While Northmor junior Conor Becker won a state championship for the Golden Knights in the Division III state wrestling meet on Saturday, it also took the contributions of teammates Tony Martinez and Niko Christo to lift Northmor to a 10th place finish as a team with 39.5 points.
Martinez, a senior competing at 145 pounds, finished in sixth place to reach the podium in his first year of wrestling in the state meet. Freshman Christo added one win at 138 pounds to also contribute points to the team’s total.
In going 3-3 over the weekend to conclude his senior year with a 42-7 record, Martinez opened quickly, claiming a 19-4 technical fall against Morgan Price of Sycamore Mohawk on Thursday.
Last year, Martinez often had to wrestle at 160 pounds despite being a natural 145-pounder, due to the presence of state placers Conan (145) and Conor (152) Becker — something that gave him confidence going into the state meet.
“It feels a lot better,” he said about wrestling big meets at 145. “Last year, I was winning tournaments, so at my natural weight class, I know I can place this year. I’ve got to keep it going.”
In Friday’s quarterfinal bout, he fell 16-7 to Massillon Tuslaw’s Brier Marthey, but was able to bounce back and dominate Bishop Ready’s Andrew Halko via a 14-1 major decision. Martinez attributed both results to his confidence levels, noting he was more comfortable wrestling Halko, since he’d beaten him in his district finals match.
“I got really nervous and was timid and less aggressive,” he said of his match with Marthey. “That’s not what I should do. I beat the kid (Halko) last week in districts, so I was more confident.”
The win over Halko clinched a spot on the podium for Martinez, allowing him to reflect on how far he’d progressed as a wrestler. While he spent some time in Northmor’s youth program in fourth grade, he didn’t return to the sport until he was a freshman and then took his lumps as an underclassman.
“It feels good — it’s one of my long-time goals,” he said about clinching a spot on the podium. “Especially going from 7-17 as a freshman to 41-5 as a senior — it’s a big difference. It took a lot of hard work in the wrestling room. I also went to a lot of wrestling camps and that helped as well.”
Assistant coach Jamie Christo added that even though Martinez lost a number of matches in his early years, the coaching staff could tell he had the potential to be special, citing his athleticism — something that allowed him to lead the Northmor football team in tackles in 2018 as a linebacker despite not having played that sport previously.
“Believe it or not, even though he lost those matches, he was always in them,” said Christo. “You never could count him out.”
After defeating Halko, Martinez’ next match was against Ryan Whitten of Troy Christian. A pair of three-point cradles in the second period proved to be the decisive points as he held on for a 6-4 decision. While he fell in both of his Saturday morning matches, losing 9-0 to Lima Central Catholic’s Joey Caprella and 5-2 to West Salem Northwestern’s Cael Rowland, he was able to claim sixth place in the meet.
“I could have done better,” he said. “But when I came down here, I wasn’t expecting to place and wanted to just do well. When I won my first match by so much, I started thinking I could place.”
Martinez added that he got a lot of good preparation for the state meet on a daily basis in practice, as he regularly drilled with 2014 state runner-up Jamie Baldridge, an assistant coach for the Golden Knights, as well as 138-pound state-qualifier
Niko Christo. As a freshman, Christo opened his meet with a 9-3 win over Sam Patterson of Batavia Clermont NE. “I expected to win,” he said after that decision. “I have confidence in myself.”
Carr agreed with that sentiment.
“I’d say the last month of the season, he picked it up,” said the coach. “Confidence is a big thing. As the season progressed, he was more and more confident in himself and opened up his offense.”
Christo would fall one match short of placing, though. In his Friday morning quarterfinal bout, competing against eventual third-place finisher Niko Chilson of Rootstown, he got caught early and pinned in the first period. He would then lose 14-3 to Jordan Keegan of Milan Edison, who wound up fifth.
His father and coach, Jamie, feels this experience has the potential to lead to bigger things in the future.
“Niko works hard and puts it in,” he said. “Not many freshmen get to wrestle with a state placer (Martinez) and a coach who was runner-up (Baldridge) and Conor Becker. We expect Niko to try to win it (next year) and he feels the same way. He’ll put the time in and do what he has to do, but it’s up to him and how much he wants it.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS