CUYAHOGA FALLS: Walsh Jesuit senior wrestler Mike Konstandaras was beaten to the brink last year.
After placing third in the state as a sophomore in 2011, Konstandaras’ junior year hit him with wave after wave of frustration. It was almost enough to drive him out of wrestling.
He started the year wrestling at 132 pounds but decided to cut weight and drop to 126. Soon after, he was knocked unconscious in a tournament and sustained a shoulder injury that left him with knots and spasms for weeks and relegated him to a stationary bike during practice. Once he started to heal, he hurt his foot — the doctors have yet to diagnose it, but the injury left him with a small, rock-hard mass on the side of his right foot — just before the district tournament.
Still battling both injuries, Konstandaras didn’t make it out of the district tournament 12 months after standing on the podium at the state tournament in Columbus.
“That would be what I would call rock bottom of my career,” Konstandaras said Friday at the Ironman Wrestling Tournament at Walsh High School where he won two matches, advanced to today’s quarterfinals and recorded his 100th career win. “I was totally demotivated, totally destroyed. I wanted to quit at the time. But it was something I had to suck up. I just had to deal with it. It was the worst experience.”
It changed the way the Konstandaras (101-29) viewed wrestling and his own work ethic. He had been complacent before, taking a victory any way he could and being perfectly satisfied with whatever happened otherwise.
His injuries and early exit from the district event changed that. He’s now driven to be as close to perfect as possible every time he wrestles.
“I went from not really doing anything in the summer, just taking a break and enjoying the offseason, to this year picking everything up, running, doing anything I could to get better,” Konstandaras said. “Lately, I’ve been looking at improving on the little things.”
Konstandaras put in a lot of work to improve his footwork, which he says was his main weakness. But the biggest difference is his mindset, a 100 percent-all-the-time approach that’s been reinforced by new coach Adam Koballa.
“I’m all over him. It’s a big change from what he’s used to,” Koballa said. “I don’t like complacency and it’s starting to rub off.”
Koballa also advised Konstandaras to go up a weight, to 138, forcing him to focus on improving as a wrestler instead of worrying about losing weight.
“He’s set rules and guidelines that I follow strictly,” Konstandaras said. “He’s always after me, making sure I’m pushing myself to the breaking point to get past barriers.”
Now, the No. 1 goal for both is to get Konstandaras to the top of the podium in Columbus.
“I’ve been in the hunt every year,” Konstandaras said. “I think this will be the one. This year has a lot more a drive, we’ve got a new coach pushing me harder than I’ve ever done. We know I’m capable of it.”
Koballa seems even more confident.
“I don’t expect anything less than getting his hand raised at the end of the season and being at the top of the podium in Columbus at the state tournament,” he said.
Also advancing to today’s quarterfinals: Walsh Jesuit sophomore Alex Mackall (120 pounds), Brecksville junior Austin Assad (120 pounds), Perry senior David Bavery (126 pounds), Perry senior Casey Sparkman (152 pounds), Perry senior Tony Dailey (160 pounds), Rootstown senior Travis Linton (170 pounds) and Brecksville senior Josh Murphy (195 pounds).
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.