Howland freshman headed to state

Tribune Chronicle file photo / Joe Simon Howland’s Matthew Woomer, right, is the first freshman wrestler from the school to qualify for the state tournament.

HOWLAND — There’s a certain aura to the Howland wrestling program.

The Tigers’ history is rich with success. They’ve had four state champions, six runners-up, 31 state placers and 74 state qualifiers.

Brad Gintert is a legend within the Mahoning Valley wrestling community — winning two state titles and finishing as a runner-up in the early 1980s — and David-Brian Whisler, a three-time state qualifier and a state champion in 2015, is currently wrestling for the University of Maryland.

Matthew Woomer did something neither of them accomplished and added some history of his own to the Tigers’ lineage.

Woomer will wrestle in today’s OHSAA Individual State Wrestling Tournament — and he’ll be the first freshman in school history to do so.

He surprised a lot of people — including his coach — by placing fourth at the Division II Alliance District tournament, but Woomer wasn’t surprised.

“I didn’t know I was the first freshman after I qualified,” he said. “My coach was talking to people around me and told me I was the first to qualify as a freshman. I wasn’t really surprised by myself because I put a lot of work in over the season, after practices and going to the gym.”

Woomer sure doesn’t look like a freshman.

The powerful 138-pounder is built more like a junior or senior, Howland coach Matt Zakrajsek said. That’s a big reason he was able to battle through the consolation bracket at the Alliance District, one of the state’s most difficult district tournaments. He lost in the quarterfinal round, meaning he had to win his next three matches to advance to state.

He won his first one, 10-8, and then beat Isaaiah Smith of Field — ranked 15th in the state — in overtime. That put him in the consolation semifinals in what’s called the “go to match.” The winner goes to state. The loser does not. Woomer beat another senior, 14th-ranked Danny Sinchok of Cuyahoga Valley-Christian Academy, 6-3, to earn a trip to the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, the site of the state tournament, which begins at 3 p.m. today and runs through Saturday.

“When he got to the consolation quarters, against a senior, we knew this was probably going to be the big one,” said Zakrajsek of his matchup with Smith. “That’s the one that went to overtime and he got the takedown to win it. He was down two points going into the third period and found a way to do what he needed to do.”

It’s a rare accomplishment for a freshman, but Woomer is a rare freshman.

Not many saw his success coming this quickly. He is ranked 31st in the 2019 Boro Fan Almanac by Billy Schaefer, and he’s not ranked at all in the 2019 State Tournament Prediction Report by Josh Lowe. Neither predicted him to reach the state tournament.

Woomer did.

“I wasn’t really nervous,” he said of the district tournament. “I knew I’d be able to come back after I won my first match. I felt like I had the energy to go all the way. I just had to wrestle my way to get back to the (consolation) finals.”

Woomer, 37-11 on the season, said his coaches and his father pushed him to work out in the offseason, and he continued to lift during the season — often going to the gym after a grueling two-hour practice.

His strength is impressive (and obvious by his stocky build), and he has quickness to go along with it. He possesses an explosive double-leg takedown that is hard to stop. Even when opponents are ready for the attack, Woomer overpowers them and finishes the takedown.

His overall explosiveness is what makes him dangerous against anyone.

“His physical maturity,” said Zakrajsek of why Woomer has succeeded as a freshman. “He doesn’t look like a freshman. He spent a lot of time in the weight room, in the offseason and then still during the season. He’s got his positions he’s good at, and he gets in on shots that I don’t think anybody should really be able to get in on. He’s just that quick or has timing — whatever it is — but he plays to his strengths.”

He hopes to rely on them in Columbus as well.

The young, jubilant Woomer is excited to see where he stands with the state’s best.

“I’m obviously happy to be down here as the first freshman from Howland,” he said, “but I’m not satisfied with myself. I’m going to try and go down there and place (at the state tournament) and prove my worth.”

It would add another page to the long history book of Howland wrestling.