The Joe Caruso Era of Cuyahoga Falls wrestling opened last Saturday with a trip to the Boardman Subaru Duals and it showed just how much work the Black Tigers have to do.
Cuyahoga Falls went 0-5 at Boardman. The Black Tigers lost to Boardman 60-21, lost to Akron Ellet 37-28, fell to Austintown-Fitch 74-3, lost to Canton GlenOak 60-18 and fell to rival Stow-Munroe Falls 60-10.
Caruso said the Black Tigers’ struggles were not unexpected, given the holes in Falls’ lineup due to injuries, skin issues and some disciplinary reasons. The Black Tigers had to forfeit at 113, 145, 152, 160, 170 and 195 pounds, respectively.
"We just had a lot of wrestlers out of the lineup," Caruso said. "We did the best we could with what we had. The results will come in our favor later in the year."
Focusing on individual performances, Caruso noted Falls did have some bright spots.
As expected, senior Caleb Puchajda led the charge for the Black Tigers, despite wrestling at the heavyweight weight class.
Caruso said Puchajda could have easily made his regular weight at 220 pounds at Boardman. However, because fellow senior Dakota Page could not cut down to 195 pounds, Caruso chose to let Page wrestle at 220.
"It was about both of them being available for us," Caruso said. "It was our decision as a team."
Despite giving up a lot of weight to his opponents, Puchajda went 5-0. Along with forfeit wins over Boardman and Ellet, Puchajda scored a 12-7 win over Fitch’s Tyler Petrey, pinned GlenOak’s Nick Nash in three minutes and pinned Stow’s Richie Morrocco in 1:29 to complete his sweep of the tournament.
"He was just a little bit over 220," Caruso said. "We planned it out as best we could. We told them he’s going to be with bigger guys and we don’t want them to put their strength on him early. We used his conditioning as an advantage.
"The wrestler from Fitch was a district place winner and Morrocco was a district qualifier," Caruso added. "He had some good matches."
Another bright spot for Falls was the performance of freshman Zevan Simon at 126 pounds.
Simon had a brutal draw early, getting pinned by GlenOak’s Joe Wickline in 1:18 and then getting pinned in 1:03 by Fitch All-Ohioan Gus Sutton. However, Simon rebounded with three wins, pinning Boardman’s Jason Robinson in 4:48, beating Ellet’s Cameron Cosavage by a 18-6 major decision and beating Stow’s Logan Hawk by 16-4 major decision.
"We knew his weight class going into the season was going to be loaded," Caruso said. "He got a learning experience right off the bat by wrestling a state placer. He capitalized on it after that. In the matches he should be competitive in, he was."
Caruso said he knew Fitch would be a challenge, as Puchajda scored Falls’ lone win against the Falcons. He said he was looking forward to getting another shot at Stow.
"You don’t want to lose to your archrival ever, but I think, once we get our lineup back together, things can be different in January," Caruso said.
Against Boardman, Falls also got a 5-3 win from 132-pounder Robert Wilson and a forfeit win from 152-pounder Nial Pansmith.
Falls got forfeit wins from 106-pounder Zuhriddin Nihonov against both Ellet and GlenOak.
In the match with Ellet, Falls got a forfeit win from Page and a pin from 182-pounder Joe Parianos in 41 seconds.
Falls was set to participate in the Mike Lewis Invitational at Medina Buckeye Saturday.
The Black Tigers will open their Suburban League National Conference schedule next Thursday when they host North Royalton at 6 p.m.