By Dan Gilles
Lakewood senior Yassir Abdel-Salam has had a fine wrestling career on his own, but one thing eluded him for all this time – a berth in the Division I State Wrestling Tournament.
Last weekend, the 138-pounder not only finally accomplished that goal, but he did it in grand fashion by winning a district championship.
Abdel-Salam (35-1) became Lakewood’s first district champion since 1988 by going 4-0 at last weekend’s Division I Lorain District Wrestling Tournament at Cleveland State University’s Woodling Gym. He capped his historic weekend by defeating Oregon Clay’s Gavin Nelson, 3-1, in the championship match.
“Lakewood hasn’t had a district champion since 1988, so we were due,” Lakewood coach Vinnie Curiale said. “Congrats to Yassir Abdel-Salam for accomplishing that goal.”
Abdel-Salam was the area’s only district champion at the CSU district, but he was one of nine area wrestlers who earned Division I state tournament berths during Saturday’s opening session.
Abdel-Salam will wrestle Springboro sophomore Jakob Ottaway (36-8) in the first round of the Division I State Tournament on Thursday.
Joining Abdel-Salam in finals matches were St. Edward senior 182-pounder Gabe Dzuro — a North Olmsted resident — and St. Edward junior 220-pounder Parker Knapp — an Olmsted Falls resident.
Both Eagles lost their respective title matches. Dzuro (32-4) fell to Oregon Clay’s Matt Stencil, 8-6, while Knapp (28-8) lost a tough overtime decision to Nordonia’s Alex Woicehovich, 9-7.
Dzuro will wrestle Hilliard Darby senior Trevor Parker (39-8) in Thursday’s first round, while Knapp will wrestle Springfield senior Devin Nye (38-2). Nye placed fifth at 220 in last year’s state tournament.
Westlake senior 195-pounder Yousef Mustafa (36-4), who came one match short of qualifying for the state tournament last season, earned a long-awaited state berth with a third-place finish. He defeated Springfield’s Ross Lonsway, 4-3, in the consolation finals.
“You work hard, good things happen … and I work hard,” he said. “I’m not taking anything away from anybody else, but they didn’t work hard enough.
“Last year, I came so close — it was like a tease. It hasn’t really hit me — it’s kind of surreal — when it does, I’ll probably cry or something.”
Mustafa will wrestle Cincinnati St. Xavier junior Jonathan Jones (36-6) on Thursday.
Also earning state tournament berths were Avon Lake sophomore Joey Bernosky (fourth at 132), St. Edward senior — and Sheffield Lake resident — Kevin Khoma (fourth at 170) and the Olmsted Falls trio of Adam Salti (fourth at 138), Noel Caraballo (third at 220) and Jordan Lee (fourth at 285).
Bernosky (36-7) lost to Oregon Clay’s Richie Screptock, 8-1, in the third-place match, but still qualified for his first career state tournament berth. He’ll wrestle Hilliard Davidson senior Bobby Smith (45-3) in the first round on Thursday. Smith was a state runner-up last year and placed fifth in 2012 as a sophomore.
Khoma (27-16) lost to Mansfield’s Jesse Palser, 3-1, in his third-place match. Khoma will wrestle Cincinnati St. Xavier senior Joe Heyob (46-0) in the first round. Heyob placed sixth at 152 in last year’s state tournament.
Khoma, Dzuro and Knapp were three of St. Ed’s six state qualifiers this year – one of the school’s lowest number of state qualifiers in recent memory. The Eagles also didn’t win the district title, finishing as the runner-up behind Brecksville.
Caraballo (40-8) joined Mustafa as the only area wrestlers to win their third-place matches. He defeated Perrysburg’s Mark Delas, 5-4, in the consolation finals. He’ll meet Loveland senior Seth Brennock (47-4) on Thursday.
His teammates did not fare as well. Salti (39-11) lost to Brunswick’s Christian Camacho, 11-9, while Lee (40-7) was pinned by St. Ed’s Ralph Nichols in 3:35.
Salti will wrestle Cincinnati Elder senior Evan Morgan (36-8) at state, while Lee will meet Willoughby South sophomore Nik Urban (38-8).
North Ridgeville senior Evan Collier will go into this weekend as a state alternate following his fifth-place finish at the 120-pound weight class. Collier rebounded from losing his go-to match by defeated Cuyahoga Falls’ Mitch Hannan, 7-4.
However, the Rangers and Avon will not advance any wrestlers to the state tournament.
Mike Hansinger gave Olmsted Falls four wrestlers on the podium. However, Hansinger finished sixth at 171 after losing to Nordonia’s Anthony Perrine, 10-3.
Thanks to the four placers, Falls finished the highest out of all the area teams competing at CSU, placing ninth with 69 points.
Division II Bowling Green District: Only two area wrestlers from the four area high schools that were represented at this district tournament this past weekend survived and advanced to the Division II State Wrestling Tournament – Bay sophomore Vince Zitiello (44-5) and Rocky River sophomore Aaron Kelly (31-9).
Zitiello, the only one of the Rockets’ seven district qualifiers to make it through to state, placed third at 126 pounds.
Zitiello went 4-1 at the districts, losing to Northwestern’s Devin Rogers, 7-2, in the semifinals. However, he bounced back with a 7-0 win over Sandusky Perkins’ Matt Salmon to punch his ticket to Columbus and a 5-1 win over Lexington’s Brandon Leynaud in the third-place match.
Zitiello will meet Hunting Valley University School senior Walker Chieffe (35-7) in the first round Thursday at the Division II State Tournament.
Kelly placed fourth at 113 pounds, losing to Upper Sandusky’s Thurston Dyer, 5-3, in the consolation final. Kelly, who advanced to the semifinals, punched his ticket to Columbus with a 1-0 win over Sandusky Perkins’ Keysean Amison in the consolation semifinals.
Kelly will meet Steubenville sophomore Tariq Wilson (46-1) in the first round. Wilson placed sixth at 106 at last year’s state tournament.
Bay senior 160-pounder Dom Ruma was the only other area wrestler to clinch a spot on the podium. Ruma, who advanced to the semifinals, finished sixth after losing his final three matches in a row. That skid was capped by a pinfall loss in 4:12 by Maumee’s Anthony Arroyo in the fifth-place match.
Brookside, which advanced six wrestlers to districts, went 0-6 in its first-round matchups and had no one advance beyond the second round of the consolation bracket.
The state tournament for all three divisions begins Thursday at 3 p.m. at the Ohio State University’s Value City Arena. It will conclude Saturday evening with the championship matches for all three divisions.