Wrestling has taken Shaker’s Blake Retell to numerous places in the United States. This summer, the sport took him even further, as he traveled to Italy and Austria with the Journeymen Wrestling Club.
Now, wrestling will lead Retell to another location – Buffalo – as the three-time state qualifier committed to head coach John Stutzman and the Bulls.
“I really liked Coach Stutzman and his philosophy on the program,” Retell said. “I like the style of wrestling and what it leads to. The campus was really nice and so was the wrestling room.”
Retell, who projects to wrestle at 133 pounds in college, has been around wrestling rooms since first grade, when he first ventured into the sport. He said he joined Journeymen while in elementary school and spends two to three days per week at the club year round.
“Every day I can go there, I go,” he said. “I’ve been able to learn from some of the best coaches and wrestlers in the world. It’s really made me a better wrestler, especially technique-wise.”
A few years after starting club wrestling, Retell began his career at Shaker High, where he competed at 96 pounds as a seventh grader.
“My high school coach Dan Gibson picked me up in the mornings and really pushed me when I first started on varsity,” Retell said. “He got me mentally better, in shape and stronger.”
It showed as he piled up victories. In his eighth and ninth grade years, Retell combined to win over 80 matches with just eight losses at 103 and 112 pounds, respectively. Both times, he qualified for the state tournament and won a match.
It looked like he was headed for the Times Union Center to compete again as a sophomore at 120 pounds before his season was cut short.
“I broke my hand the week before the qualifiers,” Retell said. “I went to the state tournament and watched a little, but it was so tough to watch because I couldn’t wrestle.”
He bounced back with another strong campaign as a junior, notching over 40 wins at 120. He nabbed seventh at the Eastern States Classic in January, pinning eventual Division II state champion Trey Aslanian of Edgemont and topping All-State grappler Santo Curatolo of Tottenville.
In his third trip to the NYS championships this past February, Retell recorded a pair of pins and fell one win shy of making the podium.
“I felt like I should have wrestled better,” he said. “I messed up a couple of times. Not big mistakes, but little mistakes that cost me matches.”
A few weeks later, Retell again advanced to the placement round at a big event, this time the NHSCA Junior Nationals in Virginia Beach, where he went 4-2 at 126 pounds, just missing All-America status.
The Section 2 competitor was far from done, however. He finished in the top three in both Freestyle and Greco at the New York States in May, wrestled against European grapplers on the July trip with his club and also competed at the Iron Horse Invitational.
But after his journeys, Retell said there’s only place he’s interested in being on the first day of March – the Times Union Center.
“This year, I’m looking to win a state championship,” he said, noting that he's currently targeting 126 pounds but may be at 132. “It’s all about how you end.”
He hopes to end high on the podium in the state capital. And after that and all his travels, his destination will be Buffalo.