Boardman’s Cordova steadily grows into state qualifier

BOARDMAN – It wasn’t all that long ago Boardman wrestler Joe Cordova was a scared little sophomore, trembling in his singlet as he prepared for a big match.

He wasn’t that strong. He wasn’t very quick. And his overall wrestling skills were average. The combination of deficiencies led his confidence reaching an all-time low.

“As a sophomore and an underclassman, I would get intimidated a lot,” said Cordova, who finished with a 3-15 record that season. “I’d think, ‘This kid is huge. He lifts, he’s three times the size of me. I just hope I don’t get pinned. I hope he doesn’t hurt me.’

“That was a wake-up call. And it hit me hard.”

Cordova, who was just two years removed from a 24-2 record in eighth grade, encountered two choices: continue to be overpowered or become the one doing the overpowering.

He chose the latter.

Now a senior, Cordova is 32-8 and coming off a fourth-place finish in the Division I district tournament at Mentor High School. That qualified him for the state tournament, which begins at 3 p.m. Thursday at Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

Getting there wasn’t easy.

Cordova spent the past two offseasons doing just about everything he could to improve. During the summer of 2012, he made trips to Florida, North Dakota and Texas, just to name a few, to compete in nationally recognized tournaments against some of the top wrestlers in the country. Before he started on his tour of tournaments, he began a vigorous training regiment with assistant coach Jack Raver, a former Olympian who helped Cordova add strength, speed and endurance.

“I probably ran 6,000 miles with him, no joke,” Cordova said.

He needed the work to contend at the countless tournaments he entered.

Boardman coach Dom Mancini is a big reason Cordova went on the wrestling expedition. Mancini runs the Green Machine Wrestling Club, a team of wrestlers from around the area that travels to different tournaments across the United States. Mancini said one of the main benefits to Cordova was trying different styles, such as Greco Roman, which only involves upper-body moves, and freestyle, which focuses on the neutral position and turning people to their backs. High school wrestling uses the traditional techniques (folkstyle).

“Not many kids are willing to wrestle freestyle, Greco Roman, go to Fargo, North Dakota and all these other tournaments, and also do the running and the lifting to become great, but he did,” Mancini said. “A lot of kids don’t have it in them to improve that much, but Joe’s got a strong heart. He’s really determined. He doesn’t have the most athletic ability, but he gets every bit out of his body, and I think that’s part of the reason he’s so successful – he’s just determined.”

Cordova earned a number of awards in the offseason, including a gold medal as part of the Junior Olympic team, being named an All-American at the Disney National Duals and a pair of fifth-place finishes at the USA Freestyle and Greco Roman state championships. Cordova said it was during the summer he started to realize his potential.

“It definitely improved my confidence, for one,” said Cordova, who then explained the transformation he underwent from his sophomore season. “Now, before matches, it’s more like, ‘I’ve trained. I’ve lifted so many weights. I ran so many miles. I’ve wrestled hundreds of matches in the offseason. There’s no way he trains as hard as me. He’s not going to beat me.’ “

It all paid off, too. Almost year ago, he went down to the state tournament with Nick Mancini, who again qualified this season, and Nico Graziani. He remembers a moment there that initiated his motivation.

“They were registering (for the tournament), and I got to sit down on the mats and look up at all the seats,” Cordova said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is awesome. I have to be here next year.’ And I’m just waiting for that feeling again.”

His wait comes to an end Thursday.