Liberty wrestlers finding success

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Liberty’s Tyler Wilson, left, wrestles Crestview’s Derek Houser on Saturday at the Division III Rootstown sectional tournament.

ROOTSTOWN — Tyler Wilson and Mouad Elouaddi weren’t always the best wrestlers.

Heck, the two Liberty Leopards will admit there was a time when neither was very good.

“I never really won any matches when I was in middle school,” said Elouaddi, now a captain for the Leopards. “I made the climb little by little.”

He and Wilson finally reached the top of the mountain. Well, the top of the podium, in this case.

Wilson, a 126-pound junior, and Elouaddi, a 170-pound senior, were each crowned champions at the Division III Rootstown sectional tournament Saturday. It’s the first time two different Leopards have won sectional titles since 2001, when current Liberty assistant coach Ryan Williams and former state runner-up David King both placed first.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Mouad Elouaddi, left, of Liberty faces off against Frank Rupert of Columbiana Saturday in the 170-pound final at the Division III sectional meet at Rootstown.

The top four placers in each weight class advanced to the district tournament, which begins Friday at Garfield Heights High School.

Elouaddi has a lot of work to do before then, and not just with his wrestling. An honors student with a 3.96 GPA, Elouaddi takes classes at Youngstown State University for college credits. He’s also part of the school newspaper, Tri-M (musical honors society), National Honors Society and participates in football and track and field.

“I have a seven-page essay due (today),” said Elouaddi, who was referring to a Sunday online course at YSU. “Then I have psychology in the morning. I’m taking eight classes total right now. … I’m just trying to get everything in place, but at the same time be able to contribute to my team.”

His balancing act has gone quite well.

Elouaddi, who said he won a single match as a seventh-grader, is now 31-8 with two tournament titles after beating No. 1-seeded Frank Rupert of Columbiana, 12-6, in the championship match. His improvement over the years has been textbook — going from placing fifth at the sectional as a sophomore, third as a junior and now first as a senior — at a sectional widely regarded as the best in all of Division III, nonetheless.

Liberty coach Hadi A. Hadi said success couldn’t have happened to a better kid — despite his tough-love approach.

“I’m on that kid a lot,” Hadi said with a laugh. “I feel bad. All year, I’ve been all over him, to the point where he started to get irritated with me. But I knew his potential, and I just had to stay on him to fix a few things that he was doing wrong early in the season. They were costing him.

“Honestly, when he won it, I didn’t care about anything else,” Hadi later added. “I know it sounds horrible, but it’s just the satisfaction you get out of seeing someone’s hard work flourish when you need it to.”

That’s something he saw twice Saturday.

Wilson hadn’t placed at the sectional in his career (he missed last year’s event with an illness). He looked plenty healthy in an 8-3 victory over top-seeded Derek Houser of Crestview.

The junior has been on a tear since he dropped down two weight classes to 126. He started the season at 138 pounds and was doing fairly well, but as the year went on, Wilson started to be overpowered by stronger wrestlers.

“I was doing OK,” Wilson said of wrestling at 138, “and then throughout the season, guys just kept getting bigger and bigger, and coach was like, ‘You’ve got to start cutting (some weight).’ And I was thinking, ‘Man, the rest of the season is going to suck.’ But then I decided to cut down, and it was better off for me to do it. It ended up really helping a lot because now the 138s are like 10 times my size.”

Things seem to be coming together at the right time for Wilson, whose title was the first of his career. Since he initially made the drop to 126 at the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League Tournament, where he placed fourth, he’s been wrestling at a level his coaches haven’t seen from him. He’s defeated several state-ranked wrestlers over the past month, and he’s hoping to run into another one next week at the district tournament.

“It means a lot,” he said of winning a sectional title. “I haven’t took first at a tournament before. Winning sectionals is amazing for me. What pushed me to do it was I saw that the Pymatuning Valley kid took first at his sectional, and I was like, ‘All right, I have to do it. I have to take first.’ That’s what really pushed me and motivated me. I really want another crack at him.”

He may get that chance at Garfield Heights, where the top four finishers qualify for the state tournament at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

Hadi said there won’t be any major changes for either wrestler from now till then.

“They just need to improve on some positioning,” he said. “They’re still putting themselves in some funky positions, and they’re lucky they’re athletic. So we’ve got to get them doing better as far as positioning. Their aggressiveness, their commitment and their desire is there, it’s just a couple of little tweaks.”

Liberty’s Zion Matlock also qualified for the district tournament, placing fourth at 160 pounds. Liberty finished fifth overall with 111 points. Jackson-Milton was the only other local team at the sectional, with Jeremy Seka placing fourth at 120 pounds and Anthony Pizzuto finishing fourth at 145.