The Mat Cats came into this season, similar to the rest of winter athletics, with the question if there would be a season due to the pandemic. The Wildcats answered the call, having arguably one of the most impressive seasons in program history. The Mat Cats finished the regular season with six ranked wrestlers, after having zero ranked coming into the 2020-21 season.
The Mat Cats broke a program record this season, winning 18 dual meets, a record previously held by the 2016-17 team that achieved 14 wins in the regular season. "It was an interesting off-season; we tried to stay connected through social media," says Head Wrestling Coach Mark Sullivan. "We kept protocols strict about keeping the kids safe and on the mat."
Despite the added battle of a pandemic, the Mat Cats were not deterred from getting better after each practice. Senior leadership was a significant point of emphasis for this season. "I think with wrestling, we create a certain brotherhood," says senior captain Carter Zimmerman. "The friendships and relationships I built are something that motivated me for this season because I care about my teammates' success."
Adversity has been a key term for most in these trying times, but coach Sullivan has made it a point of emphasis to rally his men. "The more difficult the adversity, the better benefits you can get from that adversity, and they responded well," explains coach Sullivan. "I am proud of what my guys have accomplished this year, but we're not done."
"It showed that if our team comes together, and if we work hard, anything is possible," says sophomore Jarell Young. "We stayed persistent, and it worked out."
Senior Anthony Santagata took adversity as a positive. "I think the adversity keeps us on our toes because we were not sure if we were going to have a season," says Santagata. "We took every chance we got like it was our last."
The Mat Cats have performed well throughout the season, and they appear to be getting stronger after every match. The Wildcats' most recent match came against the Strongsville Mustangs on Senior Night, where they won decisively 58-22.
"This was a Capstone for all the hard work the wrestlers put in this year," says Zimmerman. "All the seniors won on Senior Night, and I think that is important for the program going forward to see the strong senior leadership."
"This is the closest team I have been a part of in four years," says Santagata. "The gym was electric, and Calum (Campolieti) pinned the #14 ranked kid in the state."
When asked if this was one of the best team's that coach Sullivan has seen with his time at Saint Ignatius, he notes that this was one of the most improved teams that he has had the opportunity to coach. "We came into the season with two ranked wrestlers (Tim Putka and Santino Duniec) injured and out for the season," says Sullivan. "We began the season with no kids ranked, and now at the end of the season, we have six kids ranked."
Santagata pointed out his excitement for the team breaking a program record, but the team is not resting on its laurels. "I think it's great we broke the dual win record," says Santagata. "We are taking this week by week, match by match, period by period, each week."
"I usually try to take it one match at a time-this season has gone by so fast," says Young. "I haven't even gotten a chance to really see what we've done, but I know we've accomplished so much this season."
Although the regular season is wrapped up, the Mat Cats are hard at work, training for the Sectional meet this upcoming weekend. "Right now is the most difficult part of the season; we are in the middle of wrestle-offs," says Sullivan. "With wrestling, if you win the wrestle-off, you're the starter, so emotions are at an all-time high right now."
The Wildcats wrestling program holds its student-athletes to a high standard when it comes to competing. The wrestlers have to earn their spot in the starting lineup for each match.
"By earning the spot, you earn respect and honor for the position," says Sullivan. "Nothing is handed to you in this sport."
Zimmerman is one of those wrestlers looking to win his wrestle-off and earn a start in the Sectional meet in Strongsville. "I started wrestling my sophomore year as a district alternate, and last year I qualified for districts," explains Zimmerman. "This year, I want to win a match at Districts; That would be very special for me."
The Mat Cats excitement level for Sectionals this weekend is palpable. "I haven't been able to sleep these past few nights," says Santagata. "This is my last year, and I have one more shot at this, along with the team; we are all playing well right now. I think we are peaking at the right time."
With Sectionals approaching ever closer, coach Sullivan is taking extra steps to keep his men safe. "Closer we get to sectionals, the more cautious I become," says Sullivan. "I am making sure everything is covered to keep my student-athletes safe."
The Wildcats will travel to Strongsville High School on Saturday, February 27, for the Sectional meet. There will be two sessions, with the first session beginning for the 106-145 weight class at 9 a.m. Session two will feature the 152-285 weight class a lot p.m. "This team has alot of potential," says Zimmerman. "I think we can make some noise this weekend."