Elyria sophomore Kevin Vough has built an impressive wrestling resume for himself and the Pioneers program over the past season. The heavyweight added to the lengthy list of accomplishments Monday afternoon when he became the first Elyria wrestler to capture a USA Wrestling national championship in Fargo, N.D.
“I’m actually a little bit surprised (that I’m the first). I didn’t know that … wow,” Vough said in a phone interview. “I felt pretty good during the tournament. I had my head on right, my body was feeling good and I came ready to wrestle.”
Vough went 5-0 to capture the Cadet 285-pound Greco Roman title, and he did it in dominating fashion. Lutheran West sophomore James Handwerk went 5-1 at 160 pounds, finishing as the Cadet Greco national runner-up.
Ohio also claimed another national champion as Oregon Clay’s Matt Stencel captured the 195-pound Greco title.
Vough, who also became the first two-time Greco All-American for Elyria, opened with a pin of California’s Mike McCauley in 3:30 Sunday. He then scored an 8-0 technical fall over Illinois’ Jonathan Jimenez and pinned Minnesota’s Andrew Piehl — the 2014 Northern Plains freestyle champion — in 2:10 to advance to Monday morning’s semifinals.
Vough won a 10-0 technical fall over Illinois’ Bryan Ditchman to advance to the final. The semifinal was a rematch from the Cadet national duals last month in Daytona Beach, Fla., where Vough scored a 12-2 victory over Ditchman. The two points Ditchman scored were the only points allowed by Vough in the event.
“It gave me a little bit of reassurance (having beaten him earlier), but you can’t sleep on anybody, especially here in Fargo,” Vough said. “Also, especially in Greco, where you can get thrown at any time.”
Vough completed the bracket sweep with an 8-1 decision over Oregon’s Osawaru Odighizuwa — the Oregon big school 220-pound state champion last season — in the final. Odighizuwa was a state qualifier as a freshman, has an older brother who also won an Oregon state championship and has another brother — Owamagbe — who will be a senior defensive end for the UCLA football team this season.
“That’s the first time I’ve run across him before. He was really strong … a good wrestler,” Vough said of his final opponent. “After my semifinal match, I got off the mat and watched him wrestle. He basically pushed into the guy and was heavy on the head. I knew I had to change up a little bit to match that.”
Handwerk lost 10-0 to Minnesota’s Owen Webster in the 160-pound final. Handwerk had won five straight matches by technical fall to reach the final.
“(Webster) was blocking my left underhook, but I should’ve been able to overcome that,” Handwerk said by phone. “I just didn’t wrestle the way that I know how to wrestle.”
Handwerk opened with a 12-2 win over California’s Drake McKee, won 10-0 over Illinois’ Tony Vezzetti in the second round, won 11-0 over Texas’ John McCabe in the third round, won 17-6 over Nevada’s Andrew Berreyesa in the quarterfinals and won 14-4 over Illinois’ Randy Meneweather — the reigning Illinois state champion — in the semifinals.
The Longhorns standout wasn’t ready to pat himself on the back for the run.
“Every time I went on the mat, my mindset just wasn’t where it should be,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about what I should’ve been doing and my performance today wasn’t up to where I think it should be.”
Vough and Handwerk will be back in action this week in the Cadet freestyle competition.
“It’s a boost of confidence (winning the Greco title), but you can’t get a high head because freestyle is an entirely different game,” Vough said. “It’s very exciting. Fargo has been a goal since I came here last year. All the hard work that I’ve done, all the time I’ve put into it … it’s paying off right now.”
Dan Brown contributed to this story.