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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Wrestling: State crowns elude Madison, Northmor athletes

COLUMBUS -- Madison's Josh Speelman ran into a brick wall. Northmor's Tyler Heminger knocked one down only to find his path to glory blocked anyway. Each knew winning a state wrestling title wouldn't be easy, but the two area finalists wish they could have had more to show for tremendous efforts Saturday night in Value City Arena.

Speelman lost to Collin Palmer, Lakewood St. Edward's three-time champ, 5-0 in the Division I, 135-pound finals. Heminger found a chink in the armor of Monroeville phenom Cam Tessari, but a near-pin by the Northmor freshman couldn't prevent a 12-9 defeat in the Division III, 112 finale.

"It was close, but I couldn't get him stuck," said Heminger, who rallied from 4-0 and 9-3 deficits to tie the match in the final minute with a five-point move. "He kept scooting and I couldn't get his shoulders down."

One of four Monroeville champs, Tessari wiggled free for his escape and then tacked on an insurance takedown to spoil the occasion for Heminger and coach Mike Skelton, who is retiring after 29 years at the helm.

Skelton was so sure Heminger had the pin he raised his arms in the direction of Northmor's cheering section in the upper reaches of the arena.

"We were looking for the win," said Skelton, denied his third state champ. "(Tessari) fought hard off his back. Tyler wrestled a great match."

Speelman was the aggressor in his bout, but has to settle for being a three-time plac- er and part of an historical footnote.

Palmer's victory made him one of only four wrestlers to win six Ohio titles -- three in junior high and three in high school, with a year remaining.

He shares that distinction with his brother Lance, now a star for Ohio State.

"I knew that (Speelman) would come out there trying big moves," Palmer said. "His dad knows Greco, so I expected him to try and throw me, but I knew that if I just stayed low and solid, I'd be fine."

Jim Speelman, a 1986 state champ for St. Peter's, has coached Palmer and his brother, a four-time state champ, on USA Wrestling summer teams and knows the family well. But he was surprised at how well Collin fended off his son's attacks.

"I knew he feared Josh's capability for throwing, but (Palmer) wouldn't give up the opportunity," Jim Speelman said. "We knew we'd be in a front headlock. Josh had to come up through it, but Collin wouldn't let Josh get his hips up underneath him."

Josh pledged to be more aggressive after losing to Palmer 5-2 in the district finals. Palmer handed Speelman his only two losses in 49 matches.

"I wasn't ready for that," Speelman said of Palmer's airtight defense. "He caught me off guard."

Speelman will now gear up for summer nationals before heading off to Ohio University to wrestle. He wants to be a nutritionist.

"Josh wrestled tough," Madison coach Doug Mosier said. "He's made a lot of improvement and accomplishments in his career. I've known him since he was a little kid and know his commitment to the sport.

"He's been a pleasure to be around."

Soon after catching his breath, Heminger was already looking ahead to his next three years at Northmor. He wasn't the only one.

"I thought we had a chance at a four-time state champ," said assistant coach A.J. Wenger, a former two-time qualifier for the Knights. "We're going for three now. I know he's got that in his head."

Heminger nearly pulled off a second miracle in as many days. On Friday night, he rallied from an 8-6 deficit in the last eight seconds to pin Delta's Johnny Tolson.

Wenger summed up the 46-7 ninth-grader with one word: heart.

"Last year, when I saw everybody else going to state (Northmor had five qualifiers in 2007), that's what I wanted to do," Heminger said. "When I started beating ranked wrestlers, I thought I could place, but I didn't think I could make it to the finals.

"It makes me want to work harder so that when I make the finals next year I'll be ready to win."


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