GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio — La Salle senior Michael Baker doesn’t hesitate to explain what wrestling represents in his life.
As the 195-pound standout prepared for practice Wednesday afternoon during what could be one of the most momentous weeks in program history, Baker lauded the brotherhood around the nationally ranked Lancers.
“Family, grit, dedication and perseverance,” Baker said. “It’s been a ride. It’s been a great four years.”
No area team has ever won the state dual or individual tournament title in Ohio High School Athletic Association history. The OHSAA has kept team scoring for the individual tournament since 1939. The state dual has been sanctioned by the OHSAA since 2013.
“We look at it like as we are the best team in the state,” said senior Lucas Byrd, who is the nation’s No. 1-ranked wrestler at 120 pounds. “We are going to prove it on Sunday.”
La Salle, the No. 1 seed, will wrestle No. 8 Lancaster at 11 a.m. Mason, the No. 6 seed, wrestles Brecksville-Broadview Heights at 1:15 p.m. Like La Salle, Mason has won three consecutive regional dual titles entering this weekend.
Other area state qualifiers include Ross (Division II) and Blanchester (Division III). The semifinals are at 3:30 p.m., with the finals starting at 7:30 p.m.
La Salle coach Ryan Root has kept this weekend in perspective, saying it is business as usual. The Lancers understand the significant opportunity of competing for a state title and earning the unique distinction in Greater Cincinnati.
“It’s a goal for the school obviously and for these kids especially,” Root said. “But I think we have a lot of support from a local standpoint. For a sport that is really focused on their individuals, we’ve got a lot of guys going, ‘We’re pulling for you, we are rooting for you. We will be there supporting you.’ And so I think it’s exciting for the area as a whole. It’s good for the sport, it’s good for our area; it’s good for wrestling I think.”
The Lancers may very well be on a collision course with perennial state power Lakewood St. Edward. The Eagles, ranked No. 9 by USA Today, are the No. 2 seed but the Lancers outlasted St. Ed’s twice this season including a dual at Bill Cady Court and finishing ahead of the Eagles at the prestigious Walsh Jesuit Ironman Tournament.
“It’s really a giant chess match,” Root said. “And hopefully we can find out the pieces and where they go by the end of it.”
The Lancers’ main focus has been to stay healthy this week. The state dual tournament is designed to find the most complete team (14 weight classes). The individual tournament, which awards a team title and also individuals, is March 7-9 at the Schottenstein Center.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to represent our school, La Salle but not only that but represent Southwest Ohio too because we have a shot of doing what’s never been done which is to bring home a (large school) title to the entire region of Southwest Ohio,” said senior Trey Sizemore.
La Salle is led by several standouts including a trio of seniors with over 100 career wins.
Byrd (29-1), a Maryland signee, has 155 career high school wins. A three-time state placer, Byrd, ranked No. 1 at 120 pound by FloWrestling, won the Division I state title at 113 pounds in 2018.
Byrd may look like Harry Potter but wrestles like the Incredible Hulk as his team likes to say. “I am always ready to scrap,” Byrd said.
Baker (22-4) has 145 career high school wins. He is a three-time state qualifier including a state placer in 2018. He is committed to attend and wrestle for Columbia University.
Sizemore (29-4) has 117 career high school wins. He is a two-time state qualifier including a state placer in 2018. He is committed to attend and wrestle for Brown University.
Senior Robert Brown is ranked the state’s No. 4 heavyweight in Division I, according to borofanohio.net. Brown is committed to wrestle at Mount St. Joseph University. Sophomore Cole Skinner is ranked No. 20 nationally at 106 pounds.
Sophomore Dustin Norris, a returning state finalist, is ranked No. 11 nationally at 113 pounds.
Other top individuals include juniors and returning state placers Antoine Allen and Casey Wiles.
Baker said the team has dreamed about bringing home a state title to Cincinnati. It would be a surreal experience for the Lancers.
But, he has already learned life lessons that will go beyond this winter regardless of the results.
“Obviously we are a good team,” Baker said. “We’re good athletes. But at the same time we got to be good people. I think La Salle, the school, has taught us that. We have to serve our community and things like that. It’s more than wrestling. It’s about being a good person.”