With a renewed emphasis on going for the pin, the Clay wrestling team enters the final two weekends of the 2013-14 season riding the momentum of their regional team dual, conference, and sectional tournament triumphs.
Never had the Eagles’ pin power been more evident than in their home gym last Saturday when they recorded 32 victories by falls in 37 matches.
Pressing opponents’ shoulder blades to the mat so steadily led to Clay posting 320½ points to easily top runner-up St. John’s Jesuit (166) in winning a Division I sectional team title.
In the process, the Eagles had 11 individual champions and qualified 13 of their 14 wrestlers to the district at Cleveland State University.
On the season, Clay has registered pins in 148 of its 369 match victories (40 percent).
“The team has done a great job of understanding what it takes to win a dual meet and to win a tournament,” third-year Clay coach Ralph Cubberly said. “They’re believing in the idea of having to pin people to get those bonus points. That’s helping us accomplish our team goals, and it’s helping our kids reach their individual goals.”
The sectional champions included senior captains Jared Davis (126 pounds, 21-6 season record), Gavin Nelson (138 pounds, 35-6), and Nick Stencel (160, 35-5), seniors Aaron Henneman (120, 31-11) and Antonio Zapata (285, 34-12), juniors Richie Screptock (132, 40-8), Andy Howard (152, 23-13) and Tyler Koester (220, 30-11), sophomores Zach Brown (145, 31-14) and Matt Stencel (182, 33-5), and freshman Nick Henneman (106, 28-11).
Sophomore Evan True (113, 17-13) qualified for district as a sectional runner-up, and junior Kevin Witt (195, 11-9) advanced by placing third.
Clay’s leader in pins is Matt Stencel with 18. His brother, Nick Stencel, and Brown are tied for second at 17, and Aaron Henneman is fourth with 15.
“Everyone on the team is going for pins,” Nick Stencel said. “That’s helping the team out because it’s those extra bonus points that rack up the team score.”
Davis and Nelson agreed.
“Pins make a huge difference,” Davis said. “It makes the match a lot less risky. There’s no chance that they can come back and beat you, and you prevent getting injured. That’s how you win big tournaments like district and state.”
Added Nelson: “I’ve never been much of a pinner. I get more tech falls. In most of my wins I score a lot of points.
“But that’s been awesome for the team. If you get one pin, they [opponents] have got to get two wins to equal it out.”
Cubberly credits his team’s 22 pins at the Three Rivers Athletic Conference tournament for making the difference in the a narrow 230 to 214½ victory over runner-up Central Catholic.
It was Clay’s sixth straight league championship — 2009-11 in the City League, 2012-14 in the TRAC.
It came on the heels of the Eagles’ second straight regional championship in the D-I team dual tournament. In the regional semifinals, Clay edged Northern Lakes League champion Perrysburg on criteria after the teams tied 30-30.
“The kids understand the importance of accumulating points, not just winning the match,” Cubberly said. “That’s basically why we beat Perrysburg in the duals and why we beat Central Catholic in the TRAC. Take away our bonus points from pins and we don’t win either of those.”
Why are pins so crucial in dual meets and tournaments?
In dual matches, a pin is worth six team points, a technical fall (15-point victory) is five points, a major decision (winning by eight to 14 points) is four points, and a regular decision (winning by one to seven points) earns three points.
In tournaments, wrestlers earn two points for victories in the championship bracket and one point for victories in the consolation bracket.
But they also receive two bonus points for any pins, 1½ bonus points for technical falls, and one bonus points for major decisions.
In the regional team dual finals, the Eagles beat host Elyria 36-30 to advance to the state quarterfinals in Columbus, where they lost 35-20 to Lakewood St. Edward.
St. Ed will be one of the top barriers for Clay at this weekend’s district, along with projected team champion Brecksville-Broadview Heights. Perrysburg and Wadsworth are also expected to finish among the top five.
Cubberly is optimistic that as many as eight of his wrestlers have a realistic shot at placing in the top four and advancing to the state tournament Feb. 27-March 1 in Columbus.
“It’s gone pretty well, and it seems like we’re peaking at the right time,” Cubberly said. “When we went to the regional duals against Perrysburg, we were looking to peak at that time and then just keep rolling. That win gave us the momentum to keep moving.”
The Eagles who likely have the best chance at qualifying for state — based on their experience level and 2013-14 match success — include the Henneman and Stencel brothers, Davis, Screptock, Nelson, and Zapata.
Davis is bidding for a fourth straight trip to state. His best finish was seventh at 106 in 2012.
“I’m super excited,” Davis said. “I only placed one time, and this is my final year, so I want to go out with a bang. I have so many thoughts going through my head.
“It’s sad that it’s going to be ending in the next two weeks. But I’m excited to see if all the work I’ve put in will help me achieve my goals. I want to try to get to the top of the [awards] podium at the state tournament.”
Screptock is a two-time state placer, finishing seventh at 113 in 2012, and fourth last year at 120. Nick Stencel was fifth at state at 160 last year, and Zapata was also a state qualifier in 2013.
“I think we have a good chance at having four or five guys take first at the district this year,” said Nick Stencel, who has 135 career wins. “I think we’re in the top 10 in the state.
“I feel I can do well down there at state this year. I need to work as hard as I can these last two weeks. I’ve done as much as I can the past four years, and I’m just going to keep trying harder and harder every day. These are my last two high school tournaments. I’ve got to go out with a win.”
Nelson hopes for a first trip to the individual state tourney.
“It’s always on my mind, and all I’m thinking about,” he said. “I just want to do what I’ve got to do to be on that podium at the state tournament.”