By Dan Gilles
The 38th Annual Black River J.B. Firestone Wrestling Invitational was not particularly kind to the two local teams competing in the 14-team field – Lutheran West and Rocky River.
The two crosstown rivals both finished in the bottom third of the team standings, with Lutheran West finishing 10th with 75 points and Rocky River finishing 13 with 49.
The Longhorns had three lightweight wrestlers reach the championship match in their respective brackets. However, all three could not get over the hump and could only claim second-place medals. Also, those three were the only placers in the top four that Lutheran West had.
Two of those three ran into North Ridgeville wrestlers in the finals, and both were beaten.
Freshman Tim Mecklenburg had the best chance of the three to win an individual championship, coming into the 106-pound finals with a 14-0 record. However, sophomore Evan Collier edged Mecklenburg, 4-3, to win the finals.
That win spurred the Rangers to a tournament-best four individual championships, going 4-for-4 in the finals.
North Ridgeville’s Drew Dickson (113) made it 2-for-2 over the Longhorns with a 16-1 technical fall over Bryce Deblock.
“I didn’t expect to see (Deblock) in the finals, to be honest with you,” said Dickson, who went 3-0 and improved to 15-0 on the season. “They seeded (Black River’s Spencer White) first and me second, and we met in the semifinals. I was able to beat him 8-4, so I was a little disappointed we didn’t meet with the championship on the line.
“I wrestled (Deblock) in the offseason, and I might have already won that match before it even started. I’m not trying to be cocky; I think that’s just how it was.”
Senior Ryan Rusnak made it an 0-for-3 championship round for the Longhorns with a 15-0 technical fall loss to Western Reserve’s Chase Griffith at 126.
Lutheran West went into the final round setting in ninth, just one point behind Port Clinton and 10 points ahead of Columbia. However, the Raiders scored 14 points in the finals with a champion and two thirds and passed up their Patriot Athletic Conference rivals.
Lutheran West coach Dave Ressler left the tournament early without speaking to reporters.
Rocky River only had one wrestler place in the top four. Unlike the Longhorns, the Pirates’ lone wrestler was victorious in his finals match.
Sophomore Dom Campanalie, who was 6-14 heading into his third-place match at 152, edged New London’s K.C. Hale, 5-4, to take third. Hale was 3-1 prior to the match.
“Dom wrestled real well all tournament,” Rocky River coach Erik Toukkola said. “He’s really been coming on. It’s good, because we had to throw him out in an upper-weight class last year and he had to take his lumps.
“He also had some problems with injuries, and he really dedicated himself to getting healthy and coming back and contributing to the team. He’s just a great kid.”
Campanalie reached the semifinals with a 9-3 win over Port Clinton’s Caleb Cuevas and a 54-second pin over North Ridgeville’s David DiFilippo. But he was pinned in 1:13 by the eventual tournament Most Valuable Wrestler, Brett Fortune of West Salem Northwestern.
Fortune wound up becoming the first-ever four-time champion in the 38-year history of the tournament when he pinned Collins Western Reserve’s Cody Ramage in 3:32.
Hale lost his first-round bout but ran off three straight wins in the wrestlebacks to reach the third-place match against Campanalie.
“It was a tough match,” Toukkola said. “We were having a little bit of trouble on top, and we knew we had to throw him out at the end to avoid a possible penalty point or a reversal that would have tied it up. I thought, since we dominated on our feet all match, that would be the safe choice.
“But it was nice to get the win for Dom. I really wanted him to get that, because this was his first chance in the spotlight.”
Toukkola knows that his team isn’t built for tournament success.
“I knew coming in that we were more of a dual (meet) team and that tournaments would be a little bit of a struggle for us,” he said. “We don’t have any guys that have proven themselves in tournaments, so that’s going to be a slow progression for those guys to where they’re placing high in tournaments and we’re scoring high.
“Being 2-0 in our dual meets and getting this experience, I’m real happy with the progression of the team.”