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Area wrestlers take on the challenge

Stepping on the line seems so easy. It’s a flat line on a mat. You simply step on it.

And yet so many miss it. So many avoid it. And so many are scared to death of it.

The lines on a wrestling mat are approximately 3 feet apart from another and painted either red or green, and each competitor must step on their designated line before a match can start. They’re right in the middle of the mat. You can’t miss them.

Well, usually, you can’t miss them.

Standing in front of a large crowd with all eyes on you as you prepare to tussle with someone who is often stronger, faster and more experienced than you can make people forget about a lot of things — the line being one of them. A wrestling match is a terrifying experience the first few times it’s attempted, and those initial matches often entail such a nervousness that most kids avoid the sport altogether.

Only a handful of schools in the Mahoning Valley still have wrestling, and only a brave few at those schools are courageous enough to step on the line. While they are a select group, our area possesses some of the best in the state once again.

As it has for about five years, the show starts in Canfield, where the Cardinals bring back a pair of state champions (maybe), and another who could help Canfield match its Eastern Ohio Wrestling League record of crowning three champs, which it accomplished last year.

Leading the way is returning state champion Anthony D’Alesio. The 182-pound senior, a Kent State recruit, is a three-time state placer ranked sixth in the nation. A bruising wrestler with a competitive drive like I’ve never seen, D’Alesio had offers from a variety of major Division I programs. He was dominant last year and will likely be one of the state’s best all-around wrestlers — regardless of division — this season.

The big question mark is fellow senior Nick Crawford. The 195-pound Crawford, also a standout linebacker/running back, injured his arm during football season and may not be able to wrestle. It would be a travesty. His name is synonymous with success at Canfield. His older brother, David, won state titles in 2017 and 2018, and Nick carried the tradition on, making a spectacular run to win a state championship as a junior last year.

Nick has another brother, Michael, who’s a sophomore and a powerful wrestler in his own right. Nick, who was originally going to join D’Alesio as a Kent wrestler, now has aspirations to be a college football player, so he and the Cardinals have to do what’s best for his future.

The Cardinals are loaded with talent even after those two. Junior Nicholas Barber is ranked as high as second in the state at the 106-pound weight class, and at least four others (Ethan Fletcher, McCoy Watkins, Richie Hofus and Peyton Kostellic) are ranked in the top 20 as well. They should again be one of the state’s top-five teams (if Crawford gets healthy).

As impressive as Canfield is, it’ll have trouble winning its own league tournament, in part because of the Austintown Fitch Falcons (not to mention Beaver Local and Louisville, maybe the two best Division II teams in the state). Fitch, a D-I school, boasts one of the deepest teams in the Valley. They’re led by junior Colin Roberts, a two-time state qualifier ranked as high as eighth at 126 pounds.

Roberts was 44-12 as a sophomore and has all the qualities of a state placer, as does fellow returning state qualifier Zach Richards, a senior 145-pound wrestler who was 39-15 last year (keep in mind, Fitch wrestles one of the most difficult schedules in northeast Ohio).

There are numerous other state-ranked wrestlers around the area, including Anthony Czap of South Range (ranked third at 220 pounds in D-III) and Howland’s Matthew Woomer, who burst onto the scene last year as the Tigers’ first freshman state qualifier. Woomer, ranked 12th at 145 pounds, also is injured at the moment but should be back by midseason.

Girard’s Alex DelGarbino, whose brother Jack was a two-time state finalist, is coming off a devastating hip injury in last year’s postseason but is ready to go as a senior. He’s ranked 10th at 132 pounds in D-II. West Branch’s Kenny Marra is a monster of a wrestler at 195 pounds and is ranked third in D-II.

The list goes on and on, which is impressive for an area of the state that a lot of people overlook when it comes to wrestling. That’s changed, and it’s not just because of Canfield’s success. The Cardinals’ run has been impressive, and it has led to other area teams working harder to keep up, but dedication for this sport comes from within the competitor.

The blue-collar work ethic of the Mahoning Valley is the real creator. The values this area holds true are a perfect match for a sport that demands total commitment. The sometimes tough way of life often scares people away, just like the sometimes tough way of wrestling does.

Not everyone has what it takes to thrive in tough situations — or step on the line. This area creates more than its fair share.

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