Overcome with emotion, the Norwalk sophomore realized he had sold himself short.
“I never thought I’d be here at the beginning of the season,” said Maloney, who was one of three Norwalk wrestlers to qualify for this week’s Division II state championships in Columbus.
“I underestimated myself, and I don’t know how to explain it,” Maloney said. “But this is just an amazing feeling.”
Maloney placed third in the 195-pound weight class at Saturday’s Div. II district championships, hosted by Norwalk. Sophomore Gabe Phillips (182) was also third for the Truckers, while sophomore Ethan Hernandez was second at 160.
“We all pushed each other. Alec and Ethan got us here,” Phillips said. “All three of us pushed each other to where we’re at now. It’s not just one of us, it’s all three of us.”
Hernandez (44-1) opened with a pair of pins on Friday over Ayden Mundy (Kenton) in 1:38 and Izaiah Diaz (Defiance) in 4:20. In the semifinal round Saturday morning, he shut out Bowling Green’s Nick Jackson, 6-0.
Facing Wauseon’s Xavier Torres (44-8) in the championship match, it was Torres coming out on top by a 4-1 decision in a matchup of projected state placers. Hernandez appeared to have a two-point takedown with 23 seconds left that could have made it a 4-3 deficit, but the call was overturned.
At 182, Phillips (36-6) opened with a pin in 3:01 over Toledo Central Catholic’s Mason Schmockel, then survived a 3-2 decision over Wauseon’s Drew Krall in the quarterfinals.
In Saturday morning’s semifinals against Upper Sandusky’s Noah Clary — projected by many as a top four wrestler in the state in the weight, Phillips suffered an 18-3 technical fall loss.
Needing a win to reach the top four and assure his spot in Columbus, Phillips then bounced back with a 7-1 decision that he controlled throughout over Elida’s Lawrence Slygh.
After the match, he received a big embrace from assistant coach Jeff Phillips, his father, a former Norwalk state placer who is in the school’s Hall of Fame.
“It means a lot, he’s my dad, and he’s helped us get to where we are, too,” Gabe said. “He pushed us, and it all started with us being Hokes-trained. That’s where it all started, with Brad Hokes training us since we were kids.”
In the third-place match, Phillips closed the tournament with a pin in 3:23 over Keystone’s David McCullough.
“You’ve practiced all year for this moment, pushing yourself every day,” Phillips said when asked what he told himself before his consolation matches. “Go out and do what you have to do. Trust all the preparation you put into it. You just have to be able to be strong enough to bounce back.”
Maloney (42-5) began his district tournament with a 42-second pin over Firelands’ Garrett Tester. He then beat Wauseon’s Aaron Harris in a 4-0 decision before drawing Bay Village’s Matthew Cover (42-1), the top seed in the weight, in the semis.
Maloney hung with Cover, but struggled to score in a 7-2 loss.
He then bounced back to beat Defiance’s Noah Arnett, 12-5, to reach state.
As he scored back points in the final 10 seconds of that win, Maloney took a peak at the clock and saw it was at six seconds remaining.
“That was the best part of this tournament, when I saw the clock tick down to zero,” he said. “That’s the happiest part of wrestling, right there. Knowing you’re going to state and you’re top four at districts.”
Like Phillips, Maloney then closed his tournament with a pin in 2:26 over Wapakoneta’s Zac Miller to finish third at 195.
The tournament — and much of the season — played out just about how Norwalk coach Frank Staley expected.
“Pretty much what we thought we’d get with those three,” Staley said. “We knew they had good draws coming back if they faltered, and we knew Ethan had a good run to the finals. But that’s kind of the makeup of these three.
“They kind of go which way the other one goes, so I’m really proud of them,” he added. “Alec and Gabe both had uphill battles in the semis, but we needed them to come back and win one match — and I’ll put these guys up against anybody in that situation.”
Staley also believes all three sophomores — who are a combined 122-11 — can each reach the podium this weekend at state.
“Everything has gone the way I was hoping it would go for these three,” he said. “I honestly think we have three guys who could be on the podium in Columbus.
“They have that ability, but they have to go out and believe in themselves,” Staley added. “But we have three really solid sophomores who can get after it.”
Norwalk finished eighth as a team with 64 points, while state power Wauseon ran away with the team title — finishing 138.5 points ahead of runners-up Medina Buckeye.
Also from the area, Bellevue’s Nick Smythe (43-8) was fourth at 152, and Justin Mayes (44-7) was third at 160 to advance to state for the Redmen.
Division II district championships
(Top four advance to state)
Team standings: 1. Wauseon 242.5; 2. Buckeye 104; 3. Padua Franciscan 90; 4. Napoleon 76.5; 5. Perkins 74.5; 6. Wapakoneta 74; 7. Sandusky 66; 8. Norwalk 64; 9. Upper Sandusky 58.5; 10. Bay 56.
106: Payton Burgdorf (Firelands) maj. dec. Jake Manley (Otsego), 13-2
113: Gavin Ritter (Wauseon) dec. Jimmy Balazy (Padua Franciscan), 7-3
120: Alex Slattman (Wauseon) pin Jimmy Pelland (Napoleon),:49
126: Nolan Ray (Wauseon) maj. dec. Jake Bartinelli (Buckeye), 14-6
132: Caden Blust (Columbian) dec. Hunter Yackee (Wauseon), 3-2
138: Mike Clark (Buckeye) pin Isaiah Bretz (Van Wert), 2:40
145: Gage Grunden (Wauseon) maj. dec. Collin Mell (Bath), 11-2
152: Sandro Ramirez (Wauseon) dec. Zach Altman (Napoleon), 16-10
160: Xavier Torres (Wauseon) dec. Ethan Hernandez (Norwalk), 4-1
170: Lucas Salmon (Perkins) dec. Brahm Ginter (Shelby), 4-2
182: Noah Clary (Upper Sandusky) maj. dec. Ryan Haas (Maumee), 13-3
195: Matthew Cover (Bay) maj. dec. Justin Ocheltree (Keystone), 11-0
220: Evan Kaeck (Wapakoneta) pin Brandon Phillips (Maumee), 5:28
285: Brenan Knueve (Wapakoneta) dec. A.J. Adams (Lexington), 6-3
106: Rico Cunningham (Sandusky) dec. Caleb Hernandez (Napoleon), 10-9
113: Anthony Ashley (Buckeye) pin Jameson Mullens (Port Clinton), :21
120: Matt Kaufmann (Fair. Park Fairview) maj. dec. Carter Kroll (Ontario), 14-3
126: Logan Schoen (Perkins) maj. dec. Matthew Stauffer (Benedictine), 13-4
132: Gabe Steyer (Van Wert) maj. dec. Emileo Calderon (Perkins), 10-0
138: Mauricio Barajas (Wauseon) dec. Eian Sherman (Sandusky), 9-4
145: Sam LoFaso (Padua Franciscan) dec. Colton Turnbaugh (Ontario), 12-7
152: Joey Simcoe (Columbian) dec. Nick Smythe (Bellevue), 7-2
160: Justin Mayes (Bellevue) def. Nick Jackson (Bowling Green), default
170: Trent Davis (Wauseon) def. Jarrod Setliff (Buckeye), default
182: Gabe Phillips (Norwalk) pin David McCullough (Keystone), 3:23
195: Alec Maloney (Norwalk) pin Zac Miller (Wapakoneta), 2:26
220: Connor Johnston (Upper Sandusky) dec. Jackson Meter (Defiance), 9-8
285: Sean Lipscomb (Firelands) pin Bobby Grothjan (Lima Shawnee), :39