Howland’s Stark, Whisler win in first round

COLUMBUS – Gabe Stark tried his best not to do anything out of the ordinary during the first round of the state wrestling tournament, but he just couldn’t help himself.

A fashion statement had to be made.

“I never wear my glasses, but I broke ’em out for this,” said Stark, who was adamant the glasses were legit, and he wasn’t trying to mock Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who often wear fake glasses during postgame interviews as a fad. “No, these are prescription.”

His wrestling seems for real, too.

Stark, along with Howland sophomore David Brian Whisler, won their first-round matches at the state wrestling tournament on Friday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center.

Stark pinned Tristan Stallard of Carrollton in 1 minute, 6 seconds, and Whisler defeated Andrew Dunn of Hamilton Ross, 8-2, to advance to the quarterfinals. Both continue their pursuit of a Division II state title at 10 a.m. today. The Tigers’ Jordan Radich lost his first-round match but won his consolation bout to remain in contention to place as high as third.

The veteran of the group, Stark, may have sported some new specs (he actually wore them to avoid losing a contact during the match), but he stuck with his usual attack on the wrestling mat. The senior used an ankle pick to score a takedown and then secured a half nelson to pin Stallard. Both are moves the 145-pound Stark has used on a regular basis this year.

“Sticking to the basics,” said Stark, who placed fifth in the state at 138 pounds last season. “You definitely want to wrestle a smart match. You don’t want to try anything you’ve never hit before. You just want to stick with what got you here – your best moves.”

Whisler took a similar approach. He dominated Dunn on his feet, his strongest position, according to Howland coach Bill Beasom. He secured four takedowns and allowed just two escapes. His ability to perform at the highest level as just a sophomore didn’t’ surprise Beasom.

“He’s wrestled in big arenas,” Beasom said. “He wrestled in Fargo (North Dakota), and he’s been in big domes. Stuff like that, it helps emulate situations like this one.”

Whisler’s opponent was actually a late addition to the tournament. His original foe, Kordell Ford of Hillsboro, didn’t pass the skin check at weigh-ins and was eliminated from the tournament. The officials look for all types of skin infections (ringworm, staph, impetigo, etc.), but there is no way to know the exact reason he was disqualified. That information is not disclosed.

That was a bit of an advantage for Whisler because Ford was 46-3 and placed fourth in the state last year at 160 pounds. Whisler didn’t look at it that way, however. He was excited about the better competition.

“I was looking forward to that big match,” said Whisler, who improved to 31-5. “So it was bittersweet. I wanted to kind of make my name out here by beating that kid, but everything worked out. The plan was to win my first match.”

Whisler wrestles Seth Williams (44-2) of Tiffin Columbuian in the quarterfinals. Stark squares off with Nate Valentine (38-7) of Wapakoneta. The Division II round is scheduled to begin at 10:35 a.m.

Radich, a sophomore with a 31-10 record, used a second-period takedown to go up 3-0 and held on for a 3-1 decision over Dalton Jones. Radich’s next opponent won’t be determined until the quarterfinals conclude. Howland senior Josh Grodesky, 182 pounds, lost his first-round matchup, 16-1, and dropped his consolation bout, 8-3, which eliminated him from the tournament.

Beasom said the focal point for the Tigers on day one was to stay within themselves and not attempt moves outside of their ability.

“You do what got you here,” he said. “There’s no reason to change it up. It was good enough to get you to the state tournament, and it’s good enough to keep winning with.”