FARGO, N.D. — The laser focus of Vic Voinovich was gone an hour prior to his Junior Freestyle National semifinal match with New Jersey state champion Joe Zargo on Monday.
Usually a reserved wrestler, the Brecksville junior was dancing around to Journey’s "Don’t Stop Believing" and full of laughs.
Perhaps he knew he was going to win 8-0 and advance to the finals against six-time Cuban national champion and undefeated Arizona state champ Anthony Echemendia. Perhaps he wasn’t sweating the small stuff.
"Earlier in the tournament, I had a close match where I kind of gassed [in a 7-2 win over Florida’s Ethan Basile] and I had to hold on at the end," Voinovich said. "What I’ve noticed is when I have other kids and am not nervous at all, my pace is so much higher and I don’t get tired. I try to create conversation with Coach [Todd] Haverdill, so I’m not too focused on the match, but still dialed in."
With four takedowns in the first period, he set the pace against Zargo and kept the energy throughout.
Had there been one more takedown, he would have won by technical fall.
"Scoring that first point was huge because when you get a takedown on a kid, it’s like ‘Oh no. What if he keeps taking me down? What happens if he releases me and takes me down.’ Then it’s 4-0, 6-0, 8-0. It’s mental warfare out there."
His mettle will certainly be tested Tuesday afternoon against Echemendia, who has outscored his six opponents so far 67-6.
"I need to get to my positions and stay composed," Voinovich said. "I can’t let things affect me. If I get to my shots and get to my other turns, I think I’ll win."
Teammate Ethan Hatcher (195 pounds) lost his semifinal match California state champion Jonovan Smith 8-6 and will wrestle for third.
It’s the Brecksville senior’s second All-American showing in Fargo.
"It feels great and gives me some confidence moving forward," the Cornell commit said. "It also gives me some stuff to work on."
Stow-Munroe Falls rising senior Daniel Patten made his second trip to the FargoDome after finishing one win away from All-American at the Cadet level last year. Although the step up to Junior Freestyle was "not as big as I expected it to be," Patten finished 4-2 and off the podium.
Patten was eliminated with a 12-8 loss to fellow Ohioan Blake Saito out of Perrysburg.
"I felt like I underperformed just a little bit," Patten said. "I’m not sure how smart I wrestled. I know that I could have done better."
Patten said his loss to Saito was emblematic of his tournament at Fargo. He noted he finished with more takedowns in the match, but was put on his back several times early and was unable to rally from an eight-point deficit.
"It was, for sure, motivating" Patten said. "It shows me what I have to work on. It was good to train with all the Ohio guys. Just the camp alone is one of the best things that you can do."
Kyren Butler (126) finished third in 16U Freestyle and will wrestle Greco-Roman beginning Wednesday.
The Copley junior completed an incredible run in the FargoDome by beating teammate Ismael Ayoub of Dublin Coffman in his consolation final match.
Ayoub, who came in as a regional runner-up, had the lead on criteria late in the match, but with things tied at 4-4, Butler hit a four-point move to win 8-4.
"Placing this high in the tournament is pretty big," Butler said. "Like the announcers said, these are the top 16U wrestlers in the country. I’m really proud of myself for pulling through. I was down in a lot of matches and came back to win."
One of three All-Americans wrestling in Adam Koballa’s Arsenal Wrestling Club, Butler will go into his junior season with the Indians with his head held high.
"I went to the FloNationals and was an All-American there, but this tournament being an All-American here, it feels really good," Butler said. "There’s a lot of great people in this tournament. I was challenged and had fun."
Aurora’s Codie Cuerbo (94), who also wrestles under the Arsenal umbrella, was an All-American as well after finishing fourth. While Missouri’s Tristan Stafford was able to score with nine seconds left to win 10-8, Cuerbo also heads back to the Buckeye state with a ton of confidence.
"It’s going to make me push myself harder," Cuerbo said. "I know I’m way better, but I also know I can be even better with Aurora. It’s going to keep pushing me. I have a great sense of pride. There’s a bunch of kids begging to be in this spot. I’m still the top kid at the weight. I’m going to get going and contend."
Another member of the Arsenal Club is recent Nordonia graduate Jaivon Jones. Jones had hoped to reach All-American status in freestyle, but finished 3-2 for the tournament. He was eliminated with a 12-0 loss to Team New York’s Luca Errico.
Jones expressed frustration with himself after the tournament.
"Right now, I have to figure it out," Jones said. "It's not even about hanging with them. It's about beating the best guys. It hurts so bad right now.
"I bust my butt all season. I choked at state twice. I have to figure it out. If I go Greco, I'll use everything I have in me. Something has to give. I have to do something different."
Also competing was recent Hudson graduate Michael Caniglia. Caniglia went 3-2 in Fargo with both his losses coming to defending state champions. He was eliminated with a 10-0 loss to Minnesota state champion Zach Glazier.