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Perry wrestling coach Dave Rowan after final match: 'It's been a good ride'

Mar. 10—COLUMBUS — His arm around his son, Perry wrestling coach Dave Rowan held back some tears as he pondered the realization in front of him.

He had just coached his last wrestling match as the Pirates' head coach.

"It's been a good ride," Rowan said, his voice cracking with emotion.

In storybook fashion, his final match of his 35-year coaching career came with him in the corner coaching up his son, Riley, who placed fourth ‌in the Division III 126-pound class.

Rowan has known this day was coming for a while, since way back before the end of his season when he informed the Perry administration that he'd be stepping down after 24 years as the Pirates' head coach. But now that the moment had come, he wasn't sure how to feel.

"It is (hard to believe it's over)," he said. "It hasn't sunk in yet. I'm just glad Riley got this far. It's been a great experience. Obviously you want to place higher, but I'm just happy we got this far."

Riley finished with a 3-2 loss to Milan Edison's Abe Hermes in a rematch of an early-season tournament that Hermes won by a 6-5 score. When the match ended, Riley — knowing it was his and his father's final match of their high school careers — collapsed in his dad's arms and had tears streaming down his cheeks.

"It's tough," the first-time state-placer said. "I'm just grateful to be with my family while I'm doing it. It was my dad's last time in the corner. It's emotional, but at the end of the day I'm proud to be here and accomplish I accomplished."

Riley Rowan was one of a number of area wrestlers who placed in the state tournament prior to the championship round that was scheduled to begin later in the evening.

In Division I, Riverside's David Rocha (120) and Mentor's Antonio Shelley (144) placed eighth, while Mentor's Nick Blackburn (138) placed third for the second year in a row.

In Division II, Benedictine's Christopher Maloney placed fourth at 175 and NDCL's Bryce Wheatley was third at 215.

A quintet of Lake Catholic wrestlers spearheaded the Division III contingent who placed, with all five of its entries getting to the podium, including Chance Wuhr (sixth at 106), Tommy Slack (fifth at 113), Joey Romano (third at 132) and Danny Zmorowski (third at 215). Senior Parker Pikor finished second at 120.

Beachwood's Caleb Greenwood was eighth at 150, and in the girls' slate, Brush's Le'Naysia Dickson placed eighth.

Those matches were all held hours before Pikor (Division II 120), Hawken heavyweight Will Greenberg and Riverside heavyweight Antonio Bottiggi wrestled for state championships.

Blackburn lost his semifinal match on March 9, but won consecutive decisions in the final day — including a 3-2 win over Cincinnati LaSalle's Holden Huhn — to place third for the second year in a row.

"It's not where I wanted to be," said Blackburn (47-6). "I wanted to win it. But I knew I had to bounce back (after the semis)."

After missing a state berth his first two years, Blackburn said, "it lit a fire under me and got me moving. This is my life pretty much."

By placing eighth, Shelley (39-10) became a three-time placer and four-time qualifier for the Mentor program. Rocha finished his season at Riverside 43-9.

In Division II, Wheatley's third-place finish is the highest in program history, eclipsing the fourth-place finish by Joe Mohner in 1998. He blanked Indian Valley's Jaxon Burcher, 3-0, in the third-place match. Bouncing back from a disappointing semifinal loss was an exercise in mental strength, since Wheatley led that match until the final 10 seconds. But finishing on a high note was important to him.

"It means a lot, coming into a program that is not well-known for wrestling," Wheatley (48-7) said. "I was out here to make a statement. I wanted to be first, but I'll take third and end my high school career with a win."

The Division III entries were headed by Lake Catholic, which placed all five of its wrestlers — three of whom are freshmen — to place third in the team race.

Chance Wuhr (32-12) placed sixth with a 9-0 major decision loss to Genoa's Ethan Powell at 106, Tommy Slack decisioned Milan Edison's Xander Gfell-King, 7-0, to place fifth at 113 and Zmorowski (43-7) avenged an early-tournament loss with a 7-0 win over Archbold's Wyat Ripke to place third.

Zmorowski is the only freshman 215-pounder in the state tournament this weekend, regardless of division.

"I don't see it as a challenge. I see it as wrestling another guy," Zmorowski said of his age deficiency this weekend. "It doesn't matter to me what grade they are."

Romano (48-5) won two matches on the final day to place third, including a 4-1 decision over Northmor's Cowin Becker for third place. In the consi semis, he put Waynedale's Caden Schmeltzer to his back in a 5-point move at the end for an 11-8 win — dislocating his finger in the process.

"Adrenaline was the biggest thing," said Romano, who held up his hand after the win and showed his corner his crooked finger. "I didn't feel it at all. Honestly, it was sheer win. I have that drive to win. I hate losing."

Dickson was pinned in her match for seventh place, but leaves Columbus as the first area girl wrestler to place in a sanctioned OHSAA state tournament.