By Jim Manion | Correspondent
Rootstown wrestling head coach Craig Wise does not have much experience as a head coach. The former Rootstown and Cleveland State wrestler has just completed his second year at the helm of the Rovers and for the second straight year his team has captured a share of the Portage Trail Conference County Division championship.
Wise surrounded himself with a staff that all won state crowns and wrestled Division I college.
"Yeah, I have to say my experience is pretty limited," said Wise. "My philosophy in business and coaching has always been to surround myself with good people or better. I like to say that their resumes are so good I don't even need to talk about mine."
At this point of the season, it is usually about individual performances on the road to Columbus. However, when the Rovers take the home mats tonight for the sectional tournament they will be represented in every weight class, a pair of No. 1-ranked wrestlers in the state, a team that owns three straight PTC County Division titles and is currently ranked fifth in the state.
Wrestling is a sport that usually gets in your blood when you are very young. Wise, who will turn 40 years of age soon, admits it was do-or-die on the wrestling mats when he was a Rover back in the early 1990s. The 1992 Rootstown graduate was 34-0 going into the state championship match his senior year. Unfortunately for Wise, the 4-2 loss in that match still to this day haunts him.
After a stellar career at Cleveland State, Wise coached in 1998 with then-Rover head coach Dan Bailey before establishing his career in the mortgage lending business. He admits that he kept an eye on and attended some of the PTC tournaments and state tournaments over the years but really had no intention of coaching.
However, when Rover head coach J.R. Richner decided to step down following the 2010-11 season, Wise stepped in to fill the void because he knew the program was solid and he wanted to help.
"I'm a fourth-generation Rootstown guy that cares a lot about the school and program and I want to see it be successful," said Wise. "It's a great bunch of kids and I didn't realize how involved I would get in their lives as a head coach. They all have character; they look you in the eye when they shake your hand."
Rootstown athletic director Keith Waesch talked about how the program never missed a beat when Wise took over two years ago.
"Coach Richner did a great job, our youth program continues to be steady and coach Wise has picked up where Richner left off," said Waesch. "In addition to Coach Wise's leadership in coaching, he has really gotten involved with his wrestlers. He has set up study tables to make sure they keep up in their academics. He truly cares about his kids and their life outside the walls of Rootstown Schools."
Richner had led the Rovers to a PTC County Division title and been named Coach of the Year in 2010-11. Wise was awarded the Coach of the Year honor after his team repeated as champions last season. He would, however, be the first to give the credit to his wrestlers that won the title on the mats and also mention again his three assistant coaches: Jack Lynch, Sonny Marchette and Marty Coontz.
"We got a couple kids out of the hallways this year that have stuck it out and we now have 14 wrestlers for 14 different weight classes. For a school our size that is great. We have a good senior class that we will lose but we also have a good eighth -grade group coming in," said Wise.
The Rovers had nine wrestlers qualify for the districts last season and the Rootstown coach admits that this year's magic number is 10. Six of those 10 return for action this weekend, with seniors Travis Linton (170 pounds) and Jake Moore (220) leading the effort. Linton finished third in the state last season while Moore was a fourth-place finisher. Both are ranked No. 1 in their weight class entering the tournament.
Moore was listed at 265 pounds on the Rover football roster this season and started the wrestling season as the Rover heavyweight. He is now ready to assume his assault on the podium at 220 pounds.
He is the two-time PTC champion at 220 and admits that nearly all he has thought about this season is getting back to Columbus. Moore is ranked at the top of the senior class with a 4.0 grade-point average and on track to be one of the school's valedictorians.
Moore, who has lost only two matches this season to out-of-state nationally ranked wrestlers, admits that taking one match at a time and having great coaching is the key to winning. Moore is closing in on 90 victories in only three years and could notch 100 if he makes it all the way this year. He credits assistant coach Lynch with helping to improve and perfecting moves this year. Lynch was a state champion at Crestwood back in the 1970s and also coached Jake's dad in high school.
Moore has visited Princeton University and is evaluating an offer along with looking at several local schools.
Linton has wrestled at 182 most of the season and will now settle in the 170 spot. He finished third last season when he was called for a penalty with only 11 seconds remaining in the match.
Travis, the younger brother of Garrett Linton, who won the 195-pound state title last year, says he started wrestling at the age of 5. He tagged along to watch his brother and soon was an undefeated grappler as a kindergartener.
Garrett Linton was the first state champion from Rootstown and his younger brother Travis, who is only a junior, wants to be the first two-time champion. As the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the 182-pound class, Travis Linton sports a 33-3 record and has traveled halfway around the country in tournaments throughout the summer. His three losses have all been to nationally ranked opponents.
Kyle Slaughter was 35-5 last season and finished the current campaign 34-8. He finished third in the PTC Tournament and will enter the sectional at 182 pounds. Slaughter has been a part of the league titles and believes it will take hard work but anticipates qualifying for the state tournament.
Two other seniors, Tyler Hilliard (132) and Ryan Zollar (160), both qualified for districts last season and return in hopes of getting a step farther this year. Hilliard is a three-time qualifier and made the PTC All-County team the last two years. The 132-pound bracket is one of the toughest in the tournament. Junior Tarron Lowell (145) also returns as a qualifier from last season.
BREAKOUT BOX INFO
ROVER SECTIONAL ROSTER
106 -- Mason Radike (Fr)
113 -- Tony Paolucci (Fr)
120 -- Seth Myers (Fr)
126 -- Jason Sadler (Fr)
132 -- Tyler Hilliard (Sr)
138 -- Skyler Montie (Jr)
145 -- Tarron Lowell (Jr)
152 -- Gabe Gretz (So)
160 -- Ryan Zollar (Sr)
170 -- Travis Linton (Jr)
182 -- Kyle Slaughter (Sr)
195 -- Jacob Elam (Jr)
220 -- Jake Moore (Sr)
HW -- Spencer Dixon (So)