For 37 western Stark County wrestlers, emerging from the sectionals gets them a weekend closer to goal of reaching the state tournament.
One tournament down. However, next up may be the biggest tournament of them all for many wrestlers.
Saturday marked the start of the individual tournament run for wrestlers with sectionals across the state. For western Stark County area teams, that meant battling it out in gyms at places like Perry, Northwest and Rootstown for the chance to get one week closer to achieving the goal of state-tournament qualification.
Seven area teams produced a total of 37 wrestlers who will compete in district tournaments at Hoover (Division I), Alliance (Division II) and Garfield Heights (Division III) this weekend. Those wrestlers head into that tournament looking to keep the momentum rolling from a successful opening weekend of the postseason.
"We're just looking forward," said Perry coach Nate Carr, whose team qualified 12 out of the Division I sectional in its own gym. "Greater, later. We just want to keep that theme going where we're making those adjustments. That's what's going to make us better. Failing forward, that's what it's about. How can we learn from our setbacks and go from there."
Carr's team may have dominated their sectional tournament, including taking home as many individual champions (seven) as the next-closest team, Louisville, had total district qualifiers. Those Panther sectional champions included Gavin Sampsel (106 pounds), Gary Define (138), Malachi Strickland (145), David Carr (152), Joe Koontz (160), Emil Soehnlen (170) and Matt Carrick (heavyweight).
Perry's performance at the big-school sectional was outstanding. However, the Panthers weren't necessarily the western Stark team with the best weekend of them all.
That honor would have to go to Tuslaw, which set a school record for district qualifiers by sending its entire 14-man lineup out of the Division III sectional at Rootstown on to the district tournament. Joe Gabbard (113 pounds), Kyle Ryder (145), Stephen Skeens (152) and Logan Hall (195) gave the Mustangs four sectional champions, second only to Perry's seven among area teams.
In fact, six of the seven teams to qualify wrestlers to the district tournament will have at least one sectional champion. Joining Perry and Tuslaw with a sectional champion was Jackson (Victor Marcelli, 182) in Division I; Northwest (Hunter Kosco, 126) in Division II; as well as Central Catholic (Luke Ezzo, 138) and Fairless (Nick Shephard, 182) in Division III.
While a sectional championship isn't the ultimate goal for any wrestler, each one knows that earning a title one weekend can be a great starting point for the next tournament. Those sectional champs now enter the district tournament as a No. 1 seed, potentially providing an easier - if possible - path to the all-important semifinal round.
"It feels great," Marcelli said. "It takes a little pressure off. I'm still going to have to wrestle a few tough guys for sure. But it definitely makes you feel a little better."
Most wrestlers would also agree that it's nice to have company with them as they progress through the tournament. Six of the seven teams which qualified wrestlers to the district will have more than one competing in the field.
After Tuslaw and Perry, the next-largest group from the area belonged to Jackson, with five. Northwest is sending four to Alliance, while three Fairless wrestlers and two from Central Catholic will be heading to Garfield Heights.
"I thought they wrestled their best for the end of the year, and that all we can ask of them," Jackson coach Joe Knopick said. "Obviously, walking away, there's some matches that we wish we could've won. But I say that every year. There were also some matches that I thought that we wrestled really well and beat some opponents who were as good or even tougher - on paper - than us."
Massillon was the lone team to only qualify one. The Tigers, though, will be represented by sectional runner-up Kyle Murphy, who is a multi-time district qualifier.
Reach Chris at 330-775-1128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @ceasterlingINDE