Ohio High School Wrestling's Chris Phillips
It's been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. However, In front of a bewildered crowd at Walsh Jesuit High School at the Walsh Ironman on Saturday, Dec. 8, Chris Phillips began his journey towards becoming Ohio's best ever with not so much a single step as a gigantic leap. In a gym full of the nation's premier superstars, the freshman 171 from Monroeville, Ohio stole the show.
On Saturday morning (Dec. 8), Chris Phillips faced an unthinkable challenge. He had to go through nationally ranked Corey Peltier of Blair Academy, the No. 1-ranked wrestler in Division II in Ohio, Zac Thomusseit, and the nation's best 171 in Brian Roddy of St. Edward.
What followed is something that was beyond jaw dropping. Phillips handled all three, scoring 10 takedowns to none for his three great adversaries. But even these numbers didn't really tell the whole story. As great as his offense was, his defense was even better. The fact is that in these three matches Phillips was never even close to being scored upon. Almost every flurry of action resulted in either a Phillips takedown or going out of bounds as Phillip was close to a takedown.
The final of course versus Brian Roddy was, as predicted, a match that fans will remember. Roddy, headed to Northwestern on full scholarship, was brilliant as usual in this tournament, defeating two of Ohio's best 171's, Nick Mills and Keith Witt, 22-9 and 11-3 respectively. One of the most intimidating high school wrestlers that has ever competed in this state -- the general consensus was that he would put an end to the latest "mutant freshman" (meant as a compliment) from Monroeville's great run.
That was my feeling heading into the tournament, but after seeing Phillips completely outclass the excellent Peltier and Thomusseit, I wasn't so sure. While Peltier is a former Cadet Nationals champ, defending Beast of the East champion and FILA Cadet Nationals champ (who defeated one of the top seniors in the nation last summer in Mike Benefiel) the Thumusseit win almost impresses me more. My connections at Graham have been telling me for some time that Thomusseit was underrated and should be the No. 1-ranked 171 in Division II -- after Thomusseit's win over Peltier for third place they are certainly correct.
Thomusseit, with lanky build and great defensive skills, has a style that can slow down even the most high-octane offenses. I saw him slow down Sean Nemec, Jason Welch of California (a scoring machine regarded as the best senior in the nation), and even Colt Sponseller last year. Phillips defeated him by about the same margin as the others, but having watched all of these bouts, Phillips was the most dominant against Thomusseit. While the other wrestlers found themselves frustrated by his defense with numerous stalemates -- Phillips took three shots in the first two periods, and finished all three, two of them without any sort of difficulty, before he began to tire in the third period and slowed his attacks (please note: not saying that Phillips is better than Jason Welch or Colt Sponseller, just that he had less trouble with Thomusseit than either).
There are three high school matches that are indelibly etched in my mind. The first one was Dustin Schlatter-Brent Metcalf at the MIT with the crowd on their feet applauding both wrestlers before the match began, the second was Sponseller-Nemec last year, with the crowd exploding as (then) underdog Sponseller scored time and time again on the St. Edward star. This was the third, but it was a much different feel to it. The gym was dead silent during this match -- nobody shouting encouragement, nobody talking, just the entire crowd watching the match with 110% focus. You could hear a pin drop in the gymnasium (except when Phillips was scoring). There was a tension to the bout, a sense of the history perhaps, that you could cut with a knife. At one point, Chris Deshon of Walsh (half-kidding) reminded me to breathe.
On a side note, much has been made of Brian Roddy getting physical with Phillips as the match wore on. To me, this is "much ado about nothing." Let's face it … this isn't a game of croquet. Trying to get the freshman rattled is as good a strategy as any I can think of. It has also been noted that Brian Roddy was in a no-win situation, going from the hunter to the hunted. Very true, and I certainly didn't envy him, but what I saw over the entire weekend was a wrestler -- freshman in high school or not -- who was quite simply the best wrestler gymnasium chalk-full of national champions.
While a freshman in high school being the nation's best 171, and Ohio's best wrestler, period (with apologies to Jameson, Boyd, Taylor, Roddy, and Stieber) is incomprehensible. To some extent, it is just the natural progression of Phillips' career. There were many who felt that the young man from Monroeville, while outstanding, had been over-hyped (primarily by the state of Ohio). In fact, I have under-hyped him as I knew if I posted how good I really thought this kid was, I would be regarded as the village idiot. The fans had to see it for themselves to believe it. Thus, when I posted last year that 8th grader Chris Phillips could likely beat three-time state runner-up Derek Foore -- and was quickly derided as a fool (on my own forum no less) -- I just let it drop and said you'll see next year (it looks a bit less idiotic now, considering Roddy majored Foore last year). However, what I saw on Dec. 8 was truly even better than I had imagined.
I first noted the name Chris Phillips while looking through the brackets of the OAC Junior High State in 2005. At that time, I noted that a sixth grader from Monroeville had won 12-0 in the finals of that single-division state tournament. Looking through the complete brackets, I then noted that 12 points was his closest match of the weekend. That really caught my attention, since it was remarkable for a sixth grader to be 12 points better than the best wrestlers in the state two years older than him (especially when you consider he was piling up that many points in a 4:30 match).
Generally, even an excellent sixth grader could not even hang with a top eighth grader in this weight range. The next thing I noted was that the wrestler who Phillips defeated 12-0 (Andrew Gasber) came within a single win of All-American status at the Cadet Nationals later that summer. If Phillips was 12 points better than a wrestler who made it that far in Fargo … that meant that, on paper, the sixth grader was good enough to place and probably place high against eighth, ninth, and 10th grade wrestlers at Cadet Nationals as a middleweight.
It followed, in my estimation, that if he could place high at Fargo, he was good enough to place that season as a sixth grader at the state tournament wrestling at 119 pounds. Obviously, this wasn't even something the mind could comprehend, so the jury was still out as I waited to see more results.
Chris Phillips (Photo/Tony Rotundo)
Of course, I go to many tournaments and talk a lot of wrestling with people at those tournaments. The following year I had the following conversation with a number of fans on several different occasions:
Fan: "Hey, you won't believe this, but a seventh grader came into our room and beat (insert state champion or high placer here). Admin: "Let me guess, from Monroeville?" Fan: Yeah, how did you know? You heard it enough times, about enough state champions and placers, from enough different people and you had to take notice.
Aside from practice room reports, during the spring following that year the seventh grade Phillips traveled with the Ohio Samsons to the NHSCA Duals. Competing in the All-Star Division, Phillips was beaten just once, by a Pennsylvania state runner-up who is now wrestling for a Division I college. In that match, Phillips was leading 6-1 before getting pinned in a cradle late in the bout. He followed that up by winning by technical fall against Brent Terry, the fourth-place finisher in the state in Division II. In short, Chris Phillips has been good enough to place at the Ohio State Tournament since sixth grade and good enough to win state as a middleweight since seventh grade. So, when you consider how much improvement that one typically makes between seventh and ninth grade -- the fact that he may now be the nation's best 171 -- and possibly good enough to compete on a Big Ten wrestling mat at age 15 -- is not so much shocking, as the expected progression of a wrestler who has been light years ahead of others his age for years.
If he can continue the progression that one might expect a high school wrestler to make in three years -- considering the level he is at now -- it is not out of the question that in three years Chris Phillips could be approaching a world-class level. Not only has there never been a freshman to compare Phillips to in Ohio among upperweights (the closest would be, ironically enough, Brian Roddy), there isn't a freshman that you can really compare him to nationally either that I am aware of. The level this Monroeville wrestler is at for his size and age is simply unprecedented, at least in the USA.
In a prior article, shortly before Dustin Schlatter defeated Zack Esposito to kick off his great run that ended in an NCAA title as a true freshman, I wrote that Schlatter was the sort of wrestler who came along in a Ohio once in a generation, like Alan Fried was in his generation, and Tom Milkovich was in his.
Mark down the prediction: there is so much that can happen between now and then, but I believe Chris Phillips will be the sort of wrestler who comes along not once in a generation, but once in a lifetime. Phillips is sort of like Dustin Schlatter, Harry Lester, and CP Schlatter rolled into one. He has the Dustin Schlatter-like positioning and instincts -- always in the right place at the right time, but with the speed of Harry Lester and the strength of CP Schlatter. Think Schlatter with a lot more ability to create his own offense.
The well-meaning pundits who like to "overthink" these sort of things -- the same doubters who kept bringing up Sponseller's bad Fargo and looking for excuses for his opponents when he turned every top 160 in the nation into "Adam" last year -- will look for a fly in the ointment. Really, just go to Flowrestling.com -- and bearing in mind how great the wrestlers he's facing are, and that he is a freshman wrestling 171, and tell me I'm wrong. It occurs to me, that with the Ironman honoring Mike Milkovich -- the legendary Maple Heights coach who paved the way for so many great wrestlers in northeast Ohio by his teaching and by his example -- it was sort of appropriate that he was there on the night that what should be the greatest career in Ohio history began. One legend in his twilight, the other just beginning.
Originally from ohiowrestlingsite.com, "the premier source for ohio wrestling news"