CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio -- The 20th annual Walsh Jesuit Ironman certainly lived up to its position as the nation's best in-season tournament. A cast of the nation's elite won weight class titles, and many of the nation's top teams did battle over the two-day event. At the end of the two days, every person at Walsh Jesuit High School had to feel like it was truly worth being a part.
In mid-November there was concern that No. 1 Blair Academy, N.J. would be unable to attend the event due to NFHS regulatory issues. However, those resolved themselves; and the Buccaneers won their third straight Ironman title, fifth in six years scoring 207.5 points.
Key to their tournament title was a 6-1 record in quarterfinal matches, followed by a 4-2 record in semifinal matches, and then having three wrestlers earn weight class titles. Champions for tops in the nation Blair Academy were No. 3 Matthew Kolodzik (126), No. 2 Joey McKenna (138), and No. 3 at 152 Dylan Milonas (160). Additional placers for the Buccaneers were No. 8 at 145 Mason Manville, who took second at 152 pounds; No. 9 Charles Tucker (120) and Jordan Kutler (132) taking fifth fifth; while Brandon Dallavia (170) and David Showunmi (195) took sixth.
"It was a good performance, especially for it being the start of the season," said head coach Solomon Fleckman. "However, we do have things to work on going forward."
Kolodzik, runner-up as a freshman and sophomore at the Ironman, earned his first title in dominant fashion. He earned two wins by fall on Friday, had major decisions over a pair of nationally ranked wrestlers in the quarterfinals and semifinals, and then upended Eli Seipel (St. Paris Graham) 5-0 on takedowns in the first and third period.
A native of Bellbrook, which is in southwest Ohio, Kolodzik has worked out with Seipel for years. "We've wrestled each other (in practice) hundreds of times," said Kolodzik, "All throughout the summers at (Jeff) Jordan's Wrestling Camps from 7-9 PM." About winning that elusive title, "It's certainly a relief, but it feels good."
The senior McKenna was fifth and second at the Ironman as a freshman and sophomore before missing last year's event due to an injury. His championship bout, a 3-1 victory over No. 4 at 132 Michael Kemerer (Franklin Regional, Pa.), was keyed by a first period takedown. Last year at the POWERade, which was McKenna's first tournament back in competition, Kemerer won the meeting between them by a 2-1 decision in the semifinals.
"There was a revenge factor in play," said McKenna. "I felt more confident this time around because I was ready to go, and knew I was bigger as he had been down at 132 for Who's Number One."
Fellow senior Milonas was champion at the Ironman as a sophomore and finished third last year. However, after placing third at the Beast of the East and runner-up at the POWERade, he was out the rest of the season due to injury. Milonas also did not compete during the summer in either the Junior Duals or Fargo (Junior Nationals) in freestyle.
"My coaches (Buxton, Grey, Clavel, etc.) and teammates (McKenna, Coover, etc.) did a good job of keeping me going," said Milonas. "It feels good to be back on the mat, and able to prove to the (wrestling public) that I'm a high level wrestler."
Milonas won his finals match by fall at the 4:51 mark, one in which he scored takedowns in the first and second period before scoring the fall from a sequence which started with he had a 5-1 advantage. The win came against sophomore Alex Marinelli (St. Paris Graham), who is ranked No. 5 in the nation and now is a two-time Walsh Ironman runnerup.
Spencer Lee (Photo/Rob Preston)The individual star of stars was Spencer Lee (Franklin Regional, Pa.), the champion at 113 pounds. The nation's top-ranked wrestler in the weight class, and also the top overall freshman in the country, won both the Most Outstanding Wrestler award and the Ray Mendoza Award (scoring the most team points in the tournament).
The sensational freshman earned 35.5 points for his squad earning two pins, three technical falls, and a 12-2 major decision. One of those two pins came in the championship finals bout against Anthony Bosco (Marmion Academy, Ill.) at the 1:44 mark. In that match, Lee had already opened the bout with a takedown and scored two other three-point near falls prior to securing the fall.
"I want to be a FILA Cadet world champ (in freestyle)," said Lee, when asked about his motivation to continue his level of dominance. "I honestly didn't expect to win the (Outstanding Wrestler) awards, but it feels great."
Another pair of individual stars was the Valencia brothers from St. John Bosco, Calif. Zahid, ranked No. 5 nationally at 132 pounds, won a third Ironman title in as many years with a 5-3 victory over No. 6 Brock Ervin (Union County, Ky.). Valencia scored a takedown in the opening stanza, and then with the match tied at 3-3, scored a takedown in the third period to earn the victory. Should Zahid win next year, he will join David Taylor (St. Paris Graham, Ohio/Penn State) as the only four-time champions in the event's history.
"This was something I trained for (all off-season)," said Zahid, about winning a third Ironman title. "I'm already looking forward to the chance to win a fourth next year."
Anthony, ranked No. 6 nationally at 170 pounds, wrestled in the evening's last match -- the main event. He earned an 8-2 victory over No. 5 Myles Martin (McDonogh, Md.). Both wrestlers are ranked among the top 11 Class of 2015 wrestlers in the country and have very explosive and dynamic attacks. However, on this evening, it was Valencia's time to shine.
"Always being a lighter weight (138/145 last year), wrestling last was totally new to me," said Valencia. "However, I was very prepared, getting my warm-up timing right. Right after seeing Zahid win, I started getting ready to wrestle."
Second place in the team standings with a stellar performance was St. Paris Graham, scoring 171 points on the strength of seven placers, six of whom are underclassmen. The Falcons have now finished inside the top four at the Walsh Ironman for thirteen consecutive seasons. Head coach Jeff Jordan was truly elated with his team's performance, "What more could I ask for? Everyone stepped it up this weekend, and multiple wrestlers bounced back very well from losses to place rather high."
The lone Graham champion was the lone senior placer Micah Jordan, who is ranked No. 2 in the country at 145 pounds. Jordan, runner-up last year in this tournament, had a huge win in the semifinals; 7-1 over Solomon Chishko (Canon-McMillan, Pa.), the No. 3 ranked wrestler in the country, on the strength of late takedowns in each period. However, the finals match against No. 6 Alfred Bannister (Bishop McNamara, Md.) was razor tight. The wrestlers traded escapes, but a second stalling call against Bannister with thirty seconds left gave Jordan the deciding point.
"I couldn't get my offense going (tonight)," said Jordan. "Bannister's defense was just too good. However, to win Ironman is an honor. It's one of the four things we peak for as a program: the St. Edward dual, the Blair Academy dual, the state tournament, and this."
Prior to the tournament, the team projected to finish second was No. 2 Oak Park River Forest, Ill. However, the Huskies finished in third place with 154.5 points. Like St. Paris Graham, they had seven wrestlers place; however, only one was a finalist, Jason Renteria who took second at 106 pounds. OPRF also had one third, fourth fifth place finishes, and an eighth place finish.
"This is a wake-up call for our team," head coach Mike Powell said. "There were too many inconsistencies in our team's performance." However, Powell also took pride in his team placing seven kids in the nation's toughest in-season tournament.
Three No. 1-ranked wrestlers in their weight class entered the tournament. Two of them won weight class titles this weekend. Joining Spencer Lee in doing so was Bo Nickal (Allen, Texas) at 182 pounds. Nickal dominated his first three matches with a trio of first-period falls; however, he had a narrow 6-5 victory in the semifinal against No. 6 Corey Griego (Sultana, Calif.) before a 5-1 victory in the final against Rocco Caywood (Perrysburg, Ohio).
That 5-1 score is slightly deceptive, as all of Nickal's scoring came in the first period. He scored the match's opening takedown and secured a three point near fall later in the period. However, Nickal chose down in the second period and got ridden for the full two minutes. Then, Caywood chose top in the third period, rode Nickal for the full two minutes with Nickal also being hit for two stalling calls.
"It's a real priority for me," said Nickal about starting matches strong. "Getting that first takedown is always something I want. However, these last two matches showed that I have things to work on going forward."
Failing to win his weight class as a No. 1-ranked wrestler in the country was Andrew Dixon (Edmond North, Okla.), who did not earn a placement at 220 pounds. He lost in the quarterfinal 5-4 to Austin Pfarr (Marysville, Ohio). Dixon had the match's only takedown; however, a third caution late in the third period equalized it 3-3 to force overtime, and then a fourth caution in the tiebreakers was enough for Pfarr after the wrestlers traded escapes in the :30-:30.
Dixon then lost 5-3 to Stefano Millin (Massillon Perry, Ohio) in the consolation round of 12. Even with that under-performance, and some other placement results below projection, No. 16 Edmond North still finished fourth in the standings with 114.5 points.
"We had some obvious hiccups, but all in all, we hoped to place top five coming in and we did that," said head coach Andy Schneider.
The Huskies did get a champion in No. 4 Derek White, who was dominant up to the final with a pair of pins in a combined two minutes on Friday before major decisions in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. However, the finals match was tighter, a 3-2 decision over Tegray Scales (Colerain, Ohio), keyed by a first period takedown.
"I feel comfortable with a variety of attacks, it makes the opponents unsure of what I'm going to do," said White. "Winning the Ironman (in mostly dominant fashion) is something to be very happy about."
After the upset over Andrew Dixon, Pfarr did advance to the final at 220 pounds, where he ran into No. 17 Edgar Ruano (Montini Catholic, Ill.). This time, Ruano got the only takedown and made that stand up in a 3-2 finals victory.
Ruano was a defensive tackle on the state runner-up Broncos football team, which played its last game two weeks ago. He came straight into wrestling from football. "The coaches did an awesome job getting me ready to wrestle this weekend," he said. "It feels good to win the tournament, and it's a great start to the season."
Montini Catholic picked up a second weight class champion in No. 6 Michael Johnson, who won the 285 pound final 2-1 over Cale Bonner (Perrysburg, Ohio). The match was scoreless in the first with each wrestler hit for a stalling warning, and then Johnson rode Bonner out in the second period and earned an immediate escape in the third period. Both wrestlers were hit for a second stalling call in the third period as well.
Like his teammate Ruano, Johnson was on the Broncos' football team, though he played on the offensive line. "It's great to be back at home," said Johnson, who was at Wyoming Seminary as a freshman and sophomore. "Earning this title is something I've wanted, and it was great to do it together (with Ruano)."
Winning the 106-pound title was Tyler Warner (Claymont, Ohio), who is ranked No. 4 in the nation at the weight class. He upended No. 12 Renteria in a 12-2 major decision. Warner controlled the whole match, scoring in each period and controlling all the positions. His older brother Dustin also placed at the Ironman, finishing sixth at 113 pounds.
"We make each other better," said Tyler about Dustin. "He's always on me about everything, and wants the best for me, as does my other brother Kyle (who is an assistant coach, after placing four times at state from 2009-2012)."