EOWL on the move after duals change

THERE are lot of strange things you’ll hear coming from the corner of a wrestling mat.

For those not familiar with the sport, coaches sit in the corner of the mat during tournaments and shout instructions — among other things — during the match.

The moves they scream out have all kinds of interesting names. There’s cement mixer, gator roll, crucifix, banana split, the broomstick, fat-man roll and the always-trusty ball and chain (don’t ask what that one is).

Those are the nicer words you hear from a coach. Some of the other ones, which are generally spoken when the aforementioned “fancy” moves are attempted, are not suitable for print media.

There’s one statement, or theory, you hear a lot from a number of coaches. The comment doesn’t come when he’s in the corner, and it makes more sense than the ones that do. Every coach puts it in his own words, but the gist of it is that there are two seasons — sometimes three — for a wrestler.

The first month of the regular season is often treated like a warm-up, with wrestlers searching for what works best for them and getting back into shape after a long layoff. Usually around January is when the intensity starts to increase, fewer mistakes are expected and tournaments become more difficult. The most scrutinized and pressure-packed time of year is when the postseason begins in February, concluding with the individual state tournament in March.

In the Mahoning Valley, the Eastern Ohio Wrestling Tournament has long been the starting block and barometer for the postseason. It’s taken place two weeks prior to the sectional tournament for decades, but that format is changing this year, and the tournament is now in mid-January instead of early February. It starts Friday at 4:30 p.m. and continues Saturday at 10 a.m., with the finals starting at 5 p.m.

With the OHSAA making a major change to the Team State Tournament, the EOWL had to alter its date. The state used to run the team tournament on consecutive Wednesdays, with the first few rounds held the first week and the regional semifinals and finals held the following week. This year, all of the preliminary rounds will be held on one day, and it just so happened it fell on the first weekend of February — the same day the EOWL has taken place for years.

So, the league had to make a choice. It could keep the date the same, causing teams to pick between the EOWL or the state tournament, or it could move the tournament up a month. Given the EOWL is arguably the best conference in the state (there were four state champions and 20 state placers from the league last year), no one wanted to miss out on either tournament, so they moved the EOWL up a month.

The league tournament isn’t just another random event teams wrestle in during the season. The EOWL, which now contains 27 teams and four subdivisions, is in its sixth decade of existence and brings a tradition not many tournaments can match.

This year’s tournament may feature the strongest crop of elite wrestlers in its 52-year history. There are as many 16 wrestlers ranked in the top five, four predicted to win titles, and dozens others ranked in the top 20 (rankings are according to borofan.net and IntermatOhioWrestling.com).

The EOWL Tournament has earned the distinction of another great wrestling term: meatgrinder. The EOWL can chew up and spit out even the toughest competitors, humbling those with big egos and elevating the confidence of little-known underdogs.

The team title is one of the most coveted in the Mahoning Valley. Canfield, a perennial power in the state, has won two straight and three of the last four, but that could change this year. Beaver Local is loaded with talent, while Louisville, a recent addition to the league, is riddled with state-ranked wrestlers. Austintown Fitch, Alliance and West Branch are legitimate contenders as well.

Wrestlers and coaches alike adore the tournament as it brings rivalries from all levels of the sport. There are the usual Canfield-Poland, Liberty-Girard, PV-GV, Fitch-Boardman matchups, among others, and then there are the unique rivalries. Small schools (from an enrollment standpoint), such as Jackson-Milton, can test their might against Division I powers like Fitch, Boardman and Canfield.

It will be interesting to see if the new date will affect wrestling. There shouldn’t be a drastic change. Kids are often starting to round into form at this point of the year. Football players are back in wrestling shape. Younger wrestlers understand the level of competition, and coaches still have a few hairs on their head and vocal chords that aren’t shot.

In other words, with the weight classes loaded with state-ranked wrestlers and kids from around the Valley trying to prove doubters wrong, this should be an epic tournament.

If nothing else, the random, often hard to understand gibberish shouted by coaches will provide plenty of entertainment.

Here’s to another year of spladles, head chanceries and guillotines (don’t try those at home, folks).

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