By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
For decades, Rootstown wrestling lived in the shadows of Ravenna and Southeast — the two powerhouse programs in Portage County.
There was no shame in it for the Rovers, because everybody else was competing underneath the same casted shadow.
By the late 2000’s, though, the Rovers began to tilt the power scales and soon set off a meteoric rise of dominance that has resulted in 11 league championships over the last 12 years.
As well as state championships by Garrett Linton, Travis Linton (twice), Jake Moore and Ryan Boyle.
And there is absolutely no sign of the dominance slowing down.
A new batch of standouts are leading the Rovers now, including sophomore Tristen McKibben.
In just two years, he has already amassed 72 victories, and counting, while losing only 11 times.
McKibben’s wrestling style was described by head coach Craig Wise as “funky, unorthodox, strong and high scoring.”
“Tristen is a tough kid that just needs to believe in himself and go all in,” Wise added about his 157-pounder. “The sky is the limit once that happens.”
Plenty of McKibben’s opponents understand Wise’s perspective and even one of his teammates would as well.
Senior Cody Coontz is McKibben’s drill partner, with the duo locking horns across many practices with the sole intent to make each other better.
“Cody pushes me pretty hard every day and it is important to take practice seriously because if you don’t work hard, then you won’t make it very far and it shows on the mat how hard you work in practice,” McKibben said.
It is a philosophy that McKibben brought with him to high school from day one.
And it found its spotlight at last year’s Portage County Tournament when McKibben, then the freshman phenom, knocked off a highly ranked upperclassmen in the finals to win an individual title.
“It showed me that grade does not really matter and it is about how hard you work in the room and how dedicated to the sport you are,” McKibben said. “I just put it into my head that I can beat anyone.”
McKibben finished his freshman season with a 37-8 record and is currently 35-3 this year.
“Tristen has a unique skill that is hard to stop,” Wise said.
And while that is absolutely true, McKibben still finds his enjoyment in what his wins do for the team.
“Winning matches with the team is what I enjoy most,” said McKibben, who began wrestling at the age of 3. “It feels great to be part of a dominant program, and I love winning matches for the team when we are in a tough match and seeing the confidence gained in each of my teammates.”
These days, it is the Rovers who are casting the shadows over their opponents.
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