Solon 120-pounder Jake Canitano began his senior campaign with a home title, while fellow Comet senior CJ Bell, Kenston senior Joe Koplow and Orange junior Yury Pozdneev were runners-up during the 34th Comet Classic wrestling tournament on Friday and Saturday.
Returning from a 41-7 season that ended with a third-place finish at the Division I state championship, Canitano pinned his way to the Comet Classic title bout with wins against Strongsville freshman Kenneth Lambert, 1:30, Crestwood Division III No. 12-ranked senior Dominic Savoca, 3:43, and Anthony Wayne junior Bryce Gilts, 1:07.
After finishing runner-up a year ago, Canitano returned to the top of the podium to capture his second Comet Classic title by way of an 8-2 decision against Orange’s Pozdneev. He won the 106-pound title as a sophomore.
Canitano is ranked No. 4 in the state among 120-pounders in Division I, according to Boro Fan Ohio. Cincinnati LaSalle senior Lucas Byrd, a returning state champ at 113 pounds, is ranked No. 1, while Fairfield senior Moustapha Bal, who finished sixth at 113 pounds last year, is ranked No. 2, and Toledo Whitmer sophomore Jack Haskin, who was eliminated by Bal, 5-3, in the state consolation bracket last year, is ranked No. 3.
Orange’s Pozdneev, meanwhile, made it to the Comet Classic championship bout after going 2-2 and not placing at the 28-team tournament a year ago.
“I did much better than last year,” the Lion grappler said. “But I was extremely nervous, especially for the last match.”
Pozdneev also pinned his first three opponents, starting with a third-period triumph against Barberton freshman Mason Dewitt in 5:13. Pozdneev was leading, 15-1, at that point.
“I think he got tired by the third period,” Pozdneev said. “At the beginning, I couldn’t turn him. He kept bridging and turning over. But, at the end, he was just completely tired. I just wore him out when I was riding him out on top.”
The Lion grappler went on to pin North Royalton junior Bradley Humble in 5:25, and then he pinned Mayfield sophomore Anthony White in 3:34 during his quarterfinal bout.
White was one match victory shy of a Division I state berth at 106 pounds last year, before jumping two weight classes to open up this season.
“Even last year and two years ago, a lot of my wins were pins,” Pozdneev said. “I either win by like a small margin when it’s a close match or I just pin them.”
Pozdneev went on to skunk Oregon Clay junior Austin Thompson by a 7-0 decision in the semifinals to set up his bout with Solon’s Canitano.
When Pozdneev took on Canitano last season, Canitano won by a 15-0 tech fall.
“He just destroyed me completely, so I was just really nervous,” said Pozdneev, who battled out an 8-2 decision against Canitano on Saturday. “I did wrestle much better than last time. I did give up some back points, and I didn’t think I should have let him get that takedown at the beginning. I think I gave it up too easily.”
While Pozdneev scored more than half of Orange’s team points at the Comet Classic, heavyweight freshman Grant Bell also placed for the Lions, going 3-2 in the tournament to finish seventh with a pin against Barberton junior Zakary Jackson.
Joining Canitano as placers for Solon, meanwhile, 106-pound senior Bell finished runner-up, 170-pound junior Jake Mack took seventh and 113-pound freshman Nick Mochak was eighth.
Bell garners a No. 14 state ranking among Division I grapplers, but the 106-pound Comet went 1-2 and did not place at his home tournament a year ago. He finished 3-1 this year.
“It was really exciting,” Bell said. “The Comet Classic is one of the toughest season openers around and filled with a lot of tough wrestlers from all around the state. So, it’s really good to go out there against some fierce competition to see where you stack up.”
Bell opened the classic with a pin against Strongsville freshman Giovanni Mucurio in 3:23, before fending off Oregon Clay junior Tony Pendergraff by way of a 10-8 decision in his quarterfinal about.
Pendergraff was a district quarterfinalist last season.
“For the first few periods I knew that my opponent was very fast and comfortable in the neutral position,” Bell said. “I knew that I would have to control the match and get takedowns first. So, that’s pretty much what happened.
“Eventually I got up, 8-5, at the start of the third period, but I got turned onto my back for a tie, and that’s really the only point I lost control of the match,” Bell said. “But then after that, I knew that I had to do something to regain control, so I did what I knew I could do, and I reversed him and kept him down for the remainder of the match.”
Bell went on to win a 3-1 decision against Walsh Jesuit junior Jack Schmidt in his semifinal bout, when he took time to feel out his opponent, he said. But that’s something Bell is trying to veer away from and rather just go out and wrestle his match, he said.
That triumph propelled Bell to his first title bout of a major tournament, he said.
Proving he belonged in the parade of champions, Bell battled St. Ignatius state No. 8-ranked junior Johnny Novack to a 4-1 decision to finish runner-up.
“It was actually really exciting for me to actually feel the experience of being in the champion finals of a tournament for the very first time, and it’s going to be an experience that I will never forget,” Bell said. “Putting on that singlet that we reserve for the finals, legitimately for the first time, as opposed to just a dual meet, it was pretty special.
“My takeaway from that match was that I still have a lot of little areas that I need to work on. There’s always something that you can improve on in order to close the gap between you and some of your tougher opponents.”
Kenston, meanwhile, was depleted of a full lineup because several Bomber grapplers were busy winning themselves a state football title on Friday. But three of the six matmen Kenston did send to the Comet Classic placed.
Koplow finished runner-up at 170 pounds – although he plans to get back down to 160 pounds – while 138-pound senior Seth Samidan finished seventh with a second-period pin against Revere sophomore Gavin Butler, and 152-pound Bomber senior Dylan Sosnoswsky finished seventh with a second-period pin against Garrettsville Garfield junior Connor Hrubik.
“It felt good to get the season going, but I’ve got off to a little rough start,” said Koplow, who is ranked No. 11 in the state among 160-pound grapplers after qualifying for states in Division I a year ago.
“At the Mentor scrimmage, I got five stiches in my forehead,” he said. “But I opened up against that Midview kid. I saw him wrestle before, and I just picked apart what he did and just went in there with a game plan.”
Koplow pinned Midview senior Garrett Hruby in 1:58, before going on to edge Solon junior Jake Mack by a 2-1 decision in the quarterfinals.
Adding to his stitches, Koplow actually broke his finger in that match, he said. Hitting a single on his takedown, Koplow’s finger was crushed by Mack’s knee.
“That kid was big. He was strong. He was tough to take down,” Koplow said of Mack. “I didn’t really get my angles. And then I broke my finger. So, I was struggling. But it was tight, he’s a good kid, and I pushed through it. I wasn’t going to lose.”
In the semifinals, Koplow defeated Brunswick junior Kevin Kiussis by a 12-2 major decision.
A familiar opponent, Kiussis was actually the grappler Koplow defeated at districts last season, by a 6-2 decision, in his go-to match for states.
“He’s a tough kid, too,” Koplow said. “He’s a crazy wrestler who does some really unconventional stuff that’s hard to stop. I just kind of went in there with the mindset that I’m a senior and I’ve got nothing to lose. This is going to be my last ever Solon tournament. So, I just went out there and just wrestled my match and let it all hang out.”
In the 170-pound championship bout, Koplow lost an 18-5 major decision against Lakeside junior Jacob Lagoa, who is ranked No. 2 in the state among 160-pound grapplers in Division I.
A transfer to Lakeside from Ashtabula St. John, Lagoa is a two-team Division III state champion, winning the 170-pound title as a sophomore and the 152-pound title as a freshman.
“To be honest with you, I loved wrestling him,” Koplow said. “It was a great learning experience. I’m so glad I wrestled him. I learned that I can compete with those guys. I gave him a little bit too much respect coming out of the gate.
“I wish I didn’t give him that much respect, because I can compete with him, I took him down twice. But he’s fast. He was faster than me and stronger than me. He also tilted me a few times. I know I can take away those tilts, and the match is three or four points away.”