MENTOR–The stage has never been bigger for several area wrestlers who finished among the top four at the Mentor Regional on Sunday and now will compete in the first OHSAA girls’ state wrestling tournament in Columbus beginning on Friday.
Led by regional champions Catie Kerr and Paris Willis of Lutheran West, 11 area girls punched their tickets to the state tournament.
Kerr, a four-time state qualifier who placed fourth last season, won the 120-pound weight class.
“It feels amazing to win a regional title, especially for the first-ever OHSAA regional tournament,” Kerr said. “All I could think about at the beginning of the tournament was that I just want to qualify and become a four-time state qualifier, even though this tournament is different than the other three. But as the tournament went on, all I could think about what how badly I wanted to be first. I think everyone wants to be first, but the fact that I kept getting closer and closer to actually achieving it, the move motivated I got to win it.”
Kerr, who improved to 45-4 on the year, recorded three pins in advancing to the championship match, where she defeated Rittman’s Merrick Gibson, 5-2.
“I’m really proud of the way I performed at the regional tournament,” Kerr said. “I gave it my all and even though my body was in pain and there were times just before the tournament when I wasn’t sure if I could do it, I still went out there willing to leave it all on the mat. I think everyone always has some things they know they could’ve done better with, but all I can do now is continue to work on and perfect those things so that I’m ready for what’s going to come at states.”
Despite her state tournament experience, Kerr expects some additional nerves now that the tournament will be held in a much larger venue with thousands of more spectators, but she won’t allow that to slow her down.
“For me, I think nerves are a good thing,” she said. “I get nervous before every match, even if I’ve beaten that person before because you never truly know how much a person can grow since the last time you saw them. So, in a way, I use my nerves as a way to remain focused and go out there and give it my all. I usually tune out everything else around me, which allows me to remain aggressive on the mat no matter how big the stage is.”
Willis, who placed eighth in the state tournament last winter, pinned her first three regional opponents and then topped Mentor’s Maddie Menchaca in an all-area championship bout, 7-4, to improve to 43-5 on the year.
Menchaca dropped to 32-18.
Harvey’s Melany Herrera returns to the state tournament after finishing as the runner-up at 100 pounds.
Herrera, who placed seventh at state last winter, used two pins and a decision to get to the championship bout, but there, she ran into defending state champion and two-time state runner-up Riley Banyas of Elyria. Banyas recorded a 42-second pin to win the regional title.
Lutheran West’s Nat Rodriguez won her first three matches to reach the 140-pound championship bout, but she dropped that match to Cleveland Central Catholic’s Ajiahna Triplett and settled for second place.
Other state qualifiers included Brush’s Lyneyya Anthory (3rd, 100), Olivia Fox (4th, 135), and Le’Naysia Dickson (4th, 235); and Mentor’s Lorelai Megery (4th, 100) and Campbell Splete (4th, 125),
Mentor’s Milo West Ayala (115), Maddie Womack (140), and Dlorrah Harrold (190) each placed fifth and will serve as state alternates.
Cardinal’s Rylie Leichtman placed sixth at 140 and Madison’s Abby Forster was sixth at 155.
As a team, Mentor finished as the regional runner-up with 105 points. Alliance won the regional title with 136 ½ points. Lutheran West finished third with 94 and Brush rounded out the top five with 82 points.