COLUMBUS - Nick Cardiero's approach at his first state tournament is centered on enjoying the moment.
The senior from Girard spent his entire career trying to reach the Jerome Schottenstein Center, and now that he's there, he isn't about to let nervousness from the near 19,000-capacity crowd affect his focus.
He just wants to have fun, and he had plenty of it on Friday.
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Girard’s Nick Cardiero, left, attempts to free his leg from the control of West Salem Northwestern’s Joey Meek during Friday’s 170-pound championship-bracket match at the Jerome Schottenstein Center.
The 170-pound Cardiero started the day by winning a thrilling, triple-overtime decision, 6-5, over Zach Sullivan of New Paris National Trail in the quarterfinals. Cardiero trailed, 3-0, entering the third period but earned an escape and a takedown in the final minute to tie the match. Each wrestler got a reversal in double overtime, and the match remained tied. In the third and final OT, Sullivan chose down, which meant he had 30 seconds to escape to win. Cardiero needed to hold him down for the victory, and he did just that, hanging on for the biggest win of his career.
The win advanced him to the semifinals, where the victor secures a shot at a state title, and while Cardiero lost, 6-4, to Joey Meek of West Salem Northwestern, he said it wasn't because of anxiety or a bad match.
"I'm just having fun," he said. "It's my last tournament. There's no time to be nervous and stuff. I'm just wrestling like I have my whole life.
"I'm still having fun out there. I still did what I've been doing the whole tournament, it just didn't work out my way."
Not much wasn't working out for Cardiero up until that point. His coach and uncle, Jim Cardiero, said his comeback against Sullivan was as exciting of a match as he's ever been a part of in 23 years of coaching. Nick nearly secured the win in regulation when it appeared he earned back points after his last-minute takedown. However, a questionable call didn't go his way, and that wasn't the only time.
Trailing 5-3 in the second overtime, Nick reversed Sullivan with a move known as a "Peterson," and again it seemed Sullivan's back was exposed to the mat. That should have given Cardiero two back points, but the referee only counted for one second (a wrestler must get a two count to earn points) even though Sullivan looked to be on his back for the final 10 seconds of the match.
"The explanation I got really didn't make sense, but it wasn't worth getting kicked out over," said Jim of what the referee told him during a brief debate at the scorer's table.
It all worked out in the end as Nick held Sullivan down for 30 seconds in the ultimate tiebreaker. Furthermore, Jim said Nick is wrestling as well as he has at any time in his career, and there isn't a better time to do that than now.
"It's pretty nerve wrecking," Jim said with a laugh. "But he's doing just what he needs to do. I knew he could win down here. He just had to get a feel for it and do what he does best."
He wrestles again at 10 a.m. today to decide where he places. If he beats Jake Datz of London Madison Plains in the consolation semifinals, he wrestles for third and fourth place. If he loses, he competes for fifth or sixth.
Nick admitted he was disappointed over the 6-4 loss to Meek, who beat him last week, 8-5, at the district tournament. The defeat on Friday kept him out of the state finals, but he still accomplished his goal of reaching the podium (the top eight wrestlers stand on the podium at the end of the tournament). That's part of the reason he said he isn't going to allow the sting of losing linger.
"I'm not going to let it hang over my head," Nick said. "It's a loss. I've lost before in my life. I'm not going to pout about it or anything. I'm going to bounce back and try to get the next one - wrestle as good as I can. If you win, you win. If you lose, you lose. The world doesn't end."