By Michael Leonard | Record Publishing Co.
With the field the loaded with Division I state powers, the Bill Dies Memorial Tournament always presents a test to local wrestlers.
The Portage Trail Conference is making its presence felt at the Dies, though its the Summit County-based schools who are leading the charge at Akron Firestone High School.
After day one on Friday, Norton finds itself in third place at the Dies with 64 points, which is tops among all Division II teams at the tournament. Woodridge sits in eighth place with 55 points, just ahead of Coventry in 10th (51).
Kent Roosevelt leads the Portage County contingent at the Dies with 36 points, tying them for 22nd place with Norwayne. Rootstown sits in 25th place (35), with Mogadore (31st, 26.5 points) and Garfield (38th, 11 points) rounding out the county's representatives.
Defending champion Brecksville leads with 96 points and already has opened at sizable advantage on the field.
Wrestling will resume today at 10 a.m. with the championship quarterfinal matches.
Norton's excellent first day was a welcome surprise to head coach Gene Leonard, as he noted he has only two quarterfinalists in 125-pounder Alan Beddow and 220-pounder Sean Rutherford.
"I can't believe I haven't lost any body yet," Leonard said. "At the start of this season, we were young and immature. We're still young, but I think we're maturing. Even in matches we lose, we're losing on points and not getting annihilated."
While Woodridge is behind the Panthers in the team standings, the Bulldogs have five quarterfinalists in 132-pounder Alex Teodecki, 138-pounder Pat Dickinson, 145-pounder Hunter Mercer, 152-pounder Trevon Burgins and 220-pounder Mason Hilling.
"We always have a lot of good first days," said Bulldogs head coach Mike Massey. "You never want to look at the team score until its over, but it was a good day. We'll take it where we can."
Keith Shinn's Coventry squad has a long history of good finishes at the Dies. He also has five quarterfinalists and has his eyes on the PTC Tournament.
"Our depth is better than the other teams; we don't have a top gun like Crestwood," Shinn said. "If we want to win the tournament, it's going to have to be a total team effort. Our guys are going to have to take third or fifth and win their final matches."
Coach Nic Rossiter only brought seven Kent Roosevelt wrestlers to the Dies. All but two of them are still alive, however, with 152-pounder Aaron Miller and 182-pounder John Spurney in the quarterfinals.
"It's gone better than I expected," Rossiter said. "It's always a tough challenge at this tournament. We've got some work still to do."
Rootstown figured to be among the top Division III teams at the Dies, but the Rovers suffered a blow before the tournament when 220-pounder Jake Moore was ruled out because of a shoulder injury.
Moore's absence and some illness have made things tougher for coach Craig Wise and Co. However, Wise said his team is fighting through the circumstances. The Rovers have three quarterfinalists in 113-pounder Tony Paolucci, 170-pounder Travis Linton and 182-pounder Kyle Slaughter.
"We're getting beat up a little bit," Wise said. "It's nothing I didn't expect. It's nothing great, but nothing horrible either."
Mogadore coach Jason Windon was pleased with his team's efforts, though Mogadore has only one quarterfinalist in 132-poudner Just Chew.
"For a still pretty young team, I'm happy with what we did," Windon said. "I expect Justin to fulfill his seed (Chew was seeded third), if not do better."
With state runner-up Aaron Yonker still sidelined with a shoulder injury, it was a long first day for Garfield. The G-Men have no quarterfinalists and only 152-pounder Tyler Croasmun and 195-pounder Andy Anderson remain alive in the consolation bracket.
"We've had some rough draws," said G-Men coach Alan Harbert. "We're here to do the best we can and get some experience for the PTC Tournament."