The Truckers entered Division II district tournament action boasting seven qualifying wrestlers, each needing to place somewhere in the Top 4 spots to be guaranteed a trip to state. Abdullah Silmi and Ethan Hernandez placed third and fourth, respectively.
After losing a wrestler due to disciplinary issues, the Truckers were down to six, Hernandez, Silmi, Darion Smith, Gabe Phillips, Alec Maloney and Deyer Graffice. After Day 1, they were down to only three with Phillips, Silmi and Hernandez remaining.
With Phillips eliminated after a tough loss to Alex Andrews of Napoleon and Hernandez and Silmi dropping matches, the guys had some work to do in the loser’s bracket and perseverance earned them the chance to advance.
“First and foremost, I’m proud and I’m honored to be in (Hernandez’s) corner, and to be his coach. I get so many compliments from peers and no one can believe he’s a freshman,” Norwalk Coach Jim Linder said “It’s awesome, just an honor. He’s going to state and taking me with him.”
Hernandez, the only freshman in the 160-pound weight class, fell to Noah Clary of Upper Sandusky after downing Emiliano Gonzalez of Defiance and Patric Keown of Firelands but took care of Cloverleaf’s Cory Stallings to cement himself in a qualifying position. In the third-place match, Hernandez fell to Brahm Ginter of Shelby and was relegated to fourth place.
“It means a lot because the last freshman to go was Kyle Lang who finished in eighth place. It has always been my dream just to get there, and to get there my freshman year is a really big deal for me,” Hernandez said. “Coach stresses conditioning and that match came all the way down to conditioning. After the first period, I wasn’t tired, second-period I wasn’t tired, third-period I was a little tired, but not as much as the other guy. When it went into overtime, I was more confident because I knew he was gassed.”
His teammate, Silmi defeated Teonte Bailey of Toledo Woodard and Bryce Carmichael of Pauda Franciscan. Dropping a match to Brandon Phillips of Maumee, but rebounded with a ticket-punching win over Russell Demarco of Port Clinton. In his last match, Silmi defeated Greg Packard of Brookside to finish third.
“I had a lot of pressure on me to make it back because of last year, it’s exciting and I can’t wait, but I’m just taking it one match at a time,” Silmi said.
Linder was proud of the way Silmi could put the loss out of mind and prepare for a pressure-filled match with state implications.
“There was a big match that he lost, but you only get one hour to get your mind right and be ready for that bout that says either you’re going or staying. With Abdullah, he was eighth-place in the state last year, so the pressure is twice as much on him,” Linder said. “You went last year, so you’re automatically going this year, that’s not how it works, it’s just not how it works, he just did a great job.”
The state individual tournament will take place from Thursday through Saturday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio.