By Dan Gilles
It was, arguably, the most anticipated championship match of the 8th annual Patriot Athletic Conference wrestling tournament, which was held last Saturday at Wellington High School.
Lutheran West sophomore Tim Mecklenburg, a defending state qualifier, would be going up against Black River senior Mike Hozan, who was trying to become just the fourth wrestler to become a three-time PAC champion, in the 120-pound finals.
Hozan trailed, 6-2, after one period, but battled back with a stellar second to tie the score at 10 early in the third.
Mecklenburg, a sophomore, got a point for an escape with a minute to go, then was not only able to avoid being taken down or getting pegged a stalling point, but wound getting a takedown just before time expired to come away with the 14-10 victory and the championship.
Had Hozan won, he would have only been the fourth three-time PAC champion in the conference’s eight-year history. Thanks to Mecklenburg’s win, he was named the PAC’s Most Valuable Wrestler.
“I was expecting a good, hard match and he really gave it to me,” said Mecklenburg, who helped the Longhorns finish fourth with 114 points. “I had fun out there. I had not (wrestled him this year), so I went in there, not knowing what to expect. I went out there and gave it my all and wound up getting the job done.
“I was thinking, ‘I can do this. If I really push and do it hard, I can pull out through this.’ After taking third here last year, it was a goal to come in here and win a championship this year.”
Hozan’s loss didn’t dampen a tremendous comeback for the Pirates, who went into the final round in sixth place but wound up finishing second with 121 points and three champions –Sebastian Vidika (106), Spencer White (113) and Ryan Slone (220).
“It would have been nice if Mike would have made it titles for all three of us, but Mecklenburg’s a good opponent,” Vidika said. “I wrestled him last year in the semifinals, although it should have been the finals, and we wrestled a very close match.”
Mecklenburg was one of two individual champions for the Longhorns, joining Andrew Liese (170). Liese pinned Fairview’s Amin Awad in 1:10 to claim his first PAC championship.
“I thought we did really well,” Lutheran West coach Dave Ressler said. “Our goal was to be at the top of our Stripes Division in this tournament, and we reached our goal. Fifth overall is pretty good, especially because of how close everything was (seven teams from second to eighth finished within 17 points of each other).
“We were one point away from having our 160-pounder wrestle for the championship. We had a lot of close matches. My 195-pounder and 220-pounder are both at home. If those could have wrestled, I believe we could have placed even higher. But having two champions is awesome.”
The Longhorns were only five points behind Buckeye and Brookside, which finished tied for third, and seven points behind the runner-up Pirates.
Fairview edged both Clearview (seventh, 107) and host Wellington (eighth, 104) for sixth place with 108 points. The Warriors were just six points behind Lutheran West.
Ressler gave credit to both Mecklenburg and Liese.
“Andrew is a senior and deserved to win this thing,” he said. “He dropped down to 170 for the first time this season and poured it on and had no problem whatsoever.
“Tim’s win was huge. To beat a quality wrestler like Mike is unbelievable. I’m so happy he got the MVP award. It shows that the coaches recognized that that was an amazing match. While 132 was by far the toughest bracket here, that match between Tim and Mike was amazing. We look forward to having it again in three weeks (at districts).”
Fairview also wound up with two individual champions in Jake Taylor (138) and Tyler Keating (195).
Taylor, like his namesake, the fictional catcher for the Cleveland Indians in the Major League movies, came through in the clutch, edging Brooklyn’s Matt Gatto, 5-3, to claim his first conference title. Taylor had two third-period pins to clinch his spot in the finals.
Keating pinned Columbia’s Jose Caraballo in 1:09 to win his first conference championship. Liese had a pin and a 12-5 decision over defending PAC champion Jeremy King of Keystone in the semifinals to punch his ticket to the championship bout.
Ian Long finished second at 285 for Lutheran West, losing a 3-2 overtime decision to Clearview’s Deion Arnold in the final match. Jacob Ressler (106), Adler Vasiloff (138) and Gevin Maxwell (145) each finished fourth for the Longhorns.
C.J. McNamee, who dropped a 6-3 semifinal decision to 160-pound champion Alex Wilk of Buckeye in the semifinals, was eliminated with an 11-4 decision in the consolation semis by Firelands’ Noah Pine.
Other placers for Fairview included Awad (second, 170), Mitch Minnich (third, 160) and Tom Palisin (fourth, 120).