ALLIANCE — Jesse Kanatzar never let himself forget what happened last year.
After falling one win short of reaching the state tournament, Kanatzar had a picture of his reaction to that loss uploaded to his phone.
"That was my lock screen," Kanatzar said. "Every time I turned on my phone, that’s what I saw."
After a year of that bad memory, the standout Tallmadge senior wrestler can replace that photo with a different image: One of him clapping his hands in celebration after earning his first state berth.
Kantazar earned his way to Columbus by taking fourth place in the 182-pound bracket at a Division II district tournament Saturday at Alliance High School. The top four placers advanced to the state competition.
Kanatzar led the Blue Devils to a 25th-place finish with 21.5 points. Louisville won the team title with 224.5 points.
"You always like to say, ‘Hard work pays off,’" Tallmadge head coach Jason Shaw said. "Jesse is the epitome that. The kid absolutely has worked his butt off all season. He’s grown so much over the last four years. He deserves every accolade he gets."
Kanatzar opened the tournament Friday with a 15-0 technical fall over Akron Buchtel’s Laverick Caldwell, but then lost in the quarterfinals 9-0 to Mentor Lake Catholic’s Cole Hivnor.
"We knew we were going to have one tough match in this tournament," Shaw said.
The loss meant Kanatzar needed three wins Saturday. He pinned Alliance’s Jarod Watson in 50 seconds and beat Norton’s Jakob Hopkins by a narrow 4-3 decision to reach the consolation semifinals.
Kanatzar then booked his ticket to Columbus with a dominant 7-0 win over Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Bryson Getz.
"To the elation in his face after her earned that goal … that was amazing," Shaw said. "When he came upstairs after the win, the first thing he said was, ‘I’m not satisfied.’ He wants to be on the podium next week."
In the third-place match, Kanatzar faced a rematch with Hivnor, but had no better luck as he lost 11-1 and settled for fourth place.
Kantazar admitted he had one more piece of motivation: He had to win after his friend and teammate Ben Blankenship was eliminated.
"That [ticked] me off a lot," Kanatzar said. "I had to make sure I won for both us."
Like Kanatzar, Blankenship started Saturday in the consolation bracket. He opened by pinning Pepper Pike Orange’s Tanner Coker in 1:32 and then stuck Copley’s Landon Robinson in 1:30. However, Blankenship was eliminated with a 6-3 loss to Woodridge’s Miles Ashbaugh.
"Ben had one heck of a senior season," Shaw said. "He wrestled a tough kid who he just doesn’t match up well with. I felt so bad for him. He has brought so much to the program."
Kanatzar heads to the Division II state tournament, which is scheduled to begin with the championship preliminaries Friday at 4:30 p.m. The competition is set to take place at Value City Arena in Columbus.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO.