and wrestling guys who are 280, that's a lot."