Not many wrestlers have learned to finish at a sectional wrestling tournament like Midview senior Zak Anderson.
The Middies’ 126-pounder will be attempting to earn his fourth trip to the Division I district tournament when he steps onto the mats at Westlake High on Saturday. He earned the first three by taking a loss in the sectional semifinals and bouncing back for wins in the consolation semifinals and third-place matches.
“He’s focused,” Midview coach Shawn Bristow said. “He’s learned to block out outside distractions and he’s able to concentrate on each match as he steps onto the mat. We’re hoping that if he does take a loss at sectionals or districts (this season), that he can bounce back like he has in the past.”
Anderson began his career in Elyria’s biddy program while he was still in kindergarten. His father let him try multiple activities and suggested the sport.
“He always tells the story of how I went to my first practice, kind of got whupped on a little bit and my dad was like, ‘Oh, he for sure is not going to want to do this anymore,’” Anderson said. “I walked off the mat after practice and said, ‘When are we coming back?’ So I guess I fell in love with it during the first practice.”
Anderson honed his skills at The Barn in LaGrange, where he trained with a handful of future stars — including Elyria’s Mick Burnett and Dylan Shawver and future Midview teammates Garrett Hruby and Pablo Cruz.
“It was kind of a select group but we always had fun out there,” he said. “I remember the practices were tough, but I knew I was always getting better from it.”
Anderson’s first taste of the high school postseason came at the Wadsworth sectional after he compiled a 20-14 record during his freshman season.
“I remember it pretty vividly,” he said. “Just before I got called to the mat, I was thinking, ‘You’re just a freshman. Some people make it to districts and some people don’t. Don’t put that pressure on yourself. Just go out there and let it rip. Have fun with it.’”
Anderson received a quarterfinal bye, but was then pinned by Medina’s Jared Dressler in the third period.
“I wrestled him in sixth grade and I wrestled him for third-fourth at my seventh-grade district and beat him 2-0, then we wrestled in the second round at state the same year and I beat him 1-0,” Anderson said. “So I was like, ‘All right, I know the kid’s not bad. But he’s obviously gotten a lot bigger and developed himself.’ He got me in a cradle and pinned me, so I got down on myself a bit. But I realized I wasn’t out yet and I could still wrestle back for third.”
Anderson ended up pinning his way to the district tournament, but then went 0-2 at Cleveland State.
“I started training with Erik (Burnett) a lot,” Anderson said. “I got into freestyle that year and made it to Fargo (for the nationals). That was a huge confidence booster. I’m thinking, ‘I lace up my shoes just like everybody else does … why not me?’ So I went all out, got bigger, got stronger and worked on my all-around wrestling.”
Anderson lost to Olmsted Falls’ Michael Shaw in the sectional semifinals during his sophomore season, but rallied for wins against Berea-Midpark’s Caden Wendling and North Olmsted’s Alexander Reagon to again take third. But, again, he lost in his district opener, this time being pinned by Chardon’s Jake Hamulak.
“I was super upset,” Anderson said. “That was supposed to be a close match. I was kind of really down on myself. But I figured I had a shot just like anybody else did in that (consolation) bracket. So I wrestled my butt off and fell a little bit short, but that gave me even more motivation.”
Anderson won three matches to advance to the consolation semifinals before losing again to Shaw, falling one win short of the state tournament.
It was a similar story last season as Anderson lost to St. Edward’s Angelo Rini in the sectional semifinals, wrestled back for third, lost his opener at the district tournament and ran off a couple wins before losing another close match.
“I’ve taken third at sectionals all three years and I’ve lost my opening round at districts all three years,” Anderson said. “That’s something me and my coaches have been talking about. I have to be ready these next couple of weeks. It’s really important.”
No matter where Anderson’s postseason run ends, it’ll be a loss for the Midview program.
“It’s going to suck when he leaves because he helps prepare the mats every day and he’s been wrestling here since the youth program,” Bristow said. “Him and I have had a good relationship and with him being gone it’s going to be tough. He’s one of our captains and he means business. He sets the example for the others on the team with the way he drills and his work ethic.”
Bristow said Anderson travels to other schools to work out with other elite wrestlers, stays after practices to work on situational wrestling and is always looking to sit down with the coaching staff and review match videos.
“He’s a student of the game, and he wants to try and figure out how to score and win matches,” Bristow said. “He’s super technical, probably one of the most technical wrestlers I’ve ever had. He knows probably more than the rest of the team.”
Anderson will have a tough field at this weekend’s sectional, with nationally ranked Shawver in the field, as well as Rini and North Ridgeville’s Jacob Dunstan, who has won twice over Anderson this season. But Anderson doesn’t plan on letting the long odds keep him down.
“It’s my last shot this year, so I’m not letting anything get in my way,” he said. “The past two years I’ve been like, ‘I have to make it to districts.’ This year I feel like I just have to wrestle good this weekend. I need to leave it all on the mat. Even if I do come up with a loss, and I don’t make it to districts or state, I just have to know that I left it all out there and I can’t be upset with myself.”
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