GENOA — The mission is simple: become the first team from Genoa High School to win a state championship in any sport.
That is what the Comets of seventh-year coach Bob Bergman will be seeking Sunday at the Division III dual team wrestling state tournament at Ohio State University’s St. John Arena in Columbus.
Genoa, Ohio’s top-ranked D-III team, enters as the top seed having knocked off defending champion and second-ranked Milan Edison (42-27) in last week’s regional semifinals at Genoa.
The Comets then secured their first berth in a state dual team tournament by hammering Upper Sandusky (57-18) in the regional final.
The previous two seasons, Genoa had been beaten at the regional semifinal stage of the dual team tourney by nearby rival Oak Harbor.
But, with a squad led by three defending individual state champions and a 2017 state runner-up, all juniors, Bergman’s Comets would not be denied this year in their quest to make history at Genoa.
“We’ve had a very strong biddy program for 25 years plus,” Bergman said of the program’s building blocks. “We have a lot of great coaches involved who have worked their way up as well. The last 10-12 years we’ve been working it hard, and it’s made everyone better.
“We’ve always had great athletes in the program. We have nine state champions who have won a total of 13 state titles. We’ve always had really great, competitive kids. But, these [current] kids are special because of their year-round commitment to it.
“They’re the most talented, the hardest-working, and academically they are at the top of their classes. In every way, they are champions. It is a special dynamic.”
Last season, the Comets became the second team at Genoa to become a state runner-up, placing second in the team standings of the individual state tournament in March. The only previous team from the school to place as high in a state tournament was the 1992 boys track team, which was Division II runner-up.
“Genoa has knocked on the door in about every sport,” Bergman said of the state team title quest. “Baseball and football have been big sports here, and now we’ve been able to climb that ladder. We’re hoping to put it all together. It takes a lot of things to fall into place, and we recognize that.”
Ending that drought will be the primary focus of junior standouts Dylan D’Emilio, James Limongi, and twin brothers Oscar and Julian Sanchez, sophomore individual state title contenders Dustin Morgillo and Kevin Contos, and the rest of the Comet lineup.
Genoa’s quest in Columbus begins with an 11 a.m. quarterfinal match against No. 8 seed Bethel-Tate. If the Comets prevail, they would face the winner of a quarterfinal between No. 4 Versailles and No. 5 Apple Creek Waynedale in a 3:30 p.m. semifinal match.
Should they reach the finals, the Comets would most likely have to contend with No. 2 seed and 2017 D-III runner-up Massillon Tuslaw, which this season returns 10 wrestlers who were in the lineup in last year’s disappointing 29-25 title-match loss to Edison.
The Division III state duals have been owned since they began in 2013 by teams from northwest Ohio. Delta won the first four championships (2013-16), and Edison made it 5-for-5 last year.
D’Emilio — a wrestling prodigy since his father, Genoa assistant coach Dominic D’Emilio, started him in a biddy program at age 4 — is the leader of the Comets. The 132-pounder sets the tone with his combination of unmatched experience and unrelenting work ethic.
D’Emilio takes a 38-0 record to the state duals and a career mark of 142-3.
Not long after D’Emilio began his organized wrestling experience, he was joined on the mats by Limongi and the Sanchez twins.
Already a two-time D-III state individual champion, D’Emilio will seek to become a four-time individual state champion, something accomplished by only 28 wrestlers in Ohio history.
“I try to refine all the aspects of wrestling that I can — mentally and physically,” D’Emilio said. “My technique is pretty good. I’ve been wrestling since I was 4, so that stuff is kind of engraved in me. I do a pretty good job of getting mentally prepared for matches, and then I let my muscle memory take over.
“I’m definitely an aggressive wrestler. I like to go out there and score points right away. When I get that first takedown I feel pretty confident.”
Limongi, who won a 160-pound individual state title last season, is 33-3 this season and 121-12 overall in his third varsity season.
“It feels great to have an opportunity to make history for Genoa, and it feels even better knowing that I’m doing it with my best friends,” Limongi said. “Coming back as a state champion from last year, one of my main goals was to help the team win a state championship, and to finally see the opportunity come to life is something amazing.
“As a team, we push each other, whether we’re wrestling with someone below us or above us. We know we’re only going to get better if we push each other. It keeps everyone motivated. If you get beat, you want to go beat up on someone else. It kind of works that way.”
Oscar Sanchez is a prime example of how deep Genoa’s roster is. As a freshman in 2015-16, he compiled a 36-0 varsity record at 106 pounds, plus a 20-0 mark in junior varsity matches, but was not able to compete in state competition because he couldn’t crack the lineup for sectionals.
He was 56-0 overall, but D’Emilio occupied the 106-pound spot and won his first state title. Brother Julian was Genoa’s 113-pounder, and he placed sixth in the state that year.
But Oscar got his shot last year when D’Emilio moved up to win the 113-pound state title and Julian finished as state runner-up at 120. Oscar, now Genoa’s 113-pounder, captured the 106-pound title in 2017.
“He was one of the biggest reasons why it happened for me,” Oscar Sanchez said of his twin brother. “He pushed me every day to get better.
“It really helps that we have so many good partners in every weight class. We have no holes in our lineup. The whole lineup is strong.
“I’m very excited. We thought we had a chance to do it last year, but we fell a little short of getting there. This year we think we can do it.”
Brother Julian, who now wrestles at 126 pounds, is also optimistic.
“There’s a lot of guys who work hard in here and who push each other,” Julian Sanchez said of the highly competitive Genoa wrestling room. “You see someone working hard, you want to work harder. I’m pumped to see if we can get it done.”
The Comets’ other two state-title contenders are Morgillo, a state qualifier (39-16 record) as a freshman last year who is 37-5 at 138 pounds this season, and Contos, who was 40-10 last season at Clay, where he placed sixth in the Division I state meet for the Eagles.
Contos, who had to sit out the first half of the wrestling season because of his transfer from Clay to Genoa, is 12-0 at 152 since joining the Comets for competition.
“It’s been amazing here,” Contos said. “I feel like I’m way better than I was before, but I still have to keep going and keep trying my best.
“I’m pretty excited about going to state. It’s going to be very tough to do it, and I know there’s a chance.”
Those six Comets all won Northern Buckeye Conference titles last Saturday at Elmwood, as did seniors Seth Moore (170) and Xavier Beach (182) and junior Noah Koch (285), helping Genoa roll to its sixth consecutive NBC team title.
Moore is 36-6 on the season and 136-57 in his career. Beach is 32-9 and 112-71, and 37-6 and 61-22.
Freshman Devin D’Emilio (120) and junior Brian Martin (195) were runners-up in the NBC tournament.
Another veteran for Genoa is senior Andrew Muir (145), who is 29-14 this year and 104-62 in his career. Junior 220-pounder Christian Aranda is 23-15 this season, and sophomore Corey Walsh (106) is 21-14.
“When your drill partner is a stud, you have no choice,” Bergman said of the Comets’ quality depth bringing out the best in all the wrestlers. “Either get tougher or find another sport.
“For a lot of these guys, their toughest matches happen on Genoa-Clay Center Road each day in practice. So, when they go anywhere else it’s a little bit slower, and there’s a little less technique [needed]. Everyone’s making everyone else better. This last weekend was a good example of that.”
Added Bergman: “We have a lot of great coaches too. I’m like the least-experienced coach on my staff. I lean on them a lot. It’s a family environment.”
The staff includes Dave Wlodraz, Dominic D’Emilio and his son, Damian D’Emilio, Chris Kamelesky, and Kevin Contos, Sr.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.