JACKSON TWP. You won’t hear much from the Jackson wrestling team in the next few days.
Aside from a match against Hudson, the Polar Bears are in the middle of a two-week span in which they have just one match and are channeling all of their energy into preparing for next week’s Perry Division I sectional tournament.
Veteran head coach Joe Knopick wants his team ready to perform at its peak when it rolls into Perry for the tournament and to that end, it’s all about the details in the days ahead.
“We’re putting in the finishing touches to try to make sure we’re wrestling best when it matters most,” Knopick said. “We want to build the guys’ confidence in the (wrestling) room by being successful, whether it’s conditioning or live action. Practices are shorter, but they get more intense and we want to make sure we warm up well to prevent any type of injury.
With a 14-5 record and 3-2 Federal League mark entering the final week of the regular season, Jackson has amassed a successful resume for a team with just two seniors and scores of underclassmen in the lineup.
Right now, the message is going back to basics because over the course of a long season, those details can lag a bit, but come tournament time, precise execution and attention to detail can separate wrestlers in a setting where they’re on nearly even footing with an opponent.
When tournament time rolls around, the pressure on everyone mounts because a loss can mean the end of the season at the sectional, district or state tournaments. Veterans are even more valuable in such settings and one veteran in particular has an added helping of motivation to succeed this year.
“Luke (Haymaker) is one of two seniors we have on the team and it's been a challenging journey for Luke,” Knopick said. “He’s battled through a lot of things and I’m looking forward to seeing him compete in final postseason. Making weight has not been easy for him and he’s worked that hard to keep his weight down and be ready for matches.”
Haymaker, who reached the district tournament’s second day last season, moved up from 113 pounds as a junior to wrestling in the 120-pound weight class as a senior. However, moving up one weight class hasn’t meant it’s been easy to make weight and in fact, Haymaker admitted it’s been even though for him.
“My goal is to make it all the way to states. Last year was the first year I made it to districts, but I got very sick second day and I wasn’t able to compete,” Haymaker said. “I wasn’t able to get out of bed because I was so sick … it killed me to not be able to wrestle. I feel like I’m cutting a little more to make 120 than to make it to 113 last year, but this is better for me, wrestling at 120, because I’m confident against the guys I’m going against.”
Haymaker and his teammates have found themselves in tough matches all season long, be it in tournament or dual matches against foes such as Perry, which is again at the top of the league and has been there for years. Having experience against the best of the best has shown the Polar Bears what level they must be at to succeed come the tournament and now, all that remains is to go out and show whether they can reach that level.
“A lot of it's just mental ... the mental game is so huge for wrestling … if we can get guys to go out and fight and battle, whether it’s the sectional tournament or first match of the year, we’re trying to impose our will on our opponent and not be broken,” Knopick said.
Some of the mental battles have centered on opponents and technique, while others have been about overcoming internal challenges and being ready to compete. Also on Haymaker’s plate has been the knowledge that as one of just two seniors on the roster, he has both the chance and the responsibility to set the best example for the younger wrestlers in the room.
“It makes me want to make weight even more, being one of the only seniors, me and Elijah (Underwood), it makes me think all these kids are looking up to us to set a good example,” Haymaker said.
The example he wants to set is getting back to the district tournament and this time, advancing on to the state tournament. It’s an opportunity illness deprived him of last season, making him all the more determined to cash in his final chance to reach Columbus. That makes the next week exceedingly valuable as he and his teammates try to get healthy, hone their technique and come out firing at the sectional tournament. It’s the quiet before the noise of the postseason and come next week, the Polar Bears want to be making plenty of noise.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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