Delaware County was well represented during last weekend’s AAU Junior Olympic Games at the Iowa Events Center, as six local standouts, four from Hayes and two from Liberty, played pivotal roles in securing Ohio’s first freestyle wrestling national championship in 13 years.
Hayes’ Greg Brusco, a two-time state qualifier and soon-to-be junior at Hayes, led the charge for Ohio Scarlet with a perfect 15-0 record — a mark good enough to earn him a gold medal. His team, meanwhile, one of four which made the trip as part of Team Ohio, won the showcase with a perfect 17-0 dual meet record … and did so in convincing fashion.
Its tightest matches included wins over heavyweights Brecksville (40-25), Minnesota Black (38-29) and Potomac Valley Red (44-23) — squad’s littered with state champs and nationally-recognized grapplers.
“I had a great experience wrestling against the best competition at the Junior Olympics, but I also got to train with the best guys in Ohio,” Brusco said. “It will surely help me reach my high school goal come February and March.”
Believe it or not, Brusco, who competed in the 138-pound division, said he saw the success coming.
“Yeah, I thought about it (earning a gold medal),” he said. “I have been working as hard as I’ve ever worked … and my coaches and teammates have been pushing me like no other.”
Having stud teammates like Delaware’s James White IV (98), Ryan Craun (138), Jakota Carter (170), Chris Martinez (195) and Andrew Sierawski (285), and Liberty’s Brakan Mead (106) and Jonathan Furnas (132), certainly helped matters.
“We were all excited,” Brusco said. “We were excited because of the accomplishment … and the way we were all wrestling.”
Like Brusco, Furnas dominated his weight class, nabbing a silver medal with a 16-1 overall record. Martinez finished with a sliver as well, compiling a sparkling 16-1 record of his own over the course of the four-day event. Mead, meanwhile, finished 15-2 en route to securing a bronze medal while Sierawski, a recent Hayes grad who will wrestle at Baldwin Wallace later this year, finished 14-3 to earn a copper medal.
Other Ohio Scarlet contributors included the likes of Tim Rooney Jr. (St. Charles), Tanner Miller (Lancaster), Dain Steffeny (Granville) and Shakur Laney (Groveport).
The national title was the culmination of months and months of training … and a competitive qualification process.
Team Ohio, consisting of Scarlet, Gray, Blue and White squads of 15 wrestlers each, was formed through two qualifiers in late spring, one held up North in Cuyahoga and the other right here in Delaware at Hayes High School. The top guys, the champs in each weight class at the qualifiers, automatically made the cut while the top medalists smoothed out the rosters.
Once the top 60 or so were selected, Hayes hosted a four-day minicamp with top-notch instructors like Russ Hellickson (silver medalist in Freestyle Heavyweight competition at 1976 Summer Olympics and former OSU head coach) and Steve Luke (Massillon native and three-time NCAA All-American and NCAA Champion at Michigan).
Hayes head coach Josh Heffernan, who was one of three Delaware coaches to represent Team Ohio at the Junior Olympics (Kevin and Mark Rieman were the others) said hosting the camp proved to be an invaluable instructional tool for the Pacers … not just the six on Ohio Scarlet or the eight peppered throughout the other three Team Ohio squads, but the program as a whole.
When you bring 60 of the state’s best wrestlers into your backyard, that becomes our summer camp,” he said. “With the elite competition in the state there, because we hosted, our whole team could come in and train with those guys, even the ones who didn’t make the trip. That’s the kind of experience you just can’t duplicate.”
It’s the kind of experience you just can’t get without commitment, either. Fortunately for Heffernan, his wrestlers don’t have that problem.
“The commitment I’m getting from wrestlers at Delaware Hayes is outstanding,” he said. “The guys are putting 100 percent toward offseason training, which is a huge component of success in a sport like wrestling.”