By JAMIE BAKER
Last year, was perhaps the most successful season, teamwise, Findlay High School’s wrestling program has ever had.
And yet, for juniors Jonah Smith and Jake Noon, they were not a part of it for much of the season.
Both are veteran wrestlers that have had a lot of success at the youth and middle school levels for Findlay.
This year, though, they are getting their chance to shine.
Smith is 13-2 and Noon is 12-3 entering Christmas week as the Trojans prepare for this weekend’s Border Wars Invitational at Defiance.
Neither wrestled with Findlay’s varsity team for most of last season. And the adversity they faced trying to crack the FHS lineup a year ago prepped them for their success this season.
Smith and Noon dealt with the disappointment in different ways.
“I tried to wrestle off at two different spots last year. I tried to get down to 120 and got down to 120.8 but couldn’t pinch the rest. I had to go either at 126 or 132,” said Smith, Findlay’s current 138-pounder, who won a Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship at 106 as a freshman.
“I tried 126 first and lost two wrestleoffs in a row to Liam Morrison and was done there. I lost two of three wrestleoffs to Jaden Johnson at 132 and I stayed JV.
“I could have been varsity at a lot of other schools, but I was stuck and couldn’t make the lineup. I tried later and kept losing and didn’t win a single wrestleoff the rest of the year. I would make the varsity once in awhile last year if one of them missed weight or one of them was cutting weight.”
Smith, who was voted as a team captain this season, took what he learned last year and put everything he had into building toward success this year.
“I knew I was going to put in a tough offseason and work a lot on positioning. I knew Liam was going to graduate, and I knew I would work my way into the lineup this season,” Smith said.
“Last year, definitely made me work harder. I don’t know what I would have done if I was JV this year. I don’t know if I would have stuck it out.”
Injuries and the disappointment of losing his wrestleoffs last season also stung Noon, who described last year as a rough spot in his career.
An accomplished wrestler when he was younger, injuries and losses made things tough for Noon physically, and more importantly, mentally.
“I was injured and came back last year and I had about three or four practices, Coach Kirian told me he was going to throw me in a junior varsity tournament and then I’d wrestle. I won the JV tournament and the next day I came down with a skin infection,” recalled Noon.
“I couldn’t wrestle off because of it. I just didn’t have my head on straight and I didn’t have that confidence you need on the mat. I wrestled off at 182 eventually and lost a close match.
“I just lost it, I thought what’s the point and I really needed a break so I quit the team. It hurt quite a bit and it was pretty emotional for myself, my teammates and the coaches because I have been wrestling since I was four or five years old. There are no excuses, it was all on me.”
Still feeling the itch to wrestle, Noon got some help in the form of counseling.
“I actually started seeing a psychiatrist,” he said. “We went through the layers of that chunk of time. I realized it was all in my head. I’m not a bad wrestler and I didn’t do all this work to get injured and not wrestle. I was just frustrated and that time off helped me deal with that.
“After the season, I decided I wanted to get back into it and I wrestled some freestyle in the offseason and did pretty well. After the highs and lows, now I’m back. I trained all summer and went to the Super 32 tournament. I came into the season with no regrets. If it wasn’t for what happened last year, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
The mental side of the sport is just as, if not more, important than the physical training. Noon learned that over the last year.
“It showed me the mental side of wrestling you need to be successful. Wrestling was my whole life. It was all I thought about. Last year it just wasn’t fun. I’ve learned how to balance life and make wrestling fun again.”
RUN TO THE BORDER: Findlay won’t be the only area team headed to Defiance for the school’s Border War Tournament, which has become northwest Ohio’s top holiday wrestling tournament.
The area stars will all be out when the two-day, 30-team event, which features teams from Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, begins at 11 a.m. Friday.
Patrick Henry, Ottawa-Glandorf, Columbus Grove and Bluffton will join Findlay in the tournament.
Returning state qualifiers Wil Morrow and T.J. Rhamy (Patrick Henry); Danny Rosales (Ottawa-Glandorf); Dylan Sargent and Jeff Meyer (Columbus Grove); and DeAndre Nassar (Bluffton) are scheduled to participate.
If you can’t make it, you can follow the action live on trackwrestling.com.
BIG FIELDS: Upper Sandusky and Elmwood will participate in two of the state’s largest holiday tournaments this weekend at Vandalia Butler and Brecksville, respectively.
Upper Sandusky will make its annual trek to the Dayton area for the Greater Miami Valley Wrestling Coaches Association Tournament at Butler. Action gets underway at 11 a.m. Thursday and will continue at 11 a.m. Friday.
The Rams and Wapakoneta are the lone Northwest District teams competing in the 49-team tournament.
Elmwood will switch tournaments this season. A longtime participant at the Medina Invitational Tournament, the Royals under new head coach Nick Davis will compete against a record 51-teams at Brecksville, the state’s longest-running holiday tournament now in its 58th year.
Nine teams in the field finished either first or second at state in their respective divisions in Ohio and Michigan and two schools, Brecksville and Elyria, are nationally ranked. A total of 147 returning individual state qualifiers are expected to compete. Wrestling begins at 11 a.m. Friday and will continue at 10 a.m. Saturday.
WRESTLING REDSKINS: Arcadia had its second wrestler this season eclipse the 100 career win milestone last week.
Senior 285-pounder John Hill accomplished the feat at the Arcadia Invitational earlier this season.
Wyatt Lucas, a senior who will be trying to win four straight sectional titles later this season, netted his 100th win for the Redskins by sweeping a pair of matches in a home super triangular against Bluffton and Delphos St. John’s.
Arcadia will be in action this week when it travels to Lucas on Thursday to compete in the Lucas Small School Invitational.