Depleted Falls wrestling looks to advance as individuals

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies

COVID-19 has taken a bite out of a lot of teams this winter, but Cuyahoga Falls wrestling may have taken a bigger hit than most.

Not only were the Black Tigers forced to suspend operations just after Thanksgiving per the school district's orders, but COVID-19 and other issues trimmed an already thin roster.

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Thus, Falls will enter the season with a total of just eight wrestlers on the roster.

Falls third-year coach Jim Benson said he and his team are adjusting to this new reality as best they can.

"Our numbers have been effected by the COVID, obviously," he said. "There’s a lot of parents that don’t want their kids wrestling right now. That’s going to affect our ability to win duals.

"Our expectation isn’t winning [team] matches. Our expectation is to go out, be competitive and win as many individual matches as we can. Our kids have been working extremely hard."

Benson lauded his team for working out during the pause, but noted there is no substitute for practicing in the room. He noted the pause did effect the Black Tigers' conditions and sharpness, but hopes they will be ready, as practices resumed Dec. 21.

"We’re not making excuses," Benson said. "I think our conditioning level is going to be there when we start. My biggest worry is that we're not getting to experience as much mat time with kids with different styles, given our limited number of drill partners."

"It will be interesting to see how we do when we finally get to wrestle someone else. It will teach a lot to our kids about perseverance."

Regarding the Suburban League, Benson noted he's not going to try to compete with the likes of Brecksville-Broadview Heights or Wadsworth, due to their teams' size and depth.

"Our kids knew where they were at the end of last year," Benson, whose assistants are Mark Salzwimmer and Frank Simon, said. "We just want them to improve throughout the season and make a run at sectionals and districts, if we have them."

Falls, which lost only one senior to graduation in district qualifier Billie Ferrell, will have a returning starter to open the lineup, as sophomore district alternate DJ McVicker returns at 106 pounds.

"He’s almost a full-sized 106 now," Benson said. "He was getting outphysicaled a bit last year because of his size. He’s continued to work on technique. He has a great attitude.

After an open slot at 113 pounds, sophomore Roshan Pradhan returns at 120 pounds.

"He was pretty new to the sport last year," Benson said. "I like his progress. We’ve definitely gotten progressively better."

Falls will have holes at 126, 132, 138 and 145 pounds before its two most experienced wrestlers feature in the middle weights.

Senior district qualifier Isaac Puchajda returns at 152 pounds with eyes on making it to the state tournament.

"He won a match at districts last year," Benson said. "We’re looking for him to make a run at getting to states. He was pretty slim last year. He’s done a good job of controlling his weight after football."

Benson said senior 160-pounder Zevan Simon might be the team's most technically gifted wrestler, but has been stuck in some loaded weight classes the last few seasons.

"The fact he didn’t reach districts last year was not disappointing. It wasn’t for lack of effort," Benson said. "He just always seems to find the toughest weight class in the area. His attitude has been great. He did some freestyle and even some Greco-Roman wrestling in offseason."

After an open spot at 170, Benson looks for another year of growth from sophomore 182-pounder Yousif Jaber.

With open spots at 195 and 220 pounds, Falls will have juniors Adam Puchadja (275 pounds) and Micah Altizer (285) battling to start at heavyweight.

"I think they’ll be competitive," Benson said. "There’s going to be a learning curve. They’re learning all the big-man techniques."

Benson noted Falls' entire schedule remains subject to change but, after the late start, the Black Tigers are set to have a busy week to start the new year.

Falls will travel to Hudson at 6 p.m. Jan. 4, host Tallmadge at 7 p.m. Jan. 7 and host Akron Firestone at noon Jan. 9.

"We’re just going to make sure that we can win every match that we wrestle," Benson said. "We can’t control forfeits."