ALLIANCE - Something started at Howland 30 years ago that has stuck with the Tigers' wrestling program through the decades.
The coaches talk about it every year, and point to this "system" as the reason for their success. Current coach Bill Beasom swears this philosophy is the simple explanation to how the Tigers have claimed nine Eastern Ohio Wrestling League titles, six sectional championships and qualified 38 kids for the state tournament in the past 20 years.
So, when asked what led to Howland advancing four wrestlers to the state tournament for the first time since 1996, the answer was easy.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Howland’s Gabe Stark, bottom, controls Jeff Hojnacki of Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy during the 145-pound championship match. Stark earned a 4-1 decision.
"We have a system," said Beasom, adding that former head coach and current assistant Barry Reinhardt created the method when he took over in 1983. "Coach Reinhardt started it and we keep working with it. Our goal is to get the kids to peak at the right time of year, and I truly believe that today we got everything we could have out of each kid. They believe in the system, they put in the time to get to where they are and it all worked out. Even the kids that didn't make it out, they wrestled the best that they could. There was no letdowns."
Senior Gabe Stark led the way by winning a district title at 145 pounds. Stark, who placed fifth in the state last season, was dominant for the second consecutive week, giving up just three points in four matches. He defeated Jeff Hojnacki of Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, 4-1, in the finals. And Stark wasn't the only one to do well at the Division II district tournament at Alliance High School, which is widely considered the toughest of the four districts in Division II. Sophomores David Brian Whisler, who finished second at 152 pounds, and Jordan Radich (fourth, 160), along with senior Josh Grodesky (fourth, 182), will be joining Stark when the state tournament kicks off Thursday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center. Sophomore Mike Bell is an alternate after taking fifth at 285 pounds.
Stark wasn't totally surprised by the strong showing because the Tigers have put in the work.
Division II district
106: First - Alex Mackall, Walsh Jesuit, dec. Dakota Oliver, Louisville, 9-4; Cory Simpson, Field, pinned Dante Ginnetti, Poland, :33
113: First - Ryan Bennett, CVCA, dec. Collin Dees, Perry, 3-1; Third - Jake Zemaitis, Crestwood, dec. Brad Taton, Lake Catholic, 3-0
120: First - Nathan Tomasello, CVCA, pinned Conner Nemec, Crestwood, 2:51; Third - Garret Carter, SVSM, dec. Walker Chieffe, University School, 2-0.
126: First - Anthony Tutolo, Lake Catholic, dec. Josh Decatur, CVCA, 3-2; Third - Mike Rix, SVSM, dec. D.J. Schoeppner, Canton South, 2-1.
132: First - Aaran Gessic, Perry, dec. Nolan Whitely, Walsh Jesuit, 3-2; Third - Andy Dobben, CVCA, dec. Walter Gibson, SVSM, 8-3.
138: First - Ryan Skonieczny, SVSM, dec. Dylan Kager, Crestwood, 5-3; Third - Justin Smith, Northwest, dec. Pat Dickinson, Woodridge, 3-2.
145: First - Gabe Stark, Howland, dec. Jeff Hojnacki, CVCA, 4-1; Third - Michael Belknap, Hoban, dec. Kyle Harris, Northwest, 11-5.
152: First - Zack Ladich, Field, dec. David Brian Whisler, Howland, 6-3; Third - Matt Dobben, CVCA, dec. Kenneth Faulkner, West Branch, 5-1.
160: First - Alec Schenk, Perry, dec. Zeck Lehman, Revere, 12-5; Third - Logan Reaser, Ravenna, dec. Jordan Radich, Howland, 11-4.
170: First - Brandon James, Southeast, maj. dec. John Poullas, Canfield, 13-1; Third - Tyler Maclellan, CVCA, dec. Mike Audi, Poland, 1-0.
182: First - Stephen Suglio, Revere, inj. def. Aaron Adkins, SVSM; Third - Kenny Jackson, Crestwood, dec. Josh Grodesky, Howland, 3-1.
195: First - Evan Nichols, Perry, maj. dec. Jimmy Szep, Lake Catholic, 11-3; Third - Nick Havener, CVCA, pinned Cody Jenkins, Woodridge, :42.
220: First -Sean Rutherford, Norton, inj. def. Logan Sharp, West Branch; Third - Mason Hilling, Woodridge, pinned Bill Post, Conneaut, 1:21
285: First - Billy Miller, Perry, dec. Connor Sharp, West Branch, 3-1; Third - Drek Brumley, SVSM, pinned Travis Gosnell, Coventry, 1:22.
NOTE: The top four finishers advanced to the state tournament, which begins Thursday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
"It's like studying for a test, but you study for the test for six months, and then you pass it and you get a 100 percent, and you're just ecstatic," said Stark about preparing for and then making it to state. "You're dieting properly, you're running extra after practice, you're jumping rope, you're doing push-ups. You're doing all this stuff, and then you win districts, and you know why you did it all. It was worth it."
Other area wrestlers who enjoyed a similar feeling were Poland's Dante Ginnetti, who placed fourth at 106 pounds, and Mike Audi (fourth, 170). Canfield's John Poullas (second, 170) also earned a berth, along with Southeast's Brandon James (first, 170).
Howland finished fifth in the team standings with 93 points. All eight Tigers who participated in the district tournament won at least a single match, something Beasom said demonstrated the work ethic of his team. The fourth-year coach said the purpose of the system is to have the kids slowly progress throughout the season and then reach their maximum potential at the end of the year. The intensity of practices gradually increases and the amount of instruction tapers off as the year winds down, he said. The idea is to have the kids in the right frame of mind during the postseason.
"I've been with these kids for a long time, and to see everything click at the right time, it's amazing," Beasom said. "It's hard here. In northeast Ohio, it's a rough, tough section. All of these kids who made it out of this district have a great chance to place at state because that's how hard it is. When you come here, some weight classes have kids who are ranked one, two and three in the state, and you have to overcome that, and we were able to.
"The kids wrestled out of their minds today. That's all I can really say."
Grodesky may have been the biggest surprise. He had to defeat Stan Socha of Canfield to qualify for state. Socha beat Grodesky three times this season, but Grodesky pulled out a thrilling, 4-2, overtime victory to earn a spot in Columbus.
"I just wanted it more," said Grodesky, who paused before trying to describe the feeling after the win. "It's the best thing I've ever done in my life."
He and the rest of the Tigers will have a chance to create more memories when the state tournament starts at 3 p.m. on Thursday.