Heading into the first day of the Division III district wrestling tournament at Garfield Heights, Cardinal’s Brandon Neikirk needed just two pins to tie the school record for pins in a career.
That record, as well as his pursuit for a berth in the state tournament, has provided the inspiration for Neikirk to win 37 of his 41 regular season matches.
On Friday, he tied that school record by pinning his first two district opponents to advance to the 145 pound semifinals against Mapleton’s Ian Maund.
“It motivated me a lot because I have been working for it for four years,” Neikirk said of notching his 103rd career pin.
Neikirk opened the tournament with a 1 minute, 59 second pin of Waynedale’s Tucker Wirth, who had 36 wins this season, then flattened Lutheran West’s Kevin Naim in 3:43. Naim recorded his 30th win of the season in the district first round.
Now, Neikirk will face his most difficult task of the tournament thus far, avenging a 6-2 loss to Maund in the semifinals of the Northwestern Husky Invitational back on Jan. 16.
“I just have to go into my match (in the semifinals) with confidence and wrestle my match,” Neikirk said.
Cardinal’s Trent Mast also needs just one more win to earn a spot in his second straight state tournament.
He defeated Waterloo’s Daulton Metheney, 10-0, in the first round then dropped Lutheran West’s Parker Watson, 5-2, in the 120 pound quarterfinals.
“I think I wrestled well in the first two rounds,” Mast said. “They were definitely tough matches but I found a way to win so I can advance to the semis.”
Mast will wrestle Tuslaw’s Isaac Elliott in the semifinals.
“For my match against Elliott I have to turn it up a little because it’s gonna’ be a tough match and whoever wins is automatically going to state so I definitely want to wrestle my best and hopefully come out on top,” he said.
Cardinal’s Brandon Nevison pinned Columbia’s Troy Cassidy in the first round at 126 then dropped into the consolation bracket with a loss to Rootstown’s Tony Paolucci, a returning state qualifier. Kyle Simms found himself in a similar situation for the Huskies after a first round pin of Smithville’s Garrett Carraway at 170 and a loss to Rootstown’s Luke Sorboro, who was fifth in the state last year, in the quarterfinals. Nevison will wrestle Grand Valley’s Gavin Meeker and Simms drew Waterloo’s Dillon Stallsmith. Bryn Havel’s tournament run came to an end with back to back losses at 195.
Independence also sent five wrestlers to the district tournament and three remain in contention for a berth to state.
Drew Benos opened the tournament with an 8-2 win over Tuslaw’s Stephen Skeens at 138 then dropped into the consolation bracket with a loss to Triway’s Brian Persinger. He’ll wrestle Newbury’s Alex Lampert in the consolation second round.
Kevin Clymer pinned Grand Valley’s Clayton Takacs in the 152 pound preliminary round then defaulted to Chippewa’s Garrett Hall, a returning state qualifier, in the quarterfinals. He’ll face Jackson-Milton’s Nick Scarl in his first consolation bout.
Nick Mroczynski came up short in his first round bout against Smithville’s Bailey Blair, who went on to win by technical fall against Waterloo’s Cole Hurd in the 160 pound quarterfinals. Mroczynski rebounded with a 3 minute, 51 second pin of Beachwood’s Matthew Henry in the first round of consolation wrestling. He’ll face Tuslaw’s Jake Loar in Saturday’s opening round.
Matt Mroczynski and Josh Stasek both went 0-2 in the tournament. Mroczynski lost to Tuslaw’s Ben Gallagher in the 145 pound first round then defaulted to Hawken’s Matty Baratz in the consolation round after taking a shot to the head. Stasek, a district alternate, was a late addition to the tournament. He lost a 2-1 overtime decision to Pymatuning Valley’s Caleb Bean in the first round and never recovered.
Kirtland sent two wrestlers to the district tournament and both went 1-1 on Day 1 of wrestling.
Brendan Williamson defeated Columbia’s Zack Shaffer, 4-0, in the 113 pound first round then lost to returning state qualifier Dalton Leightner of Rootstown. He’ll face Smithville’s Dylan Ward in the second round of consolation wrestling.
“I’m not done yet,” Williamson said. “It’s far from over.”
Freshman Alex French had a tough draw in the 120 pound first round. He dropped a 15-8 decision to returning state qualifier Terry Stockton of Jackson-Milton but came back with an 11-5 win over Chippewa’s Clayton Baglia in the first round of consolation wrestling. He’ll see Lutheran West’s Watson in Saturday’s opening round.