Brandon Tantari didn't compete at last year's Division III state wrestling
tournament, but he went anyway.
He soaked in the atmosphere, took some mental notes and vowed to return as a state tournament participant.
Tantari, a senior at Lake, qualified as a state tournament alternate last year after placing fifth at the district tournament. The top four district placers advance.
"When I was down at state last year, I noticed the guys in my weight class who were graduating," said Tantari, a 189-pounder. "Right there I made the goal that I should be wrestling here and that I wanted to place and get a spot on the podium. I was looking at the bracket and seeing how many guys graduated."
Tantari's Suburban Lakes League rival, Lakota senior Michael Kleman, beat him at the district tournament to earn the final state-qualifying spot at 189.
"We had some wars," Tantari recalled. "I beat him earlier in the season and he beat me 2-1 in triple overtime at the SLL Duals. I beat him 3-1 at the SLL tournament, but he beat me pretty handily at sectionals and districts."
Tantari, who finished 34-9 last season, admitted he "beat myself up for a while" after losing at districts, but he eventually accepted the fact that he still had his senior year to wrestle.
"I realized I have to make it a big one and put everything into it," Tantari said. "I'm hoping to get down (to state) this year."
Tantari practiced with the Lake Erie Wrestling Club for a few weeks in the offseason, and he and a few Lake teammates attended wrestling camps at Bedford (Mich.) High School and at the University of Michigan.
"Michigan had a good camp," Tantari said. "I learned riding and turning and pinning - just stuff to widen my arsenal - and I think that has helped this year."
Heading into Saturday's Columbus St. Charles Invitational, Tantari has a 26-1 record with 15 pins, four technical falls and three major decisions. He is ranked No. 8 at 189 pounds in the Brakeman Report.
Tantari's only loss is to Start senior Nate Brubaker, who beat him 8-3 in the semifinals of the Northwood Invitational. The Brakeman has Brubaker projected as the state runner-up in Division I.
Tantari finished third at Northwood and won titles at the Southview Invitational and at the Woodmore "A" Classic.
"I'm doing good," Tantari said. "I'm pinning a lot of people and getting tech falls. I've only surrendered one takedown all year, against Brubaker."
Tantari's prep wrestling career almost never happened. He said he was not a good student as a freshman, but he hunkered down and has improved his grades significantly.
"A lot of freshmen come into high school not knowing what to expect," Lake wrestling coach Tom Jackson said. "Brandon fell under that umbrella. But, he was looking at going to college somewhere next year and he is really focusing on his grades, especially this year. He's come a long way.
"He helps out with our biddy program quite a bit. He's a very good role model for the younger kids."
Tantari, who had a 25-11 record at 160 pounds as a sophomore, started wrestling in the fourth grade.
"I just like the competition, the whole fact of outworking the other guy and basically being a fighter," he said. "That appeals to me."
Tantari was a first-team All-SLL selection at defensive end and tight end last fall, leading the Flyers to a 7-3 record. He said he feels stronger on the mat this year with the help of offseason weight training.
"Last year I was a lighter 189," Tantari said. "I was going in weighing 181 or 182 (pounds) for every tournament. This year I've had to cut at 189, so now I'm one of the bigger 189-pounders."
Jackson said Tantari, who is 6-5, uses to his height to his advantage.
"He's 6-5 and wrestles 189, so he's much taller than anybody else," the coach said. "In his case, it is an advantage. He's very aggressive, very athletic and very quick. He's a more well-rounded wrestler this year. He's scoring effectively from the neutral position and from on top and bottom."
Jackson stressed that Tantari doesn't have the mindset to take things slowly and get a feel for his opponent. Rather, he goes for the jugular right off the bat.
"He's a very tough wrestler, one of the toughest wrestlers I've coached," said Jackson, in his 11th year as the Flyers' head coach. "He's going to be tough on the kid he's wrestling, and he has a very high pain tolerance. He's aggressive right from the start. That would be a very good description of Brandon. He's not going to toy with anybody. He just goes out and gets the job done."
Tantari, a team captain along with seniors Derek Carr and Aaron Guerra, said he doesn't know what his athletic future holds after high school.
"I'm talking with a good amount of colleges, but I haven't been offered anything yet," he said. "I'm talking with a few places for wrestling, but mainly for football. I'm not sure I want to wrestle in college."