By John Bassetti
The planets seem to be aligned for Jackson-Milton to have a fruitful district when nine Bluejays engage in district wrestling competition at Garfield Heights this weekend.
Defending Division III state champion Johnny Matacic (130) leads the way, while five other seniors and three district newcomers eye a top-four place.
Vinnie Pizzuto (119), Tim Wiseman (125), Alex Tomaino (140), Tyler Collins (145) and Dylan Tomaino (152) are returnees to the district while Jake Tharp (112), Dylan Walters (135) and Gaetano Ciero (215) are first-timers.
“They all got a line [in the district tournament],” coach Dave Tomaino said of his nine qualifiers from the Rootstown sectional, including Matacic, who is firing on all cylinders.
“We had a couple pleasant surprises,” Tomaino said of Tharp and Walters, both sophomores who placed third.
“We knew both would wrestle well but we weren’t counting on them qualifying,” Dave Tomaino said. “I thought Gaetano would wrestle well, too, but I figured he’d be a year away [from qualifying].”
Alex Tomaino, Collins and Dylan Tomaino round out the six seniors. Ciero, a junior, and Dylan Tomaino, placed fourth.
“They all got a slot on the dance floor,” coach Tomaino said metaphorically of his wrestlers’ places on the bracket sheet.
“I tell them to wrestle to get in the top 4, then they’ll get to state. Once there, anything can happen.”
Because his Bluejays have already been through the wars at Solon and Brecksville tournaments this season, Dave Tomaino is confident.
“Brecksville may be harder than the district and Solon is where we’ve faced quality kids.”
Exposure to the state’s top-ranked Div. III teams — Chanel, Monroeville and CVCA — will have been a plus.
“There aren’t going to be a whole lot of surprises and we’ve prepared for them,” said Dave Tomaino.
The Akron Firestone district will include qualifiers from West Branch, including three Warriors — Dustin Graham (112, 31-2), Chad Hupp (27-6) and Adam Lamancusa (39-2) — and two Canfield Cardinals: Robby Reed (125, 37-2) and Alex Benedict (130, 31-3), both seniors.
Salem’s Scott Lodge, a 140 junior with a 30-12 record, earned his first district berth.
West Branch senior Ryan Brown (189, 19-9) finished third — his best at sectionals since he began high school wrestling as a junior.
Reed is a repeat sectional champ at 125 and is one of Canfield’s eight qualifiers.
“He’s a quality kid,” said coach Dean Conley, who noted that six of his eight seniors have a GPA of 3.5 and three are Eagle Scouts. “It’s a pretty special class.”
Like Reed, Benedict won a sectional title last weekend. He finished fourth at sectional in 2010.
Freshman Korey Frost (112), junior Zach Kay (119), sophomore John Poullas (145) and seniors Richard Rapone (135), Eric Mirto (160) and Michael Flanagan (189) are other qualifiers.
Poland coach Tony Stellato was disappointed in the Bulldogs’ outcome at West Branch, although Max Prizant (103) and Tad Duran (112) finished sixth.
“I expected to have three or four advance but it didn’t happen. We made some costly mistakes, which comes down to experience and more mat time.”