June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Wrestling: Four area athletes set to compete

Sometimes it’s not about what you do. Instead, it’s about who shares the experience with you.

That’s the case for Wadsworth wrestlers Noah Baughman and Darrin Gilkerson. The two have been friends since elementary school and have shared their love of the sport through biddy wrestling to their respective freshman seasons for the Grizzlies this past winter.

Whether it has been early-morning workouts or long training sessions in the middle of a perfect summer day, they have had each other to keep the other one motivated and focused.

“He keeps me going,” Gilkerson admitted. “It’s been pretty great having him with me. Noah is one of the most talented wresters on the team and he’s always there and never is down. It’s great as motivation; we both pick the other one up.”

Baughman and Gilkerson, along with county residents Parker Moffa and James Handwerk, will represent Ohio this week in Fargo, N.D.; at the prestigious ASICS/Vaughan Junior & Cadet National Championships.

“It makes it 10 times easier,” Baughman said of making the trip with Gilkerson. “Going through the grind together and experiencing the same thing with one of my good friends has been great. I can’t wait to go.”

Like all of the wrestlers competing for Ohio, Baughman has had quite a year.

In early May, the incoming sophomore earned the bid to Fargo after placing fourth in the Cadet 113-pound bracket. He followed that up with a fifth-place showing at the FILA Cadet National Championships at the University of Akron, earning All-American accolades.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Baughman said. “I wouldn’t want to spend my summer a different way, because I love wrestling. It’s all about working for the next goal.”

The ultimate goal is to get to Columbus for the state tournament and place.

The 5-foot-4 Baughman, who missed placing at the Cleveland State District last winter at 106 pounds by one match, feels like he’s well on his way as he’s improved his offense over the offseason.

“I’ve learned to push the pace in the match more,” the 16-year-old said. “In the past, I would attack a couple times and if it didn’t work, I would stop and play defense. Now I continue to attack and not allow my opponent an opportunity to score. I want to not only be at state next year, but get on the podium.

“This week, I’m going to go down and represent not only Wadsworth, but the state.”

Baughman, Gilkerson and Handwerk all will be wrestling on Ohio’s Cadet Freestyle team, starting Wednesday, while Moffa competes with the Junior Freestyle unit on Thursday. Buckeye’s Brandon Nagy, who wrestled with the Grizzly Freestyle team this offseason, earned an alternate bid to Fargo, but declined the invitation.

After going 31-11 and owning one of the area’s top win percentages at 126 pounds, Gilkerson had a solid rookie season for the Grizzlies last winter. But falling short on a district bid left a bitter taste, which made him turn up his training in the offseason.

“Last summer I didn’t lift or practice, so when I hit the third month (of the regular season) I didn’t make it,” said Gilkerson, who will compete at 138 this week. “I’ve gotten a lot faster, which has helped me, open up my offseason and I’m looking to continue that at Fargo.”

He will make the long trip with many of the guys he’s wrestled against for years. The difference is this week he will call them teammates.

“We’ve been really coming together as a team with that unity and are ready to represent our state,” the 15-year-old said. “I want to go down and be an All-American and I’m going to do everything I can to do that.”

Like Gilkerson, Moffa will wrestle at 138 pounds for the junior freestyle unit. But the incoming Highland senior has had a different path than most of his counterparts.

The 17-year-old didn’t start competing in the sport until his freshman year and over the course of his prep career has battled mononucleosis and a concussion sustained early last season, which limited his matches over the past two seasons.

Moffa isn’t taking anything for granted and is ready to not only prove himself on the national stage, but during the upcoming season for the Hornets.

“Most people have been wrestling for longer than I have, but I just push through that,” he said. “I wrestled a couple freestyle matches (with Hammerhead Wrestling Association) and I liked it, so I started working out 5-6 times a week and wrestling about five times a week. I just pushed myself to get where I am.”

The experience of training with some elite wrestlers Team Ohio and some of the top coaches in the area, has helped the 5-foot-8 Moffa add to his skill set on the mat.

“I’ve always been strong, but my cardio and strength have been the two biggest things,” said Moffa, who plans on dropping down to 132 for the season. “I’ve been working on my shot and my shot defense and never touching my knees to the mat. I’m really excited to compete with Team Ohio.”

Medina resident Handwerk will be the busiest local competitor. The Lutheran West incoming freshman will be wrestling for the Greco Roman and Freestyle units.

Handwerk won the Junior High State title in March at 145 pounds and advanced to the finals of the USA Folkstyle Nationals, before getting injured. Handwerk was issued a medical waiver to the freestyle and Greco qualifying tournaments and earned a spot on the team based on his past performances.

Handwerk, who is the first Lutheran West grappler to compete in Fargo since 2006, is off to a 5-0 start in the Greco Roman competition that opened this past weekend, which puts him in a good position to place. He will compete in the open freestyle on Wednesday.

Contact Dan Brown at sports@medina-gazette.com.