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by Michael Leonard | Sports Editor
From just about every angle, December was a major struggle for the Tallmadge wrestling team.
Injuries, skin issues and other factors had kept the Blue Devils from fielding their best lineup, yielding a string of subpar results in dual meets and tournaments.
In years past, Tallmadge has escaped the Suburban League grind around the holidays by taking a trip south to Southeast Ohio.
This year, the trip south may have been just what the doctor ordered for the Blue Devils.
Tallmadge finished fifth at the 19th annual America's Best Value Inn Invitational with 237 points.
Dover won the 13-team tournament with 291 points, which took place Dec. 27 and 28 in St. Clairsville.
"We wrestled well," said Tallmadge head coach Jason Shaw. "The guys seemed a bit more relaxed and they were much more aggressive. We did it without a 106- or 113-pound wrestler, so we're still not full strength."
Shaw noted the Blue Devils weren't far out of second place at the two-day pool-style tournament. After Dover, St. Clairsville (260 points), Morgan, W. Va. (243) and Oak Glen, W. Va. (240) rounded out the top four.
"It definitely was not a Bill Dies Tournament, but it's a pretty competitive tournament," Shaw said. "They had four teams from West Virginia and one from Pennsylvania come down. A couple of teams couldn't make it because of the winter snow."
The highlight of the tournament was the performance of senior 195-pounder Jake Weigand.
Weigand tore through his bracket, pinned all of his opponents on his way to the finals. In the final, Weigand dominated his match with Oak Glen's Barry Strum and pinned him in 1 minute, 29 seconds.
"He pinned his whole way through," Shaw said. "He put it together. He definitely was our MVP [Most Valuable Player]. Like I told all of our seniors, it's a confidence thing. You need to see yourself in the finals. He's starting to believe it."
Tallmadge had one other wrestler reach the finals as sophomore 182-pounder Jacob Lahtonen earned the first finals appearance of his high school career.
In the final, Lahtonen could not get his offense going against Morgan's Rhys Ramirez and was pinned in 5:04.
"Once he got the jitters out, he started to wrestle well," Shaw said. "This was the first time he was in a championship and the nerves kind of got to him. He could have definitely could have beat the kid he wrestled, but that's part of the learning curve. Overall, it was a good confidence booster for him."
The Blue Devils also got third-place finishes from 138-pounder Danny Amato and 170-pounder Troy Stricker as well as fourth-place finishes from 120-pounder Tyler Severns and 145-pounder Joe Seisel.
Tallmadge 220-pounder Travis Durago took fifth place as did sophomore heavyweight Ben Cipa. Wrestling as an exhibition wrestler, freshman heavyweight Dakota Hutchins took sixth.
The Blue Devils are scheduled to get back to Suburban League business this week. They are set to visit Cloverleaf for a double dual with the Colts and Highland Jan. 8. First match is set for 6 p.m.