By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
Tournament time is officially here.
For Portage County’s wrestling programs, it opens this weekend with sectional tournaments and the district tournaments will take place next weekend.
The state championships will be hosted in Columbus at the Schottenstein Center on March 10, 11 and 12.
Here is a snapshot at some of the area’s programs as they prepare for the tourney trail.
The mindset is simple and determined for the Greenmen.
“We are super focused on the postseason,” head coach Jeremy Johnson said. “At this point in the season, all the work is done, and we are just cleaning up our techniques and having short and intense practices geared toward peaking.”
A number of individuals have a chance to turn the next few weeks into something special, including Luke Green, Johnny Green, Kyle Bizjak, Cole Walton and Quinn Gorman, among others.
“All wrestlers have shown vast improvements over the course of this season,” said Johnson, whose team won the Suburban League American Division championship last month.
Johnny Green won an individual title at the league meet, while strong finishers also included Bizjak (2nd place), Luke Green (3rd), Cole Munn (4th), Walton (5th) and Michael Kennedy (5th).
Head coach Dave Wrobel reports that his Red Devils are healthy except for the “typical bumps and bruises” that come with a 12-week regular season.
“It is my hope that the team is peaking at the right time of the season,” Wrobel said. “We should fill 10 or 11 weights, with half of them entering the postseason with a winning or seedable record.”
Crestwood’s junior class appears ready to make an impact during the postseason, according to Wrobel.
“JP Wrobel has been to the state tournament a few times and is chomping at the bit to get back there and hopefully redeem himself,” Wrobel said. “Drake Rennecker put a ton of time in the off-season and has shown the ability to win some key matches along gate way. Gavin McIntyre has grown by leaps and bounds and Blake Baumgardner has been contributing even though he’s been an undersized heavyweight.”
The group has the talent and potential to not only advance to the district level, but also to Columbus.
Other Red Devils are ready, too, with sophomores Tristan Addis, Corey Barnauskas and Brenton Mason, along with freshmen Nolan Huntington and Kade Rotter leading the pack.
The Ravens enter this weekend’s sectional tournaments with a variety of goals in mind.
First of which they have already accomplished, which is that they have reached the tourney healthy.
Next, head coach Eric Kline explains that his hope is to get his young team postseason experience that will prove valuable for the next few years.
Additionally, Kline said he expects his seniors to perform to their top potential.
“Columbus is our goal for everyone no matter what grade they are in,” Kline said.
The Ravens are led by Sean Loucks and Cory Cole.
“Sean has shown more leadership and accountability this second half of the season,” Kline said. “He needs to open the gates and go wrestle his type of matches. He needs to lead all three periods.
“If Cory can continue to expand on his wrestling in all phases and wrestles from whistle to whistle, he can surprise some of his opponents.”
Loucks is closing in on 100 career wins.
The Rovers have shifted their focus to the postseason by setting new individual and team goals following their recent runner-up finish at the dual state championships in Versailles.
The second-place effort was bittersweet, according to head coach Craig Wise.
“Our goal from day one was to be the dual state champs this year, and we came up short,” Wise said. “With that being said, the team battled and left it all on the mat. I could not be more proud of them. Hopefully, they learn in defeat and it will drive us in the postseason stretch run.”
Many of Rootstown’s talented core have the opportunity to advance to Columbus.
How many will is “just a matter of who will step up and find a way,” Wise said.
“The first goal is to win sectionals and districts and place in the top five at state,” Wise said. “We will need a great effort from all 14 kids.”
The Pirates have used the down time to get healthy, while also building up the excitement for the second season.
“The season is a grind and it has been good to step back and get our bodies back to 100 percent before the postseason push,” head coach Shane Kuberry said. “For many of our wrestlers, this will be the first time in the sectional tournament and we are excited to see how they respond to the situation and environment.”
Kuberry said his team will rely on its upperclassmen leadership to help support several wrestlers that could push deep into the postseason.
“I believe we have done some of our best work as the season progressed and that sets everyone up to continue that growth and have a solid showing,” Kuberry said.
Freshmen making their tourney debuts include Braeden Martin at 106 pounds, Dominic Kemble at 113, Jonathan Reynolds at 157, Landon Durstin at 165 and Richie Nutter at 190.
“Braeden had a solid year, and I am looking forward to seeing him take another step forward,” Kuberry said. “Dominic has been a bright spot in our room all year. He has done quite well, won some tough matches and has set himself up for a postseason run with all the hard work.”
Sophomores Deian Longgood, Kian Romeo and Brice Shoenbachler have “also grown this year and in recent weeks have really stepped up their work ethic in preparation for the sectional tournament,” according to Kuberry.
Junior Preston Bello, who won a league championship, has clear goals for the next few weeks.
“He has been focused on the things that can help him get there,” Kuberry said. “He has been a wonderful leader in our room and was recently inducted into the National Honor Society, showing what a well-rounded young man he is.”
Junior Lauren Carver will compete in the girls postseason tournament.
“She has shown all year that has a ton of heart, is mentally and physically tough and is willing to work to get what she wants,” Kuberry said.
Southeast’s pair of seniors, Adam Peelish at 120 and Joe Kline at 175, enter the postseason with the opportunity at a clean slate and fresh start.
“I am very grateful for the positive influence Adam and Joe have been in the room to our younger wrestlers, and we are looking forward to watching them in their last postseason run,” Kuberry said.
The Rockets were beat up and sick to close out January, but they returned to full strength in time to win the Metro Athletic Conference championship.
Donovan Paes’ incredible season has continued, being named the MAC Tournament’s top wrestler and winning an individual championship.
This coming after he already has a win over a reigning state chmapion and other individual titles at tournaments this season.
Teammate Anthony Perez has just one loss to his name this season — and that came in a match that he was injured and unable to return to the mat.
Senior upper weights Landon Bodovetz, Sam Brunner and Joe Fedor are another group ready to make a nice postseason push.
The Rockets finished the regular season with a 16-3 record in dual meets and were undefeated at 7-0 in the MAC.
The Vikings are not unlike many small-school programs right now.
“We are trying to stay healthy,” head coach John Foster said.
Juniors Rex Fryer and Jayden Hakin both suffered season-ending injuries earlier this season.
“We felt both kids had a shot at making it to Columbus,” Foster said.
Senior Justin Fox has authored a tremendous season to this point, with only one loss. He has claimed four individual tournament championships this season, including his second consecutive Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference title and he is approaching career win No. 150.
Fox also is in the school record books now, breaking the program’s longstanding record for fastest pin, which he set the new mark at 4 seconds.
Aidan King, who recently pinned his way to an MVAC title, has “really wrestled well toward the tail end of the regular season, and we feel he has a great shot to also do well going into the postseason,” according to Foster.
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