ALLIANCE — While Aurora came into its Division II district wrestling tournament at Alliance High School as the defending champion, the Greenmen knew they would have their hands full dealing with state-dual champion Louisville.
While the Leopards won the district title Saturday, Aurora head coach Johnny Papesh made it clear he believes the Greenmen’s Division II state-title hopes are alive and well.
Aurora advanced seven wrestlers to the state tournament, including five weight-class champions. The top four placers in each weight class advanced.
In the team race, Louisville claimed the team title with 224.5 points, while the Greenmen placed second with 195.5 points. However, while eight Louisville wrestlers advanced, only three Leopards won titles.
Papesh experienced both joy and pain Saturday.
"The seven that are going, I’m excited about," he said. "We got six in the finals this year. The other two who didn’t make it, I feel horrible because they both love the sport. It’s a tough district, so getting seven out is pretty special."
Papesh said he felt the race for the state title next week remains up for grabs.
"Next week is a deeper pool and we love deeper pools," Papesh said.
Aurora’s middle weights were a dominant force at Alliance, as the Greenmen went 5-of-6 in title matches — including 3-0 against Louisville.
The run started with sophomore Nic Willingham at 138 pounds, as he rode Louisville’s Carter Mickley effectively to score an 8-1 win in his final.
"It’s kind of important for me to do this after last year," Willingham said. "I don’t think about myself too much. This year, I wanted to have more fun. I get to show what I can do now."
At 145 pounds, Aurora senior David Cumberledge scored a 15-6 major decision over Mentor Lake Catholic’s Anthony Trivisonno to win his title.
Greenman sophomore Ty Lillard (152) put a little extra into his title win over Louisville’s Dan Kennedy, as he scored a 17-6 major decision with a couple of side headlocks.
"He kept cheap shotting me," Lillard said. "It’s something I had to deal with. To be honest, this is an amazing experience for me. St. Ed’s [Lakewood St. Edward] never let me get a second chance."
At 160 pounds, Aurora’s Dylan Fishback made quick work of Alliance’s Braylin Lightner, scoring a 17-2 technical fall.
"I’m just staying focused on the thing that’s in front of me," Fishback said. "I think all the guys are peaking right now."
Rounding out the titles for the Greenmen was 195-pound sophomore Evan Anderson, who went to overtime with Louisville’s Brent Paulus before winning 3-1 in sudden victory with a double-leg takedown. Anderson noted he wanted to keep his offense hidden from Paulus.
"That’s my plan," Anderson said. "That match really didn’t mean much to me. I wanted to see where he was. Now I know what I can do for the state meet."
Aurora nearly made it a clean sweep in title matches, but senior Ethan Anderson lost a tight 3-2 decision in his 170-pound final to Revere’s Zayne Lehman.
The Greenmen got one other qualifier through the consolation semifinals, as Antwan Sagaris (120) advanced. After losing his semifinal 12-3 to Perry’s Kyle Rowan, Sagaris rebounded with a 4-2 win against Ashtabula Edgewood’s Kyle Biller to earn his first state berth.
Sagaris finished fourth, as he lost his third-place match 7-6 to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Dierre Clayton.
"No one saw that coming," Papesh said with a smile. "He has been working so hard."
Aurora saw two other wrestlers falter in the consolation semifinal. After losing his semifinal match 4-2 to Lake Catholic’s Brock Herman, sophomore Codie Cuerbo (106) lost 3-1 to Louisville’s Dominic Hoffarth.
Also, Rob Sagaris was involved in a tight 113-pound consolation semifinal match with Canfield’s Nick Barber, only to lose 7-5 on a last-second takedown.
Cuebo came back with a pin in 3 minutes, 16 seconds in the fifth-place match, while Rob Sagaris settled for sixth place.
Aurora also had junior Brian Kennedy (132) go 1-2 at Alliance, while freshman Quinn Gorman (182) went 0-2.
The Division II state tournament is scheduled to begin at 4:10 p.m. Friday at Value City Arena in Columbus.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, email@example.com or @MLeonard_GHO.