Matt Lee began his wrestling career with one move. Now he has one goal: Win a state championship.
The Amherst senior heavyweight is in a good position to do just that — ranked second in the state in his weight class and coming off back-to-back trips to the state tournament.
Last year he placed fifth, but three of the four wrestlers who finished ahead of him graduated and one of them, Lakota East’s Jon Spaulding, needed sudden victory overtime to get past him in the consolation semifinals.
The other, Wadsworth’s Jordan Earnest, finished fourth and is ranked No. 1 this year. Earnest beat Lee in the state quarterfinals last season.
Still, while Lee is excited about his senior year, he knows the road ahead all too well.
“I’ve improved a lot,” Lee said. “My freshman year I probably only had like one move. I was a young pup. But each year I kept working hard with my coaches and drill partners. I get hungrier and hungrier. I see where I went from the previous year and I work harder. Overall, it’s been a huge improvement.
“I don’t have any more stage fright. I’m used to where I’m going and it helps the way I wrestle. I’m settled in and ready to go.”
Amherst coach Brian Cesear said that when Lee was a freshman, he used his size to muscle people around, just like many heavyweights do. It led to a 30-17 record and a 1-2 showing as a No. 4 seed at the Cleveland State district.
But Cesear said as the year went on, Lee started to think more like a wrestler, discovering what didn’t work and honing his technique. He’s added new moves to his repertoire each offseason.
As a sophomore, Lee made it out of districts as a No. 4 seed at Perrysburg and went 1-2 at the state tournament, finishing 33-13. Last year was his best season yet with his fifth-place finish at state and a 45-5 record.
“He’s a freak of nature,” Cesear said. “That’s really the only way I can describe it. He’s big, strong, he knows wrestling and he’s coachable. He’s always learning and is just as good of a heavyweight as I’ve ever seen.”
Lee spent most of the offseason staying in shape, but also focusing on football. He picked up All-Ohio third-team honors in Division II as an offensive lineman.
Cesear said Lee’s success in both sports has made him a natural leader, with freshmen from both squads looking up to him.
While his focus on football helps keep him in shape for wrestling, Lee said he also spent the offseason learning new moves. He displayed one at the recent Knights of Columbus Invitational at Avon Lake, using a single-leg takedown to pin his opponent in 45 seconds.
“He knows that he’s right there, right on the cusp of winning that state championship,” Cesear said. “It’s just the way he approaches practice, the weight room, conditioning. I’ve seen huge growth just from last year to this year alone.”
And if that growth continues? His trophy case might need to grow, too.
“It’s been my goal ever since I was young, to win a state championship,” Lee said. “It’s a memory made that I’d always remember.”
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