GARFIELD HEIGHTS—Just four of the 56 wrestlers who placed among the top four at the Division III Garfield Heights district wrestling tournament on Saturday opened the event with a loss.
Independence junior Michael Kucera was among that group of four who took the longest path possible to qualify for the 81st Annual State Wrestling Championships next weekend in Columbus.
“Michael had a heck of a day,” said Independence coach Ken DeAngelis. “He had to wrestle back through and it’s crazy because the level of intensity here is unbelievable. We had seven guys wrestling on Day 2 and we were in the top 10 team-wise for a while. It was a good step for us but the key for us was getting somebody down to Columbus. It’s hard to have a good season and not have someone wrestling down there. Michael did that for us.”
Kucera lost to Columbiana Crestview’s Derek Houser in the first round, 4-3. He rebounded with a 52-second pin over Cardinal’s Trevor Bachna in his first consolation match to advance to Saturday’s action.
He opened the second day of action with a 2 minute, 1 second pin of Rittman’s Keshaun Clark then pinned Mogadore’s Austin Partlow in 1:16 to advance to the consolation semifinals, also knowns as the “Blood Round” because the winners qualify for the state tournament while the losers of those matches settle for fifth or sixth place.
Kucera beat Orrville’s Cory Stiffler with a takedown in overtime, 2-0, to punch his ticket to state.
“I’m pretty happy about that,” Kucera said. “I lost my first match and had to fight back. This boosts my confidence. I know I can wrestle with some of the best guys.”
With the win over Stiffler, Kucera avenged an early season loss.
“He pinned me at the Tuslaw Duals, my first match there,” Kucera said. “I tried to snap him down and he caught me in a head and arm. It was exciting to beat him. It made this weekend a lot better and a lot more memorable.”
Kucera, who is 47-11, settled for fourth place after dropping a 7-2 decision to Tuslaw’s Jamie Viront, another wrestler who lost his first match then won five straight to take third.
“In my last match, I could have wrestled better and taken more shots,” Kucera said. “I just have to work on the down position and moving around and being more aggressive.”
Kucera will open the state tournament against Johnstown Northridge junior Klay Reeves, who finished eighth at the state tournament as a freshman and sophomore. Reeves is 33-7 this season.
Senior Nick Mroczynski closed out his season with a fifth-place finish at 170 pounds.
Norwayne’s Kaden Kidd defeated Mroczynski, 7-3, in the Blood Round, but Mroczynski finished with a 4 minute, 46-second pin of Beachwood’s Taylor Balasz in the fifth place match. That finish keeps alive Mroczynski’s hopes of competing at the state tournament as he will be a state alternate. He would take the place of any of the four wrestlers from the Garfield Heights district who cannot compete next weekend.
A four-time district qualifier, Mroczynski ended his career with a 138-48 record.
Senior 285-pounder Josh Stasek also closed out his career in the consolation quarterfinals.
Stasek won his first match then dropped into the consolation bracket after a loss to eventual runner-up Joe Warren of Smithville. He collected one more win before bowing out with a loss to Pymatuning Valley’s Caleb Bean.
Ironically, both Bean and Warren beat Stasek in the 2016 district tournament.
He closed out his career with a 101-64 record and three district tournament appearances.
“It’s tough because as a coach you see a kid you’ve been working with forever and Mroczynski loses a go-to match and you see Josh Stasek lose a tough match,” DeAngelis said. “It’s tough because you’ve got to be back and ready to go for the next guy. It’s a roller coaster of emotions. I started coaching Nick when he was in third grade and I had him in class. You love these kids like they’re your own and it just crushes you to see it. It’s not easy, that’s for sure.”
Sophomore Luke Clymer (195) and juniors Jack Brocco (145) and Nick Rossi (160) all reached the consolation quarterfinals.
Clymer ended the year with a 39-13 mark, Brocco finished 16-3 and Rossi closed out the year at 46-7.
Sophomore Jimmy Senick rebounded from a first round loss with a victory to advance to the second day of the tournament. He ended the season with a 4-3 record.
Freshmen Collin Patton (106) and Richie DiGeronimo (120) also competed for the Blue Devils.
“We had a lot of young guys wrestle well,” DeAngelis said. “Jimmy Senick, his first tournament this year was sectionals and he made it to the second day at districts. Richie DiGeronimo and Collin Patton are both freshmen and district qualifiers. Brocco, Rossi, they’re a match away. They’re right there with those good guys. Luke Clymer, he’s only a sophomore and I have to keep reminding myself of that. He’ll be a force to be reckoned with over the next couple years.”