All season long, Nordonia has shown that it can run with big boys of Northeast Ohio wrestling.
More evidence of that came at the Division I district tournament Feb. 22 and 23 at Cleveland State University's Woodling Gymnasium.
Nordonia finished sixth in the team race at CSU with 79 points. St. Edward won the tournament with 271 points, while Brecksville was second with 224.
More importantly, the Knights advanced four wrestlers to the state meet -- their biggest number since 2002. Junior 220-pounder Alex Woicehovich, freshman 106-pounder Tony Decesare, junior 138-pounder Mike Decesare and junior 132-pounder Heath Phillibert are bound for states.
Nordonia coach Audie Atienza said he believes the four state qualifiers is the most Nordonia has had since 1998, which was the year Nordonia took second in the state team race.
Atienza said each of his state qualifiers deserved to be at states.
"I think our district was the toughest district [in Division I]," Atienza said. "We'll find out next week. Having St. Ed's is like having four all-star teams in a district. Brecksville showed what they had at sections and they only got better at districts.
The guys that came through earned it.
Woicehovich became the first Knight since Lenny Trusnik in 2004 to win an individual district title.
"Wojo" opened by pinning Avon's Joe Travaglainte in 3:00 and beating Toledo St. John's Peter Krull 7-1. He then booked his return trip to Columbus with a dominant 15-6 win over Perrysburg's Mark Delas.
The final at 220 pounds was a rematch of the final from the Medina sectional the previous week, as Woicehovich squared off with Brecksville's Austin Linden.
After losing to Linden by one point at sectionals, Woicehovich returned the favor, winning 4-3 to claim the district title.
"It was the match we were hoping both kids would make," Atienza said. "I think the difference was his attitude coming in. He didn't come in a bit hesitant like he was at sectionals."
Woicehovich will face Max Lacey of Canal Winchester in his first match at states.
"We want to improve on last year's performance," Atienza said. "We're looking for a high spot on the podium."
After just missing a trip to states last year, Atienza said nothing was stopping Mike Decesare this year.
"He was very determined," Atienza said. "From the moment he was eliminated last year to the moment he qualified this year, he worked to reach his goal of states. I'm not surprised at all."
Decesare opened with a pair of major-decision wins, beating Westlake's Josh Pappas 18-4 and Cloverleaf's Anthony Kozma 11-1 to reach the semifinals.
In the semifinals, Decesare dropped a 5-1 decision to Lorain's Elijah Garcia.
Needing a win to secure his place at states, Decesare scored a solid 6-2 win over Brecksville's Grayson Davis in the consolation semifinal.
The third-place match set Decesare up against his arch rival: Wadsworth's Mathias Zollinger. Decesare avenged a pair of earlier losses to Zollinger by getting the win 3-1.
"He made the adjustments and he went after him," Atienza said.
"Numerous coaches have said the field at 106 pounds is the toughest it has been in years, but Mike Decesare was able to advance in fourth place."
The younger Decesare brother pinned Lorain's Devonte Edwards in 5:41 and squeezed past Perryburg's Mario Guillen 7-6.
In the semifinal, Decesare was in a dogfight with Brunswick's Josh Heil, but Heil scored a 1-0 win.
Decsare faced a pair of rematches in the consolations, but booked his ticket to states with a 5-4 win over Edwards in the consolation semifinal. Guillen pinned Decesare in the third-place match.
"Tony is a gamer," Atienza said. "It seems like the bigger the match, the better he gets. He was down in the two matches and came back to win."
Phillibert lost his opening match to Cloverleaf's Mark Heidelman 4-3, which Atienza said was just what Phillibert wanted.
"He had a game plan from the start," Atienza said. "After losing his first match, he told me, 'I'm going to win four straight matches and qualify for states.' I looked at him and I believed him. He finally believed in how good he was."
Phillibert did just what he said he would. He pinned Sylvania Southview's Jared Grunberg in 4:29, beat Brunswick's Christian Camacho 4-1, downed Westlake's Jake Paul and booked his ticket to states with a 5-1 win over Oregon Clay's Gavin Nelson. Phillibert ran out of gas in the third-place match, losing 7-4 to Strongsville's Ricky Perez.
Atienza had hoped 182-pounder Eric Claren could also reach states, but Claren went 2-2 and was eliminated.
"It's just one of the things that happens sometimes at districts," Atienza said. "It's tough, but I think it's an experience."
The Knights also had 120-pounder Nick Collica and heavyweight Brandon Rem each go 1-2 at districts.
Atienza said Nordonia's goal for the state meet is simple.
"Our goal is to come back with four guys on the podium," Atienza said.
The Division I state tournament will begin Feb. 28 at 5:45 p.m. at Value City Arena in Columbus.