Northridge could not see its fans Saturday.
The Vikings, however, sure could hear them from the floor of St. John Arena. The inaugural Ohio High School Athletic Association team tournament had its fair share of tense moments for Northridge, but the elation was unrivaled.
“That right there is what kept you motivated through the tough times,” senior heavyweight Anthoney Verhovec said. “We have done a lot of firsts for our school.”
Northridge did not leave empty-handed. The Vikings were beaten 51-15 by Massillon Tuslaw in a Division III state semifinal, but their quarterfinal victory will be talked about for years.
Northridge trailed Amanda-Clearcreek 33-29 heading into the final match. Needing a pin to win, Verhovec — a 2012 state qualifier — answered the call with 1:12 to spare, giving the Vikings a thrilling 35-33 victory.
“I have to say I was a little bit (tired),” said Verhovec, minutes after his pin. “But hey, I am here, though. We are going to the final four, baby.”
The team tournament could not have come at a better time for Northridge. The Vikings dominated the Licking County Youth Wrestling League in its early years.
Northridge ripped the Licking County Tournament title from Licking Valley’s grip in December. The Vikings did the same to Loudonville in the Mid-Buckeye Conference a week ago.
“We have been wrestling together for nine or 10 years,” senior Shane Mulligan said. “This is the program we have built since biddy. We have all been great friends, and it makes it more memorable.”
The first-year state tournament was not without its flaws.
To avoid robbing schools of money-making invitationals, the tournament’s regional rounds were wedged into Wednesdays, coming after grueling weekend tournaments and before Thursday duals. Coaches were forced to choose whether they wanted to risk injuring beaten-up wrestlers.
Several conference tournaments were moved up a week, but not the Mid-State League-Ohio Division. Had Whitehall won its regional final Wednesday, the Rams would have had to decline participation in the league tournament, an event they won Saturday.
It was clear to the hundreds that attended the state tournament Saturday, however, the positives far outweighed the negatives.
“It gives you a lot of motivation because you don’t want this to be the last thing of the season,” Mulligan said. “We know we have three hard weeks left. We have to keep up with the practice and the hard work.”
Northridge entered the season with three wrestlers having state experience. Now, the Vikings have a roster full.
“Our goal for the individual state tournament is to take 10,” Verhovec said. “We have 21 guys here right now. Just the atmosphere here is going to help them at the next level, I can promise you that.”