BELOIT - It was hard for Canfield wrestling coach Dean Conley to be upset the Cardinals advanced six wrestlers to next week's district tournament.
Canfield only had three kids move on last year, and Saturday's Division II sectional wrestling tournament at West Branch High School was considered one of the toughest in the state. The top three teams from the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League Tournament - West Branch, Canfield and Howland - were at the tournament, along with Poland (sixth at the EOWL) and perennially strong teams Crestwood, Field, Marlington and Southeast.
Still, Conley and the Cardinals have enjoyed a spectacular season - winning the EOWL and All-American Conference dual meet titles as well as the EOWL Tournament, Division I championship. So Conley was hoping they could keep the good times rolling and have eight or nine kids move on to the district tournament next week at Alliance High School. Only the top four in each weight class advanced, and that was no easy task.
"I'm excited for the kids who are wrestling next week, but I'm disappointed we don't have more kids going," he said. "I felt we could. But it wasn't from a lack of trying. It was just a really competitive sectional. You make a mistake, and it's tough to make up points against good kids."
Canfield senior Hayden Smith was one Cardinal who didn't have to worry about that. Smith pinned Howland's Andrew Rolfe in the 195-pound final to win the only placement match for Canfield.
The win meant a lot to Conley and Smith, for a couple of reasons. Smith had to wrestle off fellow senior Sam Conner throughout the season because they're both in the same weight class. Since the two are friends, good wrestlers (Conner won the EOWL at 195 pounds) and in their last years, someone's season was going to end in a difficult manner.
"They're really competitive, so it was tough," Conley said.
Smith also had to overcome two season-ending knee injuries in the past two years. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee twice, but instead of moping and giving up, he worked on strengthening his upper body. And it paid off.
"I'm happy for Hayden," Conley said. "Two knee surgeries, two ACLs - that's rough. But he just made himself so stinking strong, he gave himself a chance."
Canfield finished third as a team with 180.5 points. West Branch won it with 199.
OTHER LOCAL TEAMS: Poland took seventh with 102 points. The Bulldogs advanced four wrestlers to the district tournament, which is in Alliance High School on Friday and Saturday. Dante Ginnetti (third at 106 pounds), Tad Duran (third, 126), Anthony Mancini (second at 145) and Mike Audi (third at 170) all moved on. Southeast's Brandon James (first, 170), Hunter McPeak (third, 138) and Santana Barrera (second, 220) advanced along with Hubbard's Tyreek Daniels (fourth, 285).