COLUMBUS — Goals weren’t met at Saturday’s Division I and II state tournaments, but there was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment by Elyria’s Ben Darmstadt and Vermilion’s Mike Repko.
Wrestling in the 152-pound finals in D-I and D-II, respectively, the Lorain County duo made huge strides in determined seasons to finish as state runners-up.
For Repko it was a season of pushing through injuries and finding the mettle to just get back on the mat after a bum elbow took him out for most of the year.
Coming back just a month ago, to sit one step from the top after losing a tough 3-2 decision to Toledo Central Catholic’s Alex Mossing, both coach and wrestler beamed with pride.
“I didn’t think any of this would happen,” Repko said. “It means a lot. I trained hard. When you put this much time in you want the best. You want to win.
“It’s crazy. Your nerves are going, your adrenaline is pumping. It’s a crazy feeling. It’s a good accomplishment, but you really want to win that title. It’s a bittersweet feeling.”
While the sting will no doubt last a bit, the fact the D-II state runner-up even got to within a point of becoming a state champion was enough to make more of a believer out of Sailors coach Brandon Gilbert, who has been a fan of Repko since the start.
“He’s as tough as nails,” Gilbert said. “He was burned out earlier this year. I honestly thought there was a point where he wasn’t going to return, so to end up where we’re at is quite an accomplishment.
“Hats off to Mike, it was a heck of a ride. You know when you have something special and Mike was electric. He was head and shoulders above everyone else. It was a special ride.”
Darmstadt’s ride is only at the halfway point in yet another magical season for the sophomore. After just missing the podium last season at state, the 152-pounder ran through the bracket before falling 11-8 to Massillon Perry’s Casey Sparkman in the D-I final this time.
The fact his losses last year came to an eventual third- and fifth-place finish was just fuel for what turned into a dream second varsity season.
“Me going 1-2 in state last year is what pushed me to work harder in the offseason into the regular season,” Darmstadt said. “I’m going to look at this like the 1-2. I didn’t get my ultimate goal, so I’m going to work harder in the offseason.”
That shouldn’t be an issue, not only because four-time state champion Erik Burnett is his coach, but because the fire that burns in Darmstadt’s belly is almost unparalleled.
At least that was the take of Burnett, who sees nothing but big things for his state runner-up.
“He’s grown physically and in all facets of his wrestling,” Burnett said. “He saw that and he’s going to continue it. The reason there has been so much progress in him is he’s willing to do what it takes. He came here to win, that’s the bottom line. Second place is an honor, but that’s not what he came here for. He’s going to put in the effort so things can go his way in large part because of his work ethic.”
What that future holds for the sophomore, who finished his season 42-6 remains to be seen. The one constant is his willingness to go the extra step.
“There are lots of kids with lots of talent,” Burnett said. “There are sophomores that can get to the state tournament, but the question is, ‘Do they have the work ethic?’ Some do and some don’t. He does. He doesn’t feel good about where he finished right now, but he’ll use that for motivation.”