As the finals got under way in the Kevin Cleveland Memorial Tournament on Jan. 5, Yoshi Akutsu of the Dublin Scioto High School wrestling team found himself in an unfamiliar spot.
The senior heavyweight was in street clothes with a bag of ice wrapped around his right wrist. The minor sprain sustained during the event was more of an annoyance than a setback for Akutsu, who reached the championship match in two of Scioto's first three tournament appearances this season.
"It might set me back a week, if that," he said.
Akutsu, who won two matches in the Kevin Cleveland Memorial Tournament to improve to 24-5 on the season, is determined to keep progressing with a body that finally has grown into the weight class. At 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, he is 25 pounds heavier than last season. He weighed about 230 as a sophomore.
"I'm heavier and that helps a lot," said Akutsu, whose team scored 59 points to finish 13th in the 16-team Kevin Cleveland Memorial Tournament behind champion Lewistown Indian Lake (228). "But I'm moving better than I ever have and think I'm more athletic."
A two-time Division I district qualifier and state alternate, Akutsu has been a bright spot in the Irish lineup, which is dominated by underclassmen. The team's only returning district qualifier, he finished 21-9 last season.
"He was one match away from the state tournament last year," coach Aaron McKenzie said. "He's a big heavyweight now. With that weight class, height and weight are everything because of leverage. You've got a huge range of weights in that class and, if you're in the upper realm of it, that's definitely to your advantage."
Akutsu already has faced strong competition, including the area's top-ranked heavyweight in Hilliard Davidson senior Travis Gusan. The two met in the championship match of the Panther Invitational on Dec. 15 at Pickerington North, with Gusan prevailing 3-1.
"He's definitely beatable and his style isn't all that unique," said Akutsu, who has been wrestling since middle school. "I think he's someone I could definitely beat late in the season if I work toward it."
Akutsu opened the season by finishing first in the Olentangy Invitational on Dec. 1. He placed third in the 19-team Ready Winter Classic held Dec. 27 and 28, as the Irish finished fifth (139.5) behind champion Whitehall (342.5).
Akutsu is striving to become the program's second heavyweight to qualify for state. Al Bilins reached state in the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons, winning the championship in his second appearance.
"Yoshi is wrestling with some passion this year," McKenzie said. "We really didn't see that last year until the district tournament when I think he really started to believe he could compete with that caliber of an opponent."
Jerome's Mowery thriving since return
Senior Brett Mowery, Jerome's only returning state qualifier who went 39-6 last season, has won two tournaments at 220 since returning from a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for most of December.
Mowery finished first in the Kevin Cleveland Memorial Tournament to improve to 10-0, as the Celtics finished third (152) behind Indian Lake and Pickerington Central (215). Also winning titles were senior Bennett Comfort at 138 and junior Josh Transue at 113. Comfort is 21-1 and Transue is 18-4.
"Brett is moving so well and I can't believe it's only been five months since his surgery (to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament)," coach Adam Huddle said. "It's amazing how quick he's come along."
Mowery also finished first in the Marion Harding Classic on Dec. 28 and 29, as Jerome placed seventh (124.5) of 32 teams behind champion Thomas Worthington (183).
Coffman competes in holiday tourney
Coffman has been idle since competing in the Greater Miami Valley Wrestling Association Holiday Tournament on Dec. 28 and 29. The Shamrocks tied Wilmington for 42nd (36.5) in the 52-team event behind champion St. Paris Graham (295).
Coffman did not have anyone place in the top eight.
The Shamrocks have OCC-Central duals against Central Crossing and Westland on Thursday, Jan. 10, at Olentangy Liberty before competing in the Porter Memorial Tournament on Saturday, Jan. 12, at Hilliard Bradley.