While coach Jason Walters might not approve, the title for the Nordonia wrestling squad for the 2019-20 could have been "Sal & The Kids."
Beyond returning All-Ohioan Sal Perrine, the Knights were largely bereft of experience this winter — and any coach will say experience counts in the postseason.
The Division I district tournament at Mentor has historically been tough on inexperienced teams.
Even Perrine didn’t escape "The Mentor Meatgrinder" unscathed.
Although he suffered his first loss of the season. Perrine was able to qualify for states by taking second place at 182 pounds at Mentor. For the rest of the Knights, the season came to an end.
Nordonia tied for 18th place in the team race at Mentor with 31 points. Brecksville-Broadview Heights and Wadsworth tied for the district championship 233 points each.
Far from being distraught, however, Walters said his team got valuable experience from the tournament.
"That was the greatest thing that can happen to us," Walters said. "You don’t want to see your kids lose, but I know were going to get better. You’ve got winners and learners. We had a little learning session this weekend."
Perrine was in dominant form early in the tournament, as he cruised to the finals to secure his second straight state berth.
Perrine opened by pinning Medina Highland’s Danny Giannini in 2:30, followed by major decision wins in quarterfinals over Wooster’s Joey Lyons (16-6) and in the semifinals over Green’s Dylan Davis (22-9).
Heading into his final with Wadsworth’s Dom Loparo, however, Walters noted Perrine was "like a racehorse behind a gate" and he came out too aggressive.
"Loparo is a very worthy opponent," Walters said. "They waited for the one thing and they hit it. When Sale gets too aggressive, sometimes his shot gets sloppy. It was a very good thing for us. I know who the better wrestler is for sure."
Loparo ended up winning a 7-4 decision, which left Perrine fuming, but Walters grinning.
"It’s still the best thing that can happen, because now we can fix it," Walters said. "I love our draw [for states]. There’s a lot of tough dudes. There’s a lot of good wrestlers at 182."
The Division I state tournament will open Friday at 5:40 at Value City Arena in Columbus. Perrine will open the tournament by facing Perryburg’s Ryan Musgrove."
Meanwhile, Walters had hoped that freshman 132-pounder Jeremy Olszko also could advance to states, but Olszko went 2-2 and was eliminated.
Olszko opened by pinning Cuyahoga Falls’ Noah McClendon in 3:39, but then lost 16-8 to Uniontown Lake’s Josh Futo in the quarterfinals. Olszko rebounded with a pin in 1:59 over Medina’s Isaiah Perry, but then was eliminated with a 5-4 loss to Wadsworth’s Hunter Griffith.
"He made some freshman mistakes," Walters said. "He’s still learning how to win in these big matches. He gave everything he could."
For the rest of the Knights, "The Mentor Meatgrinder" lived up its nickname.
Junior 126-pounder Trevor Stautihar was able to win his first match with an 8-6 victory over Mayfield’s Anthony White. However, Stautihar then lost to DyVaire "Boots" VanDyke of Walsh Jesuit 10-3 in the quarterfinals and was eliminated with a 2-1 loss to Massillon Jackson’s Jimmy Bostic.
"Trevor showed us something," Walters said. "He got beat by the kid from Walsh but he was in that match. He competed better this week. I think he starting to come out of his shell."
Nordonia 120-pounder Caleb Ridgely, 170-pounder Josh Wujnovich, 220-pounder Corey Parker and 285-pounder David Howard all finished 0-2 at Mentor.
"They made it there. They really should be happy with that," Walters said. "This is going to help them moving forward."
With every member of his team back for next season, Walters refused to say he was satisfied with the progress his team made this season.
"I’d be lying if I said I was satisfied," Walters said. "I’ve seen a spark that has me intrigued. I think they really, in the off season. they cam make themselves so much better. Wrestling is not a sport where you can come in in November and leave in March and be in the elite."
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO