By JAMIE BAKER
COLUMBUS — Track and field, and wrestling.
There’s something about the individual sports that brings out the best in kids from Bluffton.
And in the Division III 182-pound weight class Saturday night, senior DeAndre Nassar was the best.
Nassar got a first-period takedown against Carey junior Tanner May and added another one late for a 5-2 victory to become Bluffton’s newest state champion in the finals of the OHSAA state wrestling championships at Value City Arena.
Nassar, who finished the season perfect at 48-0, won the school’s ninth state wrestling championship and first since 2005 when Justin Shannon and Josh Falk both claimed titles.
Nassar knows all about the school’s wrestling tradition and wanted to add his own chapter to his school’s storied history in the sport.
“When I was a freshman, coming into high school, I never dreamed of myself winning state. I knew a lot of Bluffton guys won state in the past and I never thought of myself as elite like that,” said Nassar, who finished his career with a 162-21 record. “I think my sophomore and junior years, that’s when I realized what I had to do to do it.
May, meanwhile, came in with lofty credentials of his own. The Carey junior was 47-2 heading into the match. He became only the second Carey wrestler to ever medal at state three times and will go into his senior year with a 131-22 mark.
It was the first meeting between the two in a real match. They did roll around together during preseason scrimmages.
There were two tournaments during the season where a matchup could have taken place. At the Van Buren Invitational, Carey was unable to travel for the second day of the event because of inclement weather. The following week, May suffered one of his two losses in the Lima Central Catholic Thunderbird Invitational semifinals and never got the chance to take on Nassar in the final.
Saturday area wrestling fans were treated to an all-area state final. It was just the third time ever two wrestlers from The Courier’s coverage area have met head-to-head for a championship.
And it was a dandy.
It took Nassar 1:15 into the first period to finally break the ice.
Working on a front headlock for most of the first period, he hit a butt drag and slid behind May for a two-point takedown and a 2-1 first period lead.
“I was taking as many shots as I could, trying to take advantage of any openings. I don’t think I finished as many as I should have. It should have been a little more high-scoring,” Nassar said on the match’s slow start. “I got the ‘W,’ and that’s all that matters.”
May, who spends plenty of time in the weight room himself, just couldn’t get a good shot on against Nassar’s low frame.
“His legs are so thick. He’s really tough to score on,” May said. “I tried a double and it didn’t work. After that, I switched up to a couple of low singles.
“He caught me with my feet in the mud. He was behind me before I could come back up.”
Each wrestler scored a point for an escape in the second and third period when they had choice of position. That left Nassar leading 3-2 as both wrestlers’ defenses were impenetrable.
May tried to take one last shot at a winning takedown with 15 seconds left, but Nassar spun behind for a takedown of his own to clinch the title.
“All in all, I thought I wrestled a good match. I thought I did my best,” May said. “If you don’t go for it, you aren’t going to win. Lose by one or lose by three, a loss is a loss at the state tournament. I went for his leg, and he moved it before I got to it and spun around for two.”
Nassar figured it might be a tight, defensive struggle against May and, as it turned out, he was right.
“That’s what happens in matches like this against the best guys,” Nassar said. “The first one who scores has a big advantage. Once I score in a match, that always gives me a lot of confidence.
“I still felt good late in the match. I was taking shots, but I just couldn’t get in deep enough. He’s a great wrestler and really tough to score on.”
With another Bluffton state title in the books, Nassar hopes he’s set an example for future wrestlers at the school.
“I’ve tried to inspire all of the little guys we have in our room right now. We have a lot of young guys and young biddy guys in elementary that look up to me,” he said.
“I wanted to be an example to them and show them if you have the drive and determination to win you can accomplish big things.”