'Real' season set to start for Portage County wrestlers

By Michael Leonard | Record PUblishing Co. Published:

Aurora wrestling coach Dick Bliss -- the dean of Northeast Ohio wrestling coaches -- is fond of saying that nothing in the wrestling season really matters until the first weekend of the postseason.

By that standard, the season will begin at 5 p.m. this Friday for high school grapplers around the Buckeye state.

Sectional tournament weekend opens the individual wrestling state tournament this weekend.

As of now, individual records don't count for anything but seeding at sectionals.

Everybody from three-time state champions to freshmen with one or two wins now is in the same boat: Twelve wins away from the state title and two losses away from going home.

The path to the state tournament for Portage County teams hasn't changed much in recent years. Here's a preview of the tournaments.

Division I

Kent Roosevelt remains the lone Division I wrestling school in Portage County and their starting point remains the same as it has been for years: The Division I sectional at Austintown Fitch.

The field at Fitch has been a minefield over the years, but several of the teams are experiencing down years, including Twinsburg and Stow.

Solon is probably the favorite, with solid squads from Hudson and Kenston likely in the mix for second.

As for the Rough Riders, there are top four placement spots to be had here -- each of which earns a trip to districts.

However, the hard part really starts at districts for Roosevelt as Austintown placers advance to the Division I district tournament at Mentor -- a.k.a. "The Mentor Meatgrinder."

It doesn't have that name for nothing.

Division II

At the Division II level, Aurora, Ravenna and Streetsboro will return to the Division II sectional at Walsh Jesuit.

PTC County Division champion Woodridge also will be in the field at Walsh.

This tournament has traditionally been an unmitigated nightmare -- having state powers Walsh and Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy in the field will do that.

However, while there are likely to be a few state champions coming out of Walsh this year, the depth of the field isn't great.

Walsh is having a down season and there are several teams likely to contribute little.

In short, the Ravens, Greenmen and Rockets will have some solid chances to send wrestlers onto the district meet.

In the team race, it would be a shock for anyone but CVCA to win, but I could easily see the Ravens getting in for second.

While the Walsh sectional has the better reputation, the coach staff at Crestwood has told me this year's field at the Division II sectional at West Branch could be the toughest of any in Division II.

They have a point.

Crestwood, Field and Southeast are walking into a sectional that has a huge amount of depth.

Howland, West Branch, Alliance, Marlington and Poland all have decent if not overpowering squads.

Top four places are going to have to be earned here.

As for the team race, a reprisal of the thrilling PTC Tournament race between Crestwood and Field could happen, but Howland will have something to say about that.

Top four placers from Walsh and West Branch will advance to the Division II district at Alliance -- which should be a torture test.

Any field with the likes St. Vincent-St. Mary, Perry, CVCA, Walsh, Crestwood, Field and Mentor Lake Catholic should have coaches not sleeping at night.

Division III

Meanwhile, its business as usual for area small schools as Rootstown, Waterloo, Mogadore and Garfield all return to the Division III sectional at Rootstown.

On paper, it might seem like the 16-team field at Rootstown might be rigorous.

In reality, their might be two teams at Rootstown who can fill all 14 weight classes.

With his team finally free from having to wrestle Division I and II competition, Rovers coach Craig Wise believes his team is the favorite and I tend to agree.

As Wise said "If I don't take a bus [full of kids] up to Garfield Heights, I'm going to be very disappointed."

All four PTC teams should get several wrestlers to the Division III sectional at Garfield Heights, but getting out to states could prove tough. Defending Division III champion Waynedale, newly crowned dual-meet champion Massillon Tuslaw and Beachwood all are in the field.

E-mail: mleonard@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9442

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