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By Michael Leonard | Record Publishing Co.
Numerous wrestling coaches said they felt the Division II district tournament at Alliance this year would be the toughest of the four districts.
Alliance was loaded -- but the Portage County contingent was a big part of that.
Eight Portage County-based wrestlers punched their tickets to the Division II state meet Saturday at Alliance. The top four placers in each weight class advance to the state meet.
In the team race, Crestwood finished sixth with 86.5 points, while Field was eighth with 79.
Ravenna finished with 33.5 points, while Southeast had 33, Aurora had 23.5 and Streetsboro had 7.
Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy won the team race with 174 points.
Crestwood led the Portage Trail contingent with four state qualfiers: 113-pounder Jake Zemaitis, 120-pounder Conner Nemec, 138-pounder Dylan Kager and 182-pounder Kenny Jackson.
"We came in with the mindset of getting three or four guys out," said Crestwood coach Dave Wrobel said. "You always want to set the bar higher. Jake, Dylan and Conner all did what they needed to."
The big match in the finals for Crestwood pitted Kager against his arch rival: St. Vincent-St. Mary's Ryan "Popeye" Skonieczny.
"I know that one is going to be a brawl," Wrobel said before the match.
After splitting two matches earlier this season, Skonieczny got a pair of takedowns to score a 5-3 win.
Nemec also reached the final at 120, but ran into three-time state champion Nate Tomasello of CVCA in the title match. Tomasello got the pin at 2:51.
Zemaitis and Jackson each took third in their weight classes.
"I'm very proud of Kenny Jackson," Wrobel said. "Kenny took care of business last week and he wrestled very well this week."
According to Field coach Joe Retherford, the Falcons are sending multiple wrestlers to state for the first time since the mid-1990s. Field's Zach Ladich won the title at 152 by beating Howland's David Brian Whistler 6-3, while freshman 106-pounder Cory Simpson took third.
"I dedicated my season to Coach Pops when he passed away," Ladich said. "I worked with Travis Linton and all the elite wrestlers in the off-season. No dream is too big for next week."
"I am absolutely overjoyed with the way my team came together at the end of the season," Retherford said. "I held this team together this year with spit and dirt. For them to perform the way they did was excellent."
Field also had 126-pounder Jimmy Kubitz take fifth.
In a sometimes rough year for Southeast, 170-pounder Brandon James has carried the torch. He'll do so in Columbus as well, as he defeated Canfield's John Poullas for the second straight week in the finals 13-1.
James said the it was "awesome" to get back to Columbus. Pirates coach Bob Noall was pleased with his star's performance.
"He's wrestled really well to get here," Noall said. "I'd like to see him wrestle a bit more aggressively, but he did what he needed to do. I'm sure he was bit nervous."
Ravenna will return to states after a two- year absence, thanks to the efforts of senior 160-pounder Logan Reaser. Reaser took third at 160 pounds, beating Howland's Jordan Radich xx-xx in the third-place match.
"Logan has wrestled an awesome year," said Ravenna coach Mike Whitemore. "I see him finishing high on the podium at states."
All told, the Portage Trail Conference finished with 13 state qualifiers at Alliance.
Woodridge's Cody Jenkins, Pat Dickinson and Mason Hilling, along with Coventry's Travis Gosnell and Norton's Sean Rurtherford will join the Portage County contigent in Columbus.
Aurora was shut out of the state meet for the first time in years. Freshman 106-pounder Josh Whitelaw was the Greenmen's lone placer, taking fifth..
Despite the struggles on the day, Aurora coach Dick Bliss said his team worked hard to improve this year, noting several off his district qualifier were junior varsity wrestlers last year. All eight of Aurora's district qualifiers were underclassmen.
"Next season isn't determined by this year," Bliss said. "It's determined by how much work we're willing to put in to prepare for next season. If we're willing to put in the work, we'll be a solid team."
Streetsboro did not have any of it's four wrestlers reach the podium. Junior 132-pounder Chris Dynowski went 2-2, but was eliminated in the consolation quarterfinals by Jimmy Kutiza.