Poland duo earn state berth

ALLIANCE – Nothing came easy for Poland’s Mike Audi at the Division II district tournament at Alliance High School.

The 170-pound Audi was in one of the most difficult and balanced weight classes at what was arguably the toughest of the four Division II district tournaments.

And no one needed to tell Audi. He knew all about his opponents.

“I’m always searching up kids on the internet and looking at brackets online,” he said. “That’s something I still need to get a lot better with.”

Luckily, he didn’t psych himself out too much. Audi battled through several close matches and finished fourth to earn a spot in the state tournament, which begins Thursday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

The junior edged his first two opponents, 7-5 and 6-3, before dropping a 3-0 decision to Canfield’s John Poullas in the semifinals. That left him with one match that would decide whether he qualified for state, and instead of worrying about the opponent, he said he started to realize his own potential.

“I just put it in my head that no one in this weight class was unbeatable,” he said. “There were a lot of good kids in this weight class, but everyone was beatable. Like (eventual district champion Brandon) James, I beat him at the Top Gun Tournament. If you catch somebody on a bad day, anyone can be beat.”

Audi, who came in with a 32-7 record, defeated Ryan Sill of Perry, 7-1, in the consolation semifinals, thus qualifying him for the state tournament. He’ll have company in Columbus as well. Freshman Dante Ginnetti, 106 pounds, also placed fourth. He beat Alec Schopfer of West Branch, 10-8, in the consolation semifinals. The tandem are the first state qualifiers for second-year coach Tony Stellato, who helped the Bulldogs quickly become a contender in the program’s second season of existence.

“It was a great feeling,” he said. “Especially because this district has some of the top teams in the state, so you know if you come out of here you’re going to be sitting nice at state. It’s one of the toughest districts around.”

Tough competition is nothing new for Ginnetti or Audi. Three of the four placers in each of their weight classes at the district came out of the West Branch sectional tournament. Stellato said the tough sectional helped prepare the Bulldogs for this weekend.

“They were ready for it,” Stellato said. “We’ve been telling them all year that they have to put it together when it counts, and they executed.”