By JAMIE BAKER
While most people were debating whether or not to have that second or third Christmas cookie during the holidays, Bluffton senior DeAndre Nassar was planning for the future.
Hungry and tired, focused on the OHSAA state tournament a few months away during the first weekend of March, Nassar was putting in the work during the holidays to drop a weight class.
His first trip down to the 182-pound weight class last weekend was a success. He pinned his first four opponents at last week’s Defiance Border War Tournament before stopping fellow returning state placewinner Danny Rosales from Ottawa-Glandorf 3-1 in overtime in the title bout.
That made a difficult holiday week worthwhile for Nassar, the area’s top returning state placer after ending his junior season fourth at Value City Arena at 195 pounds.
“I’ll admit, I was pretty grumpy last week,” Nassar said, after scoring a pin in Saturday’s semifinals. “It was awful. I didn’t eat much of anything and drank a little bit of water. I also wore extra sweats at practice and I never do that. For three days, I had two practices a day.
“I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I just did my workout and left. I would go home and play video games. But overall, I think this will make me stronger than a lot of other 182s. It’s worked out so far because I’ve pinned everyone so far this weekend. I might jump back depending on how it shakes out and who ends up where. I’m confident in either weight class but it’s my final year to win state, for me so it’s all or nothing,” he added.
Nassar has also changed the way he has prepared this season. He decided to get back in the weight room more often to maintain his strength during a long, grueling season.
“I was weighing light during football. Usually, I was about 215 and this year I was around 205. My hydration test said I could get down under 182 so I thought I’d give it a shot,” Nassar said. “I’m also lifting more this year than in the past. I didn’t lift much during the season last year. I make it a priority to get in a couple of lifts each week. I think that’s going to help out.”
Experience in big matches? Nassar has as much experience in big matches as anyone. That experience is valuable in crunch time in a close match against top notch competition.
“My sophomore year at state I remember what it was like, walking down the hallway to get into the arena, I was a wreck. It was shocking,” Nassar said.
“When you are wrestling good guys, you know you have to be in condition to win those matches in the final period. A lot of guys get in those situations and they get nervous. For me, I’ve been in the those situations so many times the nerves are gone, it’s just another match.”
Bluffton’s wrestling team has turned plenty of heads this season.
Sophomore 106-pounder Tayton Kleman joined Nassar as a finalist at Defiance and the Pirates were among the team leaders in the 41-team event for most of the weekend.
While Nassar and Kleman have been outstanding, it’s a young core of Pirates that have come on strong to fuel the team’s success.
“Our team is really young we have DeAndre, who is a senior, and two other seniors but they only have two years of experience. We have one junior and the rest of the guys are sophomores and freshmen,” veteran Bluffton head coach Jeff Kleman said.
“We have some good, young kids it’s just a matter of getting them confidence. We won the Allen County tournament we’ve been in the top five most of the weekend here. I’m a little surprised, but on the other hand, I know that they can do it. They are starting to believe in themselves and it’s been fun to watch.”
For Nassar and his teammates, it’s about getting Bluffton back to the level of success it has seen in the past.
“I think in the past we haven’t had the greatest leadership and I wanted to kind of change that this year,” Nassar said.
“We want to bring back Bluffton wrestling to where it used to be and I think we’re on the right track. We won the Allen County Tournament for the first time since 2004 and that was really big for our team.
“We have five freshmen who are putting in the work this year. That’s what you have to do to be successful in wrestling.”
Here are some other wrestling tidbits from around the region.
THE CLASSIC: A tournament that started in Hancock County will take place for the 46th time this weekend as the Woodmore “A” Classic is set for a 4 p.m. start on Friday.
The tournament, which was held at Van Buren, Cory-Rawson and Findlay College over the years before moving to Woodmore, will feature six local teams.
Arcadia is back to defend its team crown while Liberty-Benton’s Nathan DiRe is a returning champion.
Fostoria, Patrick Henry, North Baltimore and Van Buren are also scheduled to compete in the two-day event.
LIGHT SLATE: Just two other events involving area teams are set for this weekend.
Upper Sandusky will face a tough field on Friday and Saturday at Mansfield Senior’s J.C. Gorman Invitational. Columbus Grove will head south to face off against some competition they’ll face later in the year from the Southwest District when they compete in the Milton-Union Invitational.
CHANGE OF SCENERY: The postseason sites for the OHSAA sectional and district tournaments in northwest Ohio are set and there are a few changes from past years.
In Division I, the Northwest District has been reduced to one sectional, which includes Findlay High School, which will compete at Oregon Clay. The top four wrestlers at each weight will travel to the district tournament at Mentor.
In Division III, the district tournament will be moving from Defiance to Lakota this year.
Van Buren will host an all-area sectional tournament that will include Arcadia, Tiffin Calvert, Carey, Elmwood, Fostoria, Hopewell-Loudon, Lakota, Liberty-Benton, McComb, Mohawk, North Baltimore, Patrick Henry, Riverdale and Van Buren.
Ada, Allen East, Bluffton, Columbus Grove, Cory-Rawson, Ottawa-Glandorf and Pandora-Gilboa will compete in the Division III sectional at Lima Central Catholic. Teams at LCC will qualify to compete in the Division III district tournament at Troy.