In hindsight, it was hard for it not to be.
But now that Norwalk sophomore wrestler Ethan Hernandez suffered his first loss of the season in last week’s Division II district title match at 160 pounds — the important thing is for nothing to change.
“Just the waiting for the day to come where there is that little No. 1 next to you’re name, or if there is more losses than than that — it was on my mind, for sure,” Hernandez said. “There is a lot of pressure to keep it there, especially when everyone is congratulating you every week and rooting for you to keep that zero there. To keep it that long and to try and do it again the next two years that I have is a lot of pressure, but it’s a really cool feeling that I embrace.”
Hernandez is one of three Norwalk wrestlers along with classmates Gabe Phillips and Alec Maloney who will compete in today’s Div. II state championships at Ohio State University in Columbus. He entered last Saturday’s title match against Wauseon’s Xavier Torres with 44 straight wins this season.
The much-anticipated match was expected to be close, and it didn’t disappoint, with Torres coming away with a 4-1 decision.
It appeared Hernandez had a takedown for two points with 23 seconds left, which would have cut the deficit to 4-3 and given him a better chance at forcing overtime, but it was overturned.
“I was heartbroken,” Hernandez said. “There were a few calls that I wish would have went my way, but things don’t always go your way and you have to expect that. Coach (Jeff) Phillips always says to win and lose as a champion. I always try and keep that in my head, so I didn’t storm off the mat or throw stuff.
“I eventually did go in the back and cooled down in my own way and came back out for Gabe and Alec’s matches,” he added. “It was hard, but I got over it. It’s just one match.”
Hernandez, who went 1-2 at state as a freshman a year ago, opens with Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary senior David Johnson (13-1) today. If he were to win, the defending state champion, Ryan Thomas of St. Paris Graham, likely awaits. Thomas pinned Hernandez a year ago at state.
Mentor Lake Catholic’s Kevon Freeman, who won the state title at 145 last season and bumped up two weights, is also in the bracket, along with Torres and another returning state placer.
Undeterred, Hernandez enters today with high expectations one would expect from a 44-1 wrestler.
“Going 1-2 was not good enough for me, and it certainly won’t be good enough this year,” he said. “Honestly, placing would be a great accomplishment, but eighth place is not good enough. I think anything lower than fifth isn’t good enough because I have high expectations for myself, and Gabe and Alec. If we wrestle the way I feel we can, I think sky is the limit.”
Gabe Phillips (182)
Just go down and perform.
Phillips, who placed third last week at districts, isn’t looking to do anything more than that when his name is called to take the mat in the 182-pound championship bracket today.
“Just do what we’ve been practicing all year,” he said. “Just do our best, really. We all believe we have a chance to place. I honestly think if we perform like we can, that will happen.”
Phillips (36-6) opens with sophomore Alex Carrothers (Carrollton), who is 33-9. Canfield’s David Crawford is a three-time state placer and won the state title at 170 last year, but moved up to 182 and will be a favorite. One other state placer in bracket.
Already a state qualifier, Phillips said this week has been just focusing on the basics — something he learned several years ago.
“Brad Hokes and my dad, they taught us the basics — and that’s what you need in wrestling,” he said. “You don’t need anything but the basics. If you can hit the simple moves, you’re set. Sky is the limit if you know the basic stuff.
“They taught us that well. But they taught us the basic things you need to get this far,” Phillips added.
Alec Maloney (195)
The third sophomore, Maloney (42-5), opens with about as difficult of a matchup as one can draw.
He faces Germantown Valley View’s Stone Day (34-1), a senior and two-time state placer who finished runners-up a year ago at 195. Day’s only loss is to Graham’s Greg Braun, the runners-up at 182 last year that is in the other half of the bracket beginning today.
“Placing at state will take hard work,” Maloney said. “It takes a good mental game. Wrestling is 90 percent mental, and I need to get my mind mentally prepared to go down there.
“It’s going to be a tough first match, but win or lose I’ll have to be able to bounce back,” he added. “We’ll just have to see.”