By Jim Flick
Area high school wrestling coaches say the Josh Hephner Memorial provides top-notch preparation for the upcoming state tournament.
“The only way for a wrestler to get better is by getting more mat time,” Boardman High School wrestling coach Dom Mancini said during Friday’s competition. “This tournament is about getting in there and getting mat time.”
More than 325 wrestlers from 29 high schools are competing in the tournament at Fitch High. Competition concludes today.
Three preliminary rounds in 14 weight classes ranging from 103 to 275 pounds were held Friday night. Two more preliminary rounds are scheduled for this morning while the final round will begin at 6 p.m.
“We call this a measuring stick,” Austintown coach Brett Powell said. “It’s more of a marathon than the state tournament.”
Wrestlers who reach the final rounds of the Hephner Tournament will wrestle eight rounds in two days.
Wrestlers who are eliminated in the preliminaries are guaranteed to wrestle five rounds, Powell said.
He added that in most tournaments, including the sectional and district tournaments, wrestlers complete in only two to five matches.
At the Hephner Tournament, Powell said, “The superstar matches occur at the end of the tournament, and it’s a grind until you get that far.”
While wrestlers at the Hephner Tournament were largely concerned about important matches in the future, Girard senior Alex Saunders captured an important landmark during Friday’s preliminary matches — his 100th career victory.
“The goal is going out and working hard,” he said after his match.
Sectional tournaments are scheduled for the week of Feb. 14, and district tournaments will be the week of Feb. 21.
“Experience, that’s what we’re here for this weekend,” Liberty High School coach Jim Hideg said. Hubbard coach Don Newell Jr. agreed the experience provided by the Hephner Tournament is important.
“In the regular season, you’re getting ready for the sectional,” said Newell who added that the sectional and district tournaments are “what really counts.”
Jackson-Milton High coach Dave Tomaino said, “This is a good lead-up” to the sectional and district tournaments.
“We get to see some good kids here,” Tomaino said.
The Hephner Tournament “shows the kids what they have to do to get beyond sectional,” South Range coach Bill Gehring said. “It’s a very strong tournament. If you do well here, you’ll do well at the other levels.”
Brookfield coach Scott Thompson said, “We have a young team, a bunch of new kids. “We’re just looking for experience,” Thompson said. “It’s a great tournament. The kids get great matches. They’ve got to do it to get better.
“At this time of year, it’s good to see where your kids are at,” Thompson said.
Poland High coach Tony Stellato said the Hephner Tournament “is a good way to get a lot of experience, a lot of mat time.
“It they’re going to progress, the need mat time,” Stellato said.
Stellato said high school wrestling is growing in popularity.
“We’re getting the recognition, there’s a lot of buzz about wrestling in Poland,” Stellato said,