COLUMBUS - Stare downs as a kid were always just for fun. The loser usually just lost some M&Ms and maybe bragging rights until Round Two came along.
Apparently, Howland's Gabe Stark grew up on some tough playgrounds.
The senior 145-pounder went into his Division II semifinal match at the State Wrestling Tournament as a bit of an underdog to Max Rohskopf, a senior from West Holmes High School who beat Stark last year. Yet, the Howland senior found an edge just a few seconds before the match.
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Howland’s Gabe Stark, right, celebrates after beating West Holmes’ Max Rohskopf to clinch a spot in the Division II state championship bout in the 145-pound weight class.
"I was just staring him down, and as soon as he looked away, I knew I had him," he said.
The rest of his fan base found out a few minutes later.
Stark hit a five-point move a minute into the first period and never gave Rohskopf a chance after that, winning 6-0 to advance to the state finals. Stark, now 42-3, wrestles Shelden Struble (52-2) of Bryan High School in the finals, which start at 5:45 p.m. today at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
State Wrestling Tournament
Friday's area results
- 113: Nick Mancini (Boardman) dec. Anthony Milano (Cincinnati La Salle), 5-0
- 145: Gabe Stark (Howland) pins Nate Valentine (Wapakoneta), 3:15
- 152: Seth Williams (Tiffin Columbian) dec. David Brian Whisler (Howland), 6-3
- 170: Wyatt Running (Carksville Clinton-Massie) pins Mike Audi (Poland), 1:01
- 170: Brandon James (Southeast) vs. Adrien Henderson (Trotwood-Madison), 3:04
- 182: Armani Robinson (Jamestown Greenview) dec. Kevin Stock (Garfield), 3-1
- 182: B.J. Toal (Troy Christian) maj. dec. Glenn Zaller (Grand Valley), 20-8
113: Aaron Assad (Broadview Heights) dec. Nick Mancini (Boardman), 2-1
- 145: Gabe Stark (Howland) dec. Max Rohskopf (West Holmes), 6-0
- 170: Wyatt Running (Clarksville Clinton-Massie) maj. dec. Brandon James (Southeast) , 21-13
Consolation (Round Two)
- 152: David Brian Whisler (Howland) dec. Nick Weininger (Dover), 5-2
- 160: Logan Reaser (Ravenna) dec. Jordan Radich (Howland), 6-0
- 170: John Poullas (Canfield) dec. Mike Audi (Poland), 8-3
- 182: Kile Schaefer (West Salem Northwestern) dec. Glenn Zaller (Grand Valley), 9-3
- 182: Cater Harris (West Jefferson) default Kevin Stock (Garfield)
- 152: David Brian Whisler (Howland) maj. dec. Kenneth Faulkner (West Branch), 9-0
- 170: Chris Moore (Clyde) pins John Poullas (Canfield), 1:58
OTHER EASTERN OHIO WRESTLING LEAGUE WRESTLERS
- Division II, Quarterfinals: 113 pounds Ryan Bennett (CVCA) maj. dec. Josh Henderson (Beaver Local), 12-1; 220 pounds Kordell Chaney (Sandusky Perkins) dec. Logan Sharp, 9-7; 285 pounds Chase Henderson (Franklin) dec. Connor Sharp (West Branch), 3-2 SO.
- Division II, Consolation (round two): 113 pounds Trent Duffy (Miami Trace) dec. Josh Henderson (Beaver Local), 4-1; 132 pounds Derik Kopp (Tiffin Columbian) dec. Ron Foster (Beaver Local), 5-3, OT; 138 pounds Heath Lange (Indian Lake) pins Daniel Hasson (Beaver Local), 1:32; 152 Kenneth Faulkner (West Branch) Alex Daughty (Norwalk), 9-5; 220 pounds Billy Post (Conneaut) dec. Logan Sharp (West Branch), 8-4; 285 pounds Connor Sharp (West Branch) dec. Beau Harmon (Benjamin Logan), 7-3.
- Division III, Consolation (round two): Matt Hardenbrook (Crestview) maj. dec. Joey Meek (West Salem Northwestern), 16-4.
Consolation quarterfinals: 170 pounds Hardenbrook (Crestview) dec. Bobby Sunderhaus (Lima Central Catholic), 9-8; 285 pounds Connor Sharp (West Branch) pins Drek Brumley (SVSM), 1:27.
- NOTE: Wrestlers who win in the second round of the consolations are guaranteed to place. They can finish as high as third or as low as eighth. Anyone who lost in that round was eliminated from the tournament. Wrestling will continue at 10 a.m. today to determine the top eight placers in each weight class.
"I expected it," Stark said of winning. "I worked for it. I worked so hard this summer. I worked so much after practice. You go out there and you can't have any doubt in your mind. He's ranked ahead of me, had a better record than me, beat me last year, 2-0, but you have to forget all about that."
It was all forgotten just a few moments later. Stark used a trip from the over-under position to earn a takedown in the first period, and he immediately locked up a nearside cradle as Rohskopf hit the mat. At first, it appeared Stark might not be able to finish the move and push Rohskopf to his back. Yet, as Stark was circling in an attempt to drive Rohskopf over, the Howland captain suddenly changed direction, threw his hips overtop of Rohskopf and used his opponent's momentum to put him to his back.
"It's all based off his reaction," he said. "I was so excited to have him on his back, but I knew just to go slow with it not to rush it and then end up on my back. I couldn't pin him, but when you're up 5-0, you just wrestle smart, and that's what I did for the next two periods."
The match stayed 5-0 through the second period, and Stark avoided a few pinning combinations by Rohskopf in the final period to secure the win. Stark didn't show much emotion as the final seconds ticked away, but Howland coach Bill Beasom couldn't contain his excitement. He jumped up and down before turning to the Howland cheering section and raising one finger in the air to signify one more win for a state title.
"I was ecstatic I'm still shaking over it," said Beasom, a former Howland wrestler who coached the junior high team for two years before taking over the Tigers four years ago. "This is the first kid I've had as head coach that I was able to take to the state finals. I've been with Gabe for the last six years, and to have it be one of the kids I've worked with and mentored We have a great bond, and words can't explain the excitement."
Stark is the third Tiger to earn a spot in the state finals in the past five years (Kyle Leek and Greg Ryan both made it in 2008) and fourth in the past eight seasons (Kyle Gantz was runner-up in 2005). The lone state champion for Howland is Brad Gintert, who won titles in 1983 and 1984 and was third in 1982. Beasom is confident Stark, who placed fifth in the state at 138 pounds in 2012, can be the next Tiger to stand atop the podium.
"We haven't had a state champ since 1984, and I'm hoping he's the next one," Beasom said. "He deserves it, with all the stuff he's done, the time he's put in - he absolutely deserves it.
"And this means a lot to the program," Beasom added. "Gabe came all the way through our Mat Cat program, through junior high and high school. Gabe wrestled and worked all summer long, stayed after practice and worked, went away on Sundays and went to other places to get workouts in. Hopefully for our program, the kids see that when you put the work in here, it pays off in the end."
It certainly did for Stark.