What had already been an historic season on the mats for National Trail’s wrestling program became even more memorable during the state tournament last weekend.
Ben and Zach Sullivan etched their names into the record books as the Blazers’ first-ever state placers at the state meet. Ben finished second at 220 pounds, while older brother Zach took third at 170 pounds.
And neither seemed satisfied with their final results.
In time, both will realize just how big each of their accomplishments were.
“I’m not that happy,” Ben said after the match. “I just thank God I made it so far.”
The duo led the Blazers to a team-best 11th place finish, with 39 points, just missing the top 10 by two points.
Ben, a freshman, was the first Blazer to wrestle for a state title. He led going into the final period of the championship bout against Jay Nino of Genoa Area, but got caught with just under a minute remaining and was pinned, to end his season as the Division III state runner-up at 220 pounds.
“He’s a freshman who made the state finals, which is just absolutely fantastic,” Trail coach Michael Eyler said moments after the heartbreaking loss. “Going in we knew he had talent. When he came here he just had that fire and he went through opponents pretty well. “It’s sad. But he should be proud of himself.”
In the finals, Eyler felt his guy had control.
Eyler said Sullivan was “running an arm bar” and Nino knew how to counter that move well.
“He essentially just sat up on it at the right time. The way it fell he just got lucky,” Eyler said. “Honestly, it was a lot of luck in that one because we were controlling that match.”
Eyler said freshmen usually don’t wrestle for state titles at the upper weights.
“Being a freshman at anything above 145 pounds and placing in state, let alone making it to state is pretty darn rare,” Eyler said. “For Ben to come in his first year at 220 and really take it to everybody is a big deal. You don’t see that. The fact of the matter is we’ve got a strong young man whose built like an ox, he’s smart on the mat, he knows exactly what he wants to do and he goes out there and he does it. That’s going to make him so much more dangerous the next three years because he is only going to improve. There’s no going back for him.”
Eyler said Ben was not “one of those first time guys who comes here and they are happy to be here.”
“When he goes to a tournament he’s there to win it,” Eyler said.
Ben opened the tournament by pinning Devon Richards of Delta in 5 minutes, 19 seconds. In the quarterfinals, he pinned Alex Stotter of Gates Mills Hawkins in 4:47. In the semis, he beat Cameron Conaway of Greenwich S. Central, 3-2.
“I liked being here with my brother and I’m wanting to come back next year,” Ben said. “And I will. I will.”
Eyler said Ben, who finished the season with a 35-4 record, was pretty quiet for the rest of the night.
“I think he began to realize just how big his accomplishment was, though. He’s disappointed, of course, but he’s already looking forward to next season. I have a feeling that he’s going to top himself, especially if he keeps up with his current work ethic,” Eyler said.
Zach, who was making his second trip to the state tournament, officially became the Blazers first-ever state placer when he finished third at 170 pounds.
“It was a lot more fun than last year,” Zach said prior to watching the championship finals. A year ago, he suffered losses in both of his matches. “It helped that my brother was here. I’m glad how it turned out. I would have like to have got first, but third is pretty good.”
He won his first round match 8-3 over Todd Miller of Delta. In the quarters, he lost in an ultimate tiebreaker to Nick Cardiero of Girard, 6-5. The two were tied after sudden death and two 30-second overtime periods, before Cardiero pulled off the win.
“After that loss, I was just really upset about it,” he said.
Zach, a junior, battled his way back through the consolation rounds. He defeated Brandon Breezely of Blanchester, 6-4, then topped Jacob Wise of Bloomdale Elmwood, 7-0. He then beat Brandon Miller of Covington 9-0 to reach the third place match. He finished off the tournament in fashion by pinning Jake Datz of London Madison Plains in 2:13 to complete his year with a 45-4 record.
The goal for next year?
“Win it,” he said. “I want to win it.”
“I was also proud of Zach, taking third. He’s been pushing himself and leading this team for three years now, and he earned his spot on the podium. He, too, is unhappy with his finish, and he wants that number one spot. I have no doubt in my mind that he can take it next year, he goes after his goals with a lot of tenacity,” Eyler said.
Having two state placers in a year is unique for Trail and to have it be brothers makes it even more so.
“When I got Zach two years ago, I knew we had something special. He’s always been a hard worker in the room. When we got Ben this year, I obviously knew him from the past couple years, I knew we had a second kid who was incredibly motivated.” Eyler said. “When we went into this season I fully expected this to happen, both of them make it. If you would have asked me if we would have them both in the top four I don’t know what I would have said. I wouldn’t have put it out of the realm of possibilities. It would have still been a long shot. Placing at the state level is really cool. It’s nice to see our first two placers as top four finishers. It’s nice to have people drive all the way to Columbus to support our team. We’re a small town, we’ve got lots to be proud of now.”
Eyler believes the Trail wrestling program is on it was up.
“Honestly, this season has been a whirlwind. The team worked really hard this year to grow and succeed, and it happened. Now, though, we’re in the planning stages for next year. We’ve got high hopes and higher expectations, so it’s time to start chasing them down,” he said. “I think we sent another message this weekend, by taking 11th place out of 115 teams with only two wrestlers.”