Lady Bears wrestlers have good showing in Columbus

Yaneek Smith

Press Sports Editor

As a team, the Gibsonburg Lady Bears wrestlers had a great showing, finishing 24th in the inaugural OHSAA girls state tournament as they accumulated 25 points to tie with Avon Lake. Harrison won the state title with 97 points.
Sophomore Morgan Leonhardt led the way with a fourth-place finish at 115 pounds; freshman Lilly Zwiefel (100) was eighth; senior Brianna Montgomery (105) finished one win short of placing and Josey Mendoza (145) competed in two matches before bowing out.
Gibsonburg coach Greg Spoores talked about his team’s performance.
“I was super impressed with the way they performed,” he said. “Not everything went the way we hoped, but we got four (wrestlers) down there. Having them perform the way they did was exciting and electric. I’m very proud of them.”
Leonhardt won her first two matches in convincing fashion – the first by pin in 1:24 over Alliance’s Avery Horning, and the second by major decision, 9-0, over the No. 1 seed, Oak Hills’ Lexi Grant.
Despite leading 5-0 in the semifinals, Leonhardt was pinned in 4:58 by Delaware Hayes’ Molly Wells and lost by two points, 6-4, to Addison Rudolph in the third-place match.
“She’s such a good athlete; she had an outstanding season. She had five losses, four to the same girl, the girl she lost to in the regional finals in Miami East,” said Spoores. “She wrecks her way to semifinals and was ahead 5-0, and she made a mistake, and that cost her the match; she regrouped and finished fourth. She’s already looking forward to next season.”
Zwiefel won her first match, defeating Harvey’s Melany Herrara by fall in 2:23. She was pinned by Oak Hills’ Bri Graves in 41 seconds but recovered to beat Findlay’s Rylee Touhalisky, 7-5. Zwiefel was pinned in 1:23 by Dublin Scioto’s Justine Perez and lost by fall to Reynoldsburg’s Summer Batts in 2:12 in the seventh-place match.
“I told Lilly that she should try wrestling, and she came out this year and wrestled outstandingly,” said Spoores. “She beat the girl that was runner-up at state.”
Montgomery lost her first match to Minerva’s Bridget Hillary by fall in 44 seconds, pinned Watkins Memorial’s Justice in 2:56 and lost by fall in 2:36 to Tinora’s Ava Steffel, the top seed.
There is an interesting story behind Montgomery’s road to Columbus.
“She came out late for the team. It’s a great little story – she just wanted to come out and work out with us in the mornings, and then she wanted to do some of the conditioning in practice and then went to practicing and growing to love it,” Spoores said. “Her growth during the year was so impressive. She had that switch that you can’t teach. She worked just as hard as anyone else, if not harder. She went in as an 8-seed and upset the 3-seed and 2-seed at regionals. With inexperience comes mistakes, and mistakes come losses. She’s an outstanding young lady, and I can’t say enough good things about her.”
Mendoza lost in her first match to Lebanon’s Lexi Fornshell, 7-2, and then lost by fall in 30 seconds to Logan’s Alleana Brown in the consolation bracket.
“She’s the sister of Brad Mendoza, who wrestled for me. The writing was on the wall for one of the Mendoza girls to wrestle,” said Spoores. “She was another one that grew throughout the season, and although she didn’t win a match at state, she wrestled really tough.”
Spoores said the girls had quite an experience competing in Columbus.
“It was very different, in a good way. This was new and exciting,” he said. “When the girls came out for the first time, the decibel level rose, and the fans embraced it. It’s great to experience something like you never have before. The girls never had that opportunity. They took that first walk down on the floor before the events started, so they could see it for the first time, and they were wide-eyed and now they understand why we work so hard. This is why we work so hard in the season, and this is where the exciting part of the season happens. These girls bonded better than any way I could’ve imagined.
“I think it’s just one of those things where the girls are looking for something different. I had two daughters of my own; had they had the option to not wrestle on the boys team, they would’ve taken it. Wrestling is hard enough – it’s a grueling sport. Now that they can compete against other girls, and it’s new and exciting and it’s a way they can prove themselves individually. Those are life skills, and we want them to grow into better individuals.”
The team would practice three days per week in the morning before school. There will also be mat time in the evenings so the wrestlers can compete in spring sports.
“(It’s about) keeping them on the mat and in the weight room,” Spoores said. “We’ve had several new girls express interest. With eight of the nine wrestlers returning next year, we’re going to build onto the program.”


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