Tonight, the 40th team championship will be won and 14 wrestlers will add their name to a long list of Van Buren Invitational individual champions.
There have been some outstanding wrestlers in the tournament during its 40-year run. The list of champions is a who’s, who of small-school wrestling talent from Northwestern Ohio stretching back four decades.
In honor of the tournament’s Ruby Anniversary, here’s a VBI 40th anniversary all-tournament team.
106 — George Clemens IV, Wayne Trace.
One of only six four-time VBI champs, Clemens won titles at 106 (twice), 120 and 126 between 2013-16, winning his school’s first state championship going 50-0 his senior year.
113 — Doug Jesse, Hopewell-Loudon.
Smart and technically sound, Jesse won at 103, 112 and 119 twice between 1997-2000 for the Chieftains. He finished second at state twice along with a third-place finish and went on to wrestle for Ivy League Cornell and served as head coach of NCAA Division I Wagner and was Tiffin’s first head wrestling coach.
120 — Drew Schafer, Monroeville.
Schafer won his four VBI titles at 103 (twice), 119 and 130 from 2001-04 for the Eagles, who competed in seven VBIs as team. He won his four finals bouts by a combined score of 56-19. He was a two-time state placer and was state runner-up his senior year.
125 — Al Sachs, Lakota.
The VBI’s first four-time champ, Sachs was strong and solid in all apsects for the Raiders winning titles at 112, 125, 130 and 135 pounds from 1994-97. He helped the Raiders win VBI team titles his freshman and senior years. He was dominant scoring two pins with a tech fall in three of his four finals wins. He was fourth at state as a senior.
130 — Nick Frisch, Hopewell-Loudon/Fostoria.
A three-time VBI champ who could score points in bunches, Frisch won titles for Hopewell-Loudon at 130 and 135 in 1997 and 1999 and took the 140-pound crown for Fostoria in 2000. Only a 3-1 overtime loss to LCC’s Craig Kleman in 1998 kept Frisch from winning four titles. He was fifth and second at state for H-L before winning a Division II state title for Fostoria as a senior.
135 — Eric Lippert, Lakota.
Lippert won three VBI crowns, earning championships in 1989 (119 pounds), 1990 (125) and 1991 (135), leading the Raiders to the team title each year. His senior year, when he won the 140-pound state title he moved up to 145 at the VBI and lost a 3-0 decision to LCC’s David Wellmeier thwarting his bid to become a four-time VBI champ.
140 — Josh Falk, Bluffton.
Falk was the VBI’s fourth 4-time champ winning titles for the Pirates in 2004-07 at 140 pounds three times and at 135 as a sophomore. He scored two pins, a tech fall and won a 21-7 major decision in his title appearances dominating his weight class each year. A four-time state placer Falk won one state title and finished runner up twice for the Pirates, helping them win back-to-back VBI titles in 2004-05.
145 — Brant Lora, McComb.
One of the few 1980s era wrestlers to make the cut. Lora won three VBI crowns, two at 155 and one at 145, for the Panthers in 1982-84. Thick and strong with a physical style, Lora missed out on a chance at four titles as McComb didn’t compete in the VBI in 1981. He led the Panthers to their only VBI team title in 1983.
152 — Nick Mengerink, Carey.
A two-time state champ and state runner up, Mengerink might be the best prep wrestler to come from The Courier’s coverage area, and yet, he wasn’t a 4-time VBI champ. Mengerink, who would go on to earn All-American honors at Pitt and was a terror once he got you on the mat with his punishing leg ride, won VBI crowns in 1993, 1995-96 at 119, 145 and 152. Hopewell-Loudon two-time VBI champ Chris Sears stopped Mengerink 4-1 in the 1994 135-pound title bout. Ironically it was also the only team title won by the Blue Devils during his career.
160 — Kyle Kwiat, Tiffin Calvert.
Another three-time champ, he won a VBI title at 152 and two at 160 from 2007-09, helping Calvert win the team crown in 2008. He was fifth at the VBI as a freshman. Smooth and solid with his technique, Kwiat went on to Ohio Northern where he won an NCAA Division III national championship.
170 — Deron Dempsey, Delphos St. John’s.
A weight class where there are few repeat champions. Dempsey, though, won back-to-back VBI titles for the Blue Jays in 1994-95 with pins in the finals both years.
182 — Daniel Beemer, Ottawa-Glandorf.
The Ottawa-Glandorf senior already has two VBI titles and will be going for his third this weekend. Beemer won 182 as a sophomore and scored a pin in last year’s VBI final at 195 pounds. He was unbeaten last season up until the state semifinals and finished fourth at state, Ottawa-Glandorf’s highest finish ever at the OHSAA state tournament.
195 — Todd Wyckoff, New London.
Bruising and built like a truck, Wyckoff helped New London dominate the early years of the tournament by winning the VBI 185-pound crown from 1979-81. A two-time state champ, Wyckoff beat McComb’s Don Phillips 7-2 for the 1980 VBI title and beat Phillips again 1-0 for the Class A state crown that year, in one of a half-dozen VBI finals over the years that would be a preview of the small-school state finals match. Wyckoff is an assistant high school wrestling coach in Allen, Texas.
220 — Jared Bindel, Lima Central Catholic.
The former LCC two-sport standout who was as big a 220-pounder as you’ll ever see is the best of the bunch at this weight winning the 189 VBI championship in 1999 and 215 crown in 2000 for the Thunderbirds. He went on to play football at the University of Findlay.
285 — Mimmo Lytle, Swanton.
A 4-time champ at 285 for Swanton from 2009-12, he stands head and shoulders above the other VBI heavyweight champs. Lytle was a four-time state placer winning two state titles and is currently nationally-ranked for the UF wrestling team.
Baker, 419-427-8409
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