VAN BUREN — When Bluffton heavyweight Blake Sampson made the finals of last year’s Van Buren Invitational, he thought he was going places.
He was right.
Pinning top-seeded 285-pounder Isaac Sexton in the semifinals of the 2015 tournament on his way to a second-place finish gave him the confidence he needed to earn a spot at state.
Winning the VBI is the ultimate goal this weekend as Sampson is one of 25 area wrestlers to reach the semifinals after the first day of action at the 38th Van Buren Invitational.
“Doing well here last year certainly gave me a lot more confidence. That really carried over for me for the rest of the season through sectionals, districts and then to state,” Sampson said.
“Last year, I kind of flew under the radar. People are trying to beat me because I’m a state qualifier, if they beat me, they think they can get to state. That’s OK, because I like the pressure that puts on me.”
Sampson had little trouble with his Friday night bouts.
He handled Hopewell-Loudon’s Gage Stahl with a fall in his opener before pinning Eastwood’s Trevor Shultz quickly in the quarterfinals.
Sampson has lost twice this season, falling to Lima Shawnee’s Bailey Young 5-2 in the finals of the Allen County Invitational and losing 8-2 to returning Division III state placer Brandon Bennett of Patrick Henry in the LCC Holiday Tournament final.
He’s probably learned more from those two defeats than in any of his wins this season.
“They made me work harder in practice and I’m in much better shape now than I was then,” said Sampson, who takes a 15-2 record into today’s 285-pound semifinal match against Fremont St. Joseph’s Bobby Mancha (7-3).
“This is one of the big tournaments we wrestle in during the season and it’s pretty tough. I have a lot of good memories here and I’d like a few more this weekend.”
There’s another state qualifier on the bottom of the 285-pound bracket and he was just as dominant Friday night.
Jack Hagemyer was a hammer, scoring a pair of first-period pins to help Elmwood to an early lead on the first day of action.
Hagemyer was sixth in the 285-pound division in last year’s VBI. He put it together after that to qualify for the state tournament.
He’s a much different wrestler a year later.
“After finishing sixth here last year, I am really, really focused on my technique. I also had the drive to get to state,” Hagemyer said.
“My seeding is definitely better and that helps but I’m still a smaller heavyweight so that’s puts me at a bit of a disadvantage. I don’t have as much weight to throw around,” added Hagemyer, who weighs in at around 235 pounds.
Hagemyer, who will attend Ohio State and major in agricultural engineering, pinned Lakota’s Dakota Klotz in his opener before sticking Van Buren’s Tanner Schroer in his quarterfinal match.
He’ll take on Northern Buckeye Conference rival Dillon Farley of Otsego in today’s semifinals.
Some may consider Hagemyer an underdog if he manages to make tonight’s heavyweight final.
Elmwood coach Dave Lee wouldn’t bet against him.
“He’s one of those kids you just know is going to be a success in life. He’s a great kid and always has a positive attitude,” Lee said.
Elmwood teammates Dylan Hall (152 pounds), Noah Baker (160), Jace Grossman (182) and Nick Wiseman (220) also reached the semifinals for the Royals.
Elmwood had a 78-77 lead over Eastwood atop the team standings after Friday’s semifinals.
WRESTLING REDMEN: Fostoria’s Lance Smith wasted little time on the mat at 145 pounds. Smith rolled into today’s semifinal with a decision and a pair of pins.
He stopped Mohawk’s Rico Lopez 2-0 in his first match before pinning Carey’s Tyler Leist and Otsego’s Caleb Steele, both in under a minute.
UPSET SPECIAL: Fremont St. Joseph’s Nate Vasquez came into the tournament at 19-0. After Friday’s quarterfinals he was 19-1.
Vasquez got a two-point nearfall late in the third period to tie his 120-pound match against Swanton’s Dylan Cook at 3-3. Cook shot in on an outside single-leg takedown to win 5-3 20 seconds into OT.
Cook, who was 16-4 was placed into the open draw when he slid down to the No. 5 spot during Thursday’s seed meeting.
FINAL COUNTDOWN: Action resumes at 10 a.m. today with a couple of consolation rounds before the semifinals take place around noon.
The finals are set at 5 p.m.

1, Elmwood 78. 2, Eastwood 77. 3, Gibsonburg 69. 4, Delphos Jefferson 60. 5, Wayne Trace 58. 6, Swanton 56. 6, Allen East 55. 8, Ottawa-Glandorf 54. 9, Mohawk 44. 10, Hopewell-Loudon 40. 11, Carey 39. 12, Bluffton 38. 13, Otsego 36. 14, McComb 31. 15, Fremont St. Joseph 27. 16, Columbus Grove & Van Buren 24. 18, Fostoria 22. 19, Ada 18. 20, Delphos St. John 17. 21, Arcadia & Lakota 16. 23, Riverdale 15. 24, North Baltimore 15. 25, Liberty-Benton 13. 26, Cory-Rawson 9. 27, Seneca East 8. 28, Lincolnview 2. 29, St. Wendelin 0.
106 “” Tyler Bauer (WT) 24-3 vs. Cameron Pollard (Ots) 16-15; Cody Kretzer (AE) 9-4 vs. Trevor Schaller (Swan) 12-6.
113 “” Jacob Hahn (East) 22-6 vs. Dylan Montgomery (McC) 21-2; Preston Brubaker (CG) 21-3 vs. Andrew Foust (DJ) 21-3.
120 “” Ruger Goeltzenleucher (WT) 28-0 vs. Leon Palomo (O-G) 3-0; Jevyn Pratt (Car) 20-2 vs. Dylan Cook (Swan) 16-4.
126 “” George Clemens (WT) 27-0 vs. David Patterson (NB) 24-2; Daniel Price (Moh) 18-4 vs. J.D. Reisinger (Swan) 20-3.
132 “” Chase Sumner (Ada) 22-1 vs. Schuyler Caprella (AE) 10-3; Wyatt Place (DJ) 21-3 vs. Chase Moore (Swan) 13-6.
138 “” Hugo Villareal (Gib) 26-5 vs. Brenden Biddle (Lak) 15-6; Lee Dues (AE) 15-6 vs. J.D. McNett (Ots) 32-4.
145 “” Damien Schmeltz (Gib) 24-4 vs. Lance Smith (Fos) 23-7; Braxton Young (H-L) 13-3 vs. Hunter Showalter (WT) 15-9.
152 “” Dylan Hall (Elm) 26-5 vs. Parker Brown (Moh) 21-5; Brandon Soules (AE) 15-2 vs. Tony Vasquez (Gib) 29-3.
160 “” Damion Vitt (H-L) 19-0 vs. Cody Ferguson (Car) 23-6; Hunter Sutton (East) 23-5 vs. Noah Baker (Elm) 24-6.
170 “” Cole Draper (Moh) 27-2 vs. Brett Vonderwell (DSJ) 11-4; Hunter Binkley (DJ) 20-3 vs. Andrew Caris (East) 28-1.
182 “” Daniel Beemer (O-G) 22-1 vs. Lane Bennett (DJ) 18-7; Madison Jaso (Gib) 21-4 vs. Jace Grossman (Elm) 25-6.
195 “” Andrew Nichols (CG) 22-1 vs. Johnny Moreno (FSJ) 18-3; Deandre Nasser (Blu) 14-3 vs. Zane Zientek (East) 25-3.
220 “” Marcus O’Flaherty (Car) 25-2 vs. Nick Wiseman (Elm) 25-7; Tyler Tudor (East) 24-5 vs. Nick DeVore (VB) 25-2.
285 “” Blake Sampson (Blu) 15-2 vs. Bobby Mancha (FSJ) 7-3; Dillon Farley (Ots) 21-6 vs. Jack Hagemyer (Elm) 20-4.