FARGO, N.D. — For more than three months during the winter, area high school wrestlers do whatever it takes to get the upper hand.
For one glorious week in the summer, those athletes come together to represent Team Ohio at the Junior and 16U (formerly Cadet) National Championships.
It’s a feeling that isn’t lost on a single Lorain County wrestler as the tournament begins Saturday and runs through next Friday.
“I think it’s awesome,” Firelands three-time state placer Payton Burgdorf said. “For example, if (Elyria’s) Mick Burnett goes out there and wins a big match, that’s going to put a ton of confidence in me and I’m going to win a big match like he just did.
“Or, let’s say that I watch someone lose from Team Ohio, in the normal season when I see someone lose, I’m like, ‘Oh, that sucks.’ Since I’m on Team Ohio I feel like I want to pick them up if I see them lose and try to score big points out there.”
The Pioneers know all about the team atmosphere as two-time All-American Dylan Shawver (126) joins fellow Elyria mates Colin Noel (106), Mick Burnett (132), Matt Zuckerman (138), Enrique Munguia (152) and Jake Evans (182) at the Junior Freestyle level, as well as Vinnie D’Alessandro (100), Nate Burnett (132), Erich Trinski (152) and Jonathan Norwood (170) at the 16U Freestyle level and Riley Banyas in the women’s division.
“This experience is invaluable for them individually,” Pioneers coach Erik Burnett said. “To have them together as a team, you try to do some team activities in the summertime to get them together anyways, but to go to a national event as one it helps with team building.
“Just the relationships they have from other kids in Ohio and even nationally, it’s a great opportunity to gain experience and get ready. When you’re doing stuff like this in the offseason, you’re going to get better. If your habits are good, you’ll see it come together and that’s good to see for kids who have bad luck. They train and things might not go their way in the winter, but when it happens, it shows them it’s worth it.”
Last season, Avon resident and St. Edward standout Bryce Hepner (152) missed out on All-American status and came home to become a two-time state champion. Mick Burnett finished runner-up and then won a state title for the Pioneers.
It’s that experience that has the two competing at the junior level.
“This is where I won state last year,” Mick Burnett said. “This offseason grind and weight cut teaches you. You want to be outside swimming, but you’re inside and it makes you tougher. That’s what breeds champions. It’s being able to do that efficiently.
“Outside of Bryce Andonian, Ben Darmstardt and Carson Kharchla, you’re not going to go out and tech fall your way through a tournament. That’s where it’s big. It’s feeding off the mistakes and getting better. Those things I fell short in I’ve worked on and it helped me win a state title in Folkstyle.”
Burgdorf will double at the Junior Greco level, while Avon’s Ty Daugherty (100/106) and Keystone’s Nick Hickman (195) will do it at 16U.
The county isn’t without others, as Avon’s Cael Saxton (120) and Avon resident and St. Edward wrestler Evan Bennett (138) compete in 16U Freestyle and Midview’s Jameson Shenberger (126) joins Keystone’s Ryan Healy (152), Avon resident and Lutheran West graduate Parker Watson (145) and North Ridgeville resident and Lutheran West junior Donovan Palmer (160) in the Junior Greco ranks. Vermilion’s Chris Bennett (182) will compete in 16u Greco.
Lutheran West’s Nevaeh Yarber of Sheffield Village will compete in the 16U women’s division at 122 pounds.