HOWLAND - Their singlets and shoes were a little smaller - their muscles too - but other than that, not much has changed since the seniors of the Girard wrestling team joined forces for the Indians more than a decade ago.
They're still coached by a guy named Cardiero, they're still beating the majority of their opponents and they're still having fun doing it.
"A few of us have been wrestling for 12 years, and a couple other of our seniors started in junior high, so we've been together for six or seven years," senior Eddie Sigurani said of the Indians eight seniors - all of who were named captains prior to the season. "We're pretty close - as wrestlers and friends. We definitely have a strong bond like nowhere else."
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Girard’s Nick Cardiero, top, looks up while trying to control Zach Jamieson of Brookfield during their 170-pound match on Saturday at the 53rd annual Howland Invitational. Cardiero won the match, 11-5.
The senior tribe of the Indians continued to build that friendship on Saturday at the Howland Invitational. Girard crowned three champions - tying Howland for the most by any school - and placed fourth as a team in one of the most competitive Howland Invitationals in years.
Sigurani, Nick Cardiero and Zane Chase - all seniors - won titles for Girard and two other Indians were runners-up. Four of the Indians' five finalists were seniors, which isn't surprising for a class that has been the core of Girard during the last four years. They started young, just having fun rolling around on the mats, but they hope to finish standing high above the rest.
"It's always been our dream to get in the state tournament together," said Cardiero, the nephew of Girard's high school coach, Jim Cardiero, and son of junior high coach Mike Cardiero. "That's what we've always wanted, to get on that podium (at the state tournament) and maybe get a team trophy down there if possible."
They seem to be on the right path.
Aside from Saturday's impressive showing, Nick earned his 100th career win last Wednesday against Hubbard, becoming the eighth Indian to reach that milestone. Fellow senior James Cupan, who finished third at Howland, is three wins away from the century mark. The total amount of career wins between Cardiero, Sigurani, Cupan, Chase and senior Matt Deal, who placed second Saturday, is nearing 400 (it's around 350 right now, according to Jim Cardiero).
That group, along with fellow seniors Ryan Leasure (currently out with an injury), Robbie Golden, John Corvillo and the rest of the Indians, is one win away from claiming an Eastern Ohio Wrestling League, Division III dual-meet championship. The Indians have one match left, with crosstown rival Liberty on Feb. 5.
Yet, Jim Cardiero said the seniors have made it clear they have much bigger goals in mind than a league title.
"Getting on the podium at state, that's what's important for all of us," he said.
There were plenty on the podium Saturday.
Sigurani won the 138-pound title with a thrilling, 5-3, victory in overtime over Eric Eichesen of Eastlake North. Sigurani gave up a takedown late in the third period that tied the match, and while he looked gassed entering the extra frame, he said he dug down deep to secure his winning takedown just a few seconds into the sudden-death situation.
"Something clicked in my head, and I didn't feel exhausted any more - I only thought about winning," he said. "(Coach Cardiero) just looked at me and nodded during overtime of the finals. He didn't have to say anything - I just knew I couldn't let him down."
Nick Cardiero beat longtime rival Zach Jamieson of Brookfield, who saw his unblemished record of 18-0 come to an end in the 170-pound final. Jamieson injured his wrist early in the match and writhed in pain for a few minutes before returning. He kept the match tight until the final period, when Cardiero, now 17-1, pulled away for an 11-5 victory.
"He's a good wrestler," Nick Cardiero said of Jamieson, who he's faced several times - dating back to youth wrestling. "It's good experience against good competition. It's like a rival. We've wrestled pretty much every year since pee-wees."
Chase was steady and never in any real danger in beating Sam Lander of Cranberry, 6-0.
The tournament was a step the Indians hope to build on as the postsesaon nears. Chase and Nick Cardiero were one win away from the state tournament last year, and Cupan and Leasure weren't far behind. Sigurani has yet to wrestle in a sectional tournament because of injuries the past two years.
As their final season winds down, they're all hoping to leave the past behind.
As Sigurani said: "It's all or nothing."