While Northmor junior Niko Christo finished eighth at 152 pounds at the Division III state meet, head coach Scott Carr feels a much better placement could be in store for him next year with just a bit of improvement.
The reason: of Christo’s (26-10) three losses over Saturday and Sunday, two of them came to Jake Hurst of Mechanicsburg (third place) and Gunner Endicott of Elmwood (fifth), with Christo holding late leads in both contests before losing late.
“The thing is, in both of those losses, we had the lead in the third and just didn’t close matches out,” said Carr. “He had leads in the third in two of three losses, but just didn’t finish. You have to wrestle the full six minutes, especially at this level with the top guys in the state. He was right there with some of the best guys in the state.”
Christo did close out his opening match against Nick Skye of Mogadore. After a stalling point against him tied the bout at three, sending it to overtime, he battled back to get a takedown in the extra session to advance to the quarterfinals.
His next bout, with Endicott, was a thriller, with neither wrestler able to maintain an advantage. The action was tied at 5-5 after two minutes of action and Christo was able to open the second period with an escape followed by a takedown and two back points.
That 10-5 lead wouldn’t be secure, though. Endicott battled back to within an 11-10 margin going into the third and took a two-point lead in the period. Christo would get within one on a penalty called with 42 seconds left, though, and then recorded an escape to send the match to overtime. His second extra period of the day wasn’t as fruitful as the first, unfortunately, as his opponent was able to secure two points in the final seconds to squeak out a win.
While he didn’t have a great deal of time to recover before his final match of Saturday — that would determine if he placed or got eliminated — he was definitely ready for Devon Watkins of Sandy Valley. After beating Watkins 2-0 for third place at districts, he was able to earn a 5-1 win over him in the state meet.
“We always talk about big matches,” said Carr. “I tell the kids they have five minutes to be sad or upset, but when that’s over, they have to focus. They have to erase it from their memory and be done with it.”
“Once I lost my quarterfinal match, I wasn’t losing again today,” Christo added. “I wasn’t letting anyone take it from me.”
Christo added that this year’s state meet felt weird. With Saturday’s competition divided into two sessions, with lower weights competing in the first one and heavier weights in the second, Christo had to get used to being among the first athletes onto the mat.
“I’d probably like it better if I wasn’t the first to wrestle every round,” he said. “I’m very grateful — it’s just some things aren’t the way they were before COVID hit. It definitely doesn’t feel like state, but placing here will feel like placing at the Schott — just with not many people watching. But it does feel great. We’re lucky to have it. It could have been canceled again.”
Christo opened Sunday with his match with Hurst. After falling in a 4-1 hold after two periods, he came to life in the third, throwing his opponent. Three back points and a couple penalties later and he held an 8-4 lead. Hurst would get a reversal, but Christo escaped to still be up 9-6 late in the period. Unfortunately, he would then get caught in a throw and suffered a loss via pin as time expired.
He would then compete for seventh place against Carter Chase of Pleasant and wouldn’t be able to get untracked in an 8-2 loss that placed him eighth in the state.
One of Christo’s teammates, junior Marcus Cortez (29-11) also wrestled at state, but went 0-2. He started off with a rough draw, challenging eventual 132-pound champion Camron Lacure of Legacy Christian, and was pinned in the first period.
In the consolation bracket, he faced Jeremiah McKee of Wellington and suffered a 17-4 loss by major decision.
Carr has high hopes for next year, noting that he’ll return everyone and that a wrestler like Cortez will enter the postseason knowing what he’ll have to do in order to pick up some state meet wins and reach the podium.
“We don’t graduate anyone — our whole team comes back,” he said. “We’ll have a good eighth grade class coming in. With Marcus, I think last week, he was spent physically, mentally and emotionally. I think he was just happy to be here. Next year, we’ll have a different mindset and he agreed. He’ll learn from this experience.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS