When Elyria senior Steve Mitcheff steps onto the mats at Value City Arena in Columbus each season, he becomes a different wrestler.
“I’m never ever nervous when Steve is in the championship bracket at state,” Pioneer teammate Zack Goins said. “He’s had some losses to guys throughout the season but he always came back to beat them at state because that’s when it counts.
“I’m not saying Stevie isn’t wrestling his best throughout the season. But it seems at state he is unreal the way he wrestles. He’s out there on a mission — it’s all or nothing to him.”
Such was the case two seasons ago when Mitcheff defeated Lakota West’s Bo Touris — who was projected to win the state title — and Massillon Perry’s Dan Genetin to capture the Division I 103-pound state championship.
“He beat two guys down there that had beaten him earlier in the season,” Pioneers coach Erik Burnett said. “I don’t know what it is really. Stevie in the championship bracket at state … I just believe in him.”
Mitcheff placed seventh as a freshman at 103 pounds, then watched his older brother Dan capture the 119-pound title for the Pioneers. Steve’s title win as a sophomore was a precursor to teammate John Pycraft’s 3-2 win over St. Edward’s Kyle Bertin for the 152-pound crown. Last season, he and Goins came away with matching fifth-place finishes.
“I was disappointed at first about the way last year ended, but then I realized there are guys out there that never even make it (to state),” Mitcheff said. “Others don’t get to place and it was real cool to get to do that, too.”
While the contributions Mitcheff provides the Pioneers on the mat is obvious, his efforts as a leader go unheralded. That’s because Mitcheff isn’t a boisterous presence in the wrestling room and doesn’t feel the need to get after guys with screaming and shouting. Both Goins and Burnett used the identical phrase: “He leads by example.”
“He’s the guy that has all the answers because he’s been through all this the last four years,” Goins said.
That wasn’t always the case, of course.
“My first year at state I was very nervous,” Mitcheff said. “It was new, there were so many people and the arena was so big. I didn’t know what to expect and everyone kept saying how hard it was going to be.”
But Mitcheff learned a way to help calm the nerves and shared the thought process with Goins during his first trip to Columbus last season as a sophomore.
“He told me what you have to realize is that when you walk onto that mat at state there are only a few people watching you,” Goins said. “There are a lot of people in the stands but only a few of them are watching you. The people who are watching your match are your crowd and your opponent’s crowd.
“That helped in calming my nerves down a lot.”
Mitcheff told Goins there’s still one shocking moment at the state tournament that you just can’t prepare for.
“He said the only thing left to worry about is coming out of the tunnel onto the floor,” Goins said. “It’s such a rush. You come through a deep, dark tunnel and all of a sudden it opens up into a brightly lit arena with a bunch of screaming people, and there’s all those mats … it’s nuts.”
But it’s a crazy situation that has become almost routine to Mitcheff. He said coming to state each season feels natural and that he’d only be feeling out of sorts if he hadn’t made it to Columbus this year.
“I guess I’m still a little nervous because it’s my final one and I really want to do my best,” Mitcheff said. “This could be one of our best years (as a team) and that would be really cool since it’s my senior year.”
Mitcheff will have a host of solid wrestlers to go up against in the 112-pound field. He starts tonight with Hilliard Davidson senior Jimmy Millar, whom he beat 7-4 at the Brecksville Holiday tournament this season, and has Massillon Perry junior Sam White and St. Edward sophomore Jamie Clark, who is 3-0 against Mitcheff this year, in the bracket to deal with.
“He’s not putting any pressure on himself,” Burnett said. “Stevie wants to win every time he steps out there, whether it’s for a state championship or a cheeseburger-eating contest. It’s not like there is any more pressure on him because it’s the state tournament.”
If you’ve seen Mitcheff wrestle in Columbus, you’d think the opposite is true. He wrestles like he feels less pressure, like he has nothing to lose and that he’s on a mission to win it all.
“I do think Stevie turns it up at the state tournament,” Burnett said. “And I hope that he does it again this weekend.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
STATE MEET INFORMATION
WHERE: Ohio State’s Value City Arena, Columbus
TIMES: Today’s session will begin at 3 p.m.; Friday’s morning session will begin at 10 a.m.; Friday’s evening session will begin at 6:30 p.m.; Saturday’s morning session will begin at 10 a.m.; Saturday’s championship session will begin at 5:30 p.m.
COST: All-session books are $60 each (5 sessions) for Entry and Club levels, and $50 each for Terrace level. Single session tickets are $13 each and are on sale now at the Value City Arena ticket office or at ticketmaster.com.
PARKING: Parking is first come, first serve and free for passenger cars. Recreational vehicles are $15 per day.
DEFENDING TEAM CHAMPIONS: St. Edward has won the last 11 Division I championships; St. Paris Graham has won the last eight Division II championships; Troy Christian is the defending Division III champion.
DIRECTIONS: Take I-71 South to exit 119B onto I-270 West toward Dayton. Take exit 22 onto OH-315 South toward Columbus. Take the North Broadway exit toward Olentangy River Road. Turn left on Olentangy road, then right on Borror Drive. Arrive at Value City Arena on the left. Travel: 124.5 miles; 2 hours and 7 minutes.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Greg Byrd, North Ridgeville
LAST WEEK: Ground out three tough decisions before losing a controversial overtime decision to Sandusky's Delonne Baker in the championship match at the Marion Harding district tournament. The runner-up performance earned the Ranger his first trip to the state tournament.
GREG’S THOUGHTS ON THE WEEK: “I still can’t honestly believe I made it. I’m working really hard right now because I want to place at states this year. I’m not really worried (about my draw). I’m just going to go out there and do what I need to do.
”THREE THINGS I DO BESIDES WRESTLE: I like to play video games at my friend’s house (usually Madden ’08 on Xbox 360) and going to Great Northern Mall (North Olmsted) with my friends (favorite stores are SportsTown and Lids) or just sitting at home and relaxing while watching TV (favorite show is Rob & Big on MTV) or a movie.
PARENTS: Kathy and Robert Byrd
FUTURE PLANS: Wants to wrestle in college and lists Michigan State, Indiana and Michigan as his top schools. He wants to study toward a pharmaceutical degree.
Ryan Shupe, Vermilion
YEAR: SeniorWEIGHT: 145 pounds
LAST WEEK: Placed third at the Fostoria district tournament to earn a berth in the Division II state tournament this week. Shupe pinned Holy Name’s Seamus Szucs — the wrestler who defeated him in the Highland sectional championship match — during the third-place match. “Ryan has peaked at the right time and is wrestling better than I have ever seen him wrestle,” Sailors coach Tony Budka said.
RYAN’S THOUGHTS ON THE WEEK: “It felt pretty good (to qualify to state). It probably came from working hard and everything else. I just wanted to go out there, wrestle hard and prove something.
”THREE THINGS I DO BESIDES WRESTLE: I like to hunt deer with a bow and 20-guage slug rifle, go charter fishing for walleye and perch and compete in archery competitions — all around the state and often at the Bow and Barrel in Milan.
PARENTS: Dennis and Diane Shupe
FUTURE PLANS: Wants to go to college and would like to wrestle, but is undecided on where. Is interested in continuing to study HVAC — heating, ventilation and air conditioning — which is what he's learning at EHOVE in Milan, which is similar to Lorain County’s Joint Vocational School.