Area matmen eager to meet challenge

By David Carducci Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Looking for tickets to go watch the Tribe this year?

No problem.

At least no problem compared with finding a pair of seats to the Ervin J. Nutter Center in Fairborn this weekend.

The 10,632-seat arena on the campus of Wright State University will be filled to the rafters from Thursday through Saturday when Ohio's premier high school wrestlers battle for state championships.

It's the toughest ticket in Ohio. And, according to Ravenna coach Steve Reedy, it's an atmosphere you can only understand if you witness it first hand.

"It's very exciting," said Reedy. "Emotionally and physically, it's draining for the wrestlers. It's a real mental grind. The pressure of going out there in front of over 10,000 people with eight or nine different mats going is unbelievable. When you stand on the floor of the Nutter Center, the noise from the crowd is like putting your ear up to a seashell."

Managing the sound, like the persistent pounding of the waves against the shore, will be a new experience for many of the 19 area wrestlers making the long trip to the state tournament.

Of the five wrestlers Ravenna qualified for the Division II tournament, only two have state-championship experience.

Aurora will send five in Division III, but again only two have made a previous trip to state.

Southeast and Crestwood in Division II, and Streetsboro in Division III each qualified two wrestlers for the tournament. Each will send one rookie.

Fellow Portage County League teams Rootstown, Mogadore and Woodridge had one wrestler qualify for the Division III tourney. None from that group has experienced the drama of the state tournament.

Experience could help Ravenna's Andy Hampton (189 pounds) and Brandon Hayes (103) this year as they attempt to improve on fifth-place finishes a year ago in Division II.

"Brandon is just trying to continue what he's done all year long," said Reedy. "He has been a very consistent wrestler and he can do it all ... Andy is coming off a horrible week last week (when he finished fifth at the district tournament at Akron Firestone), and he knows it. I think he overworked himself last week and just needs to rest up."

Hampton should benefit from a good draw for Thursday's preliminary rounds, while Hayes will have to battle through a 103-pound class that Reedy says "is very, very loaded."

Senior Jessie Edsall (160), and juniors Keith Lara (135) and Jeff Dunfee (130) make up the rookie class of state qualifiers for Ravenna.

"Jessie is real excited about getting to state," said Reedy. "He is dedicated to wrestling. He's probably one of the most improved wrestlers I've ever had as a coach, and he proves what you can achieve with hard work.

"Keith is really coming on strong and Jeff has come a long way from a month ago when he was in a huge slump. We gave him a week off and he has come back recharged and is wrestling better than ever."

According to Reedy, a state championship is not out of the realm of possibility for the Ravens.

"Hopefully, we are hungry enough to get a championship," he said. "We need one or two individual champions and the rest all have to place high."

Aurora's five may not be as talented top-to-bottom as the four-man lineup that won the Division III title in 1995, but Aurora coach Dick Bliss said the group's work ethic has what it takes to challenge for the school's second state championship.

"We had a couple guys in '95 who you just knew were going to win," Bliss said after winning the Division III district championship in Elyria Saturday. "But the guys we'll take down to state this year will work hard ... They are a blue-collar group of wrestlers."

Aurora is led by senior 125-pounder Chris Formanek and junior 160-pounder Artie Mauser, the team's state-tournament veterans.

Seniors John Cook (152) and Nick Courtad (215) will end their careers as Greenmen in style with their first appearance at the state tournament, while sophomore heavyweight Joe Morrison will begin what he hopes will be a string of visits.

Southeast senior Jeff Mason will have to overcome what Pirates coach Ralph Graham called "as tough a draw as he could get" at 160 pounds. Last year, Mason finished fifth in the state in Division II at 152 pounds.

"Jeff will have to face defending champion Shawn Brightman of Dayton Northridge in the second round assuming he wins," said Graham. "Jeff has been through this before, though. He works extremely hard and he'll be ready."

Mason's Southeast teammate Mike Kemble will wrestle his first state tournament at the 112-pound weight class.

"That class is very balanced," said Graham. "There are a half-dozen kids who could win it. I think it will depend on who gets hot."

Streetsboro senior Wayne Chappell (215) is one of the hottest wrestlers going into the state meet after working most of the early part of the season sacrificing quick victories to work on improving his technique.

"Right now, Wayne is a much better wrestler than he was last year," Streetsboro coach Jim Boardwine said after watching Chappell win the Division III district title at Elyria Saturday. "He is much better wrestling on his feet ... He has a good chance down at state."

Chappell finished third in the state a year ago.

Mike Klimak, Streetsboro's other state representative at 119 pounds, is a senior first-time qualifier. Last year, Klimak narrowly missed out on advancing to the state tournament, losing to eventual Division III champion Scott Burnett of Elyria Catholic.

Crestwood is hoping 140-pounder Tim Sommer, who comes in with an impressive 35-1 record this season, can improve on a 5th-place finish at state as a junior last year. Fellow Red Devil Heath Kramer is making his first visit to the tournament. The 119-pound junior has posted a 31-8 record this year.

Rootstown sophomore Eric Peyton qualified for his first state tournament by finishing second at 130 pounds at the district meet in Elyria.

"Eric is constantly improving," said Rootstown coach Dan Bailey. "He always works hard and he hates to be scored on. That intensity and desire to win will help him this weekend."

Mogadore coach Ken Black said the Wildcats' 140-pound senior Dan Gilchrist opened the year with one goal: "Getting to state, and nothing less."

Gilchrist realized that goal last weekend with a third-place finish at the district tournament in Elyria.

Woodridge coach Stan Stamen and 112-pound qualifier Len Tardiff will end their Bulldog careers this weekend.

Stammen, who is retiring after 35 years of coaching, said Tardiff's goal is simply to score at the state tournament.

"Qualifying for state has been quite a jubilation for Len," said Stammen. "He is not necessarily the most talented wrestler we've ever had, but he works very hard. I'm really happy for him because he is a really nice kid. Sometimes kids like Len take a back seat to hoodlums and kids like that. Len is the type of kid who will give it his all when he gets down there."

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