By Matt Florjancic
The Wadsworth wrestling program has been a consistent top 10 finisher in the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Championship meets over the 25-year tenure of coach John Gramuglia. However, the Grizzlies never quite made it to the top of the podium.
With the success Wadsworth has experienced this season, the stranglehold on the Division I state championship currently enjoyed by the St. Edward Eagles may finally be loosened.
At the state dual meet hosted by Wadsworth High School in January, the Grizzlies went through St. Edward and defeated top-ranked Massillon Perry.
On Feb. 7, the Grizzlies headed up to Lakewood where they once again faced St. Edward. Not intimidated by the 12 consecutive state championship banners hanging from the roof of the Eagles Nest, Wadsworth again defeated St. Edward 30-27.
“I think there’s been teams this fun, but probably not as successful,” Gramuglia said. “We’ve been third in the state, fourth in the state. We’ve been fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th. This is a group, it always has been. They’ve had good chemistry since first, second grade. It’s a nice unit.”
St. Edward jumped out to an early lead against Wadsworth in the second meeting. The Eagles held a 23-6 advantage on the scoreboard, but Wadsworth would not go away. The Grizzlies won decisions at 171 and 215 pounds. Pins in the heavyweight and 189-pound classes gave Wadsworth its second victory over St. Edward.
“It took me 25 years to do it twice,” Gramuglia said. “They were the school that we’ve shot for and we kind of build our program around them. It feels good, like we’ve arrived a little bit.
“I don’t think we’ve ever hit a little valley this year. Every time we were about to, we had a big win like that. We beat them in our gym. Then we beat them in their gym. It was pretty special.”
One of the pinfall victories belonged to Caleb Busson at 189. After a year away from the sport due to injury and a move up in weight, Busson owns two victories over St. Edward this season.
“I got them from motivation and the back-up my teammates gave me,” Busson said. “They’re all behind me, pushing for me. The guys on the side of the mat have just as big a play as the guy on the mat. If they’re all pulling for you, there’s just that energy while you’re out there. I knew my team needed the extra pin points to win the match.”
“It’s not just the physical, it’s the mental,” Gramuglia said of beating St. Edward. “We’ve wrestled them in a lot of tournaments. We’ve kind of chased them around Ohio to wrestle them and finally broke that geographic barrier. Once we went up there, we respected them, but we didn’t have an awe like they were so much better than us.
“In both matches, Caleb came up large with pins. If he doesn’t pin at 189 both times, we don’t win. It’s pretty tough to do it once and then he goes and does it again. The kid that he wrestles is no slouch.”
Wadsworth has gotten so much respect that it knocked St. Edward out of a familiar place. In the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrestling poll on Jan. 14, Wadsworth became the first team other than St. Edward to own the top spot since Walsh Jesuit was ranked No. 1 in the area in 1997.
Despite the high praise from outside influences, the Grizzlies remain humble. They went out this weekend and dominated the Medina Highland sectional tournament.
This week, Wadsworth goes to Massillon Perry for the district tournament, one step away from Columbus and the Division I state championships.
“Our coaches do a great job of keeping us humble and not letting us get a big head,” Busson said. “They keep us focused on what’s ahead and not what’s behind us and make sure we get the big ‘W’ at the end of the season. That’s what counts.”
“We’re real confident,” Gramuglia said. “We have a very tough sectional, so we know there’s going to be things that don’t work out exactly right. [With] the pressure of the tournaments we’ve had and the dual meets that we had, good things are going to happen. We would be foolish to think that it’s going to be a perfect sectional, district ride.”
The difficult part of winning a state championship is qualifying enough wrestlers for the tournament. They do not go as teams in the typical sense. In Ohio, the top four wrestlers in the sectional move on to the district. The same applies for the district with the top four advancing to the state championships.
At each point, an alternate is named in case of injury or other circumstances.
Wadsworth qualified 13 of a possible 14 wrestlers for the district tournament. Keeping an eye on rival St. Edward, the Eagles advanced 11 of their grapplers to the district.
While Wadsworth will compete at the Perry District, St. Edward will pursue state championship berths in Mentor.
“It’s a numbers game, there’s no doubt,” Gramuglia said of the state tournament. “Everyone will know in the next two weeks what it’s really going to look like. It makes it exciting at least. At least people are talking. We’ve resurrected Division I a little bit and gotten the cobs out of the closet, which is fun.”
Boys Basketball: Szalay sets wins record
Lorain Clearview coach John Szalay has been a part of the program in every possible way. As a player, Szalay played under local legend Bob Walsh. Before playing for the Clippers, Szalay was a fan of the program. He spent Friday nights in the stands watching the games as a child.
Now the coach at Clearview, Szalay was also a parent of a player. His son Chad went through the program before winning a conference championship last season at Heidelberg College.
Two weeks ago, Szalay passed his mentor Walsh as the school’s all-time wins leader. A 59-42 victory over Oberlin gave Szalay 241 career wins, but the Clippers have not stopped. After a tough start to the season in Vermilion, Clearview dethroned Lutheran West and claimed the school’s first Patriot Athletic Conference championship in boys basketball.
More Boys Basketball: Hiland goes undefeated
The Hiland boys basketball team has been to the state final four several times, including a trip two years ago. They won a state championship in 1992 under former coach Perry Reese Jr., who is the namesake for the Community Center in Berlin. The one thing eluding Hiland has been an undefeated regular season. That is until this past Saturday.
Hiland earned an 87-60 victory over Ridgewood to clinch the undefeated season. The Hawks start tournament play Saturday against Conotton Valley.
Matt Florjancic currently works as a freelance reporter and sports announcer for WOBL and WDLW Radio.