Nordonia wrestling fighting through the pandemic, looks for solid season
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on all Ohio high school sports, but perhaps wrestling has suffered the most.
The original shutdown for the pandemic erased the OHSAA state wrestling tournament last March. It also took out much of the offseason program.
Thus, Nordonia wrestling coach Jason Walters enters his fourth year in charge of the Knights facing a season like no other. The biggest issue is just hoping Nordonia is able to have a full season.
"In our school system, our administration has done everything by the book. The safety of our kids has been first before anything," Walters said. "We haven’t been able to do hardly anything in the offseason. We just elected to say is, 'Let’s go when we can.' The Nordonia administrators want out kids to have sports.
"Offseason training is where you get better in wrestling," Walters added. "In the 24 years I've been [coaching] I've never dealt with anything like this."
Given the challenges, Walters noted his team has done well to get ready.
"I’m proud of our kids," he said. "I’m an old-school coach with an old-school mindset. I have made some changes to the way I coach. I do have a lot of respect for the kids who come out.
"They’re all mentally hurting. They’ve lost structure. It’s so difficult for them. The virus is the culprit. We’ll do everything that we can."
The Knights will have a young team again this year, with roughly 30 wrestlers in the room. Walters admitted he's had to press the accelerator at practice, due to the lack of offseason work.
"From what I'm seeing, we’re behind. We’re putting a lot on them quick," Walters said. "The hardest part now is just getting the kids to buy into the need to work hard. In today’s society, things are so much easier to have things work. Wrestling is never that way.
"I think the first day of practice, it was horrible. I had to get their heads right more than anything. They’re giving. That's all you can ask. But they’re scared to give and have it taken away like last year."
Walters said the Suburban League National Conference will once again be loaded with talent.
Nordonia's assistant coaches include Jason Lara, Lou Iacoboni, John Martin, Tommy Shaffer, Marty Collins and Paul Perrine.
Senior Nick Hamad is a multi-year starter for the Knights and will get the nod at 106, though he got a late start to the season because of quarantine.
Junior Logan Milkovich also returns to start at 113 pounds, despite again being a bit undersized for the weight.
"He’s still small enough to go to 106," Walters said. "He’s got a good attitude."
The Knights will turn to freshman Nate Miller at 120 pounds.
Following in the footsteps of his brothers, freshman Gino Perrine joins the Knights and will start at 126 or 132 pounds. A former state placer at the OAC Junior High state championships, Walters said the youngest Perrine brother is also the smallest, but is "stupid athletic."
"With Gino, we’ve got the physical talent," Walters said. "He looks about the way we expect him to."
"It’s fun to see him in the room," said big brother Sal Perrine. "He’s the non-stop worker."
If Gino Perrine goes to 126, sophomore Jeff Blaga and freshman Israel Petite will compete to start at 132 pounds.
Petite also could see time at 138 pounds, along with freshman Ben Predovic, but the incumbent at 138 could be senior district Trevor Stautihar.
"He stepped up big at the end of the year," Walters said. "Honestly, he’s the best technical wrestler we have. He’s a great kid. If we get everything right with Trevor, he's going to go far."
Stauthar and sophomore Caleb Ridgely also could see time at 145 pounds.
Speaking of families with history in Nordonia wrestling, Walters smiles when he talks about sophomore 152-pounder Jeremy Olszko.
"Pound for pound, he’s one tough SOB," Walters said. "He just wants to fight. We got to just get the technique right with him and he'll be good."
Walters hopes for a big year from senior 160-pounder Tyler Angus, a district qualifier who has all the physical tools to go far.
"With Tyler, it's all mental," Walters said. "I see him working hard. We got to get rid of the mental demons. He’s a hard worker on and off the mat."
Senior 170-pounder Josh Wujnovich is back after making a ton progress last year.
Regarding Sal Perrine, Walters said he almost cried when reflecting on how his shot at a state title was taken from him by last season's cancellation.
"I can never heal Sal Perrine’s pain," Walters said. "The kid is practicing as hard as he can with the mindset he can win it. The mental damage that was done, you could see it. That breaks my heart."
"I was defeated," Perrine said. "I realized I couldn’t be what I had worked so hard for. I’m glad I had another chance there."
The two-time state qualifier is now a senior at 182 pounds. Both Perrine and Walters used the word "demon" to describe his mindset as he seeks his first state title.
"He’s mad," Walters said. "You can see it. I [was] watching him going with his big brother on the mats, and Anthony was happy when practice was over."
"I’m still hunting for what I want," Perrine said. "Every day coaches are telling us to keep training as if it's your last day."
Junior Aiden Fryer and senior Mason Ridgely are competing for the starting spot at 195 pounds, and junior Corey Parker could start at 220 pounds.
After spending last year feeling his way through the season, senior heavyweight David "Spanky" Howard could be in for a much better season. Howard weighs in at 250 pounds.
Dealing with numerous tournament cancellations, the Knights are scheduled to open their season Dec. 12 at the Strongsville Duals. First match is set for 9 a.m.
Nordonia's home opener will be a tri-meet with Padua Franciscan and Westlake at 4 p.m. Dec. 19.