COLUMBUS – Caleb Wood did not if he could continue and the notion of forfeiting due to injury loomed large.
But he’d never quit anything before, so doing so in the Division I state wrestling tournament would be an odd time to start.
“I was hurting real bad after that match,” Wood said. “I did not want to wrestle. But I talked to my coaches and my parents and they said, ‘Caleb, you’ve never quit anything in your life. There is no point in not going out there and just giving it everything you have. No matter win or lose, show the kind of person you are.’”
Opening the tournament
Wrestling in the 195-pound weight bracket, Wood (35-9) entered the state meet feeling as though a win in his first-round match against Springboro’s Jacob Kowalski (42-2) would set him on a path to a top-eight finish and a place on the podium, but a loss would leave him with no room for error.
In the second period of the match, Wood got Kowalski on his back and pinned him – giving him his 30th pin of the season, one behind the program record he set last season – or so he thought.
While one official ruled it a pin, the other said it occurred out of bounds. After conferring, the pin was deemed out of bounds and the match resumed. Only for Wood to end it moments later with another pin.
So, does he get credit for two pins and tie his record?
“That’s what I was thinking,” Wood said.
His second-round match, however, was no laughing matter. Wood ran up against the tournament favorite, Seth Shumate, a freshman phenom from Dublin Corffman. Schumate, the eventual champion, sent Wood into the consolation bracket with a technical fall.
“The first time I’ve ever been teched in my career,” Wood said. “It’s crazy. His technique and strength was just…I don’t even know.”
Despite the loss, Wood’s confidence remained high. Losing to eventual state champion held no shame. Plus, his first opponent in the consolation bracket was a familiar face, Oregon Clay’s Ty Cobb, whom Wood had beaten the previous week in the district tournament and two weeks before that in the TRAC championship.
While a victory would ensure Wood a place on the podium, disaster nearly struck.
“Going into the match my ribs were hurting from wrestling Seth and I didn’t know what it was, really,” Wood said. “During the (Cobb) match, I don’t remember exactly what I did, but it felt like my lung collapsed.”
Unable to breathe, Wood took 90 seconds of injury time to try to catch his breath. When the match resumed, Cobb attacked Wood’s ribs further.
“I would have done the same thing,” Wood said. “You’re going to take advantage of the opportunities you’re given.”
With Wood hobbled, Cobb tied the match and sent it to overtime.
There, Wood received karmic retribution.
A year ago, Wood’s tournament run ended prematurely on a controversial disqualification ruling. Friday night, with his hopes of a place on the podium clinging by a thread, Wood caught a break. Cobb’s shoe came off during the match, a rule infraction which cost him a point and gave Wood the sudden victory, 12-11.
“I said, ‘I guess I was meant to win this one,’” Wood said.
Trying to wrestle on
With his place on podium assured, the only unknown was in what place he’d stand. And if he could continue at all.
The trainers at the tournament said he likely had a dislocation in his rib cage. When his next match came the following morning, in the consolation semifinals, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to answer the bell.
“I went down there and they put this big compression wrap on me under my singlet and then I had to wrestle through it,” he said. “It’s senior year. I’m at state. You might as well give it all you got. That’s what I did.”
He wrestled Harrison’s Max Boyle, who had defeated Wood in a match by two points the previous year. Unable to maneuver well with his injury, Wood lost to Boyle 8-2.
That set Wood up for the final match of his career, in the seventh/eighth-place match against Delaware Hayes’ Jacob McClosky, Wood ignored the injury and took a convincing 8-2 victory to close his career with a victory and a seventh-place finish.
“I went out, I felt I wrestled great,” he said. “My adrenaline was pumping so much, I couldn’t even feel my ribs. But I felt it afterwards.”
For Wood, who began wrestling when he was four years old, closing his career on the state meet podium was the end of a year-long journey.
“That was my senior goal. I wanted to try to lead the team to the best success we could, and then get myself to a place at state. I did that and it’s kind of crazy. And I’m glad I went out and got a win to end my career.
“I’d suggest for anybody to come out wrestle,” he said. “It’s made me a better person. Taught me responsibility and hard work. Like I said, I’ve never quit anything in my life and that’s from what coaches have taught me and the people I’ve been around due to that sport.”