All season long, the Tallmadge wrestling team has relied on seniors Jesse Kanatzar and Ben Blankenship to pilot the squad through a tough season.
That trend continued Saturday at a Division II sectional tournament at the Northwest Fieldhouse in Canal Fulton. However, the Blue Devils’ senior captains were the only ones to advance to the district competition.
Kanatzar and Blankenship each took second place in his respective weight class. The top four in each weight class advanced to the district meet, which is scheduled to take place Friday (3 p.m.) and Saturday (9:30 a.m.) in Alliance.
Tallmadge finished ninth with 55 points in a 12-team race at Northwest. Louisville dominated the competition with 292 points, while Norton (173) and Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy (168.5) placed second and third, respectively.
"Northwest was a particularly difficult sectional this year," Blue Devils head coach Jason Shaw said. "Not taking away from any of the other sectionals, but it was much tougher. So it just was one of those days where we were matching up with someone pretty good very early in the tournament. We had a couple kids who lost out in the go-to match.
"I was proud of Jesse and Ben. Right now, we can only move forward."
Given the No. 1 seed at 182 pounds, Kanatzar rolled to the final, pinning Fairless’ Josh Webb in 2 minutes, 59 seconds and beating Louisville’s Noah Peterson 7-1.
In the final, Kanatzar was foiled by CVCA freshman Kyle Snider, who scored a 7-3 decision win.
"Jesse’s match came down to two scrambles and he lost both of them," Shaw said. "Jesse just didn’t wrestle like Jesse wrestles. He has been in that rodeo before and he wins the match. He didn’t take a shot."
Meanwhile, Blankenship was given the No. 3 seed at 220 pounds. After getting a bye to the semifinals, Blankenship pinned Wooster Triway’s Luke Daley in 3:43 to reach the final.
"The Triway kid was pretty strong," Shaw said. "He tried to get physical with Ben. Ben got physical right back and stuck him. It was an awesome match."
However, Blankenship could not duplicate the feat in the final vs. returning state-qualifier Blake Roberts of Louisville. Blankenship lost 7-0, but Shaw said it was a better effort than in previous matches.
"He caught Ben on a move, got a five-pointer and that was pretty much the match right there," Shaw said. "Ben wrestled tough the rest of the way."
Tallmadge had one wrestler earn district alternate status as Gus Fortseras pinned Norton’s Donald Otto in 55 seconds in the 152-pound fifth-place match. Brian Blankenship finished sixth at 195 pounds.
Shaw noted his two seniors are walking into a nightmarishly tough field in Alliance.
"I believe every year that it’s the toughest district, definitely in Division II," Shaw said. "There’s a few weight classes there that are just unbelievable. It’s definitely a meat grinder."
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO