COLUMBUS – It’s only fitting that Westerville North High School wrestling phenoms Jesse Dong and Chris Kline enter their final scholastic match on the sport’s biggest stage.
Dong and Kline will look their cap their scholastic careers in style tonight when they each compete for a coveted state title at Ohio State University.
Dong will oppose Massillon Perry’s Nick Heflin (45-3) in the finals at 152 pounds and Kline will face central Ohio foe J.T. Rice (42-5) of Hilliard Davidson at 160.
Dong and Kline each beat their opponents during the regular season, but they realize previous meetings mean little when a state title is on the line.
“You can’t think about what happened before because I’ve wrestled kids one time and I’ve beaten them, and then I wrestle them another time and I barely won in overtime,” Dong said. “You have to go out there and you have to look at every match the same. You can’t overlook them just because you beat them once. I just have to go out there and wrestle my match.”
“Either match that Chris and Jesse have had you wipe the slate clean,” North coach David Grant said. “You get ready because those kids are competitors and they’re in the finals. They’re going to work hard, they want to win, too, so we’re just going to get them ready for (tonight’s) match.”
Dong (39-1), the top-rated wrestler in the weight class in the Brian Brakeman Report, reached the title match following three impressive wins, including a 12-0 victory against Elyria’s Zack Goins in the semifinals on Friday.
Kline (42-0), who is also first in the Brakeman Report, pinned Mayfield freshman Tylan Coleman (1:57) in his semifinal match.
Dong and Kline each have ample experience at the state level, and they are hoping to use that previous experience to their advantage tonight.
Dong, a four-time state qualifier, finished second last season at 145 and sixth at 135 in 2006.
“I’m a lot more focused now,” Dong said. “I’m happy I won my semi match, but I’m looking forward to being in the finals and winning a state championship.”
Kline, a three-time state qualifier, took fourth last season at 152.
“Both of them have wrestled a lot of matches here at the state tournament,” Grant said. “Every match has helped prepare you for the big one.”
Both are looking to claim the school’s first state crown.
“This would mean a lot for the program,” Grant said. “It shows the kids back in Westerville, especially Westerville North that it could be done. You can see that the kid is from your town, walks your hallway can do that, it tells you you can do it.
“I’m very happy. They both deserve it. They’ve worked four, long hard years to get to this point.”
North sophomore Josh Demas was guaranteed a place finish at 145 after winning two consolation matches on Friday night.
Demas, who finished second at 130 last season for Division III Marion Pleasant, defeated West Chester Lakota West’s Jess Stevens (9-4) and Cincinnati Elder’s Dominic Gorrasi 12-8 to remain in contention for an award.
Demas was eliminated from title contention after dropping a 4-3 decision to Sandusky’s Jerrel Valliant in the quarterfinals.
North entered today’s action looking for its best-ever state finish. The Warriors were a respectable fourth with 51 points, trailing perennial power St. Edward (119), Massillon Perry (79) and Elder (53).
“I’m more excited for our team,” said Dong, a Virginia Tech recruit. “We came here with four, have three state placers and two state finalists. You could ask for a little better, but I think we’ve done as much as we could do.
“This is huge for coach Grant. We’re going to end up top five in the state hopefully, so that’s one of the biggest accomplishments our school has ever gotten. Four people at states, so it’s major.”