Surgery can’t keep Leasure away from the mat

ROOTSTOWN – Ryan Leasure was just coming to after having his knee operated on when he decided it was time to make his first phone call.

He dialed the Girard wrestling coach, Jim Cardiero, about 20 minutes after waking up.

“He was still groggy,” Cardiero said. “He wanted to know when the next tournament was. He was ready to go.”

Leasure tore his meniscus at practice on Jan. 17 and had surgery Jan. 23, which appeared to put an end to what had been a solid senior season. Leasure, ranked 13th in the Division III state rankings at 182 pounds, was 9-1 at the time and a key part of one of the best teams in Girard history. Sitting on the bench, watching his teammates and friends win an Eastern Ohio Wrestling League title and beat their crosstown-rival Liberty on senior night reinforced the mindset that he wasn’t ready to call it quits.

“I sat there and just wished I could wrestle,” Leasure said. “I watched my weight bracket wrestle and knew I could do better, but I had to get this knee fixed before anything. Sectionals is more important than anything.

“There wasn’t supposed to be a sectionals for me, but I went to therapy every day, got better and I’m back at it.”

Leasure and the Indians are in first place at the Division III Rootstown sectional tournament with 81 points, leading the host Rovers, who have 78.5.

Leasure didn’t get any favors in the draw of the bracket. He was stuck wrestling the top-ranked wrestler in the state at 182 pounds, defending state-champion Travis Linton of Rootstown. Leasure lost, but he can still qualify for the district tournament by winning his next three matches, which would put him in the consolation finals with a chance to place third or fourth (the top four placers advance).

Furthermore, a minor victory was made just by stepping back on the mat less than a month after the tear.

“It didn’t even cross my mind one time,” he said of the injury. “I went out there and wrestled my hardest. I knew Linton was going to be a good match. I wrestled him last year. I went out there and did my best. Now I’m looking forward to (today).”

Cardiero is too, and not just because Girard is in first. He wants to see what Leasure can do.

The 23-year coach was hesitant to allow Leasure to practice so soon after surgery, but he’s been impressed with how quickly he’s recuperated.

“He’s looking good,” Cardiero said. “I was expecting him to be more sluggish, but he stepped right in like he never left the room. He was a little bit tentative at the beginning, but within a couple of days he had confidence in (the knee). He’s doing everything he used to do.”

Leasure said he doesn’t have any limitations with the knee and feels “back to normal.” Still, he’s only been practicing for a week, and since Cardiero said it’s nearly impossible to simulate the exhaustion a wrestler endures during a real match at practice, Leasure’s conditioning has yet to be tested.

That doesn’t change his expectations.

“This is a good weight bracket,” Leasure said, “but I feel like I have a good shot at going to districts. I hope to make it to state. That’s my goal this year. Last year I came pretty close. I needed to win one more match to make it.”

The first step is today.

TEAM STANDINGS: Girard 81, Rootstown 78.5, Jackson-Milton 69.5, Canton Central Catholic 62, Waterloo 39, Crestview 37, Liberty 30, Columbiana 18, South Range 17, Garfield 10, Wellsville 8, United 7.

LOCAL UPDATES: Ten Indians reached the semifinals: Dakota McCloskey (106), Nick Hall (120), Dominic Gainey (126), Zane Chase (132), Ed Sigurani (138), Matt Deal (145), Chris Morgan (152), James Cupan (160), Nick Cardiero (170) and Moufid Sayej (220). For Jackson-Milton, Mitch Tikkanen (113), Terry Stockton (120), Devin Seka (126), Nick Vergalito (132), Tyler Jeffries (138), Tyler Staton (145), Joe Burnside (152), Anthony Italiano (182) and Corley Lamb (285) all reached the semis. Advancing for Liberty was Daryl McLendon (160), Logan Weinreber (170), Adam Little (195) and Danaryll Green (220).