COLUMBUS — Tim Begley only wanted his wrestlers to have a chance to walk through the entrance tunnel onto the floor at the Schottenstein Center.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever done it as a team,” Legacy Christian’s head coach said. “The kids always ask me why I still keep coaching and that tunnel was the real reason why.”
The Knights at the end of Sunday evening’s festivities got to emerge from it onto the floor as they were introduced as the OHSAA Division III state wrestling champions for the second consecutive year.
Legacy, considered the favorite to repeat by many in attendance at the three-day championships, scored 136 team points which blew away the competition by 58.
The state title was all but official after Saturday night’s activity with LCA holding a 38.5-point advantage heading into the final placement matches.
A win by Eli Campbell in the first consolation match in the 113-pound weight class on Sunday morning, coupled with Milan Edison’s Abe Hermes being unable to attain bonus points in his victory on a nearby mat, secured the team title by reaching a point total no others could attain.
After Eli and several of his teammates finished off third, fifth and seventh-place matches, it set the stage for the group’s three previous state champions to wrestle for their own glory. Dillon Campbell at 120, Camron Lacure at 138 went on to become two-time champions, and Gavin Brown at 150 secured his third crown as all brought home more gold for the Knights.
“It’s a great day and we had a great year and I’m just really, really happy that everybody stayed healthy enough to compete,” Begley said.
Healthy enough to compete may be a loosely used saying at this point of the year. The warm-up area turned lounge was filled with ice packs and in some cases slings for many competitors as the championships finished.
It was no different for Legacy having to deal with and fight through its own injury issues in order to achieve its championship.
The Knights had nine individuals make it to Columbus, the most of any D-III school, but several aren’t coming out 100 percent. Ethan Cooper had his campaign at 157 end due to a fractured elbow during his first-round match against Northmor’s Nike Christo, who went on to finish in fifth-place.
Lacure in winning the 138-pound weight class may have put on one of the most impressive three-day performances from having to compete with a torn labrum.
“I feel it a little bit, but my adrenaline keeps it going,” Lacure said after his championship match. “[Competing] keeps my mind off of it. Sometimes when I jar it, I feel it hurt. But for the most part, I don’t really think of it as I really just think, ‘alright, I got to win this match.’”
Pain heals and finishing at the top of the podium certainly helps expedite its ease.
Lacure, a champion at 132 last year, began his tournament with a pin in 16 seconds before securing 14-7 and 7-1 decisions in the quarter and semifinals. His championship match against Eastwood’s Gavin Owens broadened Lacure’s injury issues due to a six-inch height advantage for Owens.
Lacure had a two-point advantage throughout the third period, but the match was stopped twice due to a bloody nose for Owens. After the second occurrence with five ticks remaining, the two did not lock up again to secure the 5-3 win for Lacure.
“I don’t think I wrestled up to my potential,” he said. “I’ve been wrestling at about 50 percent. I gave 100 percent, but only could push for maybe maybe 60 percent.”
Before Lacure took to the mat, Dillon won the Knights’ first individual title of the night with a pin against Chalker’s Landen Duncan at the 1:06 mark of the first period. After getting a takedown in the opening minute, he never allowed Duncan to escape, sustaining pressure until his shoulder were flat on the mat.
Dillon won at 113 last year and had a goal of wanting to secure as many points as possible during this year’s tournament. He opened the tournament with a 15-0 technical fall victory before getting an opening period pin in the quarters. An 8-0 major decision in the semifinals along with the finals pin provided 6.5 ability points for the team out of a possible eight.
“I was just trying to, you know, show my dominance trying to go through the bracket,” Dillon said. “The semifinal match didn’t go how I wanted. Only an 8-0 major and I was looking for a tech fall, but it’s alright.”
Brown capped off the team’s victory and his personal career with a third title in a third weight class, previously winning at 126 in 2019 and 145 last year. He lost out on a chance to be a four-time champion only after becoming a No. 1-seed at 138 in 2020 when the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.
Two opening pins and a 16-3 tech fall left Brown unchallenged until his final match. After his opponent, Mechanicsburg’s Westyn Moyer, chose the bottom position to begin the second period, an early escape left Brown trailing 1-0 going into the final two minutes.
Brown from the bottom position quickly got his own escape point to open the third. He shot for a single-leg takedown with just over a minute remaining and worked on finishing it for 17 seconds before gaining the advantage and being award the two points for what ended up being the winning score in a 3-2 victory.
“There was excitement, but a little bit of disappointment,” Brown said. “Excitement because I finished a three-time state champ, disappointment because I like to score points. I didn’t give everyone, the other fans, the show that I could have but at the end of the day a win is a win and I was just excited to close my high school career out on a win.”
Brown was one of eight individuals at the event to win a third state title, which now has seen 77 wrestlers do so in Ohio history. He joins Tommy Hoskins as Legacy wrestlers to have won three individual titles, as Hoskins won two with Dayton Christian in 2015 and 2016 before getting his third for LCA in 2017.
Four of Legacy’s other five grapplers made it to Sunday morning’s consolation placement matches. Eli finished in fourth-place after his securing the team title. Logan Attisano also got a fourth-place finish in the 126-pound class.
Boede Campbell at 144 made the podium with an eighth-place finish. Nick Alvarez won a 17-0 tech fall to make the third-place match at 165, which he won in more dramatic fashion with a 1-0 decision stemming from an escape point.
Brayden Brown got a pin in the third period of his first match before falling in the quarterfinals of the 132 bracket. All of Legacy’s losses in matches not by injury during the championship portion of the bracket came against the eventual champion or runner-up.
LCA held off Milan Edison by 10.5 points in 2021 for its first-ever state championship, but created an almost insurmountable gap between the two teams this year before podium places were decided.
The Knights’ wrestling program is only in its infancy having began five years ago, yet it has already built the framework for its dominance over D-III.
Brown after his title win talked about the success of his younger teammates, those who will be soon joining the varsity team next season, as well as LCA’s newly formed youth program, which he says are all setting the stage so those individuals can follow the footsteps he and his fellow seniors have created.
“You know, we got some good coaches, we got a good program,” Brown said. “We’re not going to go away anytime soon. People better get used to seeing Legacy Christian.”
Lacure said the accountability he and his teammates have held one another to allows for better training and helps to push one another in critical moments on the mat.
“We had some good camaraderie, good friendship bonds,” Lacure said. “… We all push each other in wrestling and that’s really all that matters in getting a team title.”
When it comes to future title chances, such as potentially contending for a third straight next year, Begley said it’s all about developing individuals when they’re young. Steel sharping steel is a motto he likes to follow.
Begley will help train his wrestlers in groups outside of varsity competition, allowing some of the best to form bonds on their way up and celebrate together when they reach the pinnacle. Just as Legacy and many others were able to at the end of the championships.
The 2021 title came with the event being held at Marion Harding High School in front of a small crowd. The 2022 version got to occur on a bigger stage, and allowed the LCA wrestlers to also come out of the tunnel Begley loves to walk through.
“It’s the adrenaline and to share that with the kids, it’s life changing for every kid that goes through it,” he said. “You never forget it.”