Chardon, West Geauga, Kenston and Berkshire participated at the Kenston Invitational Tournament last weekend.
Chardon Hilltoppers wrestlers aren’t done climbing the hill, but they’re getting there.
The Chardon wrestling program has shown vast improvement over the first month of the season and their turn of fortune this season has been on the horizon for a couple years now.
The Hilltoppers competed this past weekend at the 49th annual Kenston Invitational. The two-day tournament consisted of 29 teams.
Chardon finished with three placers during the championship round. They finished in 15th place as a team and they entered Saturday’s action in 11th place. They sent eight of 11 wrestlers to the championship quarterfinals. The lone Hilltopper that advanced to the semifinals was senior Matt Liggett.
The improvement is the focal point of the Hilltoppers’ performance this weekend. The team scored 87 points this year. They finished with only 35.5 last year and all 12 wrestlers were eliminated before the championship round. The 87 points was the highest team total at the Kenston Invitational since 2004.
This was not the first tournament this season that the Hilltoppers showed great improvement: They finished with 83 points at the Solon Comet Classic, scoring 70 points more than they had last season (13).
The Hilltoppers were paced in the tournament by five place-winners. Both the 83 points and five place winners were both school records for the Comet Classic.
The team also finished in third place at the Matteucci Tournament at Eastlake North, behind Avon Lake and Lake Catholic. At the Matteucci Tournament, they finished with seven place winners.
Chardon was paced at the Kenston Invitational by senior Matt Liggett, junior Mike Connick, and sophomore Devin Johnson.
Liggett, one of three seniors in the starting lineup for the Hilltoppers, put together a well-rounded tournament, finishing in fourth place after advancing to the championship semifinals. He lost in the semis to Chayse Csongedi of Parma.
Liggett then fought into the third-place match with an impressive major decision win over Berkshire’s Cody Charvat. This was off the heels of a defeat by Charvat over Liggett at the Solon Comet Classic, 13-12, after leading early in the match, 11-5.
Liggett finished the tournament with three major decisions – a match won by at least eight points – and one pin. He now has a 14-5 record on the season.
“It was a comeback tournament for me,” Liggett said. “I struggled at Solon and I wasn’t focused. Coming out here I wrestled hard, figured out what I had to do and went after it.”
When asked about the improvement about the team has had this season, Liggett said, “We are a solid bunch of kids and we really know what we’re doing. Each teammate would go out there and wrestle his heart out.
“It’s nice that you can count on each guy to go out and score points,” he added.
Sophomore Devin Johnson finished the tournament in fourth place at 182, with both losses coming to the first and second placers last year at 170 – Mike Lewis of Parma, the tournament’s first seed – and James Love of Reynoldsburg.
Johnson finished in fourth place at the Solon Comet Classic at 195. Junior Mike Connick, the lone returning district qualifier from last year, finished in fifth place. He also finished in fifth at Solon. Johnson is 16-6 on the season, and, with his 5-2 record on the weekend, Connick is now 19-5 on the season.
“We’re getting tougher,” Salatino said. “We did well at Solon and I think we could have done better here. I think we could have done better, but we had some guys get unfavorable draws. I’m pleased with how we’re wrestling.”
When asked about the biggest change that has happened this season, Salatino said the biggest change is the team’s mentality.
“We have gotten to the point where guys are doing things on their own; they’re wrestling during the offseason on their own and lifting on their own,” he said. “We don’t have to sit their and hold their hands anymore. Before we were begging kids. Now they come and ask to lift, (hold) open mats, and to go to tournaments like Solon. We have kids that have finally bought into the weight room.”
The Hilltoppers have also been successful in dual meets and currently have a 6-0 record. Salatino confirmed the team will compete in the upcoming OHSAA Dual Tournament, which starts on January 22. The brackets will be announced on January 10. They will return to the mat on January 11 at the Bedford Tournament.
The Kenston Bombers continued to get impressive performances from senior Nolan Kondik.
He finished in second place at the Solon Comet Classic, then won his second championship at the Matteucci Tournament. He finished his final KIT with a third-place finish, going 5-1 on the weekend. Kondik defeated Anthony Audi of Poland, 7-6, in the third place match.
He had lost to Audi in the championship quarterfinals, 5-4. Kondik finished the weekend with three wins by decision and two pins.
Fellow senior Sam Gambatese, who entered the tournament as the number-two seed at 160, finished in third place. A tough loss to Kyle Woods of Streetsboro in the championship semifinals sent Gambatese to the consolation bracket, where he collected wins over opponents from Strongsville and Ravenna to finish third.
Sophomore Noan Georgia finished fifth at 106 and lost to highly ranked and eventual tournament champion Harry Feuer of Mayfield by major decision. He defeated Alec Schopfer from West Branch to take fifth in the tournament.
Berkshire had four place-winners on the weekend, scoring 71 points as a team and finished in 18th place. They only scored 48 points last season and only had one place winner. Even more impressive is the Badgers entered 10 wrestlers this weekend. Last year in the same tournament they only had five entrants.
Badgers senior Cody Charvat, coming off a 5-0 weekend at the Huron Tiger Duals. Charvat finished in fifth place, pinning Sam Matzek of North Olmsted and finishing the weekend with a 5-2 record.
Charvat finished in fourth-place last year at KIT. He finished last season 36-9 and finished in fifth place at the Garfield Heights District tournament. Fellow seniors TJ Malkus and Brandon Vander Maas finished in fifth and sixth place, respectively.
The Badgers will be back in action Jan. 11 at the Ashtabula Edgewood Duals tournament. They will host senior night on Jan. 25 while facing Akron North and Eastlake North. Matches start at 6 p.m.
The tournament team champion was Crestwood. They edged Garfield Heights, 133.5 to 133. Crestwood finished in third place last season. The tournament MVP award went to Beachwood’s Sam Gross, a Northwestern recruit. He went 5-0 at 132, winning three matches by pin, one by major decision and technical fall.
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