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Feb. 17—It is now officially go-time.

That's the mindset of Lake Catholic wrestling coach Nate Skonieczny and his team as the Cougars put the finishing touches on a challenging regular season at the Crown Conference tournament on Feb. 17 at Padua.

The Cougars went 2-1 at the four-team league tournament, which was wrestled in a dual-match format. Lake defeated Padua (40-31) and NDCL (60-18) to go with a 51-21 loss to league champion Walsh Jesuit. Couple the league duals with a 45-36 win over St. Ignatius in a dual on Feb. 16, and it was both a busy and successful weekend for the Cougars.

But now it's go-time, Skonieczny indicated, with the upcoming sectional, district and state tournaments next on the docket.

Coach Nate Skonieczny discusses his @LCCougarWrestle roster and the goals heading into the postseason run the next month.

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) February 17, 2024

"We're wrestling our best at the right time," said Skonieczny, the first-year Lake Catholic coach. "The whole season is based on sectional, district and state. I'm not overly concerned with the Brecksville and North Canton (tournaments). It's great to do good at those. But you want to win everything and put guys on the (state) podium."

The Cougars showed both their current strength and the promise of their future in the final Crown Conference tournament before a new Catholic league takes form starting next year with NDCL, Padua, Lake Catholic, Elyria Catholic, Holy Name, CVCA and Beaumont forming the North Coast Conference.

Joey Romano of @LCCougarWrestle discusses his and his team's goals going forward after today's Criwn Conference tournament.

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) February 17, 2024

Among the highlights for the Cougars were their two star-studded seniors, Joey Romano at 138 pounds and Parker Pikor at 126. Pikor, a defending state runner-up, bumped up to 126 from his customary spot at 120 to better fill out the Cougars' lineup for the league duals, but said he'll be back at 120 next week at the Division III Beachwood Sectional.

Romano and Pikor both went 3-0 at the Crown tournament, though Pikor had to sweat a little bit after giving up the first takedown in two of his three matches — something he attributes to bumping up against bigger wrestlers.

Parker Pikor of @LCCougarWrestle trailed 2-0 but piled up a 14-2 lead before getting the stick vs. Padua at the Crown conference tournament.

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) February 17, 2024

"Picking up a 126's legs is like picking up a log," Pikor said with a grin. "The team needed me at 126 so that's where I was."

Of being a three-time league champ, Pikor said, "I love it. It's an honor."

Romano, another returning state-placer, is also a three-time league champion thanks to his trio of pins on Feb. 17. He is the projected state runner-up (to Legacy Christian's Dillon Campbell) in IntermatOhio's recently released state rankings.

Joey Romano @LCCougarWrestle gets some swipes in his bout vs. Padua in the Crown Conference tournament.

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) February 17, 2024

"I'm as confident as I've ever been," Romano said. "I've got big goals to accomplish. I'm confident. I think I can do it."

His confidence also boils when discussing the young Lake Catholic wrestling roster that includes youngsters such as Chance Wuhr (106), Tommy Slack (113), Evan Preseren (120) and Danny Zmorowski (215), just to name a few. Slack and Zmorowski joined Romano and Pikor as being named first-team Crown Conference after running the table at the league tournament on Feb. 17.

Chance Wuhr 4-2 SV over spellacy gives @LCCougarWrestle a 40-31 win over Padua in the Crown Conference tournament

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) February 17, 2024

Wuhr had one of the biggest wins of the day for his team, clinching the dual win over Padua with a 4-2 sudden victory over Bryden Spellacy, a highly ranked Division II wrestler at 106.

"We have great chemistry," Romano said. "Everybody works hard. It's just a great group of dudes."

Skonieczny agreed. He said the youngsters — the future of Lake Catholic wrestling are impressive. While he said those freshmen are "new lifeline and the new face of Lake Catholic wrestling starting at the end of March," he noted that the senior leadership of Pikor and Romano cannot and should not be overlooked.

"I can't express how important they've been," Sknonieczny said. "I'm so fortunate to have them part of the program."

Another area senior who had a big day at the Crown tournament was NDCL's Bryce Wheatley. He wrestled at heavyweight, winning his fourth conference title in four different weight classes, but said he will be cutting down to 215 for the upcoming Division II tournament run.

"I was close today," he said of his weight. "I weighed in at 218 next week. I'll get (215) next week. I'm looking forward to sectionals."

So are the Cougars, who have tested their mettle all year at big tournaments and big duals. Pikor said the future is so bright that, "even though we don't have a reputation for winning as a team, we're gonna change that in next couple years," while Romano predicted, "the next couple years (the program) is going to be fighting for a state title."

Coach Nate Skonieczny of @LCCougarWrestle said he holds his wrestlers to the highest standard no matter what team they are facing. After wrestling big schools all year Lake embarks on the D3 tournament trail next week.

— News-Herald preps (@NHPreps) February 17, 2024

But that doesn't mean goals are any less right now. Skonieczny assured that.

"Mindset doesn't change," he said. "I hold these kids to the highest standard possible."