ASHLAND -- What a difference eight pounds of body weight can make. Just ask Chris Peretti, a senior wrestler for Ashland University.
The Boardman High graduate said that jumping one weight class from 125 to 133 pounds this season has helped him to go undefeated with 24 straight wins, and to gain a No. 2 national ranking in NCAA Division II.
"I've gotten bigger and gained more muscle. I feel healthier and feel stronger [with] more muscle, and I feel quicker," said Peretti, noting that 125 was not suited for him. Because in order to maintain that weight, he had to restrict his intake of food, and felt weak.
"I wasn't eating enough. I was real weak," he said. "Now being at 133, I could eat a little more. My weight is more under control."
Ranked No. 2: Peretti, who serves as a co-captain, recently climbed to No. 2 nationally by upending No. 1 Cole Province, a junior from Central Oklahoma, by a 6-4 decision.
Province, the 133 defending national champion, fell to a No. 3 ranking and was replaced at the top by Jacob Ramos of Augustana College.
Peretti, a three-time national qualifier and a two-time All-American, is hoping to win a national championship this year, but knows he will have to get past Ramos and Province to do it.
Last year, Peretti battled back from a back injury to qualify for the national meet along with seven Ashland teammates, but failed to finish in the top eight to make All-American. However, five of Ashland's school-record eight national qualifiers made All-American, and the Golden Eagles placed ninth.
This year, powered by seven returning national qualifiers and all of the national experience, Ashland, like Peretti, is hoping to bring back the school's first national title.
National runner-up: Peretti's best national finish was runner-up as a sophomore at 125, while he won regional titles as a freshman and sophomore.
This year's regional meet is Feb. 22-23 at West Liberty, while the national tourney is March 8-9 at Wisconsin-Parkside.
Ashland (13-4) is home to Kent State on Wednesday and is at Heidelberg next Saturday to complete the regular season.
"I feel real good. I'm undefeated right now. I have been working hard with a couple of workouts a day," said Peretti.
Coach Ray Kowatch predicted before the season that Peretti would be better off moving to 133.
"Chris is a well-put-together kid at 133 and I think that he will have an advantage there because he will more healthy," Kowatch said. "He is one of those wrestlers that is in-between weight classes, but he is a tough kid who will be successful at whatever weight class he wrestles in."
Peretti said that being surrounded by talent also has influenced his performance.
"The guys in the room I wrestle with are national qualifiers. And seeing great competition every day [helps] and it makes you want to work harder. In practice, I'm going against pretty good competition," Peretti said.
Peretti noted that one of his friendly rivals on the Ashland team is Jim Phillips, a freshman from Howland High. Phillips wrestles at 125 pounds and has the most wins on the team with 25 against six losses, and is ranked No. 6 in the nation.
"I wrestle with Phillips every day. He helps me out and I help him out. He is only a freshman this year, and I have been working him and helping him, and he has been getting better," Peretti said.
Canale helps: Also with the Ashland team is Chris Canale, a 184-pound sophomore from Canfield High who has an 18-10 record. Canale owns a victory over No. 5-ranked Matt Tyrell of Findlay.
Last year as a freshman, Canale placed eighth in the national meet to make All-American, and compiled a 24-16 record.
Peretti, the son of Lisa and Jim Peretti, is majoring in education with concentrations in English and history, and has a 3.2 grade-point average. He plans to graduate in May 2003 and would like to become a teacher and wrestling coach in the middle grades.