By Greg Gulas
Tournament favorite Uniontown Lake lived up to its hype and billing, posting 306.5 overall points Saturday to defend its title at the 20th Annual Joshua Hephner Memorial High School Wrestling Tournament at Fitch High.
The Blue Streaks outdistanced Akron St. Vincent/St. Mary (290 points). Following them in the 30-team field were Willoughby South (217), Austintown Fitch’s Red Squad (203), Massillon Jackson (187.5) and Ravenna (175).
Southeast’s Brandon James posted an 8-0 mark, won the 170-pound event and was named tournament Most Valuable Player.
Boardman’s Nick Mancini, who also went undefeated, won at 113 pounds but most impressively didn’t surrender a point in his eight matches.
“This was an excellent tournament with every single wrestler in each weight class a very tough opponent,” James said. “There were a lot of upsets but fortunately I was able to wrestle through that.
“I am a light 170 pounds but feel a lot quicker than most of the other wrestlers,” James said. “I was able to hit my moves, was crisp and clean, wrestled well and just felt like I had a good overall tourney.”
Mancini, a senior, improved to 20-1 in three years of Hephner competition, going 14-0 over his junior and senior campaigns.
“I didn’t want to allow any points the entire tournament and I accomplished that goal,” Mancini said. “My game plan was to get on top because that is where I am most comfortable scoring points.”
Boardman wrestling coach Dom Mancini, who brought 10 grapplers to the area’s top mat tournament, had three of his Spartans wrestlers qualify for the placing round.
“This is a good test for our kids because they have to wrestle multiple times over a two-day period,” Dom Mancini said. “It’s a grinding tourney but one that ultimately prepares you for the sectionals, district and state [tournaments].
“We’re just pleased that three of our wrestlers advanced to the placing round.”
Poland’s Donte Ginnetti placed fifth at 106 pounds, defeating Tammay Shah of Copley to improve to 5-2.
“I’m just a freshman and felt that I could have done better,” Ginnetti said, “but overall I was pleased with my finish. When you lose your first match to the top seed, the highest you can place is fifth, so I was happy to end up there.”
Poland coach Tony Stellato brought a full squad.
“We brought all 14 wrestlers to the tournament and were pleased to have six wrestlers advance to the placement round,” Stellato said. “We’re never happy to have just six wrestlers advance, however, we made some mistakes and it is better to make them now so we can work on them before sectionals and district action.”
“This tournament attracts a lot of talent from outside the area; talent you wouldn’t ordinarily see and that is a great feature about this tourney.”
Poland’s Anthony Mancini went 7-2 in the 145-pound division and defeated Ben Knaus of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary for third-place.
“I caught a cross-face and cut myself, but was able to fight through it,” Mancini said. “My father [Joe] told me before the match that there was just six minutes of pressure left and that is the advice that I followed.
“I wanted to keep my neck bulled so he wouldn’t chin-whip me and that was the key.”
Liberty’s Cody Bucher and Austintown Fitch’s Tyler Bell each finished third — Bucher at 220 and Bell at 285.
“I felt I could do my best on top and did a half-nelson to pin him,” Bucher said. “My goal remains to make it to the state tournament and will now prepare for the sectionals, which are just three weeks away.”
Bell, who went 5-1 in the tournament, improved to 29-7 overall on the season.
“I really didn’t have a strategy,” Bell said. “I just wanted him [Cody Hawkins of Ravenna] to know that I was there and make sure that he wrestled my style.”
Fitch’s Camran Rezapourian finished 7-1, improving to 33-10 overall with a third-place finish at 170 pounds.
“In the pool rounds, I felt that I wrestled well, got off track in the semi’s but in the finals, wrestled my style and that is what turned it around for me,” Rezapourian said.
Brett Powell, Falcons wrestling coach and tournament director, said the tournament was one of the most competitive.
“The kids put on a great show in front of a packed house,” Powell said.