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During the wrestling postseason, the prime objective is to have wrestlers reach the next level.
In that regard, the Tallmadge wrestling team was successful Feb. 25 at a Division II sectional tournament at Northwest High School in Canal Fulton, as the Blue Devils advanced nine wrestlers on to districts. The top four finishers in each weight class at Northwest advanced.
According to head coach Jason Shaw, that is the most district qualifiers Tallmadge has ever had in one season.
But the Blue Devils wanted more.
"Our motto all season has been '4.5,'" Shaw said. "That's how [many points] we lost last year's sectional by."
This year, Tallmadge was involved in another close race. But this one turned out in its favor.
The Blue Devils claimed their first sectional title as a team since 1972, winning a tight four-team race for the title.
Tallmadge finished with 189 points, edging Canton South and Alliance Marlington, each of which finished with 185 points. Norton was right behind in fourth with 183.5 points. A total of 11 teams participated.
Shaw said his team won the title, thanks to the placement round, which saw the Blue Devils go 7-5.
"Going into the final round, we were down 13 points," Shaw said. "We gathered the guys together. I told them we've got 11 guys wrestling. If we wrestled well we can win this thing. About halfway through, we jumped into the lead, but it came down to the last match."
That last match was the heavyweight title bout, as sophomore Connor Franks had the weight of his team on his shoulders.
Franks was given the top seed in the heavyweight bracket. He defeated Marlington's Alex Cherevko 6-5 and then pinned Archbishop Hoban's Cade Thomas in 1 minute, 41 seconds to reach the final.
In the final, Franks faced Mehki Reid of Canton South, knowing the winner of the match would win both the heavyweight title and secure the team title for his squad.
Franks handled his business, putting Reid on his back early and enduring two unnecessary roughness calls on Reid. Franks won the match 8-4.
"Connor, if he was nervous, he never showed it," Shaw said. "He went out there and he got it done. Some kids can't handle that kind of pressure, but he did a phenomenal job."
At the other end of the weight scale, sophomore 106-pounder Ed Suber opened the postseason by winning his second straight sectional title.
Suber got a bye to the semifinals and then pinned Northwest's Jacob Smith in one minute. In the final, Suber needed just 40 seconds to pin Canton South's Hunter Miller and claim the title.
"The Canton South kid had a really good record," Shaw said. "[Suber] just went out there and dispatched him in 40 seconds. He's so locked in."
Sophomore 132-pounder Jake Potok won his weight class as well. Potok opened with a 10-5 win over Akron Archbishop Hoban's Alex Hoffman, pinned Field's Soren Hottensmith in 3:18 and edged Norton's Quaid Ivy 6-4 to reach the final.
In the final, Potok scored a 7-5 decision over Northwest's Josh Smith to win it.
"Jake has been kind of our forgotten guy," Shaw said. "He's always there, though. He beat two quality kids. He's peaking at the right time and he's getting healthy."
Shaw was very happy to see 152-pounder Jesse Kanatzar reach the final as well, despite him getting pinned in the final in 1:26 by Hoban's Quinton Kelley.
"Against Kelley, I told him to go for broke and he did," Shaw said. "Kelley's just older and better than he is. I told Jake he'll be there in a few years."
Sophomore 160-pounder Richie Eyre made his way to the final through a tough weight class. Eyre lost a 10-7 decision to Marlington's Peter Biery in the final.
"Biery has been his crutch," Shaw said. "He wrestled him a heck of a lot better than he did at [the Josh Hephner Memorial earlier in the season]. It's his tournament this coming week."
Tallmadge 220-pounder Dimitri Fortseras also reached the final, where he lost 14-2 to Norton's Ben Hornacek.
"He has been such a pleasant surprise," Shaw said. "This has been his most successful season. He has changed so much from last season. He has become one of those kids you've got to watch out for or else he will stick you."
Also advancing to districts for the Blue Devils were 145-pounder Jacob Teets and 170-pounder Dan Hepler, who finished third, along with 195-pounder Devon Manning, who took fourth.
Tallmadge also had two district alternates, as 113-pounder Fred Barry and 182-pounder Caiden Genovese took fifth place.
The Division II district tournament at Alliance was set for March 3 and 4, but results were not available at press time. The top four placers in each weight class advance to the state tournament.
The Division II state tournament is scheduled to take place March 9, 10 and 11. at The Ohio State University's Value City Arena in Columbus. Wrestling is set to begin March 9 at 4:30 p.m.