By JAMIE BAKER
The state wrestling tournament experience will be new to Findlay High School junior Jonah Smith.
And he’s going to enjoy every bit of it.
Smith will step on the mat to represent the Trojans in the Division I 138-pound division when the OHSAA state wrestling tournament gets underway this afternoon at Ohio State University’s Value City Arena.
Smith, who will take a 44-8 record into his opening match against Marysville sophomore Lincoln Heard (25-18), does have some state tournament experience.
“I don’t have much experience, but I qualified for state in junior high, so I have been in a big arena on red and green mats like at state. I’m just excited to see what it will be like. I just hope my nerves won’t get the best of me,” he said.
“I watched a lot online, but I have never been there. I don’t know how the matches, weigh-ins and weigh-outs work. I’ll learn a lot this week.”
Luckily, he’ll have coaches to lean on. Findlay High School head coach Ben Kirian and his staff have taken wrestlers to Columbus many times in the past. The Trojans have qualified seven individuals to the state tournament since 2014.
Getting to state hasn’t been the issue. Sticking around until Saturday when state placers are determined has.
The Trojans haven’t had a wrestler make the awards stand since 2010 when Max Gladstone was third at 285 pounds and Michael Alexander finished fifth at 171.
Smith hopes to change that.
“Last week I won the matches I expected to win. I let that final match get in my head a bit and didn’t really start wrestling until the third period,” Smith said of last week’s second-place finish at the Mentor District.
“I’ve put that loss behind me. I want to place. That’s what I want to do. Hopefully, I can get in the top eight. I wouldn’t mind eighth, but obviously, I’m shooting for higher.”
Throughout the season, Smith didn’t try to look too far ahead.
Last season, he was unable to crack a formidable FHS varsity lineup, despite winning a Three Rivers Athletic Conference crown and qualifying for districts as a freshman.
He knew, if given the chance as a junior, he had to make the most of it.
“Just a couple of weeks ago. I had been having a really good season, but I hadn’t really started thinking about a state run. For some reason, I thought it would be a lot harder than it was. I remembered how difficult it was my freshman year at districts and I didn’t want to get ahead of myself,” Smith said.
“I saw some kids qualify last year that I thought I could beat. I definitely wanted to make it this year. I did. Now, I just have to perform.”
When Perrysburg’s Blake Saito dropped to 132 pounds, Smith knew that would help open the door for him to qualify.
While he was confident, he was still pretty far down the pecking order statewide, according to those who rank the state’s prep wrestlers.
He’s making the trip to Columbus with something to prove.
“One had me ranked terrible all year long, it’s made me so mad. I was ranked No. 19, I beat Zuckerman (Elyria) he’s No. 7, I beat DeBoe (Mentor) he’s No. 10. It was like I felt like I had something to prove when I went out there last week,” Smith said.
“If anything, those rankings spur me on to want to win more to prove them wrong.
“I let those rankings get in my head sometimes. I just tell myself, ‘I’m better.’ I proved it last week, now I just need to clean some things up this weekend.”