Howland’s Stark wins first state title since 1984

COLUMBUS – The final seconds were ticking away for Gabe Stark in the state finals, and with the match tied, he had a decision to make.

Go for the win, or let it go into overtime.

“There was 5 seconds left, and I was thinking, ‘Do I just save what I have left for overtime?’ Then I thought, ‘Forget that.’ I went for it and just gave it everything,” Stark said.

Everything was enough.

Stark hit a switch and secured a reversal with 2 seconds remaining in the third period to beat Shelden Struble, 4-2, and win the Division II, 145-pound state championship in thrilling fashion.

The senior is the first Tiger to claim a title since Brad Gintert last accomplished the feat in 1984. There have been four runners-up during that span, and Craig Jennings also took second in 1977. That wasn’t going to cut it for Stark.

“I’m happy I get the big bracket,” said Stark in regards to the large copy of the state bracket that is given to the winner. “I wanted the big bracket. Second place gets a little one. I was like, ‘No way.’ “

It took all 6 minutes for Stark to get his hands on it.

The match was tied at zero heading into the third period, and Stark chose the bottom referee’s position. He earned a reversal in the first few seconds to take a 2-0 lead, but Strubel, a senior with a 52-2 record, tied things up with about 50 seconds left with a reversal of his own. He was able to control Stark with a leg laced around Stark’s leg for the next 48 seconds, but Stark found a way to scoot his hips out and drive Strubel to his side just before time expired. Stark tried a similar move a few seconds earlier and couldn’t finish it. He did this time.

“You only have so much strength left at the end of match,” Stark explained. “You’re dead tired, and you just gotta dig real deep to get the two points at the end. Then you see 5 seconds and you just go for it. Just everything you have. That took EVERYTHING I had.”

Stark let out a scream that could be heard throughout the Jerome Schottenstein Center as he rose to his feet at the conclusion of the match. Howland coach Bill Beasom then made a zero with his hand and showed it to Stark’s parents in the stands. Beasom said he and Gabe’s mom, Trish Stark talked at the sectional tournament about how Gabe needed exactly 12 more victories to win a state title, and he pointed to her after each win to signify the amount of matches remaining until he reached that mark.

“Finally, I got to hold up the zero and show his mom,” Beasom said with a smile.

The win ended a long state-title drought for the Tigers. Howland endured several close calls in its four previous state finals appearances, but Beasom said he could sense a title was near after Stark defeated Max Rohskopf in the semifinals on Friday. Rohskopf was ranked No. 1 in the state by several publications and beat Stark in last year’s state tournament. Stark won Friday’s bout, 6-0, and carried the momentum into Saturday.

“I knew that he had a really good shot to win it because (Rohskopf) was probably going to be his toughest match,” Beasom said. “This one was even more exhilarating because of the fact that it is our first state champ since 1984. Brad (Gintert) was up in the stands. He yelled down at me, and he came down and talked to Gabe. It was pretty neat. Brad’s always wanted to have someone next to him.”

Stark made sure that happened.

He said he might not have been able to finish the winning move had he not put in extra time after practice and spent his summer traveling around the country to different tournaments some of the toughest in the nation. He jumped rope when practice ended, wrestled with coaches, ran extra sprints and did anything he could to gain an edge an edge he needed in the final seconds of the state finals.

“It was worth it,” Stark said. “All the work was worth it. Top two in the state is cool. That’s good. But I wouldn’t have been happy. It wouldn’t have been a fun ride home. I would have been quiet.”

Beasom hopes Stark’s work ethic shows anyone else in the Tigers’ program that extra effort can go a long way. Not only did Howland add its second state champ, but the Tigers finished ninth in Division II in the team standings, only their third top-10 finish in school history.

“It’s someone for the kids to look up to,” Beasom said. “Brad’s like a myth. I know Brad, and we talk about him a lot in our program. We like to have our ex-wrestlers come around, and he’s still part of our program, but now we have someone a little more current, which is always satisfying.”