St. John’s senior Brett Vonderwell (right) works against Gibsonburg’s Brad Mendoza during the semifinal match in the 170-pound class at the State Wrestling Championships in Columbus on Friday. (DHI Media/Rene Kleman)
St. John’s senior Brett Vonderwell (right) works against Gibsonburg’s Brad Mendoza during the semifinal match in the 170-pound class at the State Wrestling Championships in Columbus on Friday. (DHI Media/Rene Kleman)
COLUMBUS — St. John’s senior, 170-pounder, Brett Vonderwell was looking to make his mark in high school wrestling.

He gave up football this season to focus exclusively on it and give himself the best chance he could to do it at the State Wrestling Tournament at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

In Friday night’s Division III semifinal with Brad Mendoza of Gibsonburg, he got his wish, collecting a 5-3 victory.

“I was on a mission to make my mark here. Not playing football was the best decision I ever made, especially after getting hurt the fall of my junior year,” Vonderwell said. “I talked with (head football) Coach (Todd) Schulte and he fully understood; wrestling was what I wanted to do.”

To earn this shot Saturday night, he not only had to break his 4-match losing streak at The Schott from the previous two seasons, but also knock off a wrestler - 54-1 Logan Stanley of Apple Creek Waynedale - that is a perceived threat to expected champion and Ohio State commit Kaleb Romero of Mechanicsburg, going for his fourth title in his fourth different weight class.

“All the extra work I did starting this summer is paying off. I worked for my dad’s construction company for 10 hours a day and then would wear my work clothes to the weight room, change and lift for 1 1/2 hours to two hours every day,” he continued. “Some of my teammates came up to lift with me and that is paying off; when everyone else was home, I was still working.

“We also did two-a-days for three weeks prior to sectionals this year versus two weeks last year and that has made a huge difference.”

Now he knows who he must face in the nationally-ranked Romero, who pinned him last week at the Troy Districts in the title match, in Saturday night’s finals at approximately 7 p.m.

“I wrestled him twice this year: the first time, I slowed it down and that seemed to work for me. Last week, I was more aggressive and he caught me in a mistake,” Vonderwell added. “I think I’m going to try and slow it down but you still have to wrestle your match. You hope you can catch him in one of the few mistakes he does make but I also have nothing to lose; he’s expected to win everything and I just need to go out and give everything I have.”

St. John’s head coach Derek Sterling felt his charge did what he needed to do to get here.

“He’s worked so hard to get to this point. He’s the fourth finalist we’ve had: Gerry Wegesin; Brett’s uncle, Art, and Wes Buettner,” Sterling said. “We scouted this guy a little bit and we noticed he liked to come in low. Brett caught him twice for takedowns, so he wrestled the way that got him here.”

Wayne Trace senior Ruger Goeltzenleuchter (44-3) was edged 3-2 by Bruce Hrynciw of Oak Harbor in a controversial match, including several head butts that had an effect on the Raider grappler.

“He did it about seven or eight times and they let him get away with it; he was a dirty wrestler. I know as a future coach, I won’t teach my wrestlers that way,” the senior said. “It was very frustrating to know he kept doing it and I couldn’t do anything about it. He was basically holding on by the end.

“I wanted to do better this year than I did last year, which was finish fifth. Winning my two matches to get here made sure I would do that, so I will finish better. You just have to move on because there’s nothing you can do about it now.”

His coach, George Clemens, tried to be more philosophical.

“We had scouted him and knew he could be dirty and would try things like this. Yes, it’s frustrating but we kept trying to tell Ruger not to let it bother him,” Clemens said. “Give credit to the opponent as well for shutting down all of Ruger’s moves and not letting him get them for points.”

He will wait for his opponent in Saturday’s consolation semifinals at approximately 10 a.m.