The Elyria Pioneers will be making their fourth straight trip to the Division I dual team state tournament today, which means the event has been part of every season during the high school careers of seniors Joshua Breeding and Brendon Fenton.
“It’s a really good feeling to be part of such a great program from freshman year to now,” Breeding said. “I’m just blessed to have the wrestlers that we have and to have the dedication that our guys have. It’s a great opportunity to face the top teams in the state, and a really good opportunity to gauge how tough our team really is and to see how our guys stack up.”
The Pioneers have done pretty well in the past, holding a 4-3 record with a state final appearance in 2016.
They downed Mason in their dual team state tournament debut in 2015 before losing to St. Edward in the semifinals. The next season they beat Delaware Hayes and Brecksville before losing to the Eagles in the final. Last year, Elyria routed Westerville North before a narrow loss to Massillon Perry in the semifinals.
But wrestling, and sometimes losing, against the best lineups in the state is one of the reasons Elyria has continued to grow as a program during recent years.
“It’s a great experience for me, Josh, our whole team and our coaching staff,” Fenton said. “It’s a fun time getting to hang out with the guys and we get to compete hard and work together as a team. It’s a cool experience to wrestle with the best teams in Ohio.”
Elyria earned the No. 4 seed in today’s Division I bracket and will face No. 5 Cincinnati LaSalle — ranked No. 12 in the nation — in the quarterfinals.
Each team has an impressive roster.
Elyria is bolstered by two-time state champion Fenton, state placers Breeding, Dylan Shawver and Mick Burnett, 2016 state placer Farouq Muhammed, two-time state qualifier Matt Zuckerman and freshman Jake Evans, who won a junior high state title and a junior high Super 32 title last year.
LaSalle counters with two-time state placer Lucas Byrd, state placers Blake Wilson and Garrett Bledsoe, two-time state qualifier Michael Baker, state qualifiers Antoine Allen and Trey Sizemore, Walsh Ironman placer Elan Heard and freshman Dustin Norris, who was a junior high state champion last year.
“I know they have some really good kids,” Fenton said. “We got to see some of them at Ironman. I’m thinking it’s going to be a great dual because we have a lot of good people between both teams.”
“We’ve never faced them,” Breeding said. “We’re just going to play it out like we do any other match. Our lower guys are going to do their best to get bonus points and start strong and the upper guys are going to step up and finish the dual right.”
The winner of the quarterfinal will earn a probable semifinal matchup against top-seeded St. Paris Graham — a Division II team that was granted access by the Ohio High School Athletic Association into the Division I field.
Graham is ranked No. 5 in the nation, while No. 2 seed St. Edward is ranked No. 8, No. 3 seed Brecksville is ranked No. 20 and No. 6 seed Massillon Perry is ranked No. 38.
Breeding said his favorite individual moment of the state duals was earning a pinfall victory against St. Edward in 2016, and his favorite team memory is Elyria breaking through that season to reach the final against the Eagles.
“That was a big accomplishment for us,” he said. “We trained so hard for that moment. It was humbling for us to finally make it. That was a great memory for me and it’ll stay with me for awhile.”
Both Elyria seniors said today, which will mark their final time wrestling at St. John Arena in Columbus, will be emotional.
“I’m going to be focused while we wrestle, but after it … it’s going to be hard,” Breeding said. “Looking back on how fast it’s gone and we’re already at state duals. It’s going to be weird to look back and be like, ‘Oh, man, it’s almost over.’”
“It’ll probably be emotional and fun,” Fenton said. “We know we’re going to have to battle out there and if it doesn’t go our way it sucks because it’s the last year me and Josh have a shot. We’re going to have to give it our all and just wrestle.”
Although the state duals run will be ending for Fenton and Breeding, they expect it to continue for Elyria.
“I actually think the next three or four years (the Pioneers) should make it down there,” Fenton said. “(Graham transfer) Jordan Crace just came in and he’s a stud, and my little brother (Peyton) and Erik’s little son Nate is coming. They’re going to be really good.”
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