CUYAHOGA FALLS — As far as high school wrestling goes, the season for many schools starts and closes with a bang.
While the ultimate goal is a state title, many of those championships start on a couple of cold December days on Wyoga Lake Road.
The 24th annual Walsh Ironman begins today and concludes Saturday around 9 p.m. and is the very spot where mettle is forged.
Long considered the best tournament in the nation, this year’s installment is no different.
Wadsworth will send its team, while Brunswick brings Logan Heil (120) and Matt Fields (132) and Medina sends Jared Dressler (120) and Brady Chrisman (170). Kevon Freeman (Lake Catholic, Medina resident, 160) also will compete.
“That tournament really helped motivate me to where I am today,” Fields said. “It showed me things I have to work on. Anyone can go to a tournament, hit a move and still get by. If you go to Ironman and you hit something almost good, it’s not going to work. Everything you do there has to be perfect.”
Fields isn’t waxing hyperbole.
The field features 20 nationally-ranked teams and 80 nationally-ranked wrestlers. Included are nine of the top 13 teams and four top-ranked individuals, according to IntermatWrestle.com’s Josh Lowe.
To understand how tough the Ironman is, Wadsworth’s Jordan Earnest (285 pounds) and Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy’s Jordan Decatur have won national titles but never an Ironman.
The history speaks for itself, as 14 four-time NCAA All-Americans have competed, including Olympic champion Kyle Snyder and four-time NCAA national champion Logan Steiber, as well as scads of World Team members and placers.
Only two have won four Ironman titles (David Taylor, St. Paris Graham, 2005-08; Zahid Valencia (St. John Bosco, Calif., 2011-14).
“That’s what excites people so much for that tournament — not only the wrestlers, but fans,” Fields said. “The thought of (facing someone tough) goes through everyone’s head because you’re scared. The thing about this tournament is everybody is like that. You’re getting a tough match every time. It really teaches you to rise up to the occasion and embrace it.”
Earnest might be the poster athlete for what the Ironman means. A solid wrestler as a sophomore, he came from out of nowhere to finish eighth last season.
That was a springboard to a 42-8 record and fourth-place finish at the state tournament. Earnest then became a UWW (Fila) National champion and earned a scholarship to Ohio University.
“That tournament is huge,” the senior said. “I’m using that tournament to place myself and see where I’m going to be at in the country. There won’t be any easy matches. It really defines you as a wrestler.
“It’s really fun if you can beat a good kid. At the Ironman, whenever you beat a good kid, it meets a lot more.”
Chrisman also can’t wait to hit the mat. One of the Bees’ premier all-time wrestlers, he had competed at the Kilted Classic, but the invite-only Ironman gave him a golden ticket and he cashed it.
“This has been the dream,” he said. “Growing up in Ohio, you know that this is the tournament where everyone is at. It’s really exciting because now I get to see where I’m at with some of the best guys in the nation. This is going to make me better in the long run. Wrestling the best makes you the best. I’m ready for that. In this tournament, you have to bring your ‘A’ game every single match.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.