With a 16-0 tech fall in his opening bout, Solon 160-pound senior Jake Mack couldn’t have asked for a much better start during the Division I district wrestling tournament Friday and Saturday in Mentor.
The Comet grappler defeated Walsh Jesuit junior Michael Leonard in chasing his first state berth, after going 1-2 in district action a year ago, and he was Solon’s best bet in qualifying for the big dance beginning this Thursday at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
But Mack drew a tough match in the district quarterfinals and lost a 6-2 decision against Canton GlenOak state No. 8-ranked sophomore Ronnie Dimmerling (46-10). Mack (38-11) is ranked No. 14 among Division I wrestlers in the state, according to Boro Fan Ohio.
“Well, my goal and my coaches’ goal was, honestly, to win that match,” Mack said. “I thought I was going to be able to win and get to the semis. But, unfortunately, I lost and would have to come back and get to the third-and-fourth (place bout), which I knew I could do.
“I just mentally knew that I was better than every kid that I had to face, and, as long as I wrestled how I know how to wrestler, I’d be able to go to third and fourth and still be able to make it to states.”
Mack would have to win his next three matches in the consolation bracket to punch his ticket.
The Comet proved he was up to the task when he got started with a second-period pin against Brunswick senior Donnell Britten (21-12) and then a 5-1 decision against Riverside junior Tyler Longstaaf (35-11) in the consolation quarterfinals.
“I just really kept imposing my will on him,” Mack said of Longstaaf. “I kept pushing the pace and wrestling my match and didn’t really let him gain any control. So, he always had to wrestle at my pace and wrestle off of my offensive. I was really just stopping any type of offense that he had and forced him to react to all my stuff.”
In the consolation semifinals, also known as the blood round, Mack left little doubt on the mat with a 10-0 major decision against Hudson state No. 25-ranked sophomore Aidan McStay (33-16) to secure that ticket to Columbus.
In similar fashion to his previous bout, Mack said he dictated the match through his offense. Not to mention, Mack defeated McStay, 7-0, during the previous week’s sectional title bout, giving him the confidence to stick to his style, he said.
“I felt like I was wrestling probably the best I’ve wrestled all season,” Mack said. “I was just hitting my prime, everything was coming together, you know, what I’ve worked so hard for, and it was just well-deserved in my mind and everyone else on the team. All those hours that you work, and just to get that moment of relief and know that it was all worth the while.”
Qualifying for state was Mack’s ultimate goal all season, he said.
“It was just a big relief to not only make it there, but also just show everyone that I’ve finally made it,” he said. “It’s a reality now. There’s no more what-ifs or should have or could have. It’s done. So, it was just a huge accomplishment achieved, and it felt amazing.”
In his placement bout, Mack went on to finish fourth with a 3-1 loss against Medina Highland state No. 7-ranked senior Brady Linder (36-8), who was a state qualifier a year ago and is favored to finish on the podium this year, according to Boro Fan.
Despite being the underdog, Mack said he had mixed feelings walking away from that bout.
“I had my head high that I was still making it to states, and, win or lose, we were both state qualifiers,” Mack said. “But I kind of also was a little bummed out, because I really did think I should have won that match. It came down to really one scramble that was off of my offense. And I had most of the offense in that match.”
Mack said, during that flurry that decided the 3-1 decision, he was a split moment away from hitting a two-point move but came just short of finishing it. Linder got the two points instead.
Heading to Columbus, Mack drew St. Edward state No. 1-ranked junior Paddy Gallagher (33-1) in the opening round. Gallagher is the defending state champ at 160 pounds.
“Everyone’s good, and anything can happen,” Mack said.