Sometimes it’s not love at first sight. Sometimes it takes a little work to create the passion.
“I did biddy (wrestling) when I was in the third grade for a couple weeks and I quit,” Amherst senior Mike Wearsch said. “I didn’t like it, it was too hard. I was kind of a chubby kid and was standing up with kids a lot older than me. It was two weeks and I never learned anything.”
Wearsch gave the sport another try when he reached junior high and this time the relationship blossomed. So much so that the Comets star battled his way to the Division I state tournament last season, and will be looking to duplicate the run this month, starting with tonight’s sectional tournament at Lorain.
It was actually another sport that brought wrestling back into Wearsch’s life.
“I liked football in seventh grade so I tried (wrestling again) because I thought it would help me with football,” he said. “Wrestling just kind of took over and became my favorite sport.”
Wearsch still loved football — he played for the Comets in the fall — but injuries limited his time on the field for the bulk of his high school career, and he would’ve preferred to be the guy carrying the ball into the end zone.
“I always liked the fact that I was scoring the points (in wrestling),” he said. “In football, we’d score but I was just the guy that kind of blocked, I never scored any points. In wrestling, I was the one hitting the moves and making the plays … it was fun.”
Wearsch was a solid wrestler from the start, but it wasn’t until he completed his fourth season that he finally made the move to spectacular.
“At the end of my sophomore year I was looking at the bracket at states and I saw two guys that I had beat that were at the state tournament,” he said. “So I’m thinking, ‘These guys that I beat are out there doing it, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be there next year.’ So I kind of went off of that.
“So my junior year rolls around and I went up against a couple ranked guys and I beat them, and I said, ‘All right, this is something that is doable. I can make it. I can get down there.’”
Amherst coach Brian Cesear saw right away the switch had been flipped. He knew that Wearsch had the technique down and physically had all the tools to become an elite competitor, but needed that last element to push him over the edge.
“With him realizing that he was capable of it, it clicked in his head,” Cesear said. “That’s the hump you have to get over … just believing that you can do it. Mike has worked really hard for everything he’s achieved. He’s a prime example of a kid that believes in the system that we have in place.”
Wearsch breezed through a Northwest sectional at Mansfield last year, then battled through a tough district field at Cleveland State. He lost a pair of matches in Columbus, but just getting there changed his senior season.
“You feel like people know who you are when you wrestle them,” he said. “You feel like you have a target on your back, like someone’s coming for you every time you go out there.”
“Sometimes it’s easier to fly under the radar because no one is really expecting much of you and people take you for granted,” Cesear said. “Once people know who you are — once you make it to state — you’ve got a target on your back, and every kid that hasn’t made it yet, they want to knock you off because they want to make a name for themselves.”
Wearsch handled the added pressure during the regular season—he went 31-6 — and feels he’s prepared for another shot at the state tournament. The event is held at Ohio State’s Value City Arena under glaring lights, a huge scoreboard and with 10 mats spread across the floor. When a wrestler steps out of the tunnel to compete in front of 10,000 fans, he usually has a serious case of nerves.
“All through my first match out there I had half of my mind on the match and the other half was looking around like, ‘Whoa, man, this is different. This is big. There’s a lot of people here … a lot of open space,’” Wearsch said. “There’s a little bit of pressure, a little bit of suspense (this season) … but I’ve been there before and I’ve done it before. I know what it feels like and I know how to do it better than I did it last year.”
That’s the plan — to improve upon last season’s finish and to find his way onto the podium.
“I’ve wrestled guys this year that are returning state qualifiers and I major decisioned them, so I made it my goal to place … that’s really been my goal all year,” he said.
The first step toward that goal begins with a return to the Northeast district, after the Comets had started in Northwest sectionals the past two seasons. Wearsch and Cesear agree that the Lorain sectional will have a tougher field than the Comets faced in the Northwest, and that Wearsch will have an even taller hurdle at the CSU district meet.
“I think in his weight class alone he’s got at least four returning state qualifiers, plus another kid that took fifth or sixth last year at districts,” Cesear said. “So everyone’s got to bring their A-game. You can’t have a bad match. You have to bring it every time.
“I think he’s stepped up to the plate. I feel like he’s gotten better as the season’s gone on. He’s ready to roll.”