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As the Tallmadge wrestling team made its annual pilgrimage to St. Clairsville Dec. 28 and 29, Blue Devils head coach Jason Shaw noted his team he was sick of being the bridesmaid at the America's Best Value Inn Tournament.
"Not just the coaches, but I know the kids' goal going down there was to win it," Shaw said.
Tallmadge ended up having a great tournament. The Blue Devils ended up placing 10 of 11 wrestlers at St. Clairsville, including five who wrestled in the title match of their respective weight classes.
"We had the best tournament that we've had down there ever," Shaw said.
So, naturally, where did the Blue Devils finish in the team race?
"We were second for the fourth straight year," Shaw said.
Tallmadge finished second in the team race with 276 points, finishing well ahead of North Canton Hoover (231.5 points) and St. Clairsville (220.5).
The problem was Gnadenhutten Indian Valley ran away with the team race with 378 points.
"The difference was they had a full team," Shaw said. "We were giving up three weight classes. They had a guy in the finals in close to every weight class. We just didn't have the numbers.
"After the first round, we had a lot of byes and Indian Valley just had so many more matches. As we told the kids, 'You can only control what you do, not Indian Valley.' I thought the kids battled quite well."
The Blue Devils ended up with three champions at St. Clairsville. Fresh off his performance at the Beast of the East Tournament in Delaware, sophomore 106-pounder Ed "Rock" Suber pinned his way to the title.
That included sticking West Virginia state qualifier Terry Gattrell of Meadowbrook in the final.
"The kid from Meadowbrook was a pretty darn good wrestler," Shaw said. "Rock had to wrestle him twice in the tournament. Once Rock started to put it on him in the final, it was all over."
Shaw said Tallmadge was going to be cautious with 132-pounder Jake Potok heading into the ABVI Tournament. Potok tweaked a quad muscle heading into the tournament. According to Shaw, Potok wrestled a very smart tournament. As a result, Potok took the 132-pound title.
Potok squeezed past the Tommy Curtin, a state qualifier from Linsly, W. Va., 6-2 in the finals.
As for sophomore 160-pounder Richie Eyre, Shaw said he was one a mission at St. Clairsville.
"This time, he wasn't going to be denied like his was at the WIT [Wayne Invitational Tournament last month]," Shaw said.
Eyre ended up facing Indian Valley's Jarred Slinderman in the final, which he won 6-2.
Also reaching the final was senior 170-pounder Dan Hepler, who fought his way back to the final after taking second in his pool on day one Dec. 28.
Hepler ended up facing North Canton Hoover's Luke Rakowski in the final, after Rakowski had beaten Hepler 18-7 in pool play. It was close in the final, but Hepler fell by an 5-2 decision.
Sophomore heavyweight Connor Franks wrestled well until the final. He lost 6-2 in the title match.
Shaw was very happy with the performance of freshman 152 pounder Jesse Kanatzar, who ended up in third place.
The Blue Devils also got a lift from the return of senior Caiden Genovese, who came back to the team after the WIT. While Shaw noted Genovese was "knocking the rust off" in St. Clairsville, he still performed well enough to take fourth place at 195 pounds.
Tallmadge got fifth-place finishes from 113-pounder Fred Berry, 182-pounder Ben Blankenship and 220-pounder Dimitri Fortseras.
The Blue Devils were scheduled to return to Suburban League American Conference action Jan. 5 in a tri-meet at Kent Roosevelt with Revere. Results were not available at press time.
"We're going in with the idea that will be down three weight classes again," Shaw said prior to the match. "We're going to have to wrestle our best."
Tallmadge has a busy weekend upcoming, beginning with another American Conference tri-meet at Copley with Highland, which is set for Jan. 12 at 6 p.m. The Blue Devils are scheduled to wrestle at the Bill Dies Memorial Tournament Jan. 13 (3 p.m.) and 14 (10 a.m.) at Akron Firestone High School.