Postseason heartbreak. Elyria senior Armando Torres knows a little bit about the subject.
Whether it’s a knee injury, a blemish on the nose or the vanishing of a third-period lead in the state final, the Pioneers’ 120-pounder has experienced a variety of postseason letdowns during his high school career.
Torres is ready to put it all behind him and finish with the ultimate prize, and he begins his quest for a Division I state championship tonight at Value City Arena in Columbus.
“He is just one of those kids that can get it done,” Pioneers coach Erik Burnett said. “He’s had some rotten luck, especially early on in high school. Between injuries and scratches on his nose, I don’t know. I was glad to see him do well last year, and this year hopefully he can have a great finish.”
Torres leads 20 area wrestlers into the state tournament tonight — 12 in Division I, three in Division II and five in Division III. They will all try to stay alive during the three-day event in hopes of winning that grand prize, or at least landing on the podium as state placers.
Torres has been eyeing that top podium spot since he began wrestling at 5 years old at the Force One youth program at Admiral King High School. He transitioned to the Southview biddy program, then moved on to study under Ron Burnett — Erik’s father — at All American Wrestling.
“I loved the winning,” Torres said of wrestling’s hold on him. “Being by yourself, there’s no one else to blame. I always liked that individuality of the sport.
“The hard work and the grind, I think wrestling has something to it that no other sport has. It’s more of a 24/7 thing than other sports. It’s always ongoing.”
The postseason curse reared its ugly head early in Torres’ career. He wrestled for the seventh-grade team at Amherst Junior High and suffered a knee injury at the junior high state tournament.
“I think I ended up tearing my meniscus that year,” he said. “I think it was partially torn for a while, then it finally blew out in the consi semis. I had to default down to sixth.”
The finish was so painful — emotionally and physically — that Torres didn’t wrestle for his school in eighth grade, deciding instead to wrestle for Burnett’s travel team made up of junior high kids.
They traveled to open tournaments around the Midwest, as well as national tournaments in Tulsa, Okla., and Fargo, N.D.
Torres went back to school competition during his freshman year at Elyria High, and the postseason jinx returned as well. It didn’t prove to be too original, though, choosing again to use a torn meniscus to hobble the budding superstar.
“That was definitely tough, especially it being my freshman year,” Torres said. “During my match to go (to state), when it finally gave up, it was tough on me. But overall, I think it gave me more motivation and kind of a push to get back to where I was and to get better for next year.”
Torres blew through his sophomore year and was projected to make the state final at 106 pounds, a prediction that was bolstered by a dominating sectional championship performance. But, again, Torres was sidelined en route to Columbus — this time by a quarter-inch cut on the side of his nose that caused him to fail the skin check at the district tournament.
“That was actually worse than my freshman year with my knee,” he said. “When I injured my knee, I still had the chance to wrestle and compete. After my sophomore year, I didn’t even have the chance to wrestle.
“That was a battle I had to overcome in my head. But I think overall I took it better than my coaches and my parents. I was thinking that I still had two more years to prove a point.”
It only took half that time to prove he was capable of winning a state championship. Torres dominated everyone in the state last season other than Brecksville senior Aaron Assad. Heading into a state final showdown with his rival, Torres had an 0-4 record against Assad — three one-point losses and a two-point defeat.
Torres seemed to finally have shed the misery when he controlled Assad early in the match, scored a takedown and led by one in the third period. But Assad answered with a takedown with 20 seconds left and once again Torres was denied.
“When it came down to the finals and I had the lead … that was really heartbreaking, too, at the end when I lost. Probably one of the worst feelings,” Torres said. “It probably took a good month before I finally realized that I had to look forward. I had to look to next year and I had one more shot at it.
“Going into this year, I thought about that and I’m thinking about that now — I have to make sure that doesn’t happen again and this time I have to end up on top.”
That’s the mentality Torres has embraced as he enters the final weekend of his high school career. He will continue to wrestle at Eastern Michigan next year, but he wants to realize his dream before he moves onto the next chapter.
It won’t be easy.
Torres is expected to win his opening match against Ashville Teays Valley sophomore Cameron Lathem, but then should have tough tests the rest of the way. His projected opponents include Cincinnati LaSalle freshman Corey Shie in the quarterfinals, Brunswick sophomore Josh Heil or Walsh Jesuit sophomore Alex Mackall in the semifinals and Brecksville junior Austin Assad — Aaron’s brother — in the final.
“He’s ready to have a really good weekend,” Burnett said. “He’s beaten almost everyone in the weight class. He’s the guy in the weight class that can beat everyone at the weight, so it could be interesting.”
Torres said he enjoyed the one-on-one weekly battles with Aaron Assad during his junior season, but he knows that navigating a minefield of talent should be just as fun.
“I’m definitely ready for this week more than any other year. There’s no nerves … it’s just going out and wrestling,” he said. “But this year I think winning a state title is going to be that much sweeter with so many good kids in my weight. I feel like this year the weight is a lot deeper than it was last year, so that will make me feel a lot more accomplished when I win.”
Torres has always had the physical skills and solid technique to succeed on the mat, and it appears he is now mentally ready to put the postseason misery to rest.
“This is the time that you have to go all out, especially being my senior year,” he said. “You have to leave everything on the mat, so there’s no regrets. It’s my last chance and I just hope that I don’t leave this tournament thinking, ‘Oh, I could have done this or I could have done that.’
“I just have to go all out.”