HILLIARD – Ninety-one wrestlers finished Saturday with a loss at the Ohio High School Wrestling Association Girls State Tournament.
Few took it harder than Emma Rinehart.
The Mount Vernon freshman shook hands following her consolation quarterfinal defeat, then immediately burst into tears. She booked it back to Hilliard Davidson’s auxiliary gym, where she paced back and forth until head coach Nate Cornell arrived.
The two sat together, along the gym’s far wall, for close to 20 minutes. They talked, and vented, and reflected. Then they made an agreement.
“Her and I just made a deal with each other,” Cornell said. “You’ve got three more years. We don’t ever want to leave here (again) without putting our feet on that podium and getting a medal around our neck.”
Rinehart finished the day with one win and two losses, making school history yet again by becoming Mount Vernon’s first female wrestler to win a match at state. She became the first to win districts and qualify for state last weekend, when she pinned two opponents in the 111-pound weight class at Olentangy Orange.
Despite these achievements, Rinehart was somber following Saturday’s competition. The freshman expected more from herself.
“I think I did OK, definitely not my best. I could’ve been better …” Rinehart said. “I think I definitely need to work on my offense and my defense, because sometimes I’ll be good at one and not the other. And I think it just didn’t work out today.”
Cornell said he was “extremely proud” of Rinehart’s effort, given the challenging circumstances surrounding this season and the magnitude of her accomplishments.
“I told her, you know … Be upset with this loss … It’s healthy. Take your time to kind of mull this loss over. But when it’s all said and done, she should look back on this weekend and this season and be extremely impressed with what she did, be proud of what she did, and always remember what she did,” Cornell said.
“It will never, ever be taken away from her that she was Mount Vernon’s first ever girl state qualifier, district champion, and girl to come to the state tournament and win a match. That is hers forever.”
More than 100 athletes from across the state competed Saturday in the first day of the second annual tournament. The OHSWCA decided to split the tournament into two days this year, with the lower- and middle-weight classes wrestling Saturday and the middle- and upper-weight classes wrestling Sunday, due to crowd-capacity restrictions amid the pandemic.
Still, Hilliard Davidson’s main gym was rocking as competition got underway, with three mats going at once and fans and coaches barking from all corners. But Rinehart was not intimidated.
The freshman came out firing against Lutheran West’s Larissa Krantz, pinning her opponent just 44 seconds into the match. She initiated a takedown and went right to the cradle, locking Krantz against the mat and forcing a whistle moments later.
“Getting that first one was huge because she was nervous, and then when she went out there and got that first win (and) you could just see everything change with her,” Cornell said. “It was like, ‘OK, I belong here. I can do this.’”
The second match proved to be far tougher. Facing off against Brookville’s Rita Carey in the quarterfinals, Rinehart quickly fell behind as Carey gained control. Carey never let up, keeping Rinehart down and eventually forcing a pin with 4 seconds left in the first period (she would go on to place second in the 111-pound weight class Saturday).
Still with a shot to earn a fifth-place podium finish, Rinehart entered the afternoon looking to do damage in the consolation bracket. But her first match, against Archbold’s Logen Bowerman, would prove decisive.
Neither gained an advantage after one period, with the score knotted at 0. But Bowerman recorded a takedown with 35 seconds left in the second period, and led 5-0 heading into the third. Rinehart made headway in the final stanza, breaking through with a takedown midway through, but she would not score again. Bowerman won by a 5-2 decision, and Rinehart was eliminated.
“I think that she finally got that takedown in the third period and she opened up and was like, ‘You know what? I can do this.’ But it was just too little, too late,” Cornell said. “She just ran out of time.”
Cornell saw similarities in Rinehart’s second and third matches Saturday that likely led to her defeat. He also saw opportunities for improvement.
“She is very good on her feet, and I think that she needs to get just a little bit more confidence, because she has the physical tools and abilities to do it,” Cornell said. “But I watch her wrestling out there and I think she’s thinking, thinking, thinking, ‘Alright, how am I gonna do this, how am I gonna do that?’, as opposed to just going out there and kind of striking.”
This will be a focus in Rinehart’s training moving forward, Cornell said – learning ways to start aggressive and score early.
“In the practice room and also in the weight room, we need to do things to get to those takedowns,” Cornell said. “Because she has all the physical tools and abilities to do it, but she’s out there thinking, out there thinking, instead of just attacking right there. I think that she could’ve taken those two girls down and won those matches.”
In the moments after Saturday’s competition, however, Cornell tried to put things into perspective. Rinehart not only made history this winter, but she also did it during a year that posed unprecedented challenges for Ohio’s female wrestlers (and student-athletes in general).
Aside from the district and state tournaments, Rinehart’s opportunities to wrestle against girls this season were limited. The pandemic, combined with the scarcity of competition in Ohio (although numbers are growing), created a match-scheduling nightmare for coaches like Cornell.
“With COVID, a lot of the female wrestling tournaments were either canceled, or the ones that weren’t canceled, they were just looking for full teams like Olentangy Orange, Delaware Hayes, Marysville. So with us only having one girl, they weren’t gonna get us in there, just because they were trying to limit the numbers due to COVID,” he explained earlier in the week. “That was a little bit frustrating.”
Cornell always asked dual-meet opponents if they had a girl wrestler in a similar weight class to bring, he said, but few did.
“Other than the River Valley tournament, where she got to wrestle two girls, that was really the only time she really got a chance to wrestle,” Cornell said. “Delaware, when they came in here and I had a meet with them, they brought a girl, and that was nice. But other than that, it was real tough for her.”
Rinehart’s preseason competition and training opportunities were also limited due to the pandemic. Next year, Cornell said, these challenges should not come into play. Rinehart will have more time to train and more opportunities to compete come November.
“We’re gonna get some more time in the room, get her wrestling around with some more girls – because again, she wrestled mainly boys (this season), which is good for her. But if we are preparing for the girls state wrestling tournament, I want her wrestling more girls,” Cornell said.
“So hopefully, knock on wood, that’s more available next year, for us to go to different schools and get her different looks – or get more girls out for her to wrestle with (at Mount Vernon).”
Rinehart will also have the opportunity this offseason to log more time in the weight room, which Cornell believes will increase her ability to score early in matches.
“She did a good job in the weight room this year – and again, she’s very strong for her size – but there’s still more to add to that where, as she gets more time on the weights, those takedowns, that scoring is gonna come even easier,” Cornell said.
“Scoring, taking girls down, turning girls. That’s the big thing is getting more confidence in her abilities to go out there and do them, and also just get a little bit stronger, to make those takedowns and turns come a little bit easier.”
And while she fell short of her personal goals Saturday, Rinehart still gained valuable experience at her first state meet, Cornell said. She became familiar with an atmosphere that will likely welcome her back again in the years to come.
“Her just getting here and competing – even if she didn’t get a match – is still huge,” Cornell said. “Because she has been here, she’s been on the floor at the state wrestling tournament, she knows what to expect. She knows how the weigh-ins go, she knows how the organization goes, she knows how it’s gonna go … So getting here and getting that experience was huge, and then on top of that, she got a win.”
Now, Rinehart will look to the future. She has three more years to place at state, but it won’t be easy. The sport of girls wrestling is growing rapidly in Ohio, making competition tougher each season.
The freshman will need to use Saturday’s heartbreak as fuel moving forward, Cornell said. That’s what they talked about afterwards, sitting along the auxiliary gym wall, as Rinehart wiped the tears from her eyes.
“The sky's the limit for her. For her to do what she did this year, over these last couple weeks, with all that, it’s impressive. So now, when she gets more time in the wrestling room, more time in the weight room, more time (wrestling against) girls, she’s just gonna explode. And I’m excited for that, and she knows that, too,” Cornell said.
“And I told her, ‘Be upset with these losses. I always want a wrestler who’s gonna be upset about a loss, as opposed to a wrestler who’s like, ‘Oh, you know, whatever, I lost.’ And use this feeling that you’re going through right now as motivation. So if there’s a day where (you say), ‘Oh, I really don’t want to get up and go for a run,’ or ‘Oh, it’s after school, I just kind of want to go home,’ or ‘Oh, it’s the summertime, I really don’t want to wrestle,’ think about what you’re experiencing right now.
“Think about this internal (feeling), this being upset with yourself, and use that as motivation to say, ‘OK, I’m gonna get this extra mat time in, get these extra workouts in. Because I don’t ever want to come back here and leave empty-handed.’’”
For full results from this weekend's state tournament, click here.