The Tigers' three state-bound wrestlers have nothing to lose.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
HOWLAND -- Anthony Prvonozac, A.J. Lamp and Brandon Alexander share a common bond: They will experience the state wrestling tournament for the first time.
It is the sport's biggest event, held in Columbus, and the ultimate destination for every athlete.
Howland's three state-bound wrestlers haven't even attended the tournament. But now, they're competing in it -- together.
"The only way I said I'd go is if I was wrestling," said Alexander, a junior at 160 pounds. "And now I'm wrestling."
Howland coach Brian Earich, 43, has seen a number of talented wrestlers enter the state tournament, but then buckle under the pressure.
So he and Howland assistant coaches Barry Reinhardt, Don Cooley and Eric England drill one simple thought into first-time state qualifiers: Just wrestle.
"You see so many go down there, kids who should win, and just freeze," Earich said. "By the time they wake up, the match is over. You've got nothing to lose. Go out and let it go."
That's the approach Prvonozac (135) and Lamp (130) -- both seniors -- and Alexander appear to be taking into their Division I matches this week.
"Everything I've got, I have to throw out on the mat," said Prvonozac (37-7), who will face Lakewood St. Edward senior Ryan Lang (36-0), a three-time state champion.
"Everyone probably expects for me to lose," Prvonozac added. "I guess I don't have anything to lose. Just go out there and give it all I've got."
Lamp (37-6) will face Galloway Westland senior T.J. Enright (38-0), a three-time state place winner, in a first-round match, while Alexander (38-5) will wrestle Worthington Kilbourne junior Jon Mathias (29-7).
"It's gonna be a lot more intense than anything we've ever seen because it's the best 16 wrestlers in the state going at it," Prvonozac said.
Howland had sent wrestlers to the state tournament for 10 straight years before the Tigers' absence from Columbus last year, Earich said.
"I prayed it was their year," said Earich of this year's state qualifiers. "A.J. and Anthony kept pushing each other and they knew it would pay off.
"You have to be willing to pay your dues, and they did."
Prvonozac added, "A lot of practice, sweat and hard work. A lot of pain."
Alexander experienced the pain. He hurt his shoulder in last year's district competition and began feeling sorry for himself.
"Because I was a sophomore, I didn't really think I deserved to be there," he said, "but I knew I was good enough."
What was the difference this year, then?
"I wanted it more," Alexander said.
What it takes
And that, Earich stressed, is the trademark of his state-qualifying wrestlers. They have the desire and work ethic to push themselves in a grueling sport, even in the tough times.
"There's always obstacles in everything you do," said Lamp, who battles asthma. "There's matches I should have won and I didn't. But I didn't let them get in my way."
Now, the reward is great. The three Howland wrestlers will step onto the mat at Schottenstein Center, under the watchful eye of thousands, at the pinnacle of their careers.
"These guys knew in their hearts," Earich said, "that they would eventually get there."