After a historic run by the girls’ basketball team, it is time for the wrestling team to make a bit of history. Senior Abdullah Silmi and freshman Ethan Hernandez earned a “Shot at the Schott” in the Division II individual state wrestling tournament. Silmi will try to make his way through the 220-pound weight class while Hernandez takes a run at the 160-pound title.
Aside from being standout wrestlers, the duo admit they are more like brothers on and off the mats.
“A lot of people think they are brothers,” Norwalk wrestling coach Jim Linder said. “Everywhere we go, everyone asks them if they are brothers. Ethan is the only freshman in his weight class. When you get to those bigger weight classes, freshmen are few and far between. He has been our leader all year and of course with Abdullah placing last year, he felt a lot of pressure to get back. This is the ultimate compliment to their dedication to this program.”
Hernandez admits he has picked up on some very helpful pointers along the way thanks to Silmi.
“He is a senior and he has guided me all season long,” Hernandez said about Silmi. “He gives me so many tips and tricks is special situations. He helps me when I get in scramble situations and how to handle all of that. It really helps to have a leader like him.
“When you get down there, it is a whole other world when you are actually on the floor instead of in the stands. He tells me to just relax. I know it is a very nice privilege to just get down there as a freshman. Anything can happen and anything will happen. I want to just relax and wrestle hard.”
Being the senior, Simli has taken Hernandez under his wing the way a big brother would. Given the fact Hernandez is coming in as a bit of an unknown due to being a freshman, Silmi gave his teammate a big of a pep talk.
“I told him that rankings mean nothing,” Silmi said. “He is a freshman and he obviously wasn’t ranked coming in. He made his way up and earned a spot in the state tournament. I am proud of him and very proud to be going with him.”
Even though Hernandez is a freshman, Silmi admits he has learned a lot from his young teammate.
“Every wrestler at the state tournament is going to be great,” Silmi said. “He taught me that grade really doesn’t matter and I shouldn’t take anyone lightly. I am a senior and he is a freshman, but he beat seniors all year long.”
Silmi is a 2-time state qualifier and took eighth place last year. He took third place at last week’s Division II district meet at Mansfield Senior. The finish was good enough to earn him another trip to Columbus.
“It took a lot of hard work in and out of the wrestling room,” Silmi said. “I felt a lot of pressure to get back after getting there last year. I just wanted to do everything I could to get back there and I did.”
After a Top 8 finish last season, Silmi is looking to continue to improve and has his sights set very high.
“Realistically, I really want to be in the Top 3,” Silmi said. “But I am chasing that state title for sure. I need to really focus on each match but my quarterfinals match will be huge with a potential matchup with the No. 1 kid in the state in my weight class. I just have to remember it will just be another match and not psych myself out and just wrestle.”
Hernandez came into the season with high expectations for himself. He exceeded them by becoming the only freshman to advance to state in the 160-pound weight class.
“It means a lot,” Hernandez said. “If you look through my bracket, there is only one little nine in there. It is kind of scary, but at the same time, it is pretty cool.”
For Hernandez, it is all about making school history. He wants to become the highest freshman state placer at Norwalk.
“Kyle Lane took eighth place,” Hernandez said. “So I will be happy with anything better than that. I would love to get sixth. That is my goal heading in.”
Hernandez and Silmi have already exceeded expectations and Linder couldn’t be more proud of the two.
“Ethan has had this goal even before he was in high school,” Linder said. “This has been a dream just like every wrestler’s dream to get to the state tournament. Abdullah has overcome a lot to get back. He had a few distractions that has limited his season, but here he is back at the state tournament. He will be fresh going in.”
Linder knows these two wrestlers have set high goals for themselves, but admits they should be extremely proud of what they have been able to accomplish this season.
“Whatever happens from here on is icing on the cake,” Linder said. “I just want them to wrestle one match at a time. We always looked at our schedule as preparation for this moment. They took some lumps and bad breaks, but it was always about preparing for this moment. I don’t want them to get too caught up in what happened in the past. Abdullah took third place and Ethan took fourth at the district meet, but they shouldn’t get hung up on it. They have a nice chance to make a little history.”
The individual state wrestling tournament kicks off on Thursday as Session 1 begins at 3 p.m. The Division II championship preliminaries begin at 4:10 p.m. on Thursday.
Hernandez strolls in with a 41-8 record and drew Ryan Thomas of St. Paris Graham Local who is 40-3 on the year in the first round.
Silmi comes in with an 18-2 record and takes on Breslin Walker, a freshman from Cuyahoga Falls who owns a 30-8 record in the first round.