Senior Derek Gross, the school’s only 4-time state qualifier and only 4-time state placer, wrapped up his legendary career with a third place finish in the 145-pound weight class. Gross entered the tournament with a perfect 51-0 record and carrying his expectations of himself. He breezed through his first two matches of the tournament on Thursday and Friday, but had a bit of a hiccup in the semifinals falling 8-2 to send him to the consolation bracket.
Gross needed a pair of wins on Saturday to come away with a third place finish. Gross took care of Dylan Mansor of Oak Harbor 8-3 after the two met at last week’s district meet with Gross coming away with an overtime victory. The win put Gross into the consolation bracket final against Cody Rhoads of Orwell Grand Valley.
Gross came away with a convincing 7-2 victory and a third place finish.
“I felt like it is the best I have finished at a state tournament,” Gross said. “It feels good to go out with a win in my final match of my high school career. I have never won my last match of the season before. So it just feels really good to end it on a good note.”
St. Paul coach Casey Harrington admitted he noticed something different in Gross’s eyes heading into the final day of the state tournament and it proved to be true as Gross dominated is final two matches.
“He wanted it,” Harrington said. “I saw the fire in his eyes and he wanted it really bad. He took third and I know his original goal was to take first, but that wasn’t on the table anymore. His next goal was third and to go out with a medal.”
Gross ad set some extremely high expectations heading into the state meet claiming anything short of a state title would be a disappointment, but after a third place finish, he was very happy with his performance in his final year of his career. But Gross had to overcome something he hadn’t had to all season long, a loss.
“I used the match I lost yesterday as fuel to battle back today,” Gross said. “I wanted to get that third place finish and it was just great to finish on top. I couldn’t have done it without my coaches’ help and my teammates. Owen Starcher and come other guys came out to support me. I was really happy to see them.”
Harrington knew from experience that he just needed to let the loss run its course with Gross. Later on in the hotel on Friday night, Harrington sat with Gross for the post-game speech.
“Any wrestler than loses, for the next half hour to an hour or until they get a shower, their mindset is not quite there for that time,” Harrington said. “I had to give him the post-game speech well after that. We sat him down and reminded him how important the rest of the way really was. It wasn’t over and he still had some matches left. To mentally get past that, it says it all.”
Gross finishes as St. Paul’s only 4-time state qualifier and already broke a school record as a 3-time state placer before this season. He is a 3-time Firelands Conference champ and ends the season with an unbelievable 55-1 record. Harrington admits Gross made his job easy this year after being named Firelands Conference Coach of the Year.
“Good coaches inherit some great wrestlers and he is one of the greatest,” Harrington said. “His dad took him around when he was little and spent countless hours taking him everywhere. He is a Barnett-trained wrestler so you know how good he has been taught. He is not only making me a better coach, but he is making his teammates better.”
Gross isn’t sure about what comes next, but he admits wrestling will be a part of his future.
“I want to wrestle in college, but I am not exactly sure yet,” Gross said. “I am still looking around.”
Harrington admits where every Gross goes, the college is going to get a gem.
“He is just a very solid kid,” Harrington said. “He will always look at me and say, “What do you need me to do coach?” He does it all. This year was just a testament to how tough he really is. In life, you get knocked down. Thats why I love wrestling.”