Motivated by memories: Fitch grabs Hephner lead

Ravenna and Uniontown Lake are also in the mix for the team wrestling title.



AUSTINTOWN – The Joshua Hephner Memorial Tournament is anything but just another regular season tournament for the Fitch High wrestling team. Winning is always the goal, but there’s a bit more incentive involved.

“We’re not just wrestling for ourselves and our team, but also for Josh and his family,” said Fitch senior Zack Martin. “This tournament has sentimental value to us and the community. Coach reminds us of the story and everything that happened. We just try to do as well as we can this weekend.”

Friday Martin did his part to make sure Fitch was near the top of the team leaderboard after the first day of competition. The senior went 3-0 on Day One and all but assured himself a spot in today’s eight-man bracket. He will face a tough field today at 125 pounds, including three returning state placers.

“The competition is better than ever in my weight class,” said Martin, who is a defending Hephner champion. “I’m hoping to finish in the top three, but I’d love to win it.”

Martin was one of several Fitch wrestlers to go undefeated, as the Falcons are at the top on the team standings heading into today’s competition with 104.5 points. Defending Division II runner-up Ravenna is close behind in second with 98. Rounding out the top five were Lake (92.5), Southeast (71) and Marlington (69).

“We’re exactly where I thought we’d be if we wrestled up to our capabilities,” said Fitch coach Brett Powell. “Ravenna, Lake and Marlington are some tough teams and I think Monroeville will pick up some big points tomorrow in the finals.

“This tournament is a good story every year. Our kids understand what this is all about and they support the Hephner family. For at least one weekend, Mrs. Hephner has about 30 sons and daughters to watch wrestle.”

The tournament, which features 25 teams, is one of the most competitive it has been in years. In addition to perennial powers Fitch, Ravenna and Lake, Div. III power Monroeville joined the field. The Eagles boast three nationally-ranked wrestlers.

“This is a good tourney,” said Monroeville coach Scott Bauer, whose team is ranked No. 3 in Div. III. “It’s a long drive [1 hour 45 minutes], but I like the fact that you can get a lot of matches in, no matter how you wrestle. It’s a good field, but there are also some winnable matches.

“It’s nice for us because we get to see some wrestlers we normally don’t get to see. To get in good wrestling shape, you need to wrestle a lot of matches and this tournament gives you that opportunity.”

With Fitch leading the field, fellow EOWL members Jackson-Milton and Girard are in the top 10 after Day One. The Blue Jays are the top Div. III squad in the field, tied for 10th with Massillon Jackson with 50 points. Girard (58) is tied with North Royalton for eighth place heading into today’s fourth round of pool wrestling.

Wrestling will begin at 9 a.m. today with Round 4 and 5 pool matches. The finals of the eight-man bracket will begin at 6 p.m.