BELOIT - Canfield senior wrestler Curtis Burns has seen coach Dean Conley excited many times during his career, but for the life of him he couldn't understand why the ever-enthusiastic Conley was hopping up and down with an ear-to-ear smile on his face after his match on Saturday.
Sure, Burns securing a pin to take third place in the 285-pound weight class at the Division II sectional tournament at West Branch High School was a big deal, but Conley looked like he just won the lottery. He screamed in a raspy voice worn out from two days of yelling, pumped his fist and jumped up and down like a kid winning a TV game show.
"Everyone was jumping around," said Burns of Conley and his teammates. "They all huddled around me and coach was like, 'Do you know what you just did right there?' And I'm like, 'No.' And he goes, 'That pin just won us the title.' That's when I started freaking out and yelling."
No one told Burns that a win by him would give the Cardinals their first sectional title since 2003, so when the big man pinned Jarrod Webb of Marlington to give Canfield 196 team points, he wasn't aware that it allowed the Cards to edge West Branch's 193 points.
Conley couldn't stop smiling after the match - the last one of the tournament. After 15 years of coaching, he makes sure to savor moments like these.
"It doesn't end like this all the time," he said. "I've been doing this long enough to know that there's very few times that you smile when it's all done."
There were smiles all around on Saturday, and Burns was only one of the many reasons.
Just before his pin, sophomore Jacob Esarco brought the crowd to its feet with a slam of Howland's Mike Bell in the 220-pound championship. Esarco and Bell appeared to be jostling for position when Esarco caught everyone by surprise by tossing Bell to his back and pinning him in the first period of what most expected to be a tightly contested match.
"There were a few scrambles to start off," Esarco explained. "Then we went out of bounds. We started back on the line and I went to an overhook ... he pressured in pretty hard and I just went for it."
Canfield senior Korey Frost also earned a title, winning his at 120 pounds with a 6-2 victory over Travis Pidgeon of West Branch. His win was especially important because it came against the Cardinals' main competition - West Branch. Other key victories came in the consolation finals, where wrestles compete for third place. Canfield won four of its five contests, while the Warriors took one of four.
Canfield seniors Stephen Daprile and Shawn Williams each took third. Williams was losing 7-2 when he pinned Hunter McPeak of Southeast in the third period. Daprile beat Alan O'Brien of West Branch.
Williams and Daprile said winning the title was even more gratifying because the Cardinals were without two starters - 106-pound Tanor English and 113-pound Kyle West, who were out with injuries.
"To have that adversity and come back and win it was awesome," Daprile said. "We've battled through adversity all year."
Williams pointed to the job of the underclassmen as another reason for the championship. Four of the Cardinals' nine placers were freshmen or sophomores.
"The sophomores are definitely something special to watch," Williams said. "They're hard workers, and a lot of them are kicking some of the seniors' butts in the practice room."
Underclassmen and upperclassmen came together Saturday, and it's the reason Conley is probably still smiling.
"Everyone thinks this isn't a team sport," he said. "No way. Those kids don't get better if they're not pushing each other every day. That's the epitome of a team."
The top four wrestlers in each weight class advanced to the district tournament at Alliance High School on Feb. 21 and 22.
LOCAL WRESTLERS ADVANCE: Other Cardinals who advanced were Georgio Poullas (second place, 126 pounds), Stan Socha (third, 182) and Jaret Bunch (fourth, 195).
Five wrestlers moved on for Howland. David-Brian Whisler placed first at 152 pounds, and Jordan Radich took second at 160. Bell was second at 285, while Jimmy Lerakis finished third at 126 and Will Price fourth at 182.
Poland's Mike Audi was the champion at 170 pounds, and Dante Ginnetti was second at 106. Bruno Spotleson finished third at 138. Darren Goodin placed fourth at 120, and Anthony Audi did the same at at 160.
Hubbard's Tyler Whitace took second at 195 pounds.