By Brian Dzenis
As good as the 2015-16 season was for the Canfield High School wrestling team, there’s a chance the Cardinals can reach even bigger heights.
Team-wise, Canfield returns four of its six wrestlers that competed in Columbus last March. All four are considered to be among the top five in the state at their weight class.
That group finished out the season as the state runner-up with 83 points. It’s unlikely that they will catch nationally recognized St. Paris Graham (253 points last March), but this is still a loaded team.
“We have a lot of good young guys coming up. We have a much younger team than we did last year,” state champion Georgio Poullas said. “We’ll be about the same depth because we have some stud freshman. We have three middle school state champions coming.
“It’s a lot different in high school wrestling, but they’ve all been working really hard in room. If they keep it up, we’ll do all right this year,” Poullas said.
Poullas (160) has moved up a weight class yet the senior retains his No. 1 status for Division II. David Crawford (170), a junior, is No. 2 for his weight class. Junior Dominic Cooper is the No. 4 wrestler at 195 and senior Mason Giordano (285) is No. 5 for his class.
Coach Dean Conley is looking for leadership in addition to wrestling prowess from his team.
“We have some guys who wrestle well and score points in Columbus,” Conley said. “I’m not sure what the chemistry is going to be like and which kids will step up and fill the leadership role.”
The first person program insiders and outsiders look at for the role is Poullas. Should he repeat as state champion, two things will happen.
One, he’ll be Canfield’s first two-time champion. Two, he’d help his school break a three-way tie for most individual state titles in the Mahoning Valley. Canfield, Austintown Fitch and Beaver Local are all tied at six.
Poullas’ M.O. is to not look too far into the future. The Cleveland State commit said he hasn’t thought the prospect of becoming Canfield’s most successful wrestler, but understands the title and Division I commitment make him someone underclassmen would be drawn toward.
“I know a lot of the younger kids are looking up to me. Being a D-I commit to me, it doesn’t matter about the division,” Poullas said. “If I liked a D-II school or a D-III school I would have went there. It’s all about the fit for you and you just know when you go to a school and have that feeling of ‘this is a place I want to go.’
“All those kids look up to me and I don’t want to let them down and I don’t want to let myself down. You just have to work hard,” Poullas said.
Conley said he thinks Crawford belongs in the conversation for a state championship as well. As a sophomore, he made it to the state semifinals, where he lost to the eventual state champion, Graham’s Garrett Jordan, before settling for fourth place.
“I think David is in a unique situation coming in as a two-time placer as a junior,” Conley said. “He was devastated last year. He does everything right. He’s a hard-worker, a good student, a gentleman and he wants to win a state championship more than anything and he’s willing to sacrifice anything.”
Elsewhere in Mahoning County, Boardman coach Dom Mancini said his team has quality wrestlers, but lacks a superstar. To continue an 11-year streak of having a Spartan place at state, someone will have to break out.
Senior Carlo DeNiro is the early pick to fit that bill. He went 20-3 last year spelling an injured Mario Graziani, who finished seventh at state. Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy transfer Mike O’Horo — the Spartans quarterback on the football team — went 2-2 in districts last year competing as a Division III wrestler.
“It’s definitely going to be different for him, but I think he will adjust,” Mancini said.
Austintown Fitch coach John Burd begins his second year at the helm, returning just one of the four wrestlers who went to Columbus last year. Junior Andrew Fairbanks (138) is ranked No. 7 for his class.
West Branch senior heavyweight Ian Sharp (285) No. 1 in the state and this is his last shot at placing at state. He entered last year’s tournament with the same ranking, but lost in the second round to eventual state champ, New Lexington’s Matt Adams. Junior Dylan Miller (152) comes into the season ranked No. 3 and Christian Wayt (106) at No. 4.
Girard is young, but has numbers going for it. Jim Cardiero’s bunch has 29 total wrestlers after graduating seven seniors. Fifteen are freshman.
“We have to get some maturity on the team,” Cardiero said. “We want leadership from the seniors [we have coming back] and those young freshman that have to become varsity wrestlers very quickly.”
Dakota McCloskey (126) is the Indians’ lone ranked wrestler at No. 14 and was a state alternate last year. The last time McCloskey actually got to wrestle in Columbus, he was a freshman.
“It’s his last chance, so hopefully, we get him on the podium,” Cardiero said.
Girard has four returning wrestlers who racked up 30-plus wins last year: Jake Roviscanec (170), Jack DelGarbino (220), Jamil Bannister and Michael Belcik.
Trumbull County’s highest-ranked wrestler is Howland junior Brandon Matlock (220) at No. 6 for his class.
Columbiana’s program enters its fifth year of existence and has five ranked grapplers. Senior returning state alternate Caleb Rupert (195) is the highest ranked of the bunch ar No. 7. Tim Davin (285) sits at No. 12, Sophomore Nate Whitehead (170) at No. 14 and sophomore Brandt Virdan (106) and junior Frank Rupert (160) are the other four.
Beaver Local has four ranked wrestlers entering the season, three of whom are underclassmen. The highest ranked is sophomore returning state qualifier Beau Smith (145) at No. 10.