NORTH CANTON  Call it the calm before - and after - the storm.

In high school wrestling, the early part of February stands as the time between the busy holiday tournament schedule with dual matches to follow and the postseason, when wrestlers look to fight their way through the meat grinder that is sectional and district tournament competition and earn a spot at the state tournament.

The Hoover Vikings are in the midst of that time, trying to learn from their recent matches, get healthy and strengthen themselves for the tournament while staying sharp at the same time.

"We just finished up the meat of our season with a lot of big tournaments and duals, so at the end we try to taper it down so we can get healthy," Gamble said. "We just keep a couple of duals on the schedule to stay sharp. We have two league duals, then St. Ignatius coming up."

In recent weeks, the Vikings have competed at the Top Gun, Hoover Holiday and J.C. Gorman tournaments, all featuring top-level competition from across the area. Still, it’s a recent league dual match that could provide a big benefit when it comes to how they wrestle come tournament time.

In a home match against arch rival Jackson, Hoover held the lead for much of the evening, only to see the Polar Bears win three of the final four matches to claim a narrow, 33-30 win.

In the aftermath of that result, Gamble saw his team respond in encouraging fashion.

"I’ve just see our guys come together working hard. We have five guys who have been working out in the morning, getting extra work or an extra lift and training first thing in the morning."

Losing the Jackson contest is a tough pill to swallow for any Hoover team in any sport due to the intensity of the rivalry. Still, even in defeat, Gamble drew out some positives.

"It’s just one of those duals we had and kind of let get away," he said. "We talked briefly about it and I thought our freshman came through big time which really good to see in that kind of match."

In preparing for the postseason, the veteran coach tries to be as direct as possible with his team, especially his underclassmen. The Vikings face a Perry sectional that has some of the best competition in the state, but the hope is that wrestling against the Panthers during the regular season, along with other highly ranked squads, provides confidence in being able to do it again on the big stage.

The Vikings also count on veterans such as Jonah Wakser, Luke Reicosky, Ben Smith and others to step up and help with valuable insights and reassurance for their younger teammates. Hoover has four district qualifiers back from one season ago and that success on the big stage is something they want to build upon this season.

"It’s huge and all four returning qualifiers lead the room in how they train," Gamble said. "On the mat they’re relaxed and they’re not diving at bad things or panicking."

With training scaled back a bit, one aspect of postseason preparation is finding ways to stay sharp while putting less strain on wrestler’s bodies. That often takes the form of more technique work and drilling as a way to refine the technical side of a wrestler’s game. Once the tournament begins, there isn’t much time for that kind of work, so doing it now while also saving some wear and tear makes sense.

The sting of a disappointing defeat such as the Jackson loss can help refocus a team and right now, that’s exactly what the Vikings are attempting to do. They’ve weathered the meat of their schedule and can now take a deep breath, put in more work and get ready for matches that promise to be every bit as difficult, if not more so, than what came before.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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