Erik Mayer is right in the middle of Southview's wrestling success. Kevin Hijioka, left, and Gabe Garcia, right, also have outstanding records for the Cougars.
Try telling Southview's Erik Mayer that extra work doesn't pay off and he'll make it his mission to convince you otherwise.
That's what the 130-pounder has successfully done throughout the wrestling season following a summer spent rigorously honing his skills.
Mayer heads into the Northern Lakes League tournament tomorrow at 11 a.m. with a 30-0 record. He is focused leading the host Cougars to their first league championship since the 1981-82 school year.
"I'm willing to [do my part] and also push everyone else to be the best they can be," Mayer said. "It would be great for us to win league."
The Cougars have been a surprise. Not only has Mayer, a returning state qualifier, wrestled exceptionally well, the entire team has performed at a high level. They are 11-4 overall in duals, including a 4-1 showing in the NLL.
It ranks as the best regular season showing for the Cougars under Tony Geha, who is in his fourth season as Southview's coach. After three years of finishing among the lesser NLL teams, Geha has enjoyed the turnaround led primarily by a group of seniors who were freshmen when he took over the program.
"It's been a pretty good year. I'm pretty pleased with how we've done so far," Geha said.
And no one represents the surprising Cougars better than the unbeaten Mayer.
Mayer, who suffered 10 defeats a year ago, said his success has come from hard work. His summer workouts included attending the prestigious Jeff Jordan wrestling camp. Jordan, who was a four-time Ohio state champion, coaches at perennial state wrestling power St. Paris Graham High. His wrestling clinic traditionally attracts some of the nation's top prep wrestlers.
Mayer's time in Jordan's training program served as an eye-opener. It did more than just raise his wrestling I.Q. His confidence also swelled.
"Wrestlers from all over the country were there," Mayer reflected. "The experience wrestling with them let me know what level I was at."
But soaking up knowledge at one of the top summer wrestling camps in the country didn't quite quench Mayer's thirst to reach his potential. Literally, he went extra miles to improve on last season's 28-10 showing at 135 pounds. Mayer ran on the Cougars' cross-country team during the fall.
"Last year I wrestled 135, now I'm wrestling 130 and, so far, I've had the size advantage and the strength advantage," Mayer said. "Some of my losses last year were due to conditioning. I had a knee injury and was out of shape at the beginning of last season."
Geha has noticed Mayer's overall maturation on the mat.
"We kind of felt he'd do well this year," Geha said. "He's improved a lot from last year to this year. He's more aggressive. We're expecting him to go far this year.
"I'm sure his goal is to win the state tournament."
Mayer may have been the only member of the Cougars team that attended the Jordan wrestling camp and ran on the cross country team last fall, but he isn't the only Cougar on a mission.
Kevin Hijioka, a 135-pound senior, and Gabe Garcia, a 140-pound junior, have followed Mayer's lead. Chris Mierzwiak (20-5), a 189-pounder, and Alex Latham (28-8), a 112-pounder, have also held their own.
Hijioka, who spars primarily with Mayer, is 29-4. He produced a 30-9 record a year ago when he ended up placing sixth at district.
"It's my senior year, so I've been staying after practice to do extra work," Hijioka said. "My conditioning was a lot better at the beginning of the season compared to last year. I've been in pretty good shape all year.
"I want to be a state qualifier first, and second I want to win the NLL as a team."
Garcia (31-4) took time out of his summer vacation to train and compete in summer wrestling tournaments.
"I can definitely tell the difference from last year to this year," said Garcia, who went 33-15 as a sophomore. "I'm more confident on the mat."
Garcia believes his confidence has grown with the team's success.
"It's more competition between each other and we all want to be the best on our team and it really has pushed us to be the best as a whole," Garcia said.
Southview's best season during Geha's tenure includes capturing the team title at the 16-team Southview Invitational. The Cougars also finished third at the St. John's Tournament, fourth at the Bowling Green duals involving a 20-team field, fourth at the Perrysburg Invitational Tournament and ninth at the Waite Invitational.
"This is probably one of the best teams Southview has ever had. We've been middle of the road for a while but the guys knew this year we would have success," Geha said.
"It's been fun but the guys are starting to feel the pressure because they want to win league.
"So, it's getting more serious."
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