It's been a battle two years in the making, but the Marietta Tigers are finally getting the opportunity to take their wrestling skills to Akron's Firestone High School for the Bill Dies Memorial Tournament this weekend.
"There will be top teams from all over the state going to this tournament, but that's okay. Marietta wrestlers already understand that's why we're going to this tournament, to see what kind of test we can put out there," said Marietta wrestling coach Jeff Walker.
As of Tuesday night there were 45 schools listed on the official tournament Web site as participants in this weekend's showcase.
Among the teams competing this weekend are schools like Akron Garfield, Barberton, Canton South, Olmsted Falls, Northwest and even schools like Garfield Heights are represented.
Marietta may not have a full roster to fill out each weight class, but what the Tigers do have is quality wrestlers that are ready to see how they can fare against some of the toughest competition they'll see outside of the Ohio state meet.
"I don't think we're biting off more than what we can chew. I think the kids we've got are ready for this type of tough competition," Walker said.
Wrestling starts in the double-elimination tournament at 3 p.m. on Friday with two rounds of championship and two rounds of consolation.
The tournament, commonly referred to as the Akron Firestone Invitational in reference to the host school, is formated similar to the state tournament, which is another plus for the Tigers in their experience.
"You've got to survive in the tournament to keep on wrestling," Walker said.
Gaining admittance to the tournament literally took the Tigers more than two years of watching and waiting.
"We waited two years and we told them two years ago that come this time we will be ready to bring some kids up that are going to give some eye openers to the other teams," Walker said.
This winter, Marietta has just that.
Justin Haesley is boasting an 18-5 record on the season after going 9-1 at the Coshocton tournament this past weekend to place third in the 160-pound weight class.
Haesley was narrowly defeated by a kid that is currently ranked fourth in the state in that tournament. At Coshocton, Marietta had five kids place as along with Haesley, Mike Stewart placed at 140 pounds, Austin Gaskins placed at 189, Will Cogswell placed at 215 and Keifer Johnson placed at 285.
Caleb Brown and Dedder Baker are also expected to do well in Akron.
"We're going up there and we're not going to play games. It's going to be all-out war, just to see how far they can make it in this type of tournament," Walker said.
Seeding for the tournament was scheduled to be held Wednesday, and Walker was hopeful of getting a few of his wrestlers seeded so they could be put into position to go further in the tournament.
Regardless of what the outcome of the seeding meeting may be, maintaining composure and focus will be the key for the Tigers to have a successful weekend.
"These kids, they've got to focus, no matter where they're seeded or if they're not seeded, and take one match at a time. Don't look ahead," Walker said.
Walker and his coaching staff will certainly be scouting who the Tiger grappler's next opponent may be, but keeping composure will help determine exactly how ready for the big stage the Marietta wrestlers are.
The ultimate goal is to prepare the Tiger grapplers for the end of the year tournaments at sectional, district and finally state. In the end, you don't prepare for those tournaments in small 10 team fields.
As Walker put it, sometimes you have to go for the gusto.
"We're excited. The coaching staff, we're excited. We just want to see where we are. These guys are ready. They're ready. Let's get up there and let's get it on," Walker said.