CUYAHOGA FALLS — Wadsworth wrestlers will descend upon Walsh Jesuit High School this morning knowing their mettle will be tested from the opening whistle.
They also know the experience of the Ironman Invitational will do nothing but sharpen their skills for what’s to come later in the season.
“The history of the tournament is so awesome,” Grizzlies coach Clay Wenger said. “It started many years ago. You’ve got teams from all over the country. That little gym is packed. It’s a fun environment. It’s a long, brutal tournament. The champions really do come out on top.”
The Ironman doesn’t need any hype, but just in case people have forgotten, participants of the past have become champions of the future at the college, world and Olympic level.
Eight Olympians, including gold medalist Kyle Snyder, have competed at Walsh, as have five World Championship placers.
There have been 32 individuals who totaled 40 NCAA individual titles that have competed at the Ironman, along with 33 NCAA runners-up, 20 four-time All-Americans and 29 three-time All-Americans. Add the scads of two-time and one-time All-Americans and it’s enough to fill a scrapbook.
“You see the best kids in the country going there,” Wadsworth 138-pounder Luke Baughman said. “It’s just really good to wrestle good kids at the beginning of the season to see where you’re at and what you need to do to get better.
“A lot of the times you’ll wrestle a guy from a different state. You won’t know him, but every guy there is a hammer. Every match you win there is a lot of fun.”
The Grizzlies have been perennial powers at the state level, but only claim three finalists at Walsh. Brad Squire was first in 2007 and second in 2009, while Ben Buzzelli was runner-up in 2009.
Squire and Buzzelli reached the state finals each time later in the season, with both winning state crowns in 2010 en route to Wadsworth’s team title.
“It’s obviously a really tough tournament,” Wadsworth 145-pounder Michael North said. “If you don’t go as hard as you can or if you have a bad match, you could lose. You have to be performing your best to do well.
“I love it. It really shows where you’re at and what you have to do to prepare for the next stud you have to wrestle. Of course, it’s going to be tiring because you’re always pushing yourself to the limit from the word go. It really just comes down to who wants it more.”
There will be 93 ranked wrestlers vying for the 14 titles.
Of those in the field, seven are the top-ranked wrestlers in the nation. What’s more, four of the five top-ranked teams in the nation will find their way to Wyoga Lake Road, including No. 1 Blair Academy (N.J.). No. 24 Wadsworth will be among 25 of the top 50 teams that will be on hand.
Baughman, who is seeded second, is ranked sixth in the nation. North, who is seeded fourth, is ranked seventh. Dom Loparo (170) picked up the 15th seed.
Baughman and North come back as returning placers, with both finishing fourth a season ago.
“Mentally preparing for this week and putting your mind into this tournament is huge,” Wenger said. “Getting there and competing against the best guys in the country is preparing you mentally and physically for what happens come March.
“It’s awesome. The environment in the packed, little gym with tons of college coaches looking on and the biggest programs in the nation all around you, it’s just an awesome atmosphere. It’s a lot of fun to compete in.”