By Dan Gilles
COLUMBUS – Of the seven area wrestlers representing five different high schools in the Division I State Wrestling Tournament last weekend at Ohio State’s Value City Arena, only three of them reached the podium and placed in the top eight.
North Olmsted resident and St. Edward senior Gabe Dzuro (third, 182), Olmsted Falls senior Adam Salti (seventh, 138) and Westlake senior Yousef Mustafa (eighth, 195) were the trio who survived the three-day tournament to call themselves state placers.
However, Avon Lake sophomore Joey Bernosky (132), Lakewood senior Yassir Abdel-Salem (138), Sheffield Lake resident and St. Edward senior Kevin Khoma (170) and Olmsted Falls senior Jordan Lee (285) and sophomore Noel Caraballo (220) had their state tournaments end a bit prematurely.
Dzuro, who ignored repeated media requests to appear in the interview room, led the area with 5-1 performance and his first-career spot on the podium.
He began with a 15-7 major decision win over Hilliard Darby’s Trevor Parker, but was sent to the consolation bracket with a 5-0 loss to Cincinnati Moeller’s Dakota Sizemore.
Dzuro would eventually get his revenge on Sizemore, but first he pinned Reynoldsburg’s James Love in 30 seconds, defeated Mansfield’s Traevon Dickerson by forfeit and edged Mount Vernon’s Matthew Lybarger, 3-2, to reach the third-place match.
Running into Sizemore in the third-place match, Dzuro turned the tables with a 6-4 decision and his bronze medal.
Salti didn’t place as high as Dzuro, but like Dzuro, he won his final match of the day after going 3-2 – a pin of Madison’s Ryan Montgomery in 2:48 in the seventh-place match. He began the day by upsetting Kettering Fairmont District champion Evan Morgan of Elder, 8-7.
After losing 4-3 to Massillon Perry’s Nick Steed – the eventual state runner-up – in the quarterfinals, Salti – who was making his state debut – punched his ticket to the podium with a 9-5 win over Cincinnati St. Xavier’s Ben Heyob in the second round of the consolation bracket.
“It was a great experience,” Salti said. “For my first time down here, I was a bit nervous. Midway through the first period of my first match, I realized this was my last shot and I had to get it done.
“I didn’t want to go out and lose my last match of my career, so I’m happy I was able to go out on a good note. The goal was to place at state since last year, when I was a state alternate. I put a lot of work in during the offseason, so to accomplish that goal as a result is great. It’s not what I wanted, though – I wanted to be a state champ – but it’s still good.”
Salti took pleasure in the fact that he was unranked by Intermat’s Josh Lowe prior to the postseason.
“Rankings don’t mean anything,” Salti said. “As you can see, they haven’t worked out too well this weekend. I’ve beaten kids that placed in the top four. The two kids in the finals, I lost to by one point each.
“Rankings don’t matter at all. They just get in your head. I like being the underdog. I’d rather be not be ranked because the other guys are like, ‘Hey, who’s that kid?’ I really like that, especially when I beat them.”
Salti’s teammates Caraballo (sophomore, 220) and Lee (senior, 285) also qualified for state. However, Caraballo went 1-2 before he was eliminated by North Royalton’s Garrett Snyder, 5-3, while Lee went 0-2 and was pinned by Ashville Teas Valley’s C.J. Kinzer in 1:33.
“It was awesome to be here with Jordan and Noel,” Salti said. “Even though they didn’t do as well as we would have liked, they still came to the matches and supported me. We talked all night about this experience back at the hotel. It was a fun time.
“With Noel only a sophomore, I’m happy he got this experience, but I was kind of disappointed in him. He’s not showing the emotion of losing. He’s just happy to be here. Sure, I’d be happy too if I was a sophomore down here. But we all know how good of a wrestler he really is and that’s he’s capable of placing down here.
“He’s beaten kids that have placed and he has a bright future ahead of him. But some kids come down here once as freshmen and sophomores and don’t even make it back as juniors and seniors. You’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities. I’ve had a long talk with him about that, and I think he understands.”
Mustafa (38-7) overcame a first round pinfall loss to Cincinnati St. Xavier’s Jonathan Jones to become a state placer for the first time. However, he wound up 2-3, dropping his final two matches.
In his last match, the seventh-place match, Mustafa was down 5-3 to Holland Springfield’s Ross Lonsway with 10 seconds left before injuring his ankle. After getting it looked at, Mustafa decided to continue.
He escaped from Lonsway for a point and went for a takedown. However, he wasn’t able to get it done before the buzzer, and Lonsway escaped with a 5-4 win.
He defeated Maple Heights’ Monterol Johnson, 5-1, and Grove City Central Crossing’s Robbie Fusner, 7-4, to punch his ticket to the podium.
“It’s real hard to rebound, especially when you shoot for the moon,” Mustafa said. “My goal was the state finals, and that didn’t work out. But my coaches (Jake) Percival and (Matt) Curley got me refocused. Being a state placer is nothing to sneeze at. It’s pretty much everything.
“I don’t want to go 1-2. I want to end up on that podium. All the work I put in will pay off when I’m on the podium. I just walk on the mat like I own it and win.”
Mustafa enjoyed his state experience.
“It was everything I imagined, walking out of the tunnel and seeing a ton of people in the stands,” he said. “The Schottenstein Center’s amazing. If I had to go back, I’d do it even harder. Maybe the nerves got to me in my first match, I don’t know. You can’t really pinpoint it. It was just a really bad performance by me. He was a good wrestler; it wasn’t like he was a scrub. So props to him for the win.
“My coaches deserve the credit for me getting on the podium. They’re the best in Ohio – Percival, Curley and Jed Failor. Bringing home a medal for Westlake and for them means everything to me. I’d get up grind for them, for my school and for my family every day.”
Avon Lake hasn’t had a state placer since Mark Tomanek took third in 2008. That drought will continue after Bernosky (36-9) went 0-2 in his state debut.
Bernosky lost to Hilliard Davidson’s Bobby Smith, 3-1, and to Cincinnati LaSalle’s John Shirkey, 5-2.
“I definitely needed to make it down to state and see what it was like,” Bernosky said. “I wanted to get those tough matches out of the way and see what I can do. I think this will be a good way to look on to next season and to look back on states.
“I know that no one looked at me as finishing high here. I was a no-name here. So it was good just to get my name a little bit noticed, that I can hang with the top dudes.”
Bernosky wants to come back next season and, this time, earn a spot on the podium.
“I’m looking at it as if I still got to go at it hard,” Bernosky said. “Even if they know that I qualified for state, I still just got to take my opponents the same and look at no kid as the same as me.
“We actually have a good lineup coming up at Avon Lake. We had some good kids fall down and quit, but I’m looking to build up this team. I want to keep a good attitude going and a good mindset for this team and do a lot in the offseason to get better.”
Abdel-Salam (36-3) had high hopes after winning the Cleveland State district title the previous weekend and winning his opening match at state, a 15-3 major decision over Springboro’s Jakob Ottaway.
However, Lakewood’s first district champ since 1988 couldn’t join his brother Yousef and Nick Ramsey, who were the last Ranger placers in 2011, as a state placer in dropping his next two matches.
“State was everything I thought it would be,” Abdel-Salam said. “There’s a lot of people here. I didn’t wrestle at the postseason my last two years. I got to districts as a freshman, but I was a match away from getting to state. I’m glad I was able to come back my senior year and win districts and win my first match here.”
Lakewood coach Vinnie Curiale was proud of his state qualifier.
“The last couple years, he’s had good guys around him to work him to get this point,” he said. “And now, he’s really starting to believe what he can do. He’s not just the other Abdel-Salam – he’s the guy now. He’s starting to believe it, and you can see it how he’s wrestled.
“We’re just trying to treat this like just another tournament and go out and wrestle. We were a little nervous being our first time down here, being on that big stage and all that stuff. I think we adjusted and kind of woke up and everything just fell into place.”
Khoma rebounded from an opening technical fall loss, 19-4, to Cincinnati St. Xavier’s Joey Heyob to defeat Hamilton Township’s Clayton Ray, 7-6. But, his state tournament came to an end with a 7-5 loss to Loveland’s James Caniglia.