Perry’s nationally-ranked wrestling team gets its first chance to test itself against the country’s best when it competes in the Ironman Tournament this weekend.

Perry's wrestling team considers itself a contender to hold the Division I state championship trophy by the time its season ends. The Panthers also are seen by many nationally as one of the top 10 teams in the country.

Just how much Perry's able to live up to that lofty hype will be evident by the time the Panthers reach the end of December. Between today and Dec. 28, they will compete in three of the top tournaments in high school wrestling, starting with this weekend's Ironman Tournament at Walsh Jesuit High School.

After that comes the Beast of the East Tournament on Dec. 21-22 in Delaware. The month concludes with the Medina Invitational Tournament on Dec. 27-28.

"We better have a big feeling for December," Perry coach Dave Riggs said. "The first week of January, we have (nation's No. 1-ranked) Blair Academy. It doesn't get any easier."

And it all starts with the nation's top-ranked tournament, starting today in northern Summit County. It's a tournament for which Riggs knows his wrestlers have to be ready to go from the first whistle.

"When you go to the No. 1 tournament in the country, wow, you have to have a different attitude," Riggs said. "We better be more than ready. I like our chances; I like what our guys are doing."

Riggs, though, took slight umbrage to the thought that this weekend marked the true opener for his team. The Panthers had a dual match with Federal League rival Lake last Thursday, a match they won 50-16.

The Blue Streaks have traditionally been Perry's closest competition in the league. They are the only team to share the league title with the Panthers — that in 2005 — during their 14-year reign as Federal League champions.

"Lake's a good team," Riggs said. "We have a lot of respect for those guys. That was our kickoff."

While that may be true, there's no denying the level of the competition — all due respect to Lake — will be exponentially increasing this weekend. Of the top 16 teams in InterMat Wrestling's national rankings, 11 will be in the field.

One of those is Perry, which is ranked No. 8. Teams ranked higher than the Panthers in the field are No. 1 Blair, No. 2 Oak Park River Forest (Ill.), No. 3 Wyoming Seminary (Pa.), No. 4 Montini Catholic (Ill.) and No. 6 St. Paris Graham.

So, needless to say, there are plenty of challenges awaiting. But Riggs believes his veteran team is well-prepared for the task.

"Going into this tournament in the past, most of these guys have all been in this tournament before," Riggs said. "Of course, Tommy Genetin and Jake Newhouse are in their first year in the lineup. ... We're used to this competition. Everybody on this teams has done this a half-dozen times or more."

Genetin, despite his first year as a full-time varsity starter, is still one of five Panthers seeded in the top 10 in their weight classes — sixth at 106 pounds. Other top-10 seeds for Perry are Jose Rodriguez (No. 3, 113), David Bavery (No. 4, 126), Tony Dailey (No. 8, 160) and Stefano Millin (No. 5, 220).

Two other Panthers — Isaac Bast (No. 13, 170) and Casey Sparkman (No. 15, 152) — also earned seeds.

"That may be a record for us," Riggs said. "Seedings are good indicators, but I'm looking at our guys, man, I just think they're going to do something. I feel really good about them. We've been practicing with a lot of intensity and meaning."

And starting this weekend, Perry plans to show just how all of that can pay off against elite competition.