JACKSON TWP.  Big-time competitors love the chance to compete on the biggest stages.

When it comes to high school wrestling in Northeast Ohio, there aren’t many stages bigger than the Bill Dies Memorial tournament at Firestone High School. It’s an event named after William Dies, a co-founder of the Ohio Youth Wrestling Association and a longtime supporter of the sport in the greater Summit County area.

Dies was the father of nine and enjoyed working with young wrestlers.

This is the 30th year of the tournament and each year, dozens of programs from across multiple divisions take part. This year, the group will include the Jackson Polar Bears, who last year were a part of the field for the first time since current head coach Joe Knopick began coaching at Jackson.

“It was a great honor to be invited to the dies tournament last year,” Knopick said. “They always have top-notch competition that prepares us for the postseason.”

The pressure that comes with a big tournament like the Bill Dies Memorial is high, but taking part helps wrestlers get an idea of what the postseason will be like. Jackson has several big events on its schedule throughout the season and while pursuing league success and a Federal Legue title are important, getting ready for the sectional and district tournaments is another focal point.

Knowing that the toughest matches of the season are still ahead, Jackson is looking to use its Dies appearance this weekend to raise its game as the postseason nears.

“I think the most talented tournament our team will face this year will be our district tournament,” Knopick said. “Tournaments like the Hoover Holiday, Bill Dies, Josh Hephner and Medina Invitational prepare us for that and the tough competition we will face there.”

Still, striking a good balance between individual meets and tournaments and the season as a whole is important. Although winning each time out is the goal for the Polar Bears, the coaching staff tries to teach its wrestlers not to base their confidence in themselves on wins or losses. Instead, competitors are taught to treat the season and all of its parts as an ongoing process in which they need to learn and grow.

“Their confidence will come from consistently going out on the mat and performing their best,” Knopick said.

Two wrestlers who have reason to be confidence entering the final weeks of the season are Zenik Vovk at 170 pounds and Braxton Freeman at 160 pounds. Vovk (13-4) finished second at the Hoover Holiday tournament and Freeman placed fifth. 

Both have tough, deep fields in front of them at the Dies tournament and reaching the finals will be a grueling endeavor for anyone in the field. It’s that sort of challenge Knopick and his staff want for the team, facing the best possible competition with the spotlight on them.

“In wrestling both the mind and body are put to the test. Physically, they have to be able to perform their best and recover quickly in between matches,” Knopick said. “Mentally, they must be able to control their attitude and effort both before, during, and after their matches. If we can win the physical and mental battles, we will have success.”

Success can be defined in different ways, but this weekend, some of the best high school wrestlers in the state will look to define it by taking to the mats at a major tournament and overcoming rivals from multiple counties. Looming after this weekend is a showdown with Perry, the longtime kings of Federal League wrestling. It’s a seven-day stretch that promises to push the Polar Bears to their limits and see if they have what it takes to come out on top both in the near future and the weeks ahead. 

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
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