If you don’t understand the heart and desire of a wrestler, it’s time to meet Gary Wokojance.
Of the 672 competitors who will flood the Value City Arena mats this weekend at the state wrestling tournament in Columbus, there may not be a more driven individual than the Barberton senior.
A 182-pound standout who lives, eats and breathes the sport, Wokojance will travel to Columbus with teammate PJ Zentiska (220) in hopes of becoming one of 42 state champions among the three divisions.
At Division I, the North Dakota State University pledge will push the limits just like he has the last three seasons in Columbus in hopes of grabbing that elusive state championship.
“This has been a dream of mine since I was a freshman,” Wokojance said. “It’s all I wanted to do. My goal was to be a four-time state champ. I didn’t get that. Then a three-time and two-time state champ. Now, it’s my last year. I’m giving it my all and I’m not going to leave anything on the mat. I’m just trying to be the best I can be.”
This season, Wokojance’s best has been on a completely different hemisphere as everyone else.
At 47-0, he’s one of only 18 wrestlers at the state tournament to come in with an unblemished record.
That’s a testament to the four-time state qualifier and two-time state placer, who has accumulated 163 career wins for the Magics.
Wokojance has tournament titles this season from the Solon Comet Classic, Redskin Invitational, Narrah Graham Invitational, Big Dawg Invitational, Bill Dies Memorial Tournament, Suburban League Tournament, Wadsworth Sectional and Hoover District.
“He works really, really hard,” Barberton coach Dave Mariola Jr. said. “He loves to wrestle. He loves to train. He just wants to learn every day. He’s a goer.
“It’s great coaching him. We go over things and he picks it up really well. We’ve got him locked in right now. He was doing really, really well at the beginning, but having Louden [Gordon] there drilling with him, he’s going to be really hard to beat.”
That might be the biggest piece to the entire puzzle for Wokojance, who has finished sixth the last two seasons.
Gordon wrestled on three national championship teams at Notre Dame College and a NCAA Division II national qualifier and National College Wrestling Association All-American.
He wrestled in high school for Wadsworth and was a state champion and two-time state placer as well as a member of the Grizzlies’ 2009-10 state championship team.
“He’s helped me like crazy,” Wokojance said. “I drill with him every day. I feel like I’m getting faster and stronger every day.”
“I have a huge drive this year compared to last year,” Wokojance said. “I feel like I was holding back a little bit. Louden wasn’t coaching for us this year. I felt like I had a lot of work to do. That just lit a fire under me. It made me want to get better and train harder every day.”
The projected state champion according to IntermatWrestle.com’s Josh Lowe, Wokojance has been on the mats of Columbus enough to know not to overlook anyone.
He’s got Beavercreek’s John Hammond in the opener before an anticipated match with Dublin Coffman returning state placer Lennox Wolak in the quarterfinals.
After that, he should face Cincinnati La Salle state placer Trey Sizemore in the semifinals.
Should he beat the projected runner-up in the round of four, Westerville North state placer Mitch Potterf should be his opponent on the big stage.
“I can’t say enough about his hard work,” Mariola said. “He wants to learn. He’s a great kid.”