COLUMBUS — Contrary to what the Versailles Tigers have accomplished, qualifying for the OHSAA state team dual championships isn’t easy.
Versailles has advanced to historic St. John Arena in Columbus five times in the tournament’s eight-year history, including the past three. Only six teams have more appearances than the Tigers.
“It is tough. If you look through the regional we went through with Mechanicsburg, Tinora and Allen East, it’s tough every year,” Versailles coach A.J. Bey said. “It’s a really big goal to each one of these kids, especially the seniors. They want to one-up the class before them. It is tough getting here. We enjoy being here.
“There are some junior high kids who came down and watched. They see how the atmosphere is. It’s just tradition and the kids want to be part of it.”
Versailles’ seniors nearly pulled off one of those one-ups in Sunday’s Division III semifinals. The Tigers have reached the semis four times overall and three straight times. But that’s where their state tournament has ended.
The Tigers came as close as ever to changing that Sunday. Versailles, seeded No. 3 in the eight-team tournament, faced No. 2 Apple Creek Waynedale in the semis. The Golden Bears jumped out to a 16-6 lead after five of the first 14 weight classes. Versailles picked up wins from freshman Payton Platfoot (10-5 decision) at the 106-pound weight class and sophomore Noah Brown (5-0 decision) at 126.
The Tigers rallied with three straight wins with sophomore Carson Bey’s 4-1 decision at 138, freshman Kane Epperly’s 7-2 decision at 145 and senior Cael Bey’s pin in 2:53 at 152. That pushed the Tigers in front 17-16.
Waynedale responded with the next three wins with a pin at 160, a technical fall at 170 and decision at 182. The Golden Bears led 30-17 with three matches left.
Sophomore Isaac Grilliot scored a pin in 3:55 at 195, pulling the Tigers within 30-23.
At 220, Versailles sophomore Brayden Keihl and Waynedale junior Kane Murray faced off in a pivotal match. Keihl battled Murray and nearly scored a takedown in the closing seconds, but instead suffered a hard-luck 4-3 loss that clinched the win for Waynedale.
Junior Austin Nerderman closed out the match at 285 with a pin in 1:32.
“You look back at every match and if you could pick up a point here and there. The kids wrestled hard,” Bey said. “Waynedale has a good team. We can’t hang our heads about a whole lot.”
In the quarterfinals, Versailles beat No. Canfield South Range 40-20.
The Tigers picked up wins from Platfoot (15-1), Brown (7-3), senior Nick Monnier (13-6) at 132, Epperly (11-4), Bey (0:53), junior Alex Kaiser (4:41) at 170, junior Noah Gilmore (13-8) at 182, Grilliot (1:15) and Nerderman (5:25).
“That first match is a tough one,” Bey said. “You don’t want to come down here and wrestle once then sit around the rest of the day. It’ll be interesting to see when we come down for individual state to see how some of these guys do.
“I know they want to be wrestling out there at 7:30 p.m. (in the championship match). But coming out here and seeing some different teams from around the state is a bonus.”
The competition the Tigers faced served as good practice for the upcoming D-III sectional, district and state tournament. The challenge now is getting through the sectional and district tournaments, the latter which includes a tough gauntlet of Brookville, Covington, Xenia Legacy Christian Academy, Mechanicsburg, Miami East and Troy Christian.
“If we get four or five guys out to state that’s going to be a good weekend,” Bey said. “Our sectional and district is real tough. I think if you can get out of our district there’s a good chance you can stand on the podium.
“The outcome wasn’t what we wanted but we’ll take some things out of here and get ready for two weeks.”