By ANDY WOLF
Athletes can separate themselves from the pack at any level with not only the ability to win, but the drive to do so.
Fostoria High School wrestler Luke Leonard has shown both of those traits all season long, and they’ve helped him build a 38-7 record and qualify for the Division II state wrestling championships. The tournament will begin Thursday at Ohio State’s Value City Arena in Columbus.
The Redmen 126-pounder’s ability and drive can be rooted to being the youngest of three brothers in a wrestling family. The oldest of the three, Jake, and middle brother Zach, are FHS graduates.
“I always wanted to be better than them,” Luke said. “It has always motivated me to become a better wrestler.”
As a freshman in 2012, Luke was teammates at Fostoria with Zach, who was a senior. Neither was able to get out of the district tournament and reach state.
After Zach graduated, Luke entered his sophomore year looking to go one step further.
Entering districts with a 30-12 record, Luke won his first match 6-2 before a 4-3 loss sent him to the consolation bracket.
Needing three straight victories to qualify for state, Leonard fell one match short, dropping his qualification match 8-2 and settling for sixth place.
“I knew it was about offseason work,” Leonard said. “I knew I had to put in more time to get where I needed to be.”
Leonard hit the wrestling room whenever possible, even going as far as participating in open mats at others schools.
Fostoria coach Nick Davis said he’s seen great potential in Leonard since his freshman year,
“He put a lot of miles on his car and spent a lot of money and gas just to improve himself,” Davis said of Leonard’s offseason attitude. “It showed right away.”
Early in December, Leonard completed the season-opening Findlay Duals with a 4-1 record that included two pins, a technical fall and a forfeit win
His success carried through toward the end of the regular season, completing Woodmore’s Wildcat duals with a 5-0 record just one week before capturing a Division II sectional title.
“(Luke) showed improvement in all areas of his wrestling — specifically, getting away, taking people down and in riding people,” Davis said. “He wrestled smart matches with few mistakes, and once you get to his level that’s a huge key.”
The hot stretch by Leonard carried into last weekend’s district tournament at Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center, where he won his first three matches to put him in the championship round and guarantee him a state bid.
“The first thing I said when i got off the mat was ‘It’s about time,'” Leonard said. “My mind wasn’t on the fact that I made it, but more on the fact that I had more matches to win.”
Despite losing the district championship match to finish second, Leonard still has the state podium in his crosshairs.
“I was excited after qualifying, but I was still focused on getting to state and placing,” Leonard said.
Leonard’s first state match will be against Georgio Poullas (40-4), a freshman from Canfield.
“I feel like the difference down there is attitude,” Leonard said. “Everybody down there is good, but it comes down to who wants it more and who’s going to wrestle harder to get it.”
Davis looks for Leonard to not be satisfied with simply qualifying for state.
“He’s worked very hard and deserves it because of the time and the effort he’s put in,” Davis said. ” I told him we’re going to Columbus to place and not to be happy with just making it.”
The area will have two competitors in Division III. Van Buren junior Chance Sonnenberg (37-4) will wrestle his 160-pound opener against Reading’s Ray Day (36-7). Elmwood senior Jake Wise (37-1) will begin the 170-pound competition against Wes Buettner (41-8) of Delphos St. John’s.
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