NORTH CANTON No high school sport’s postseason is more of a grind than wrestling.
Athletes must battle their way through three rounds of the postseason, wrestling three or more matches at every level, in a sport built on physicality and toughness.
It’s a postseason in which teams are whittled down to just a handful of wrestlers, sometimes just one, who advance to the state tournament. For Hoover juniors Luke Reicosky and Jonah Wakser, the start of the postseason is their chance to capitalize on the hard work they’ve put in all season long.
“Coming up to it, I feel better than I have in recent years because I feel like we’ve improved as a team and my drill partner has pushed me even harder than the past couple of seasons,” Reicosky said.
The season is a long, winding one for wrestlers, stretching from November through the beginning of March. Hoover has faced strong competition at events such as its own North Canton Holiday Invitational, the Lake Catholic duals and league matchups with Perry, Lake and Jackson. The Jackson and Lake meets were especially difficult for the Vikings, as they lost the two contests by a combined seven points.
Wakser, wrestling at 126 points, knows that although the goal is to win every match, the intensity ratchets up at the end of the year.
“At the start of the year, I know I’ve gotta get my matches in and obviously I like to win, but it’s not as important that I win compared to the end of the year,” Wakser said. “In the postseason, you’ve got to take it seriously all the time.”
Both Wakser and Reicosky have been a part of the program long enough to understand what head coach Nick Gamble and his staff want from them. As two veterans on the team, they’re part of a group of juniors and seniors who try to set the tone for Hoover. Reicosky noted that those who are still around once the second round of the postseason arrives are typically those who have been locked in since the start of the season.
“I try to keep everyone straight and really set that tone during practice,” Reicosky said.
Big wins and strong performances against tough competition during the season can come in handy once the postseason begins. Wakser pointed to a match at the Top Gun tournament at Alliance last month in which he faced a wrestler ranked third in the state and lost by just four points.
Knowing that his weight class in Northeast Ohio is one of the strongest in the state, the confidence gained from that outing could give him the boost he needs in a big sectional or district match.
One unique aspect of the postseason for Hoover and its Federal League rivals is that they’re all in the same district. Other leagues often have schools of varying sizes that are in different divisions, but Federal League teams are all fairly comparable in size and that means wrestlers see plenty of familiar faces and must beat them a second or third time in a season to advance on.
Reicosky admitted that he’s not a big fan of that setup and would enjoy seeing some new faces earlier in the postseason, but in the end, the mission is the same: win and advance.
As the season winds down, practices also change and Wakser is in his third season going through that transition.
“Mostly through the start of the season and midseason we can focus on technique and how we’re supposed to hit that move, but by late season you should have it down,” Wakser said. “Then, the focus is more on intensity and being in better shape than the other guys we face.”
One final regular-season match remains for the Vikings, Feb. 16 against Canton McKinley, followed by an eight-day break before the sectional meet. As soon as the whistle blows for that first match at the sectional tournament, the grind enters its final - and most intense - stretch.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB