By Dan Gilles
Rocky River sophomore 120-pounder Brad Sprau could have easily given up wrestling after his freshman year.
After winning only two matches the entire season, no one would have blamed him.
But Sprau stuck with it, working hard through the offseason to improve and earning his spot with the Pirates. That hard work was evident Saturday at the 12th annual Len Pariano Wrestling Tournament at Midpark High School, and it was justly rewarded.
Sprau (13-7) was the lone area wrestler to take home an individual championship, going 3-0 with two pins and a default victory. His pinfall in 5:36 over Hudson’s Ben Boysel gave him his first tournament championship of his young career.
He was also honored by the coaches as the tournament’s Most Valuable Wrestler for his efforts.
Sprau’s performance helped Rocky River finish sixth in the 14-team tournament with 117 points. Lakewood, the only other area team competing, finished seventh with 108 points.
“This feels great, real great,” Sprau said. “I couldn’t make it to this tournament last year, so this was my first time here. This season has been going better than last year. I really didn’t do so good, only going 2-15 as a freshman. It was really tough. But going into this year, it’s been going a bit better.
“I’ve had a tough weight class this year, so it’s been rough. But it’s been getting better. I did a lot of offseason lifting and got bigger. I also did a lot of offseason wrestling and tried not to get discouraged.”
Sprau thought about leaving the sport, but the main factor for sticking with it was that it is “fun.”
“It’s pretty rough during the season, and I always think I don’t want to go through this again next season,” he said. “But, going into every year, I get kind of pumped up about it and get ready to go.”
Sprau was trailing Boysel, 4-2, when he was able to stick him on his back for the thrilling pinfall just 24 seconds before the end of the match.
“He was very tough,” said Sprau of Boysel. “He was beating me at first, but once I got over and got his head, I was able to squeeze tight until the ref slapped the mat. I got him down with a half (nelson), and then I switched to a reverse half.”
Rocky River head coach Eric Toukkola was proud of Sprau.
“I was happy with his performance, and with all the kids’performances,” Toukkola said. “I thought that was an exciting match in the finals, and I was happy to see him get the pin and the title. He’s certainly earned it.”
The Pirates had two other runners-up – 106-pounder Aaron Kelly and 113-pounder Dan Mahoney – and wound up with seven overall placers in the top six.
Other placers included Jimi Smith (fourth, 160), Nick Rodgers (sixth, 170), Bill Kelly (sixth, 220) and Jesse Singler (fifth, 285).
“I thought the kids we brought here all wrestled hard,” Toukkola said. “I thought a couple of my upper weights could have done better, but they are coming off of some illnesses. And a couple of my middleweights are out for illness, so I thought we could have placed a couple steps higher.
“But, given the fact that we had two starters compromised and two starters that weren’t even here, our performance was not too bad. I thought the kids went out and battled.”
Kelly lost to Stow’s Kyle Jenkins by major decision, 11-2, in the 106-pound finals. Mahoney lost to Cloverleaf’s Greg Briggs, 8-1, in the 113-pound finals.
“They did really good,” Sprau said. “I was really happy with our whole team. Especially the lighter weights. I thought we did pretty good today. We have a pretty strong first couple of weight classes, especially our first two, so they did pretty good. I’m happy with the team.”
Rocky River and Lakewood were the only two West Shore Conference teams competing in the tournament.
Lakewood did not advance any wrestlers to the championship bout in any of the 14 weight classes. The Rangers did wind up with nine placers in the top six, but only two – sophomore Emanuel Lewis (220) and junior Roberto Sclimenti (285) – placed third or higher.
The Lakewood placers were Andrew Nicholson (sixth, 113), John Goff (sixth, 126), Roman Krizan (sixth, 138), David Krizan (sixth, 145), Abe Fattah (fifth, 160), Ralph Johnson (fifth, 170), Zak Kulina (fifth, 182), Lewis and Sclimenti.
Sclimenti’s 3-2 win over Midpark’s Sam Manesh in the third-place match prevented the host Meteors from finishing second in their final tournament. Next season’s Pariano Tournament will be held at the unified Berea-Midpark High School.
Lewis pinned Stow’s Chris Wright in 35 seconds in the third-place match. Lewis lost to eventual champion John Hoffman, 7-4, in the semifinals.
For the second-straight tournament, 138-pound junior Yassir Abdel-Salam did not compete for Lakewood. No reason was given for his absence.
Stow won the tournament for the second-straight year with 203.5 points. Hudson (second, 145), Midpark (third, 144), Cloverleaf (fourth, 130) and Clearview (fifth, 128.5) rounded out the top five.