LIMA – It’s been a long time since Bluffton has brought home the Allen County Tournament team title.
In fact, most of this year’s Bluffton wrestlers were toddlers when the Pirates notched the title back in 2004.
Now, there’s no more waiting for the Bluffton wrestling program.
The Pirates came away with the Allen County championship Saturday, edging out Northwest Conference-foe Allen East 230-217 for the title.
Elida finished third (173.5), while Shawnee (161.5) and Delphos St. John’s (157) rounded out the top five teams in the 10-team field at Lima Central Catholic’s Msgr. Edward C. Herr Gymnasium.
Bluffton had two champions on Saturday. Tayton Kleman won the title in the 106-pound weight class, while Deandre Nassar won the crown at 195 for the Pirates.
“It’s been a little while,” longtime Bluffton coach Jeff Kleman said. “So, it’s fun to get this with these young guys. They’ve worked really hard. We had a heck of a finals round today. We had a lot of pins and a lot of wins. I think we won 11 out of 13 matches that we wrestled. So, that’s what set us up (for the team title).”
This year’s Bluffton roster is very inexperienced.
“Other than Deandre (Nassar), my other two seniors have only been wrestling for two years,” Kleman said. “I have one junior and the rest of them are sophomores and freshmen. We have some work to do, but they had a good weekend.”
Nassar (9-0), who placed fourth at last year’s Division III state tournament at 195, steamrolled through the competition Saturday, en route to his third Allen County title.
Nassar’s primary goal this season is to get on the top step of the awards podium at the state tournament in March.
“I’m just taking it one match at a time, and we’ll see where the cards fall,” Nassar said.
Elida senior Bailey Gibson notched his fourth Allen County title Saturday. Gibson recorded an 8-4 decision over Spencerville’s Jay Goetz in his championship bout at 138.
“It feels unreal, honestly,” Gibson said. “Sitting in middle school, I never dreamed I would do something like this. It feels really rewarding.”
Gibson (9-1) gave credit to Goetz’s effort in Saturday’s hard-fought championship match.
“Props to him. He never stopped; and that’s what makes wrestling someone like him ten times harder,” Gibson said of Goetz. “He just wouldn’t give up. It makes the match that much more rewarding. It was a great match.”
Last season, Gibson was a Division II district qualifier. This season, he wants to take it a step farther.
“It made me even hungrier to work hard this past summer; and hopefully it will pay off this season,” Gibson said.
Lima Central Catholic senior Joey Caprella had no trouble in Saturday’s tournament, pinning four opponents and tech falling one other at 152.
In his championship match, Caprella pinned Bluffton’s Jesse Montel, early in the second period.
Last season, Caprella placed fifth (145) at the Division III state tournament.
“I knew, coming in, that it was going to be something like this,” Caprella said. “It was about going out and having fun in front of my home crowd. So, that’s what we did today.”
Caprella’s second cousin and teammate, freshman Gavin Caprella, won the title at 113.
Lima Senior had two champions on Saturday.
Senior Naeem Russell, a state-placer at last year’s Division I state tournament, went 5-0 on Saturday to notch the title at 160. He was named the most valuable wrestler of Saturday’s tournament. Saturday was Russell’s first tournament of the young season. He missed his team’s first tournament, due to a school trip.
This year, Russell wants to improve on his fifth-place finish at the state tournament from a year ago.
“I want to win the state title, nothing less,” Russell said with a grin.
Russell’s teammate, freshman Aaron Bowsher, won the title Saturday at 132.
“Coming from (wrestling) eighth grade in the TRAC (Three Rivers Athletic Conference), we never faced anyone local,” Bowsher said. “But I was pretty confident (about Saturday’s tournament).”
Allen East had three champions on Saturday. Drake Carmean (120), Chase Miller (145) and Brennan Davies (285) all notched titles for the Mustangs.
Carmean, a sophomore, won his second Allen County title on Saturday. Last year, Carmean was a state qualifier.
“It’s really hard to focus, because all you want to do is get your hand raised at state,” Carmean said.
Others winning titles Saturday were Bath’s Fielden Deeds (220), Elida’s Conner Douglass (126) and Lawrence Slygh (182), and Shawnee’s Clay Adlesh (170).
Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.