Alliance -- After day one of the Division II district tournament at Alliance Feb. 22, Woodridge wrestling was in a lousy position.
Having earned only eight team points, all five of the Bulldogs still alive at Alliance were in the consolation bracket. That meant each would need to win three matches to qualify for states.
"I told the guys, the first thing we need to do today is win the first match," said Woodridge coach Mike Massey Feb. 23.
Four of the five Bulldogs did win their first match Feb. 23 -- and that was only the beginning.
Woodridge ended up with 132-pounder Pat Dickinson, 195-pounder Cody Jenkins and 220-pounder Mason Hilling all reaching states through the consolation bracket. The top four placers at Alliance advanced to the state meet.
Woodridge roared all the way up to 12th place in the team race with 49 points after its slow start. Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy won the team title with 174 points.
"If I coach another 30 years, I'll never be able to predict what happens at the districts," Massey said. "Like I told the guys all week, what matters is who's wrestling best today. Mason, Cody and Pat were all wrestling their best today."
The Bulldogs were set to open the Division II state tournament Feb. 28 at Value City Arena (see story, Page 40).
Hilling finished in third place at Alliance and did so in fairly dramatic fashion.
On day one, Hilling opened with a 6-1 win over Fairless' Wes Yoder, but then was beaten 10-2 by Conneaut's Billy Post.
On day two, Hilling decided to do what he does best: Use the cradle.
Hilling would cradle and pin all four of his opponents on Feb. 23, beginning with sticks on Lake Catholic's Christian Janek (35 seconds) and Benedictine's Allan Vancourt (1:56). When Hilling hit a standing reverse cradle to score the pin on Revere's Jake Totten in 1:42, he booked his first ticket to states.
"It felt great," Hilling said. "I can't even talk right now, I'm so happy. I knew I could do it."
Hilling carried his momentum into the third-place match, which was a rematch with Post. Hilling hit another cradle to pin Post in 1:21 to take third.
Dickinson had to navigate one of the toughest brackets in the tournament. He opened with an 11-4 win over Coventry's Zach Lake, but then ran into Crestwood's Dylan Kager and lost 15-0.
Dickinson rebounded by beating Lake Catholic's Jeff King 8-2 and Jefferson Area's Ricker Maple 5-1.
The semifinal pitted Dickinson against CVCA's Ricky Simomelli, who had beaten Dickinson 13-2 in the sectional final the previous week.
This time, however, Dickinson wrestled a cautious match, riding Simonelli for the full second period. With the match tied 0-0 heading into the third period, Dickinson chose to start down, escaped and got the only takedown of the match to score a 3-0 win and reach states.
Dickinson lost a tight decision in the third-place match 3-2 to Northwest's Justin Smith.
Jenkins had to take the long road to states, as he lost his opening match to Field's Matt Hettick, getting pinned in 2:49.
However, Jenkins rebounded by beating Jefferson's Jeremey Brady 15-2, which gave Massey a premonition.
"I told the guys at breakfast, 'Cody's got a good chance to get to the go-to match," Massey said.
Jenkins did just that, but he was involved in some tight matches. He beat Akron Kenmore's Brandon Brailer 3-2 and then won a wild 14-13 match with Canfield's Hayden Smith.
In the consolation semifinal, Jenkins faced off with Coventry's Zack Cropper. Jenkins put Cropper on his back early, only to see Cropper rally to tie the match at 4-4 in the second period. Jenkins escaped twice and, although he was hit with a stalling point, held on for a 6-5 win and a state berth.
Jenkins ran out of mojo in the third-place match, as CVCA's Nick Havener pinned him in 42 seconds.
Hopes were high that Woodridge's other senior, 152-pounder Trevon Burgins, also could reach states. After losing his first-round match, Burgins was able to rebound with a 15-10 win over West Geauga's Rob Alcorn and an 8-6 win over Perry's David Mrosko.
However, Burgins saw his career end with an 8-4 loss to West Branch's Ken Faulkner. Burgins recently signed to play football at Lake Erie College.
Sophomore 145-pounder Hunter Mercer also reached the second day at districts, but he finished at 1-2 after losing 5-2 to University School's Dominic Monaco.
Woodridge 113-pounder Matt Dodds and 170-pounder Demetrius Tabler each went 0-2 at Alliance, but Massey said the experience they gained will do wonders for them in the future.