It’s a Tuesday night and the sectional wrestling tournament is still 10 days away.
Woodmore junior Evan Ulinski is coming off his third straight league championship, winning the Northern Buckeye Conference title at 106 pounds in his home gymnasium. The only thing he is now focused on is taking that first step toward improving on last year’s fourth-place finish at the Division III state tournament.
“I’m practicing hard,” said Ulinski, a two-time state qualifier who was fourth at 106 last year. “I’m making sure I work to get in shape for state. I try and ramp it up towards the end of the year, just go harder. Maybe do some extra stuff myself at home, like run on the treadmill and lift weights. I’m in pretty good shape.”
Ulinski will take a 39-2 record into next Friday and Saturday’s sectional tournament at Elmwood. He has competed mostly at 113 and 120 pounds this season and has collected an astonishing 31 pins. The school record is 36 in one season.
“I’m strong and very good on top,” Ulinski said of his wrestling style. “One of my strong suits has been getting on top and turning guys. My dad’s (Steve) been my coach almost all my life, so I have to give him credit. My dad and coach (Dane) Bonnigson just implement practice in a tough, grinding way and you just get through it.”
Bonnigson, whose team took third at the NBC tournament, called Ulinski a “pretty well rounded” competitor on the mat.
“He’s just technically sound,” Bonnigson said. “He’s very knowledgeable about wrestling. He’s been wrestling his whole life. Obviously he’s talented, but he’s also a hard worker and a very enjoyable kid to be around. He’s a good leader and he helps coach some of the other kids if we have an open chair during a tournament.”
The 5-foot-5 Ulinski, who has a 4.0 GPA, has won 123 of his 133 matches in high school. He won’t match his brother, Jan’s, four appearances at the state tournament, but he could get close. Jan Ulinski, who wrestled at Eastwood and placed seventh at 119 pounds at the Division II state tournament, is now wrestling at the University of Findlay.
“He set the standard,” Evan said, “but I didn’t want to just be a four-time state qualifier. I was looking to place all four years and get a state championship.”
Evan won the Suburban Lakes League title at 103 pounds two years ago, then won the inaugural 106-pound NBC title last season. He said he wants to drop down from 113 to 106 for the postseason because it gives him a better chance of getting on the top step on the podium in Columbus in early March.
“That’s just where I think I have the best chance to win a state championship,” Ulinski said. “I think I’ll be bigger and stronger than the rest of the (106-pound) guys down there. I’ve had a little bit of a letdown with the two losses. My goal at the beginning of the season was to not lose a match and win state. I didn’t complete one goal, so hopefully the two losses helped me learn.”
Wrestling isn’t even Ulinski’s favorite sport. He was also a cornerback and wide receiver on the Wildcats’ football team, and he plays second base and shortstop on the baseball team.
“I like football,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun because I like hitting people.”
Those other sports, however, are the farthest thing from Ulinski’s mind at this juncture. Bonnigson said Ulinski has been all business this season.
“We would like him to peak at the state tournament,” the coach said. “The goal obviously is to get a championship. He just has to wrestle well down the stretch. He has the ability and the drive for it, but he’s going to have to have a series of good tournaments down the stretch.”
Ulinski said competing at the previous two state tournaments should give him an edge heading into next week.
“I have to make it happen,” he said. “I have to get to state, but first comes sectionals and districts.”