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Kenston 145-pound senior Nick Nastasi (top) inflicts his will upon Austintown Fitch senior Zach Richards during his third-place bout in the Division I district wrestling tournament on Saturday in Mentor.

It’s been three years in the making, but Kenston 145-pound senior Nick Nastasi is heading back to the Division I state wrestling tournament beginning this Thursday at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

The Bomber grappler was a 106-pound state qualifier as a freshman in 2017, during a 34-7 campaign. He punched his ticket to the big dance amidst having strep throat during the district tournament that season. He went 0-2 at the big dance.

Nastasi was in line to join head coach Ricky Deubel, now in his fourth season at the helm, as a four-time state qualifier for the Bombers, but back-to-back shoulder surgeries kept Nastasi sidelined from the postseason his sophomore and junior seasons.

Back on the mats this winter, Nastasi (40-5) went 4-1 to finish third during the Division I Mentor District tournament, punching his return trip to the big dance with a 13-2 major decision in his go-to bout.

“It honestly means everything to me,” Nastasi said. “For the past two years, I’ve been rehabbing and doing all the work I’ve been doing to try and get back, not knowing if I ever would be back on the mat. And if I would be back on the mat, I didn’t know if I’d be competing at a level that I was competing at my freshman year.

“So, it feels great just to see that all the hard work is paying off and just be to be able compete in Columbus one last time and enjoy my last week – I’m just grateful.”

Coach Deubel, who captured bookend state titles in 2001 and 2004 at Kenston, after battling through injuries himself during his sophomore and junior campaigns, was a relatable source for Nastasi to push forward and get the results he wanted this season, he said.

“I remember my first time coming in and I could barely stay in a stance for two minutes because I was just so out of it,” Nastasi said. “And Ricky (Deubel) just helped me physically get back into the sport of wrestling, and also mentally; he showed me how to not worry about my shoulder and taught me a few different ways to wrestle that would be better for my shoulder.

“So, he just taught me to go out there and wrestle the same way I would if I didn’t have two shoulder surgeries. After that second surgery, there was a while I was really down on myself and wasn’t sure if I’d ever see the mat again. And he helped me up and gave me hope.”

Nastasi got his district tournament underway by pinning Massillon Perry sophomore Mitchel Allen (23-15) in 45 seconds, before going on to put a 16-0 tech fall on Cuyahoga Falls junior Isaac Puchajda in 2:20 of action in the quarterfinals.

Ranked No. 7 among Division I wrestlers in the state, according to Boro Fan Ohio, Nastasi then lost his lone match of the tournament against Medina Highland state No. 9-ranked sophomore James Scavuzzo (38-5) by way of a 6-3 decision in the semifinals.

“I take all blame for losing that match,” Nastasi said. “I had a game plan going into that match, and I didn’t really stick to it. It ended up being all right. After I lost that, I was (ticked) off, but I just cleared it from my mind, because I knew the next match was the one that matters, because, if I lose the next one, my career is over.”

Scavuzzo is one of the lengthier guys at 145 pounds, which is one of the facets Nastasi said he struggled with as a stockier guy in the weight class. In particular, Nastasi said he had a tough time defending Scavuzzo’s single to his left leg.

But Nastasi rebounded and left no doubt during his blood round, putting a 13-2 major decision on Hudson state No. 30-ranked junior Gavin Wervey (35-17) to secure his state berth.

“I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that I’m not wrestling in college, so I knew that, if I didn’t win that match, that I’d probably never see the mat against,” Nastasi said. “So, I was just super focused and super motivated, and I just went out there and attacked him from the whistle.”

Nastasi ended the tournament by winning his third-place bout by a 5-2 decision against Austintown Fitch state No. 13-ranked senior Zach Richards (43-13), who was a state qualifier last season with a 1-2 mark at the big dance.

“Within the first 10 seconds of the match I had a takedown,” Nastasi said. “I jacked up my under-hook and went to my single and took him down.”

Heading to Columbus, Boro Fan Ohio predicts that Nastasi will win his opening match against Delaware Hayes senior Tristan Burton (33-14) before a possible matchup with Perrysburg state No. 2-ranked senior Blake Saito (47-3) in the quarterfinals – the same guy who knocked Nastasi out of the 2017 state tournament with a 3-1 decision.

From the beginning of this season, Nastasi said his main goal was just to stay healthy.

“And the mindset I have is, ‘the sky’s the limit,’” he said. “Whoever steps in front of me, I’m going to wrestle the same way no matter what. I’m just going to go out there, have fun and leave it all out there. At this point, there’s nothing to lose. I’m just going out there and just enjoying the sport of wrestling and the hype that comes along with the postseason.”

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