Keystone’s Justin Ocheltree wants to do more than just earn a trip to the Division II state tournament like he did last season. The Wildcats senior expects to be standing on the podium in Columbus and he has plenty of support to help him get there.
One of Ocheltree’s top sources of motivation will be his brother, Ben, who placed seventh in the state in 2016.
“Me and my brother are pretty close, so I think it’d be awesome if we were both state placers,” Justin said.
Ocheltree will also get a physical boost from assistant coach Jimmy Pycraft — a three-time state placer (1999-2001) for Keystone — who serves as his drill partner all year round.
“Every Wednesday and Saturday,” Ocheltree said. “I’ve been wrestling with Jimmy since the seventh grade.”
Add the guidance of Wildcats coach Chris Vondruska, and it’s an exciting mix of encouragement.
Ocheltree began wrestling in the fifth grade, earned a district tournament berth as a freshman but fell short of getting out of the sectional tournament during his sophomore season.
“That was kind of a disappointment, but it ended up kind of working out because that was Ben’s big year,” he said. “So I got to watch what he was doing, his whole experience. I got to go down to state with him, which was cool.”
Experiencing brightly lit Value City Arena, with it’s 10 mats, thousands in the stands and imposing tunnel entrance didn’t exactly give Ocheltree everything he needed when he qualified to Columbus last year.
“It’s different. When you’re in the tunnel with someone else, just watching, it’s nothing like when the pressure’s on you to go out there and wrestle,” he said. “I felt like I kind of froze up down there. I was under the lights and I was really nervous. I feel like I could have done better, so I want to go back and try it again.”
The accomplishments on the mat are impressive on their own, but Ocheltree has put together a stellar high school career after learning that he had Type 1 diabetes after his eighth-grade season.
“When you’re cutting weight and working out a lot, that makes your sugar go low, and when your sugar goes low you have to eat,” said Ocheltree, who has to take insulin shots before every meal. “So that makes it hard to cut weight. But I’ve never really cut much weight, so I just kind of stay where I’m at.”
The ability to overcome any obstacle thrown in his way isn’t surprising if you listen to Vondruska.
“Justin is fourth in his class … just an unbelievable student,” Vondruska said. “He’s a National Honor Society member, he’s outgoing, he’s involved in everything. He’s just a really dedicated person and he doesn’t take any shortcuts.
“I’m fortunate to have a guy like him on the team. It’s a great year for it because I have so many freshmen that just need to see the right way to do things, and Justin does a good job showing that stuff.”
Ocheltree, who is ranked No. 6 in the state at 182 pounds by Intermat, is hoping to show everyone how to climb in Columbus next March.
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