MACEDONIA: Nordonia went toe-to-toe with Suburban League favorite Wadsworth and had a chance to pull off an upset Thursday night, but a big “bear hug” in the night’s final match put an exclamation point on the Grizzlies’ perfect regular season in Suburban League wrestling with a 31-22 win at Nordonia.
The Grizzlies never trailed but had a sizeable lead sliced to only three team points, 25-22 heading into the final match. Wadsworth senior Daryk Maki, in the heavyweight match (285 pounds), used his signature “bear hug” move and slammed home a pin in only 22 seconds to put Wadsworth at 7-0 in league play.
“All the kids I’ve wrestled so far this year know what my move is … I do it all the time,” Maki said, who holds a 21-4 record this season. “It was rather difficult to get it but I got it and pinned him. I had to make sure I didn’t lose my cool … I wanted to scream but I promised my coach I wouldn’t.”
Wadsworth (12-1) has won the last 20 Suburban League Tournament titles and hasn’t lost a regular-season dual in the league since Dec. 14, 2006, against Highland. Nordonia (15-2) entered Thursday night with an identical 6-0 record in league play and was looking to send a message heading into the Suburban League tournament in a few weeks.
The Knights weren’t able to knock the Grizzlies off the pedestal on Thursday night. But entering the final match within striking distance is encouraging news for Nordonia coach Audie Atienza. In other words, Goliath wasn’t defeated but vulnerability has been discovered.
“As far as heading into the next couple of weeks, it’s good because this gives us an idea of what to expect heading into the tournament,” he said. “It was encouraging because Wadsworth is the top dogs, and we know where we stand. We can at least compete with the best.”
Wadsworth coach John Gramuglia says he isn’t putting a lot of stock into the streak of 20 consecutive tournament titles. Gramuglia’s message has been that “those are the people before you who wanted it. Do you still want it? Then keep doing it.” That mantra has kept the Grizzlies relaxed.
“That was the key today, to stay relaxed,” he said. “[These are] great battles. It’s great to have a team like Nordonia in our league. We have a lot of respect. This is great for the league.”
One of the key matches involved Grizzlies senior captain Mathias Zollinger (25-2), a returning Division I state qualifier who rebounded from a loss earlier in the season to beat one of Nordonia’s top wrestlers, junior Mike DeCesare (30-5), 8-3 in the 138-pound match. That put Wadsworth up 12-6. After a couple of three-point team wins, sophomore Timmy Knipl (25-5) looked like he might have put the match out of reach with a sweeping pin at 1:45. That gave Wadsworth a 25-9 advantage. In that span, only junior Jake Urich put points on the board for Nordonia (he won 2-0 at 145 pounds. Atienza said Urich can compete with the best and this could be a turning point in the season for him).
Nordonia stormed back with three consecutive wins. Junior Eric Claren (24-6) took the 182-pound match 12-3 for four team points, sophomore Nick Bina won the 195-pound match 5-3 for three team points and returning state qualifier junior Alex Woicehovich (19-4) secured a pin 54 seconds into the first round to bring the Knights within three points of Wadsworth at 25-22.
“We knew it was going to be an uphill battle,” Atienza said. “We knew it was going to come down to the end.”
A giant “bear hug” from a grizzly bear was all that stood in the way of completing the comeback.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.