COLUMBUS — Brunswick’s Josh Heil is more than ready for this week’s state wrestling tournament.
The 120-pounder was third overall at 106 pounds last season and is no stranger to big-time tourneys.
But it was the murder’s row of the state’s top wrestlers in his weight class that has made Heil more than prepared for whatever the bracket has in store for him when action starts Thursday at Ohio State’s Value City Arena.
“I’m obviously battled-tested now and I feel better going into state then I did at maybe the (Medina Invitational Tournament) this year when I wasn’t tested,” he said, referring to a runner-up finish at the late-December tournament. “I feel like I’m ready. I’m ready to have some fun.”
It will be one of the hardest tests of Heil’s young career as he will face one of most-loaded brackets of any in the state’s three divisions this weekend.
Including Heil, seven of the 16 competitors in the weight class were state placers a year ago, highlighted by two-time state runner-up, Austin Assad of Brecksville, and another second-place finisher Armando Torres of Elyria.
The Brunswick sophomore is no stranger to Assad and Torres since he has seen each of them more than once this season.
Heil doesn’t care who he faces or what the opponent might know about him, he is prepared to show that he belongs.
“Last year, I was a freshman and I was inexperienced,” he said. “I was a little more worried about my weight and kind of held back and was tight. This year I have to just let it loose and not worry about things. I can worry about that afterwards. Just go out and get that next match.
“I just have to wrestle my match and not let them wrestle theirs. If I wrestle my match, I feel like I’m one of the better kids in the state.”
Pressure, what pressure?
Being the projected state champ in your weight class can carry a lot of baggage with it. A big target on your back and getting the best shot of just about every upset-minded opponent is what Wadsworth’s Noah Baughman faces on a daily basis.
And the sophomore 106-pounder is OK with it.
“I definitely like the competitiveness that comes with it,” Baughman said. “I try not to pay too much attention to it, because I know I still have to wrestle at the end of the day … but it’s definitely fun.”
The Grizzly opens with Chad Craft of Clayton Northmont, with a probable meeting with Aurora’s Jarrod Brezovec in the quarters and a possible rematch with St. Edward’s Alan Hart later.
Sebastian Vidika has one goal in mind this weekend. He aims to be wrestling on Saturday night under the lights. A state final appearance is exactly what the Black River senior is looking for in an impressive final prep season … check that … impressive prep career.
Vidika has lost just once this year — a four-point setback in the final of the Marion Harding Classic in December — and since then has been downright dominate in repeating as Patriot Athletic Conference, sectional and district champ.
The 106 pounder, who was fourth in D-III last winter, has a favorable bracket this time around with two of the top competitors — Delta’s Drew Mattin and Dayton Christian’s Hunter Bray — on the other side of the bracket.
Just like old times
After qualifying just two wrestlers to the state meet a year ago, one of the lowest totals in over two decades, Wadsworth will have five guys competing this weekend.
Baughman, Darrin Gilkerson (126 pounds), Robbie Bosley (152), Shane Mast (160) and Tim Knipl (170) came out of the rugged Cleveland D-I District and have a good shot to place in their respective weight classes.
“Last year was a letdown, no doubt,” Grizzlies coach John Gramuglia said. “We rededicated ourselves and did things a little differently this offseason and obviously it paid off.”
• Knipl is the lone returning qualifier for Grizzlies, after going 1-2 in Columbus as a sophomore. The 170-pounder is one of the area’s most consistent wrestlers after an injury slowed his start to the year in December.
Now he’s ready to not only accomplish his own individual goals, but help his teammates place as high as possible.
“Last year, my first match I didn’t wrestle as well as I probably could have,” Knipl admitted. “I think a lot of it was just the nerves of it and the intensity. So hopefully now having been there, that will help me help some of the younger guys coming down there this year.
“It’s going to be a battle.”
Brunswick’s Nicky Kiussis came into his prep career with a lot of buzz. A reigning junior high state champ, the freshman 132-pounder was expected to do big things in his first high school season.
But after winning a district title in one of the hardest tourney’s statewide, Kiussis showed he can hang with the big boys.
And he never quits. Facing a 1-0 deficit in his district title bout, the rookie was able to pick up the reversal against Austin Hiles of Brecksville to earn the championship and build momentum heading into this weekend.
“My conditioning is back up and running since my injury and I have a good seed, so I’m really confident,” Kiussis said. “I’m not going to overlook anyone and I just have to keep battling through.
“Everything is falling into place, but I always work hard and I never give up and I keep on wrestling until the clock expires.”
Out of the area’s 10 state qualifiers, six are making their first trip to Columbus.
The Wadsworth trio of Gilkerson, Bosley and Mast will be out to carry the momentum from impressive weekends at the Cleveland District. Mast advanced to the final at 160, while Gikerson and Bosley both battled back in the consolation bracket to win crucial go-to matches and finish third at 126 and 152, respectively.
“I feel more confidence now,” Mast said.” My record isn’t that great, but nothing matters except for the postseason, so I’ve been training hard the last couple of weeks to get here.”
For Bosley — the lone senior from Wadsworth to advance — it’s a chance of a lifetime.
“It’s going to be a lot different than watching,” he said with smile. “When I went down there (last year as a fan), Coach (Gramuglia) walked us through the tunnel and down onto the mat and on the floor before, so I feel like I’m ready.”
Brunswick’s Christian Camacho and Medina’s Zach Defraine stunned their respective brackets at CSU to advance to state. Camacho and Defraine each won heart-stopping go-to bouts in the consolation side of the bracket to help them extend their seasons.
“My goal is mainly to do my best and hopefully I’ll place,” Defraine said. “This week, I just have to work on having a good stance and keeping constant pressure on my opponent and improving my shots.”
Camacho added: “I’m definitely looking to get on the podium. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect. Knowing that this is the end of my season, I just have to work harder.”
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.