By JAMIE BAKER
COLUMBUS GROVE — Last year, admittedly, Columbus Grove’s Dakota Sargent felt a little left out.
This year, the state tournament for Columbus Grove will truly be a family affair.
For the first time in school history, Columbus Grove will have three competitors at the state tournament. Junior twins Dakota and Dylan Sargent, and their cousin, sophomore Jeff Meyer, will all step on the mat at Value City Arena when the OHSAA state tournament begins at 3 p.m. today.
Dylan Sargent and Meyer qualified for state at last week’s Troy District for the second straight year at 220 and 285 pounds, respectively.
Dakota Sargent, though, will make his first appearance at Value City Arena.
It all started when Jeff was in the second grade. Dylan and Dakota went to watch him wrestle in a biddy tournament at Lima Bath.
They were hooked.
“We all started wrestling at the Ottawa Jaycees wrestling program. We all just grew up wrestling with all of the O-G kids that have been great wrestlers,” Dylan said. “Our whole lives have been dedicated to wrestling and making it to state. Now, we all get to go together.”
When Dakota won his semifinal match at Troy to qualify, the proverbial monkey, that probably felt more like an 800-pound gorilla, was finally off his back.
“It was a little upsetting last year. I didn’t go down to state with the team, I went down with my dad,” said Dakota, who will compete in Columbus at 195 pounds.
“It’s been my driving force for this year because I did feel left out last year.”
Dakota’s path to state was nearly derailed.
He will enter the state tournament with a 10-7 record, the fewest number of wins of the 672 wrestlers competing at state this year.
“I was fighting with my brother at home and I smoked a door. I broke my hand. I regret it a little bit now,” Dakota said.
“I was wrestling really well and after Thanksgiving when I broke my hand, I was out until Van Buren. I pushed it a little too hard and injured it again and had to sit out awhile. I was out until the regional duals.
“That was my biggest worry. I wasn’t running as much as should have been when I was off and when I came back, I pushed myself too much hitting my hand everywhere, putting it under pressure and bruising it, I felt like I set myself back. My hand is back to full strength now, though.”
With his brother and cousin already having qualified by winning in the semifinals, Dylan Sargent had to advance the hard way through the consolation bracket.
Up 8-2 in his go-to-state bout, disaster struck. His shoulder popped out of place for the third time this season. Dylan, though, had no thoughts of not finishing his match and earning a return trip to state.
“They popped it in so I could finish the match. I finished up and made it to state,” Dylan said. “I was gutting it out, there was nothing stopping me from making it to state again.
“Dakota winning his semifinal match was huge. With both of them winning in the semifinals, that pumped me up even more to win my consolation semi match to qualify so all three of us could go down and wrestle together.”
Meyer became the school’s first district champion in 34 years. The last was another outstanding Columbus Grove heavyweight, Jeff “T-Bone” Steele, who won a crown in the unlimited class in 1985.
Meyer, who will face Elmwood’s Kain Brossia for the first time in Thursday’s state tournament opener, has much higher expectations after finishing a win away from a spot on the awards stand as a freshman.
He was star-struck in his first appearance at Value City Arena last year. That won’t be the case this week.
“It was mind-blowing. The first match, I got pinned in the first period because I was so nervous. My second match I kept my cool and won and I just got banged up a little bit that cost me in that third match,” Meyer said.
“My expectations are way higher. I want to have better results, I want to get on the podium this year after falling a little short last season. It was disappointing.
“I think I can do it. I’ve seen a lot of these guys already. I also think I have a better shot because I’ve been there and done that. I know the environment; a lot of guys will be new to it.”
Now that all three of them are there, Meyer is hoping he and his cousins will be together on the arena floor Saturday night for the awards ceremony.
“We all started when were 6 or 7. We’ve always went to big tournaments and we’ve always done it together. Now that all of us are going to state, it’s really fun,” Meyer said.
“I had fun last year, and now Dakota’s going with us. And hopefully, we all get to place. I’m really excited for the weekend.”