But for St. Paul senior Derek Gross, he is hoping it will be the fourth time. Gross became the first St. Paul wrestler to etch his name in the history books as a 4-time state qualifier with a Division III district championship on Saturday in the 145-pound weight class. After already making history as the school’s only 3-time state placer last season, Gross has an opportunity to cement and even greater legacy with a shot at a state title.
Gross heads into the Division III individual state tournament with a perfect 51-0 record and the top seed in the weight class. But a final “Shot at the Schott” has Gross reflecting on his past four years. As a freshman, he took fourth place then ramped it up as a sophomore to take runner-up. He dropped back to fourth place as a junior giving him a podium spot three consecutive years.
“I just sit back and think about all of the hard work that went into it,” Gross said. “It was a huge team effort to get to state four times. My freshman year, Jesse, my older brother, pushed me a lot then when I was a sophomore, Wes Fritz took me under his wing. Last year and this year, Sam Meyer was my drill partner and helped me all the way.
“They did an amazing job just helping me get to where I wanted to be. The coaches were amazing Coach (Pat) Welfle was great my freshman and sophomore year. Then coach (Casey) Harrington jumped in the past two years and he has been a huge help.”
Second year St. Paul coach Casey Harrington noticed something different in Gross from last year to this year and believes he has what it takes as the weekend approaches.
“He has amped it up a lot from last year to this year,” Harrington said. “He has really gone after it this season more than last. He has gone up against a lot tougher competition this season even though he did come away with some losses last season. The competition got better and we are still winning those close matches. That is huge since we are going down to state.”
Close matches have become a theme for the senior. He won a sectional title in overtime against Edison’s Alex Neuberger. A week later, he took the district championship with another overtime win over Dylan Mansor of Oak Harbor. Gross says there is one thing that sets him apart from his competition when it comes to winning close matches.
“Conditioning has been the X-factor,” Gross said. “We condition every day for the last 20 minutes of practice every day. It builds our endurance to the point that going eight minutes isn’t all that hard to do.”
Although Harrington seems to get louder as the time rolls down, he admits he has full confidence in the senior.
“We seem intense when we are in the situation, but the thought of him losing the match never crosses my mind,” Harrington said. “We take the lead early, then we play the mental game. We may seem like we are losing it, but inside, we are very confident. If the match goes into overtime, I know we will win it.”
The close matches have prepared Gross for a grueling 3-day tournament where he needs just four more wins to claim a state title. He could become the sixth wrestler in school history to find himself on top of the podium joining Dave Rospert, Ed Young, Scott Jaworski, Kevin Jaworski and John Wasiniak. More than joining that elite list, Gross wants to win it for his family.
It will be the 11th time Gross’s parents, Tom and Rubi, watches a son at the state tournament.
“First off, I want to go down as a state champion and finish off on the top of the podium,” Gross said. “Jesse was a 3-time state qualifier after missing it his junior year. So it is just great to be able to bring the 4-time legacy to the family.
“It would mean everything to be able to put my name up there with the Jaworski’s, the Rospert’s and Ed Young. That would just be an incredible accomplishment and with a little bit of luck, maybe that can happen.”
With high goals comes high expectations. And no one has higher expectations that Gross himself.
“My expectation is to just win state,” Gross said. “I would say anything short of a state title is a disappointment.”
Though his coach disagrees, he likes that Gross is expecting the best out of himself.
“I wouldn’t say it will be a disappointment,” Harrington said. “It is definitely the goal because a podium visit is very possible. So, why not shoot for the stars? He just needs to wrestle a match at a time and as long as he keeps wrestling how he knows how, he could never disappoint me. He has proven to me on and off the mat that he is a solid kid and that is the only thing I care about.”
The Division III Preliminaries kick off at 3 p.m. on Thursday as Gross drew Thomas Forbes of Loudonville, who is 38-10, in the first round.