MARCH 2, 2013 - COLUMBUS
|A.J. Ouellette took fourth place at the state meet.
|D.J. Jennings lifts his opponent during the state tournament.
Tom Barbee and some of his wrestlers won't have to talk A.J. Ouellette into going out for the wrestling team next year - not after a fourth place finish at the state tournament as a junior.
"Yep, I'm wrestling next year," confirmed Ouellette with a grin on his face after completing a surprising run in the state wrestling meet. "Next year I have to try to get back here and win it all. I'm even going to try to talk more kids to go out."
After being prodded by teammates Kyler Deeter, Brian Olson and Ben Miller to wrestle, Ouellette entered the sectional tournament with a 25-10 record and faced an uphill battle to even get out of sectionals.
But Ouellette peaked at the right time, taking runner-up to eventually state champion B.J. Toal of Troy Christian at sectionals and then earning a birth at state with a third place finish at districts.
"In the beginning of the season he tried to muscle some kids," said Covington coach Tom Barbee. "Right around sectionals he started to understand how to set things up and utilize the tools he has, his speed and athletic ability."
Not expecting much at state, Ouellette surprised even himself by opening the tournament with a win on Thursday and then winning two out of three matches on Friday to advance to the consolation semifinal against Jacob Worthington (47-6) of LaGrange Keystone on Saturday.
And like he had done previously, Ouellette stunned his opponent with a takedown in overtime to claim a 5-3 win.
He then faced a familiar foe in the consolation final, Armani Robinson (50-2) of Greenview, the same wrestler who pinned Ouellette in the championship semifinal at districts.
This time Ouellette made things much more difficult on Robinson by forcing the action against the Greenview wrestler, but Robinson was just too seasoned and too slick for Ouellette and handed the Buccaneer wrestler a 9-4 defeat.
Still, it didn't diminish Ouellette's overall performance in his first state tournament as he ended his season with a 37-14 record.
"We're proud of him," said Barbee. "We're proud of all of the kids this season. A.J. finished on the podium and that's a credit to his hard work as well as the hard work of his teammates for pushing each other in the wrestling room."
And Ouellette's performance, along with the experience of wrestling at the state meet for Daniel Jennings and Jake Sowers, capped a great season for Covington wrestling.
"Absolutely," Barbee said. "We had a state placer, two state qualifiers and four state alternates. That's a pretty good run."
And Barbee looks forward to next year with Jennings and Ouellette returning with state experience and a talented roster of kids capable of making their own mark as well.
"We have some kids who are capable of getting here (at state)," Barbee said. "It depends on how hard they are willing to work."
Work has never been an issue for Ouellette and he is already chomping at the bit to get started on another athletic quest.
"Now it's time to try and make it to state in track," he said. "I'll get back to working out and get ready for track and football - just get better for all sports."
There's no rest for athletes like A.J. Ouellette.
MARCH 1, 2013 - COLUMBUS
The unbelievable state tournament run by A.J. Ouellette continued on Friday as the junior 182 pounder assured himself a state medal by winning two of three matches on the day.
"Just believing," said Ouellette of his remedy for success. "Mike Stephen always tells me that I won't see anybody bigger, faster or stronger than me. I really didn't believe him, but I'm starting to believe him now."
A.J. also knows a lot of the wrestlers at the state level are more experienced and better technicians, which was evident by his quarterfinal loss to unbeaten Sam Groff of Magnolia Sandy Valley.
"He just outclassed us," said Covington assistant coach Eric Vanderhorst. "But A.J. did a great job of staying focused on his next match."
And that was for a spot on the podium, which Ouellete secured in impressive fashion with a 5-1 victory over Jared Leasure of Caldwell.
And Ouellette took control of the match with a takedown and followed with two near fall points on a cradle.
"It's big when you can get the first takedown, especially here (at state)," said Covington coach Tom Barbee. "Then to get the back points with the cradle put him in a nice position where he could defend."
With the victory, Ouellette became the seventh state qualifier in Covington history, but how high on the podium is still to be determined.
"I'm just taking it one at a time," Ouellette said. "Just trying to go as far as I can."
And he continued to climb the podium in the afternoon session with a 6-2 victory over Carter Harris of West Jefferson.
"A.J. was a little wound up after the morning session, so we got him away so he could relax," said Barbee.
And Ouellette returned the the mat as loose as he was when he started the tournament on Thursday as he broke open a scoreless first period with and escape and a takedown early in the second frame.
After surrendering a reversal early in the third, Ouellette immediately escaped and followed with a takedown to seal the 6-2 win.
"He's wrestling very well, doing the things he can do and not worrying about what the other guy does," Barbee said. "You don't really have time to scout the guys you will see in your next match, so it's about wrestling within yourself and executing your moves."
Moves Ouellette has become more confident in since the sectional tournament.
"I think I started to get it when I beat the Triad kid at sectionals," Ouellette explained. "Up until that time I was thinking too much on the mat. Now I just wrestle and go with it."
Which Barbee attributes to the muscle memory from Ouellette's intense training and drilling in the room.
"He's getting the muscle memory reaction to where he don't have to think too much," Barbee explained. "He's starting to wrestle on instinct, but at the same time he is wrestling smart too. That's why he's been able to do what he's done so far."
And there's more to do as Ouellette returns tomorrow to face Jacob Worthington of LaGrange Keystone in the consolation semifinal.
FEBRUARY 28, 2013 - COLUMBUS
For a young man who walks into the Schottenstein Center for the first time at the state wrestling meet, you'd think the pressure and nerves would be intense - especially with how big the arena is and with all of the people in the stands.
But like he has done all week leading up to his first trip to the state meet, A.J. Ouellette is care-free - taking it all in stride.
"I was a little nervous, but not too bad," said Ouellette of his opening bout on Thursday. "I wasn't expecting to do a whole lot here (at state) anyway, so I really don't have anything to lose. I guess that takes the edge off."
You wouldn't know it by the way he wrestled as Ouellette (34-12) jumped right on Logan Campbell (47-5) of Ashland Crestview for a quick takedown and then controlled the remainder of the match en route to a 6-4 win.
After the initial takedown, Ouellette rode his opponent for nearly one minute before surrendering an escape to make the score 2-1 at the end of the first period.
"The first takedown was huge because it put the pressure on the other guy," said Covington assistant coach Eric Vanderhorst. "It allowed A.J. to dictate the match."
Ouellette then chose down to start the second period and within 30 seconds recorded a reversal for a 4-1 lead.
After surrendering another escape, Ouellette recorded a critical takedown to push his lead to 6-2 until one final escape by Campbell cut the deficit to 6-3 with one period to go.
Campbell chose bottom to start the final stanza and Ouellette immediately surrendered the escape to take the match back to the neutral position, where A.J. had already dominated the match.
From there, the Covington junior used his strength and agility to stay out of trouble as he cruised to a 6-4 win.
"A.J. didn't have to take any chances," explained Vanderhorst. "He stayed in good fundamental positions and forced the other guy to make the mistakes. That's what you have to do at this level."
After walking off the mat, Ouellette didn't lose his care-free mentality.
"I think I ate too much," he joked, while holding his stomach as he picked up his gear to head back to the media room.
Joking aside, getting the first win under his belt is huge for Ouellette as he gets the night off before talking on unbeaten Sam Groff (54-0) of Magnolia Sandy Valley in the Championship Quarterfinals. Groff advanced with a 1-0 win over Kile Schaefer (39-15) of West Salem Northwestern.
"It's important to get the first win because it gets him rolling and gives him some confidence moving forward," said Covington coach Tom Barbee. "A.J. gets to relax and come back tomorrow fresh and ready to go."
It also puts Ouellette closer to his goal of reaching the podium.
"I'm one win from placing," he smiled. "I guess I came this far, now I need to place."
For Jake Sowers and Daniel Jennings, the state experience is one Covington coach Tom Barbee is thrilled they had the opportunity to experience in spite of both wrestlers dropping out of the tournament.
"I'm very proud of them," said Barbee. "They had great seasons and they came over here and wrestled the best they could. That's all we ask of them."
It was a memorable experience for Sowers, as assistant coach Eric Vanderhorst allowed Jake's father, Randy, to take his spot in the corner next to Barbee.
"That was something we talked about and we thought it would be neat to let Randy be on the floor with his son," Barbee said.
And it meant a lot to Randy, who enjoyed the state experience himself in 1989.
"It was pretty cool getting to coach him at state," said Randy. "I know he's disappointed that it's over, but there's some tough kids over here. There's no shame in how he wrestled."
Sowers dropped his opening contest by 18-7 major decision to Kollin Moore of Creston Norwayne and then lost to Seth Knoll of Mt. Blanchard Riverdale 11-3 in the first round of consolations - ending his senior season with a 41-7 record.
"He had a great season, a great career," praised Barbee. "He'll look back on this experience and be proud of what he has accomplished."
Jennings dropped his opening bout 10-4 to Reid Stanley of Apple Creek Waynesdale and then took on Sandusky St. Mary Catholic Central's Adam Guerra in the opening round of concise.
After surrendering a takedown, Jennings took the bottom position to start the second period and turned his opponent for three back points.
Unfortunately, Guerra was able to get a reversal to take a 4-3 lead into the third period.
Guerra then sealed the victory with a takedown in the final frame to end Jennings' junior season at 40-12.
"It's tough over here, but D.J. wrestled hard," said Barbee. "In his first match we never had a situation where we could get him on top. When you get behind over here, it's tough to come back."
But Jennings did what he said he would do before he came to state - he left it all on the mat in his consolation match.
"He was right there, but the other kid was just a little better on his feet than D.J.," Barbee explained. "Midway through the season we worked with D.J. on wrestling on his feet and he improved a lot. That's what got him here (to state)."
And Barbee can foresee Jennings returning to state next year as a senior if he puts in the work.
"He got a taste of it (state), so I hope he comes back ready to get better," he said. "He'll be a marked man because everyone will be wanting to knock off a state qualifier. Hopefully he's up to the challenge."
Because every wrestler has dreams of experiencing what A.J., Jake and D.J. got to experience on Thursday - wrestle at the state tournament.