The Washington Panthers wrestling team will travel to the Walsh Jesuit Ironman wrestling tournament this weekend in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio for one of the most prestigious prep wrestling tournaments in the United States.
In it’s 23rd year, the Ironman tournament will be composed of 96 schools from 26 states, totalling over 500 wrestlers competing over the course of the weekend. Of the 26 teams attending the tournament, 18 teams are ranked inside the top 50 in the national wrestling rankings.
The Panthers, who are out to a 7-0 start through three meets, are looking to figure out what kind of team they are going to be this season.
“We are expecting the same thing from this tournament as we do from each meet, which is their best efforts,” Washington coach Bryan Medlin said. “I think we are going to get a lot of good feedback on our guys. I think we have enough wrestlers who have had exposure in big meets to where we can get more guys on the podium.”
At the forefront of the Washington wrestling team are 2016 individual state champions Jake Warner and Dack Punke, who helped the team to a 2016 2A dual-team state championship.
In their senior seasons with the Panthers, Warner and Punke will be competing in the Ironman tournament for their third and final time, hoping that their fortunes will be better than their first two trips.
In last years appearance at the Ironman tournament, Warner finished in second place in the 182 pound division, while Punke earned seventh place in the 113 pound division.
“It is a huge tournament and in my last two years, I didn’t finish the way I wanted to,” said Punke. “This year will be different. This is the ‘senior me’ and I’m just going to go out there and leave it on the mat one last time. We need to perform to the best of our abilities and push past all of the adversity that is ahead of us.”
“The goal is to win every winnable match,” said Warner. “Everyone on the team will have at least one winnable match and we just need to put ourselves on top of that. I think as long as we do everything in our power to get results, we will be happy. We have guys who can place and some guys who can win (their weight class).”
The leadership of Warner and Punke will give underclassmen on the team a unique opportunity to learn from individual state champions; an opportunity that Medlin is excited about.
“When you are new to a team and you are first starting, you aren’t sure about the sport,” said Medlin. “The new guys see a kid who has made the state finals and they see what he did, it gives them optimism that they can do it too. Without that optimism, all is lost and the goal is unatainable.”
With the experience of a team championship carrying over from last season, the Panthers want to finish as high as possible in the team competetion in order to set the tone for the 2016-17 season.
“The guys saw (last year) what is possible if they work together as the same unit and their common goal is similar,” said Medlin. “The seniors on this team are hunting down a championship feeling again and they are holding themselves accountable and ingraining that into the culture of Washington wrestling.”
Last year, Washington earned an 11th place finish in the team competition at the Ironman tournament. Washington will be in competition at the Ironman tournament Dec. 10-11, participating in three sessions: one on Friday and two on Saturday.