Boning up: Poland meets its ‘Challenge’

By Ryan Buck


It was only appropriate that that final match of the inaugural Poland Wrestling Challenge “Battle for the Bone” came down to the two programs who have built the foundation for the success of the opening tournament of the high school season.

Poland outlasted Boardman, 43-27, to claim the overall team title in the six-team, dual-match event Saturday at the Poland High School.

Poland took the first four matches from Boardman, including Michael Audi’s critical decision over Joe Cordova in the 180-pound weight class.

“There were a couple swing matches there,” said third-year Poland coach Tony Stellato. “Michael’s was a swing match. (113-pound entrant) Darrin Gooden coming up and getting a six-point pin there when he was winning by points with time about to expire was a huge win.”

Boardman, which formerly hosted a event known as “The Spartan 300,” roared back to claim four straight matches. “At 120-to-138 (pounds), we’re just so tough,” said Boardman coach Dom Mancini. “I think the turning point of the match was when Audi beat Cordova. I really wasn’t expecting that and I think that kind of took the wind out of our sails.”

Audi’s younger brother, Anthony, won his 145-pound match by a 14-3 count over Billy Slipkovich to clinch the dual and the overall team title with a 5-0 record.

“We’ve been pushing towards this,” Stellato said. “It was a goal of the team’s to pursue that trophy.”

That trophy, a large dog bone painted in a bright blue coating, means much more for the Bulldogs’ program than a new addition to the Poland trophy case.

“A buzz is starting to build with the program at the youth, middle school, and high school levels now,” Stellato said. “Prior to this, we were one, two, or three guys. Then we started to progress into something. Now we’ve become something that is respectable and very competitive.”

At the end of the grueling eight-hour marathon event where each team’s top performers can wrestle up to fi ve times, Stellato’s group faced off with his mentor in the most anticipated dual match of the day.

“Obviously it was a personal goal of mine to beat my alma mater and my former coaches,” said Stellato, who was Mancini’s first state qualifier at Boardman in 2002. “The coaches came out, they worked hard, they knew it was going to be a team effort.”

Boardman finished 4-1, followed by Ravenna (3-2), Salem (2-3), Conneaut (1- 3-1) and Hubbard (0-4-1) tied in their dual match. Poland and Boardman wrestlers combined to win 11 of the event’s 14 weight classes.

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