Surprise on mat at wrestling state meet

Sadly, Las Vegas is a destination that has escaped me over the years.

It really is sad because “the city that never sleeps” and I could be a beautiful duo. Or maybe not. It could be like crossing the streams on “Ghostbusters” and possibly lead to the total destruction of the universe. Either way, it will happen soon enough, and there will be an answer to this Nostradamus-like question.

Then again, it could remain unanswered. I’ve been told that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Somehow, and I’m not really sure how, but that line reminds me of the OHSAA state wrestling tournament. Crazy things happen during the three-day event in Columbus. Some things must remain unspoken (don’t ask). The wrestling, however, can often leave you speechless, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, something unheard of happens, and you’re left in awe once again.

After 15 consecutive years of covering the event, I still walk away amazed by the remarkable wrestling and some of the shocking upsets that occur. This year was no different.

The best heavyweight wrestler I’ve seen in my lifetime, Jack DelGarbino, dropped a wildly entertaining match to end the night. DelGarbino probably wins that match seven out of 10 times, but it just wasn’t his night. He was a state and national champion as a junior, ranked as high as ninth in the nation this year and will soon be wrestling at Princeton, but strange things happen in Columbus.

Alex Coleman, a junior from Hamilton Ross High School, somehow, someway pulled off the biggest upset of the night, snapping DelGarbino’s 77-match win streak (his last loss was as a sophomore) with a 10-7 stunner. It was one of the many jaw-dropping moments I’ve seen over the years, but it was just that — only a moment.

It doesn’t change the fact that DelGarbino was one of the most dominant heavyweights in Eastern Ohio Wrestling League history. He placed fourth in the state as a sophomore, won it in spectacular style as a junior (along with the aforementioned national title) and was regarded as the state’s best heavyweight – regardless of division — as a senior. He can walk away as the most decorated wrestler in Girard history — and the Indians’ first state champion. That’s an impressive resume.

No one’s resume is as impressive as Canfield’s. Watching three consecutive Cardinals thoroughly dominate the upper weights was hard to comprehend, and it was an unheard of accomplishment from a closed public school.

Junior Anthony D’Alesio started things off for Canfield at 182 pounds, physically dominating his opponent for three periods by literally pushing him around the mat. He was followed by fellow junior Nick Crawford at 195, who pretty much sealed his title in the first period with a cradle and a 5-0 lead, and then Tyler Stein became a two-time champion by blending a scary combination of raw strength and precise technique. None of the trio allowed a single offensive point. They made it look easy, and it’s not — not by a long shot.

It’s hard to put into words how difficult it is to possess a state champion. It took Girard 44 years, and there are numerous other programs still searching for their first. To have three champs crowned in one night? It legitimately might not be accomplished again by a Mahoning Valley program, unless Canfield can do it again next year — and that’s not out of the question.

The Cardinals have put together a dynasty of sorts, and I’m not just talking about the wrestlers. Their coaching staff is littered with former high school head coaches (four to be exact) and several others who very well could be head coaches if they so chose to.

Their success is probably a little irritating to other area schools who are just hoping to qualify one kid to state and possess one or two good assistant coaches, but it’s also making teams better. Competition brings out the best in athletes, and when a team like Canfield is on top, everyone is going to work harder to try and knock them off.

Regardless, the level of the Cardinals’ achievements cannot be overstated. Outside of Champion High School’s softball team, which is basically the Yankees of high school softball, no school around here, in any sport, can boast the type of individual and team success of Canfield over the past six years.

The best way to explain how it happened is the proverb, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” When a team has multiple, state-champion caliber wrestlers all around the same weight class, they spar in practice on a daily basis. They push each other to the extreme and thus make each other better. The result in this case is an insanely good trio of wrestlers (two of whom are returning next year).

Maybe by that time I’ll have visited Vegas and all its glory. Let’s hope, for the sake of the state wrestling tournament, that my visit doesn’t result in the aforementioned catastrophe.

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