JACKSON TWP.  Perhaps more than any other high school sport, wrestling demands that competitors not be intimidated by their opponent if they hope to win.

Because wrestling is one of the few high school sports where hand-to-hand combat is not only allowed, but is the core of the sport, being confident and not afraid of an opponent is vital. The Jackson Polar Bears, like the rest of the high school wrestling world in Ohio, are ramping up for the impending postseason and as they do, they’re trying to build the confidence they’ll need to compete and win in the section, district and state tournaments.

"I think it’s really important that we go out and compete and wrestle up to our abilities, not be intimidated," head coach Joe Knopick said. "We just need to be confident and wrestle our style."

If Jackson is going to be confident, it can look back to its recent win over arch rival Hoover as a primary source. The Polar Bears and Vikings were locked in a close match from the start and competing on their rival’s home mats, the Polar Bears found themselves needing to win the majority of the remaining matches to come out on top.

"It’s really important for any team that faces any type of adversity to be able to overcome that," Knopick said. "Coming down to the last couple matches, we were down a couple of points going into the lighter weights, but we were able to win three of the four and that won us the match."

One of the matches that boosted Jackson to a 33-30 win that day was Da’Miere Clift, a junior who moved down to 152 pounds for the match and was able to not only win, but earn a bonus point by scoring a major decision. It was an impressive effort on several fronts, not the least of which was a wrestler shedding weight and still having the strength to wrestle well enough to win and earn a major decision.

"For Da’miere it was his first time down to the 152-pound weight class and able to go down in weight and get bonus points did help us a lot," Knopick said. "We don’t ever encourage cutting weight and we’d rather they raise their weight class, but when you cut weight, sometimes it’s easy to focus on losing that weight and not competing, or to focus your mind on the match itself."

Another big match down the stretch was last week’s showdown with perennial league power Perry. Although the Panthers won to secure another Federal League title, Knopick wants to make sure that regardless of the opponent, his wrestlers are improving and believe in themselves when they step out on the mat.

"It’s all about continuous progress and getting better. You want them to peak at right time, to get better and to diagnose things they need to work on in their arsenal," Knopick said. "You want to add things that need to be added to your arsenal and focus on cleaning up technique, doing well in classroom and being good person."

Success in the classroom is something the coaching staff wants to see from the entire roster, but in large part they count on athletes to encourage and support one another during the course of the school day.

If an athlete is struggling with classes, Knopick will have a conversation with them privately, but the veteran coach said his wrestlers have proven to be good about helping each other if one of them is struggling in a class or needs a bit of tutoring before a big test.

It’s the kind of support that can build connections that help competitors on the mat and at a time of the season when a wrestler needs every boost he or she can get in order to make a run at a state championship, a helping hand can go a long way toward a confident conclusion to the campaign.

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