By JEREMY HINES
Breyden Bailey has done just about everything one can do to improve in wrestling. He puts time in the weight room, works relentlessly in practice and studies the sport. He’s gotten better in all aspects of wrestling. Yet, each year, despite his improvements, his season has ended in the exact same way -- third place.
Bailey, a senior at Indianapolis Cathedral, is one of the most highly decorated wrestlers in Indiana history. He’s a four time sectional champion, a four time regional champion and as of last Saturday, he’s a four-time New Castle semistate champion.
Going to state is nothing new for Bailey. He’s been there four times. He’s won his Friday night match the last three years. He’s also won his first and second matches on Saturday for the last three years.
The state semifinals has proven to be the death round for Bailey. He has lost in the semifinals all three years. Each time, the opponent that has beaten him, has then fallen to the eventual state champion en route to a second place finish.
Bailey has went on to win the third place match all three times.
“It does mean a lot to me to be a four-time state qualifier,” Bailey said. “I am proud of my placings, but I want to win it.”
Wrestling is in Bailey’s blood. His father, Bryan, is a two-time state champion from Martinsville and a one-time runner-up.
“Bryan has been coaching Breyden his whole life,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “He’s been able to absorb things about the sport. Wrestling really is a way of life for him.”
Bailey started wrestling when he turned seven. He had instant success, placing second in the ISWA folkstyle state that year.
“Wrestling really seems to have come naturally to me,” Bailey said.
About the time Bailey started wrestling, he also started going to the state finals in Indianapolis to watch the high school guys reach for their goals.
“I’ve been going to the state tournament since I was in second grade,” Bailey said. “My favorite memory was when Briar Runyan from Martinsville won it. I remember getting my picture taken with him. They are close family friends.”
Bailey doesn’t participate in any other sport. He says his normal day is waking up early, doing a little lifting or running a few miles, then going to school. During the school day he often gets the opportunity during one of his resource classes to look at film on wrestling. After school he goes to practice, then sticks around some nights to put extra work in with his freshman brother Logan.
Logan lost in the ticket round of the New Castle semistate on Saturday.
McGinley says there really isn’t a weakness in Bailey’s wrestling.
“He’s good from top, bottom and neutral,” McGinley said. “But the first thing I’d say about Bailey is that he’s a student of the sport. I’ve never had a kid that has so much knowledge, that’s so involved in our room. He’s constantly helping other kids and coaching. He’s on another level in terms of his knowledge of the sport.”
Bailey’s leadership (he’s a three-year captain at Cathedral) is one of the big reasons the Irish are considered contenders for the team state title this year.
Cathedral won the New Castle semistate and will send seven grapplers to the state meet. The Irish were especially dominant in the middle weights. Jordan Slivka won the 126 pound class, Bailey took first at 132 and Zach Melloh won the 138 pound bracket. Elliot Rodgers finished second at 145.
Ben Stewart finished second for Cathedral at 195 pounds and Andy Guhl was second at 220. Caleb Oliver finished fourth at 113.
“We thought the semistate team championship would be close,” McGinley said. “I really thought it was Perry Meridian’s to lose. But we always talk about how we want to get on a little bit of a roll. We know if we lose one we aren’t expected to, we need someone who isn’t expected to win to pull off the upset.
“That happened when we lost at 106 with little Bailey. We turned around at 113 and got back on track.”
Oliver’s advancement was a bit of a surprise, considering he had just an 18-16 record entering the semistate.
For Breyden, he has learned leadership skills by watching guys that were good leaders to him.
“My freshman year we won state,” Bailey said. “We had guys like Vinny Corsaro and Wesley Bernard that were great leaders. I learned a lot from their style.”
Bailey will wrestle for Division I Northern Illinois University next season. His college bio page will talk about his three third place finishes. He’s hoping there is also a line that reads “2017 Indiana state champion” as well.
“Right now that’s my number one goal,” Bailey said. “I want to get under those lights.”
- by Y2CJ41
By JEREMY HINES
When Gary Black Jr. interviewed for the head wrestling coach at Shenandoah, his goals were clear. He didn’t want to maintain the status quo for the Raiders. He wasn’t content with getting a few kids through to semistate. He wanted to put Shenandoah on the wrestling map, and he wanted the small Henry County school to compete, and win against the state’s best programs.
His vision for the program landed him the job, and now, seven years later, he has done exactly what he said he would.
Shenandoah won the school’s first sectional two weeks ago. The Raiders dominated larger schools such as New Castle and Richmond in the process.
Last week the Raiders fell 1.5 points shy of winning the school’s first regional title.
“We had to get a mentality change,” Black said. “We had to understand the physicality of wrestling. We reached out to the elementary school. We implemented a club to get young kids invested in the sport at an early age. It took us a few years, but when we had an opening for the middle school job and I had John Slivka and my dad (Gary) take over, we really started developing our feeder system.”
Shenandoah has seven wrestlers competing at the New Castle semistate Saturday. Sophomores A.J. Black (106) and Dallas Pugsley (126), senior Ryan Surguy (138) and freshman Silas Allred (170) were all Richmond regional champions. Sophomore Hayden Lohrey (132) lost a close match to undefeated Cainan Schaefer in the championship round. Josh Gee (senior, 160) lost to No. 2-ranked Alston Bane 1-0 in the championship and sophomore Jake Webster placed fourth in the 152-pound class.
The Raider success story is one of heartache, determination and a coach that refuses to give up on his kids.
Coach Black’s younger brother Levi was perhaps the most talented grappler on the Raider team. He had an insane dedication to the sport and a work ethic that was unrivaled. Levi was well liked by everyone he came in contact with. But, despite all the positives he had going for him, Levi struggled with a mental illness that eventually led him to take his own life, at the high school, in November of 2015.
The death rocked the tiny Shenandoah community, as well as much of the surrounding area. Levi’s funeral brought together wrestlers from around the state. Many wrestlers, such as Bane at Richmond, have shown support of the Black family and helped raised awareness of mental illness by having a green streak (symbolic of Levi’s fight with the disease) dyed in his hair.
The Shenandoah team needed strength during this time. They needed someone to help them cope with the emotional gravity of the situation. The Black family was there to provide it.
“Both coaches (Gary Jr. and Sr.) are my heroes,” Gee said. “After all they went through, they still took care of us – even over themselves. Through their pain they never let us down. They helped us cope and really turned us into a wrestling brotherhood. We are a family.”
For Gary Jr., he knew he needed to find a way to honor Levi, yet move forward.
“The last 16 months have been a huge learning curve for a lot of us,” Black said. “Not only are you dealing with the daily grind of being a wrestler at a high level, but these kids already battle a lot of things daily. That was one more added struggle for all of us. There are days for me, my dad and I‘m sure the kids – being at that exact same place where everything happened – that make it very difficult. All of our lives have been changed.”
Last year A.J. Black, Levi and Gary Jr’s youngest brother, tried doing everything he could to honor Levi. At times, the pressure got to him. He didn’t want to let his family down. When he lost in the ticket round to go to state, you could see that built up emotion boil over as tears streamed down his face.
“The weight of trying to accomplish a goal for the memory of his brother took its toll on A.J. and just mentally wore him down,” coach Black said. “We talked about it. He had to make a shift in how he honors his brother. He needs to start doing things for himself.
“I ask him before every match, who he is wrestling for. He now will say ‘Me’ and then give me a hug and go wrestle. He still honors Levi, but by working his hardest and doing his best. That’s all Levi would have wanted.”
The hard work mantra extends past A.J. To a man, the Raiders pride themselves on outworking other teams. The guys have bought into the system and have dedicated their summers to the sport.
“Levi was the hardest worker in the room,” A.J. said. “Everyone wants to make him proud by working as hard as they can, every day.”
Take Allred for example. He is a 14-year old freshman that won’t turn 15 until May 28. He’s wrestling in one of the most physically demanding classes (170). Yet he’s undefeated.
“We believe success is a mindset,” Allred said. “I constantly train and constantly push myself to get better. If you want to be the best, you have to work to be the best. You can get better, or worse every single day.”
Surguy and Gee are two examples of the dividends of that work ethic.
As a sophomore Gee was pinned by Bane in the sectional final in 36 seconds. Last year he lost 5-1 to Bane in the sectional final. This year, Gee has dropped two matches to Bane, but both were by the score of 1-0.
Surguy is another senior that struggled early, but has blossomed due to the work he puts in. This year Surguy is 42-2 with a sectional and regional title.
Gary has built the Raider program to be one of the state’s best. The Raiders finished No. 2 in the Class A team state, and have higher aspirations down the road.
For Gary, the key to success has been making the wrestlers buy into the fact that the only way to improve, is to outwork the opposition. He also makes sure the wrestlers feel like a family.
“We see each other at our worst, and we see each other at our best,” said Allred, who has a 4.0 GPA and is ranked third in his class. “When one of us has a down day, the rest of us try and pick him up. This is more than a wrestling team. We’re all friends. We’re all brothers.”
The leader of the Raider family is undoubtedly the young coach Black. His passion for the team is evident in every match he coaches.
“On Sundays I’m exhausted,” Black said “It’s hard for me to be on the sideline when I just want to go to war with them. I don’t want to be the general just telling them to go into battle. I want to battle with them. I’ll be the intense guy on the sideline.
“I want these kids to win as bad as they do. I get extremely emotionally involved in their success. I’d like to think they appreciate it, even though I look ridiculous. I love wrestling and I love watching those kids compete.”
Last year only Lohrey punched his ticket to the state meet for the Raiders. This year Shenandoah has high hopes to have more than one kid represented. They know how hard the road is to get to state, but they’ve prepared themselves to complete the journey – just like a young coach interviewing for his first head coaching job seven years ago said they would.
- by Y2CJ41
By JEREMY HINES
Tristan Sellmer is a wrestling junkie.
When Sellmer isn’t training on the physical aspects of the sport, the Floyd Central junior is learning the mental side. He spends time each day watching film or studying new moves. He is hoping his knowledge of the sport, and his strong work ethic, will help him reach the Indiana High School state finals this season.
“Tristan Sellmer eats and breathes wrestling,” Floyd Central coach Brandon Sisson said. “He loves it. He’s always studying film. He also seeks out the best wrestlers and wants to go against them.”
Sellmer has had a lot of success in his high school career. To date, he is a three-time sectional champion and two-time regional champ. His tournament trail has ended the last two years at the Evansville semistate.
As a freshman Sellmer won regional, but then received an unfortunate draw when Paul Konrath injury defaulted in the Castle regional. Sellmer then had to face Konrath in the first round, and lost 12-2.
Sellmer was close to punching his ticket to state as a sophomore. He won his first round semistate matchup, but then lost a heart breaker to Avon’s Nathan Conley 3-2.
“Not making it to state eats at me every single day,” Sellmer said. “It makes me train more and more. Every chance I get I am training or watching technique videos. I stay occupied completely with wrestling now.”
Sellmer doesn’t play any other sports, and he says he doesn’t have a hobby. Wrestling and his grades are his only passions right now.
This season Sellmer has faced five of the top 15-ranked grapplers in his 138-pound weight class. He’s won all but one of those matches. Sellmer, ranked No. 4 currently, lost to No. 3-ranked Kris Rumph 3-2 in overtime. He has beaten No. 2-ranked Zach Melloh, No. 5-ranked Conley, No. 8-ranked Jake Schoenegge and No. 14-ranked Derek Blubaugh.
Sellmer’s Floyd Central team claimed its 28th sectional title this season. The school has won sectional 28 out of its 49 years in existence. The Highlanders had 13 advance to regional with five sectional champions.
Johnathan Kervin, Devon Stikes, Ty Sorg, Bradley Philpot and Sellmer were the sectional title winners.
“This is one of my more talented teams,” Sisson said. “But they are also one of the most fun and coachable teams I have had. There isn’t any negative energy in the room.”
Sellmer is one of the kids that pushes his teammates to get better. He has put a lot of work in during the offseason. He’s went to several national tournaments and feels that’s really what has helped him get to the level he is wrestling at today.
After high school Selmer would like to wrestle in college and eventually get a degree in accounting. He loves numbers, and they come easy for him he says. Right now he has not decided where he will attend.
- by Y2CJ41
By JEREMY HINES
There is an episode of ‘Malcom In the Middle’ where a few teenagers pick on an elderly man and then run away from him. As they run, they taunt the man – knowing they are much younger and faster than he is. The old man is persistent though. He never stops moving forward. Eventually, much to the surprise of the teens, he catches up to them and beats the tar out of them.
Delta’s Jacob Gray is a lot like that old man. He’s not slow, by any means, but he is relentless. He’s always pressing forward. Every time an opponent looks up, Gray’s massive 182 pound frame is right in front of them.
“Jacob is a meat and potatoes kind of wrestler,” Delta coach Gary Schleissman said. “He’s not fancy. He doesn’t do funk. He’s straight forward and relentless. He sticks to the basics, and he does them very well. He wrestles smart and doesn’t waste any movement. He’s always been that way.”
Gray has 141 varsity victories and only 11 losses. As a freshman he lost in the ticket round at semistate. His sophomore year he lost just twice, both in the state finals. He ended up placing sixth that year. Last year Gray went 37-3 and lost Friday night at state.
This season Gray is 28-2. Both of his losses came at the hands of the state’s No. 1-ranked 182 pounder, Nathan Walton. The first time the two wrestled Walton won 5-2. Gray narrowed the gap the next time they squared off – losing by just one point, 1-0.
“Those losses have made me want to work harder,” Gray said. “You just think of how close the matches have been, and how a takedown, a reversal or something could have changed the outcome.”
Gray, who has never been pinned in high school, has made it a point this season to attack more.
“I am pressing the action a lot more,” Gray said. “I started noticing how in harder matches I was getting a little fatigued. Now that I’m trying to put up more points, I’m not getting as tired. I feel like it has helped me get in better shape.”
One of Gray’s physical attributes that has helped him on the mat is his ridiculous hand strength.
“His hand strength is absolutely crazy,” Schleissman said. “When I wrestle around with him in the room, it really hit me how strong his hands were last season. He’d grab a hold of my wrist and – holy crap”
Gray is fueled by competing at a school with a rich wrestling history. Delta is fourth on Indiana’s all-time team state championships list with five. The school, located on the outskirts of Muncie, has had 13 individual champions. The list of individual champs include: Tim Klingensmith (1970), Chris Campbell (1981), Don Heintzelman (1981), Greg Gadbury (1981), David Palmer (1981, 1982), John Ginther (1983, 1984), Ron Riggin (1984), David Locke (1984), Craig Campbell (1985), Trent McCormick (1986), Jeff Tuttle (1987), Craig Locke (1990) and Eric Kerkhof (1994, 1996).
“I want to be one of those guys you think about when you think of Delta wrestling,” Gray said. “Our coaches, teachers and a lot of people in our community talk about how good we were. All of my friends’ dads talk about the glory days. I see the pictures on the wall every day of all of our state champions, and I know I can be our next one.”
Gray got his wrestling start at the Muncie Pal Club. According to coach Schleissman, the Pal Club was a place where “a bunch of rough neck kids would go in and beat the crap out of each other every day.”
Bryce Baumgartner, Sage Coy, Luke Schleissman and Gray were a few of the wrestlers that emerged from the Pal Club.
Despite his success on the mat, Gray isn’t one to brag on himself.
“Jacob is just a great kid,” Schleissman said. “He’s very humble and very quiet. He’s polite and everyone respects him. I have watched him wrestle since he was very young. He’s my go to kid in practice. After this year, I’m really going to miss him.”
After high school he plans to wrestle in college, but has not decided where he wants to go or what he wants to study. Right now he’s focusing on getting to the top rung of the podium at Banker’s Life in February. Jacob wants to go out on top – like all senior wrestlers.
- by Y2CJ41
By JEREMY HINES
Lawrenceburg’s Jake Ruberg has battled some of Indiana’s best wrestlers, and more often than not has emerged victorious. But Ruberg’s true adversary isn’t an opponent standing across from him on the mat. No, for Ruberg, the demons he has wrestled in his own mind are far more vicious and formidable than any opponent could ever be.
Ruberg emerged on the state scene four years ago. He was a little-known freshman wrestling for a small school a stone’s throw away from the Ohio state line. He won sectional and regional that year and eventually advanced to state. He lost just twice as a freshman, once to eventual champion Tommy Cash 2-1 in semistate, and then to Jacob Covaciu in the first round of state.
Ruberg had sat at the table of the state’s wrestling elite. He developed a taste for that success and became obsessed with getting back there. He stepped on the mat 10 times that sophomore season, and all 10 times he emerged victorious. He was well on his way back to Indiana’s pinnacle – the state finals.
Ruberg injured his shoulder during football, and thought he would be able to wrestle. But wrestling can be a cruel mistress at times. Ruberg realized that his shoulder needed more time to heal, and that he would have to stop wrestling for the remainder of the season. That injury led to a dark time for Ruberg, one where he would eventually be hospitalized because of a deep depression.
“I’ve had to deal with some pretty tough stuff,” Ruberg said. “I became very depressed after my shoulder injury and I was in the hospital for a while. It was at the same time that Shenandoah’s Levi Black committed suicide after dealing with a mental illness. I was shocked to see that another kid was having some of the same issues I was having. I knew I had to come out of it.”
Ruberg made the decision to talk about his issues. He went to therapy. He talked to Levi’s parents and brother (Shenandoah head coach Gary Black). By talking about it, he was starting to get better. He also realized that there might be other kids out there going through similar struggles. So, he made himself available to talk to them.
“I wanted to make sure I was there for people,” Ruberg said. “Nobody should battle that alone. Mental illnesses are tough. I’ve been dealing with them since I was little. It’s something you have to work out. You can’t just fix yourself in a day. You have to have outlets and people you can talk to. My outlet is wrestling and working out. If I’m feeling bad, I go lift or work out on the mat. Everyone has to find their own outlet to get their mind clear.”
Ruberg didn’t advance to state as a junior. He lost in the ticket round to Noah Warren in the New Castle semistate. The loss hurt, but Ruberg has learned to deal with the negative emotions and turn them into a positive.
That was evident this football season. The Tigers advanced to the state championship game, eventually getting second. Ruberg was named the Class 3A Mental Attitude Award winner.
“Jake is a born leader,” Lawrenceburg coach Mark Kirchgassner said. “He’s been a leader on our wrestling team for four years. He’s a leader on the football field. He’s just a leader in everything he does.
“With Jake there have been ups and downs. But he has really taken positive steps. He’s done vigils with people battling depression. He’s taken kids under his wings. He helps people along the process and he’s been very open with it to other kids. It takes a lot of courage for a high school guy to tell people that he battles depression.”
Ruberg is hoping this senior campaign ends with him on the podium at the state meet. He is currently ranked No. 10 at 170 pounds. He has a lost twice this year, once to No. 2-ranked Tanner Webster 3-2, and the other time he was pinned by No. 9-ranked Kameron Fuller.
“My goal is to win state, and I expect to be in the top three at least,” Ruberg said.
Ruberg has the luxury of being in the same room with three other highly skilled wrestlers in the upper weights. Nationally ranked Mason Parris is at 220. Jonah Rolfes (ranked No. 5 in the New Castle semistate) is at 182 pounds and Sam Tibbets is at 195 pounds.
“We are fortunate for a small school to have four guys of that caliber that can battle every day in practice,” Kirchgassner said. “They are really able to push each other.”
Ruberg loves the success his small school has had recently in wrestling.
“People try and tell me how much better the Ohio tournament is,” Ruberg said. “I know they have great wrestlers. But we have a tournament where a school of 600 people gets to compete against a school of 6,000. Your ability really shines. You know you are one of the top 16 when you make it to state. If you win, there is no doubt that you are the best. I do wish we had wrestle backs though.”
After high school Ruberg will wrestle for the University of Indianapolis. He chose Indianapolis because he wanted to remain close to home, and he really liked the coaching staff.
“Their coach is very down to earth,” Ruberg said. “He will talk to you about anything. He’ll check up with you on the weekends and see how you’re doing. I just really like their program.”
Ruberg plans to go into nursing. He had people help him when he was at his lowest point, and now he wants to make a career out of helping others.
“My advice to anyone that might be struggling is to find someone that will listen to you,” Ruberg said. “Find someone you can open up to. Always keep going. There might be bad times, but something greater is always right around the corner.”
- by Y2CJ41
By JEREMY HINES
A lot has changed in the wrestling room at New Palestine High School over the course of a year. The Dragons have a new coach and a lot younger team. But one thing remains the same – Alec White is still a hammer in the New Pal lineup.
White, a senior, is a three-time state qualifier. He placed fourth as a freshman at 106 pounds. As a sophomore he qualified for state at 113 pounds and then returned as a junior in the same weight class and took sixth. This year White is the No. 5-ranked grappler at 126.
“Alec is just cool,” first-year New Palestine wrestling coach Alex Johns said. “If I were to describe him, that’s the first thing you notice. He’s cool. This year he has taken a different approach. He’s very intelligent and he has a game plan for each match. He’s more laid back this year than he has been in the past. He’s enjoying the ride instead of worrying about the results.”
Last season New Palestine was loaded with talent. At the top of that list was Chad Red Jr., who finished his high school career as one of the most decorated wrestlers in Indiana history. Red was undefeated in high school, winning four state titles in the process.
Red wasn’t the only talented senior on last year’s squad. Jared Timberman was ranked in the top three most of the year at 145 pounds. Cameron Diep and Eugene Starks were also very good wrestlers for the Dragons.
In addition to losing those quality seniors, coach Chad Red Sr., also resigned at the end of the season.
This year New Palestine has a young lineup and a first-year coach.
“Last year we always expected to win, team-wise” White said. “This year we’re looking at it as a long process. Each and every person on the team has to trust the process and continue to get better. Obviously we have individual goals as well. Mine are set very high. Other people on the team have different goals that are attainable.”
Coach Johns is enjoying his first season at the helm of the Dragons. He wrestled for the University of Indianapolis and was later a graduate assistant there. He hopes to instill some of the core values of a college wrestler into his high school team.
“We are young and inexperienced this year,” Johns said. “But the future looks bright for us for the next several years.”
White was very disappointed with his sixth-place finish last season. White lost to Warren Central’s Skylour Turner in the Shelbyville sectional final 2-1, but then reversed that decision a week later in regional action, beating Turner 5-3 in the final. White and Turner were on opposite sides of the bracket at the New Castle semistate, but Cathedral’s Jordan Slivka beat Turner 7-3. White then beat Slivka 4-3 to win the semistate championship.
White won his first round at state, but lost the next round 6-2 to Geoffery Davis. Davis then lost to Slivka in the third-fourth place match. White lost to his tourney nemesis, Turner, 3-2 in the fifth and sixth place match.
“I was upset with my finish,” White said. “I thought I had a great opportunity to get under the lights. The draw didn’t matter to me. I felt like I was one of the best in the weight class, but someone beat me. That happens in wrestling. I’ve turned the page. I don’t like focusing on last year. I’m a different wrestler now.
“I’ve been chasing a state title ever since I can remember. That’s been my goal ever since I first saw a state finals when I was about three years old. I saw two kids wrestling under the lights and everyone watching them. I knew someday I wanted that to be me.”
White feels he has improved over the course of the year.
“I’ve improved in every aspect,” he said. “My mental toughness, my wrestling ability and my knowledge has really improved. And I hope I continue to improve. I don’t think I’ve peaked. My best days are certainly ahead of me.”
The Purdue Boilermakers are hoping that is true. White will wrestle for Purdue next season.
- by Y2CJ41
By JEREMY HINES
Two years ago Thomas Penola didn’t crack Zionsville’s varsity lineup. Last year he had a mediocre season, going 24-13. A week ago he entered the prestigious Al Smith Classic as an unranked, unseeded junior competing in arguably the toughest weight class in the tournament.
Now, just a week later, Penola’s career has taken a drastic turn. He won the Al Smith at 170 pounds, beating four ranked wrestlers in the process. When the new state rankings came out this week, Penola had one of the biggest jumps in the ranking’s history. He went from not being in the top 16, to his current rank of No. 3.
“I was really surprised when I saw the rankings,” Penola said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I had beaten some good guys at the Al Smith, but I generally don’t even look at rankings. I just listen to my coaches and go out and wrestle.”
Penola’s coaches are perhaps the ones surprised the least about his sudden rise into the state’s wrestling spotlight.
“Thomas has had a great year,” Zionsville coach Jared Williams said. “We knew going into the Al Smith, with the competition that was going to be there at that weight, that we’d have a chance to see where he stood. I thought he could win it. I really thought that, going in, he’s there with anyone.”
Penola knocked off No. 16 ranked Jordan Rader (14-2) in the opening round of the Al Smith. He later defeated Mike Edwards (10-5), No. 10 ranked Jared Swank (19-2), No. 9 ranked Tavonte Malone (24-1) and No. 5-ranked Zack Fattore (15-2) to win the championship.
Penola is currently 20-1 on the season. Both he, and his coaches, point to his vigorous off-season training as the reason for his success this season.
“For me, the biggest difference was that I stopped playing football and focused on wrestling,” Penola said. “The coaches I have been working with are great. They helped me focus on working on my feet. I went to camps, I worked out at CIA. I got to wrestle some guys that have really pushed me. Before this summer my weakness was wrestling on my feet. Now, I’d say, it’s my biggest strength.”
Coach Williams credits Penola’s work ethic and desire for the turnaround.
“I really thought last year that he would make a big jump,” Williams said. “I don’t think quitting football really had anything to do with it other than he came into our season healthy. He had one of his knees worked on last year and missed all of freestyle and folkstyle season. He felt behind and really wanted to focus on wrestling during the fall. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to stop playing football. If you want to make a big jump, it can happen in the spring and summer.
“Thomas is hyper focused, and that’s why he is where he is today.”
This year Penola’s goal is to place high at the state meet. He acknowledged that it won’t come easy. He is focusing on each match he wrestles and knows he can’t get to the point where he overlooks anyone.
“I see what happens with him in the room,” Williams said. “I can feel it when I wrestle with him. He’s up there with anyone. He has that state-placing potential. But we’ve talked, and he has a lot of things that have to improve for him to be in a state title conversation. But he’s going the things he needs to do.
“He’s as coachable as any person I’ve ever had. He takes in everything we, as a coaching staff, tell him. If we say we need something to happen, he’ll do everything in his power to make it happen. He does everything right, from nutrition, to rest to working hard in the weight room. He’s a leader for our team. And, the reason he loves wrestling is because he knows it’s a sport that rewards those that work the hardest.”
Penola also credits having teammates that push him in the room as a reason for his success.
“Guys like Sam Gobeyn, Matt Wertz and Josue Hill all have the same mind set and are improving because of their work and the way they push each other,” Williams said.
Outside of wrestling Penola loves to hang out with his family, which includes two sisters and five brothers. He enjoys watching football and wrestling. And, he says, he loves eating when it isn’t wrestling season.
- by Y2CJ41
By JEREMY HINES
One and a half points. That’s all that separated North Montgomery from winning the Crawfordsville sectional championship last year.
The Chargers were defeated by Southmont, their arch rival by a score of 242-240.5. It was the closest score between the top two teams in all of the state last year in sectional action.
“Southmont is our county and they are our biggest rivals,” North Montgomery coach Maurice Swain said. “Our kids have been seeing those guys since elementary school. We’re hoping this year we can turn that score around.”
North Montgomery is certainly poised to win a sectional title – and possibly more. The Chargers return a senior-laden team led by their 170-pound wrecking ball Tanner Webster. Webster is currently the No. 2 ranked grappler in the weight class, just behind his good friend Burk Van Horn.
“Tanner is one of those kids that is always on the wrestling mat,” Swain said. “When I first came here he was in fifth grade and would wrestle in the varsity room. He was always working with our high schoolers. He always wants to get better. The goal this year for him is to win a state title.”
Webster vividly remembers the excitement of advancing to state last year and ultimately placing sixth at 170 pounds. But now that he’s had a taste for the big stage, he’s setting his sights on bringing home top honors.
“Last season just going to state was very cool,” Webster said. “It relieved a bunch of stress I felt to get there. But this year I want to win it all, and I want to have several of my teammates at state with me as well.”
The Chargers have eight seniors on the team, and seven of those seniors are in the lineup.
“Even the guys that aren’t seniors have been in our program for a long time,” Swain said. “At North Montgomery we don’t get move-ins. We have to develop our wrestlers.”
Sophomore 106-pounder Seth Johnson is the team’s only other state-ranked wrestler. Johnson is currently No. 5.
Cade Graves, Isaac Fruits and Cole Slavens are all ranked in the New Castle semistate. Graves is No. 7 at 152, Fruits is No. 5 at 182 and Slavens is No. 5 at 195.
“I really think this is the best team North Montgomery has ever had,” Webster said. “Coach Swain has done an awesome job here. We know we can do some damage. From the bottom of our lineup to the top this is the best we’ve ever been.”
The Chargers have the same goals every year. They want to win their County meet, their conference meet and do well in the state series. Southmont is standing in their way in all three goals.
“Our county meet was postponed, but we are excited to see those guys,” Webster said. “We feel like we are better than we were and we hope to prove that.”
- by Y2CJ41
By STEVE KRAH
Robert Faulkens is the face of wrestling at the Indiana High School Athletic Association office.
As an assistant commissioner, he administers IHSAA wrestling (as well as football and boys and girls track and field).
Faulkens, who also sits on several National Federation of State High School Associations committees, oversees an annual online rules meeting for IHSAA wrestling officials and coaches.
He also likes to take advantage of face-to-face opportunities, like the recent St. Joseph Valley Officials Association gathering in Granger. There, Faulkens got a chance to address a roomful of mat referees and area coaching staffs.
Faulkens, who defines his job as someone who must be equitable to all 4,000 wrestlers and all 309 programs in Indiana and not just the elite, covered many topics and had a dialogue with those in attendance. Much of the discussion were on areas relating to participation.
“Wrestling’s been in a decline for about four or five years,” Faulkens said of dropping participation numbers.
He said the only thing propping up participation in Indiana is girls wrestling, which had about 300 competing on boys squads throughout the state last season. It’s a number too low to make it a separate sport. But if the numbers continue to rise it could happen in the future.
“My guess is we’re eight or 10 years from pulling girls out and making it a separate sport,” Faulkens said. “the number of teams that have girls wrestling is very small. There are pockets of girls wrestling (currently, Lafayette Jeff and Crispus Attucks each have more than a dozen girls in their programs). Either you have them or you don’t. Very rarely do you have one girl wrestling. Normally you have four or five.”
Faulkens sits on the national rules writing committee for the National Federation. The committee met last April and considered and approved a new two-piece uniform with a tight shirt and shorts. The rules regulators at the next level turned down the proposal, saying there was no uniformity in the specifications nor was there time to approve the change by October.
“In April (2017), we’ll probably do it all over again and have to be more specific,” Faulkens said. “I think we’re about three years away (from the two-piece uniform).”
What’s wrong with the singlet?
“Kids are not wresting because they are a little bit embarrassed to wear the singlet,” Faukens said. “Participation numbers have dropped and that’s one of the reasons kids have decided they don’t want to wrestle.”
What are some of the other reasons?
The long weekend events have become a grind to many young athletes.
Faulkens noted that there no joy in spending all day on a Saturday and losing five times and wrestling all of six minutes.
“Why as a high school kid would I give up seven weekends to not have fun?,” Faulkens said.
Many schools have schedules made up mostly of Saturday super duals or tournaments. The suggestion has been made from some in Indiana to increase the number of weeknight dual meets.
Another reason is parents don’t want their kids to wrestle because they equate the sport with brawling.
“They see wrestling as MMA or as Ultimate Fight Club,” Faulkens said. “As scholastic wrestlers we’re trying to distance ourselves from those two entities because of the negative connotation.”
That’s why he resists calling the lower part of the two-piece uniform “fight” shorts.
Faulkens talked about the relationship between football and wrestling — a natural partnership in some communities, but not in all places.
He is a fan of multi-sport participation.
“Those schools that share kids among sports are normally the ones who are successful over a long period of time,” Faulkens said. “We have some hard-headed football coaches that believe a kid should just play football in the fall and lift weights in the winter and spring.
“It goes against everything we know about kids. They need to do different sports at different times of the year. If they do the same thing all the time, they risk burnout and injury. Those two things are not good for any kid.”
The assistant commissioner noted that 75 percent of the teams in the IHSAA football state championships have athletes who participate in another sport.
At schools where wrestling coaches are having a hard time getting football players (or those specializing in one sport) to join their teams, Faulkens said their must be a conversation between the coach and their athletic director and and principal.
Faulkens pointed out the differences in the gridiron and mat, noting that football is anaerobic and wrestling is aerobic “and never the twain shall meet.”
“If you try to get a kid to go from quick bursts and a lot of rest to a sport that’s a continual expenditure of energy, it’s very difficult,” Faulkens said. “Wrestling is not an easy sport. We’ve got a group of kids that don’t want to work that hard. They really don’t. They’re going to take the path of least resistance. It’s just the mindset of our kids.”
While many will argue that more mat time is always a good thing, Faulkens sees a trend coming from his involvement with the National Federation’s sports medicine advisory committee that calls for a reduction in the number of matches.
“What we know is that at a certain point, there’s no return on improvement,” Faulkens said. “It’s likely that in a few years the maximum number of regular-season matches allowed per wrestler will be 25.”
This will mean an adjustment in how schedules are made. There may not be as many two-day super duals with teams competing eight to 10 times in a weekend, knowing that they may be getting close to the maximum in a very short time period.
A point of emphasis for Faulkens at each online rules meeting is the importance of being vigilant against infectious skin diseases.
“Don’t share razors or soap and wash yourself everyday and wash your mats,” Faulkens said.
Faulkens said showering after each practice and competition is suggested. But if coaches can’t enforce that they should at least have a bucket of antibacterial wipes for exposed skin when wrestlers get off the mat.
Ideally, checking for skin lesions would be a daily occurrence, but every athlete should be checked at least once a week.
A year ago, Faulkens said 70 schools had cases of infectious skin disease on their teams and five schools reported five or more cases.
“Parents are not going to stand for it,” Faulkens said. “If you get a MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection) in your room, that’s going to cost the parents $40,000. If they don’t have insurance, chances are they are not going to get the treatment that they need.”
Faulkens notes that though he may come across as harsh when making his points about matters like this and with the proper administration of the weight management system (he got the athletic directors and athletic trainers involved four years ago), there’s a method to his madness.
“We can’t lose wrestling because we can’t lose the lessons that wrestling gives us,” Faulkens said. “As coaches, you are in control of that.”
As for the state of the sport as Faulkens heads into his seventh state tournament series, he likes what he sees.
“We’re in good shape,” Faulkens said. “I love where we’re are in wrestling in the state of Indiana. I really do.
“My job is to do what’s best for everybody.”
- by Y2CJ41
By JEREMY HINES
Burk Van Horn remembers being with his dad and brothers driving down the highway on their way to Nebraska, and seeing several cars trying to get their attention. Turns out, Van Horn had accidentally left the gates open on the family’s cattle trailer they were hauling, and some of the cattle was walking toward the opening.
“The cows were just about to jump out when we stopped,” Van Horn said. “We had stopped to eat and I checked on the cattle, but forgot to close the gates.”
Van Horn is a little more careful these days, both with cattle and on the wrestling mat. He’s currently ranked No. 2 at 160 pounds. He started the season out ranked No. 1 at 170 pounds and later moved to 160 and was given the top ranking there, before the latest polls had Evansville Mater Dei’s Joe Lee moving up to 160 and claiming the top spot.
The Franklin Community senior has had a stellar career in high school, but it wasn’t until last season that he really stepped up his game. As a freshman Van Horn advanced to semistate. As a sophomore he was defeated in the first round of regional. But, as a junior, he not only made it to the state tournament – he wrestled his way under the lights at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. Van Horn lost a 3-0 heartbreaker in the state finals match to two-time champ Jacob Covaciu.
“My sophomore year I had a bad match at regionals,” Van Horn said. “But that helped me to become better and motivate myself more. I started to break down matches more. That loss was a setback, but it made me want to go further.
“Then, last year when I saw my draw at state, I really felt like I could get under the lights. Just getting there wasn’t my goal. I wanted to win, not get second.”
Franklin coach Bob Hasseman said losing in regional as a sophomore was a turning point in Van Horn’s career.
“It was a crappy match and things happened that was a little out of his control with the officiating,” Hasseman said. “At that time, when something didn’t go his way, Burk could get a little discombobulated. But since that time, and probably because of that time, he has learned to keep on rolling and to take the good with the bad. He’s going to make mistakes. He’s going to get bad calls. That’s wrestling. But he has to stay focused and keep wrestling and not make a grave error when he’s frustrated.”
Van Horn has mixed emotions about the rankings this year. He likes the fact that he was ranked No. 1 at two different classes. He likes that he has a target on his back and a lot of guys are trying to knock him off. But he doesn’t like when kids get intimidated just because of his ranking.
“I’ve still got a lot of room to improve before I can become a state champ,” he said. “I’m just another kid out there wrestling. There are sometimes I wish I wasn’t ranked because a lot of kids won’t wrestle me. Or, if they do wrestle, some of them just roll to their backs like little girls instead of at least putting up a fight. But it is fun walking onto the mat and knowing that you’re the man.”
Van Horn has made weight once at 160, but plans to go back to 170. At this point, he’s not sure where he will wrestle in the tournament.
“I’m going to do whatever is best for the team,” he said.
Burk started wrestling about the time he learned to walk. He has two older brothers that were state qualifiers.
“Burk is quite a bit bigger than his brothers were,” Franklin coach Bob Hasseman said. “He’s got the size and he’s very talented. His whole family seems to be just genetically strong. He has good hips and is very rarely out of position on the mat. His body build also helps him tremendously.”
Burk is the epitome of being country strong. His daily routine of wrestling and then going home and working with the cattle and his show pigs has helped him develop a habit of hard working.
“I show pigs and cattle year around,” Burk said. “It’s a lot of hard work. If you want to win in the show ring, or in wrestling, you have to be willing to put in the hard work.”
Van Horn is hoping all his hard work produces an end result of a state championship this season.
- by Y2CJ41
By JEREMY HINES
Beech Grove’s Ethan Smiley isn’t big on talking about himself. After repeated questions for this article about his wrestling and other accomplishments, Smiley barely mustered a word. But, when the questions turned to his teammates or his family, he was much more talkative.
“Ethan is very quiet,” Hornet coach Matt Irwin said. “He isn’t the first person you notice in the room. He’d be the last person you’d notice. He is humble and it’s hard to get him to brag on himself. That’s how he was raised. He knows how to act and how to carry himself in a good manner.”
Even though he won’t do it, Smiley has plenty to brag about on the mat and in the classroom. The Beech Grove junior is currently ranked No. 8 at 132 pounds. He has qualified for state both of his previous seasons. Last year he earned a spot on the podium with an 8th-place finish at 120 pounds.
Off the mat, Smiley is ranked No. 1 in his class.
“He has a GPA of over 4.2,” Irwin said. “Everything he does, he does it with all his effort. He takes everything seriously. He is an extremely hard worker with a no nonsense approach. He wants to get in, get out and get things accomplished.”
Ethan would like to place higher at the state level this year than he did last year. It is equally important to him to get a teammate to state this year as well.
“My goal is just to be grateful for the opportunity to wrestle and be with my teammates,” Smiley said. “We are better than we have been the last few years. I really want to bring some teammates to state this year. We have some decent guys that have a chance. Bailey Moore, our 138 pounder, could have a very good season. He is one of my practice partners.”
Ethan’s older brother, Evan, was a two-time state qualifier for the Hornets. He finished fourth at 145 pounds his senior season.
“I started wrestling when I was four,” Ethan said. “My brother was wrestling and I wanted to do it too. He still drills with me when he gets a chance.”
Currently Evan is wrestling at 141 pounds for the University of Indianapolis.
“I think Ethan has really taken a lot from Evan’s work ethic,” Irwin said. “Their styles aren’t similar, except that they are both very heavy handed. But they are very big on hard work and not cutting corners.”
Coach Irwin believes Ethan has the ability to contend for a state title on the mat. Irwin said that Ethan has put a lot of work in during the offseason. He has gotten stronger, really worked with his nutrition and has done all of the right things to put himself in a good position to make a run.
Last season Ethan wrestled Dylan Culp four times during the state tournament. He lost in the sectional final to Culp 6-0, but then turned it around and beat Culp 4-2 in the regional final. Culp won the semistate championship match 4-2. The two met one more time, in the 7th and 8th place match in the state finals. Culp won that battle 5-4.
“I think my biggest win last year was at regionals when I finally beat Dylan Culp,” Ethan said. “That was my most satisfying win. He had beaten me numerous times before, but that was the first time I finally beat him.”
Ethan would like to wrestle in college, but he hasn’t put much thought into that. He’s hoping to go to Purdue and study plant science.
“I’m really into botany and plant science,” Ethan said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with a Purdue professor and do science research. I’d like to work in agriculture and get a degree in plant science. That’s what I work toward.”
Wrestling is Ethan’s only high school sport. When he was younger he tried his hand at baseball and golf, but didn’t pursue those sports in high school. He usually shoots in the 90s in golf, he said.
Ethan also plays guitar a little and loves comic books, especially batman.
Ethan is very family oriented. He enjoys hanging out with his brother, or his parents Phil and Christa. He also enjoys playing with his dog.
“Overall, Ethan is pretty serious, but he can be a goofball at times,” Irwin said. “He cares about other people and he wants his teammates to be successful. That is extremely important to him.”
- by Y2CJ41
By JEREMY HINES
Joe Lee won state last year, but didn’t win sectional. Brayton Lee has lost just one match in his Indiana High School career. The common denominator in both stories is a guy named Austin Bethel.
Bethel pinned Joe Lee in the sectional final last season. The year before, he shocked most around the state by pinning Brayton Lee in the final 15 seconds of the ticket round match at the Evansville semistate.
“A lot of people didn’t think I had much of a chance in either match,” Bethel said. “But I told myself that I’m not wrestling the name – I’m wrestling the person. I knew I needed to go out and do what I do best, which is scramble and look for five point moves. Both times I ended up with huge pins. It’s one of the best feelings in the world, looking up and seeing the surprise on everyone’s face.”
Bethel, a senior at Mt. Vernon in Posey County, is a big-move wrestler. He has found himself down in several matches throughout his career, but in many of those matches, he’s scrambled his way to the pin.
“With Austin’s style, possibilities are endless,” Mt. Vernon coach Tim Alcorn said. “He has big moves and finishing moves. There is nobody he doesn’t think he can beat. Catching Joe and Brayton were once in a lifetime things. But Austin could be one of the most, if not the most electrifying wrestler in the state.”
Bethel’s career has been a curious one. He’s pinned two of the state’s premier wrestlers. He’s qualified for state three times. Yet, he has never made it past the Friday night match at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.
“It’s such a depressing feeling,” Bethel said. “I’ve been so nervous and I’ve wrestled safe. That gets me in trouble. I’m not that way normally. I’m a risk taker. For me, I’ve put imaginary pressure on myself that really wasn’t there. This year is my year to relax and put on a show. That’s what I want to do.”
Coach Alcorn agrees that Bethel’s cautious approach to the Friday night matches at state has been his biggest mistakes.
“Sometimes he’s too smart for his own good,” Alcorn said. “He’s very aware of his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. If I could ever get him to just close his eyes and wrestle great things will happen. He has to welcome the opportunity, not fear it. He needs to let the chips fall as they may and leave everything out on the mat.”
Currently Bethel is the No. 6-ranked 152 pounder in the state. He has a 3.985 grade point average.
“Austin is hands down one of the best kids I’ve ever coached on and off the mat,” Alcorn said. “He’s the most well-rounded kid this program has ever seen. If he makes state again, he will be the most decorated wrestler in our program’s history. He is a four-year letter winner in soccer and a two-year letter winner in football. He helps out the elementary program. He helps officiating. He helps working the clocks. He is a ‘what can I do coach’ kind of kid. He’ll do whatever it takes to help the team.”
Bethel started wrestling when he was five years old. But he didn’t develop a true passion for the sport until his parents went through a divorce.
“I needed an outlet,” Bethel said. “I needed something to turn to. I needed to release some aggression. That’s when I started to pick up wrestling a lot more. I started traveling with the sport more and I met some truly amazing people along the way that took me in and helped me to improve. Wrestling became a big part of who I was.”
In addition to having big-move capabilities, Bethel is also excellent at analyzing opponents. He knows their tendencies. He prides himself on research.
“He’s the greatest student of the sport I’ve ever coached,” Alcorn said. “He watches more film than anyone I know. He watches film to a fault. He over analyzes. When he graduates from college, he’ll end up being one of the best coaches in wrestling.”
Bethel epitomizes the blue-collar approach to life, and wresting. He works for everything he has, and everything he has accomplished. He has only received one grade in school lower than an A, and that was a B plus he took in a college-level match class. Math, he says, is by far his least favorite subject.
His dedication to hard work has been infectious to the team. Mt. Vernon has 11 seniors, filling the biggest 11 weights in the lineup. Bethel works with the other seniors, as well as the younger wrestlers – trying to make everyone on the team better.
“He’s the backbone to our wrestling family,” Alcorn said. “There is no question about it.”
Family is enormously important to Bethel. If he wrestles in college, he wants to be in a program that provides a family atmosphere and a team-first mentality.
“Austin is a kid that is a Lilly scholarship finalist,” Alcorn said. “He comes from a single-parent household. He has come from having nothing, but his mother and his sisters have made something of that and never used it as an excuse. He values every single thing he has. He and his family have had to fight and claw, tooth and nail for everything. He’s the most successful, but the most humble kid I’ve ever known.”
As much as Austin has been through, on and off the mat, the one thing he still wants to accomplish is to place in state. To do that, he feels he needs to follow his own advice.
“You have to enjoy yourself,” Bethel said. “That’s what I’ve struggled with early on. I put too much pressure on myself. I have worried too much. You have to slow everything down and just enjoy it and not be hard on yourself. In wrestling, anything can happen and anyone can come out on top. The hardest opponent you’ll ever face is the guy standing in front of you in the mirror.”
Bethel has proven he can beat the state’s elite wrestlers. He’s never out of a match. And, if he gets back to state, he plans on putting on a show and wrestling his style. Caution will not be an option.
- by Y2CJ41
By JEREMY HINES
The very first time Brayton Lee watched a wrestling match, he ended up vomiting. He was 5 years old and sick that day his father took him to his first high school match, but even after vomiting, he didn’t want to leave. He had instantly fallen in love with the sport.
“After I got sick I still stayed until the match was over,” Lee said.
Now Lee is one of the top wrestling recruits in the nation. The Brownsburg junior won state last season at 138 pounds and he’s looking to do the same this year at 145.
“I’ve coached kids that were three-time state champions,” Brownsburg coach Darrick Snyder said. “I’ve coached kids that have placed at Fargo or other preseason national tournaments. I’ve coached quite a few guys that have went on to wrestle in college in D1 or the Big Ten. But Brayton is at a different level from any of the guys I’ve coached before. I haven’t had anyone near as talented as he is.”
Lee’s off-the-charts level of wrestling skills is one of the big reasons Brownsburg won the 3A team state title last season and is one of the favorites to do so again this year.
“Brayton is very willing to work with his teammates,” Snyder said. “I use him as another coach. We use him to show a lot of technique because he has been coached by some of the best coaches in the country, and his wrestling knowledge is phenomenal. When Brayton graduates in a couple of years I’m losing as close to a guaranteed win as you can get, and one of my best coaches.”
Lee isn’t sure exactly what he wants to do after high school, but he knows it will involve wrestling. He is getting letters in the mail on a daily basis from wrestling powerhouses like Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue and Michigan.
He hasn’t narrowed his college choice down yet, but he is hoping that wherever he goes will help push him to his dream of one day wrestling in the Olympics.
“I want to be the best there is,” Lee said. “I want to wrestle in the Olympics. I want to pursue the Olympics while I’m in college. After college I really think I’ll stay with wrestling and become a coach.”
Things haven’t always gone Lee’s way. His freshman campaign ended with just one loss, in the ticket round of semistate when Mt. Vernon’s Austin Bethel pinned him in the third period.
“That loss my freshman year, and not achieving my goal, ran through my head all the time the next season,” Lee said. “In practices I kept thinking about it. I knew I had to put some of those memories away, but it was just adding fuel to my fire.”
Lee bounced back. Last year, during his sophomore campaign, he dominated the field en route to the state championship. In the Avon sectional Lee wrestled a total of 48 seconds, securing a pin in the semifinals in 36 seconds and a pin in the championship in 12. He continued his dominance in the Mooresville regional, winning by pin, tech fall and then another pin.
In the Evansville semistate Lee opened with a pin, then won back-to-back 7-3 matches before winning the final 16-7.
Lee saved his most dominant performance for the state finals. He won the opening round with a 32 second fall, then tech-falled his next opponent 18-3. After a hard-fought 4-2 victory to reach the final match, Lee obliterated his last opponent of the season and won the state title with a 20-5 tech fall.
“Getting under the lights was everything I thought it would be and more,” Lee said. “There is nothing like it. When I walked out, my legs were really shaky. But afterward, when I was interviewed, it was just all joy. It was amazing. I had done it.”
For a few random Lee-isms: He doesn’t have a favorite move, but one he really enjoys doing is a left-handed headlock. He said he would rather win by technical fall instead of by pin. Chad Red Jr., is one of his best friends, and he likes to think he is close to Red as far as swagger goes – but he admits he isn’t to Red’s level yet in that regard.
Lee’s nickname at Brownsburg is smiley. Coach Snyder said that’s one of the first things you notice about Brayton, is how he is always smiling. With as much success as he’s having on the mat, it’s no wonder he’s happy.
- by Y2CJ41
By JEREMY HINES
Last season Perry Meridian advanced 14 wrestlers out of sectional with 11 champions. They finished 13th in the state – and that leaves a terrible taste in their mouths.
“We weren’t pleased at all with our finish last year,” said Falcon’s head coach Matt Schoettle. “We really felt like we should have been a top 5 team. We had some guys that should have made it to state that didn’t.”
Last year was Schoettle’s first year as head coach for Perry Meridian. He had been an assistant coach for 18 years under Jim Tonte, who took the job at Warren Central. Tonte’s Warriors won state in his first year at the helm.
“I learned everything from coach Tonte,” Schoettle said. “He has three state titles at Perry Meridian and then another one now at Warren Central. I learned dedication and commitment from him and how hard you have to work to get what you want.”
This year’s Falcon squad is poised to make a run for the team title. The team returns state placers Sammy Fair (5th at 106) and Noah Warren (7th at 160). Fair is a sophomore and Warren is a junior this season.
“Sammy is an awesome kid,” Schoettle said. “He will run through a brick wall for you. He’s a great student, a hard worker and every year he wins our extra workout award because he doesn’t quit. I look for very good things out of him this season.”
As for Warren, Schoettle believes he has a real shot of winning a title this season.
“Noah is kind of a clown on the team,” Schoettle said. “I’m an intense guy and he knows how to lighten the mood. His dad is my middle school coach. He works hard, doesn’t get in trouble but he knows how to make people around him have fun. He’s a great leader and he had an outstanding summer.”
The Falcons graduated three state qualifiers. Brett Johnson finished 3rd at 152. Daniel Brookbank was 7th at 132 and Chris Ridle was a state qualifier at heavyweight. But, as it have done so often in the past, Perry Meridian believes they have athletes to step up and get the team to that next level.
“I have three or four guys that were semistate guys last year that I think have state place-winner kind of talent,” Schoettle said. “Sunny Nier will be either 120 or 126. Kain Rust will go 138 or 145. Kain has multiple ISWA state titles and he could have a really good year. Jack Serview and Christian Warren could also get to state this year.”
Incoming freshmen Brayden Littel and Brayden Lowery are also expected to have good seasons for the Falcons.
The team has a lot of depth this season. Tuesday they held an intersquad match and there was a lot of competition at each weight class. There were 12 guys in the 138 bracket alone.
“I told them that this bracket might be tougher than our first few tourneys,” Schoettle said.
Perry Meridian’s goals are lofty. They want to win the dual team state title and the regular team state title.
“We talk about it every day,” Schoettle said. “We have the team that can compete. We have to stay healthy, keep guys fresh and continue to work on improving and conditioning. As with any team, we will also need to get a few breaks. There are a lot of good teams out there this year, but we know we can compete with any of them.”
- by Y2CJ41
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Travis Barroquillo and Collin Crume developed an intense rivalry on the mat their senior seasons in high school. Back then they had no idea that they would eventually become college roommates and share the NAIA All-American stage together.
Barroquillo and Crume squared off in the Goshen regional final in 2011. Barroquillo won that match and then defeated Crume again a week later in the Ft. Wayne semistate championship. The two had very good showings in the state finals that year, both eventually losing only to state champion Neal Molloy of Danville.
Barroquillo lost to Molloy in the semifinals, and then went on to finish third. Crume fell to Molloy in the final, finishing second. Barroquillo finished his senior season with a 55-1 record. Crume ended his senior campaign with a 49-4 mark.
Now the two are teammates at Indiana Tech. They are roommates and workout partners. The relationship has pushed both wrestlers to a level they didn’t think was possible.
Recently Barroquillo finished fourth at 133 pounds in the NAIA championships, and Crume finished seventh in the same weight class. Both earned All-American honors. In NAIA, schools can have multiple competitors from the same weight class competing.
The road to Indiana Tech was vastly different for the two wrestlers. Barroquillo, a Prairie Heights graduate, became the first wrestler to ever sign with Tech.
“My sister went to Indiana Tech and it was pretty close to home,” Barroquillo said. “When I found out I could be the first to ever sign there, that really helped with my decision.”
Barroquillo will graduate this spring with a degree in business management.
“I couldn’t be where I am today without wrestling,” he said.
Tech’s first-year head coach Thomas Pompei had worked with both wrestlers when they were in high school.
“Travis has done everything for this program,” Pompei said. “He put this program on the mat. He was a three-time All-American. These freshmen coming in can look up to him. He’s grooming freshmen to be like he was.”
Tech finished the season ranked No. 3 in the NAIA polls. In addition to Barroquillo and Crume, the Warriors also had an All-American in Mitch Pawlak. Pawlak became Tech’s first NAIA champion this season when he claimed the 125-pound title.
Crume started his collegiate career out wrestling at Wisconsin Parkside. He then transferred to King University in Tennessee. He took a year off last year to help coach at Jimtown High School, before finally deciding to finish college at Indiana Tech.
“Coach Pompei was a great top wrestler, and that is probably my biggest strength,” Crume said. “He helped me a lot with the technical side of everything. Before, I wasn’t very technical at all.”
Both Barroquillo and Crume said their favorite part of wrestling for Tech is the family atmosphere the team has.
“The guys on that team are my family,” Barroquillo said. “Everyone pushes each other to get better.”
Coach Pompei said his team has a good mix of wrestlers from mainly Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. He believes the talent pool in Indiana keeps getting better.
“I go on Team Indiana trips every year and the talent seems to be rising,” Pompei said. “You have unbelievable studs coming through now. This year was a great year for Indiana. We won our regional and were sitting on the bus and everyone had their cell phones out watching the state finals. The talent level in Indiana is phenomenal.”
At Tech, Pompei feels he gets the chance to help wrestlers peak.
“At Indiana Tech we want someone that is coachable and willing to give everything he has at the next level to make our team better,” Pompei said. “They don’t have to be state champs. They have to be someone that can make people better in the process. A lot of the athletes we get haven’t come close to peaking yet. I get to see them grow and become All-Americans and national contenders.”
- by Y2CJ41
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Thirty-two years ago a spur of the moment idea by Kevin Whitehead resulted in a monumental change to the Indiana high school wrestling state finals.
Back then, Whitehead was a table helper at the finals. He had filled in occasionally on the microphone, announcing some matches for Homer Hawkins, the main announcer at the time. Whitehead thought something was missing going in to the finals. So, he grabbed a notebook and a pencil and went on the mat asking each wrestler for information about themselves.
“I was interested in finding out a little more about the kids,” Whitehead said. “So I went kid-to-kid and asked them what year they were in school, what their records were, how many falls they had and such.”
At the time, all of the wrestlers in the championship round were lined up across the mat and everyone’s name was announced along with their opponent. The two would run across the mat and shake hands. That was it.
But now that Whitehead had all of this extra information scribbled down in his notebook, Hawkins asked if he would like to announce introductions.
“After I announced everyone, Homer looked at me with a smile and told me to keep the microphone and announce the championships,” Whitehead said. “I haven’t given it up since.”
Now the introductions of the finalists are a large part of the finals. Whitehead announces each wrestler, and reads off their list of wrestling accomplishments as the wrestler joins his coaches under a spotlight. After one wrestler is announced, the spotlight moves to his opponent across the mat. Then, the two wrestlers meet at center circle and shake hands.
Whitehead has been the announcer at the state finals since 1984. He lives in Kentucky, but looks forward each year to his annual trip to Indianapolis for the finals.
During his time as the announcer for the finals, Whitehead said he has witnessed major changes in the state format.
“The tournament has gotten bigger in just about every way it can,” Whitehead said. “There were fewer wrestlers when I started. When I first got involved the tournament had just expanded. When I was in school there were 12 weights and four wrestlers in each weight. There were 24 semifinal matches and that gave you the finalists and the consolations. After 48 matches, it was over.
“Now we hit match 48 by about 7:30 on Friday night.”
Whitehead remembers when the finals moved to Market Square Arena and when the Friday night sessions were added. He has watched as the talent level in Indiana has gotten better, and interest in the sport has greatly increased.
“Wrestling has really grown in the state in terms of the caliber of wrestling, the number of matches, the fan interest and the amount of schools that are represented,” Whitehead said. “Right now it sort of gets taken for granted that we have guys wrestling for, or going to wrestle for schools like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska and Penn State. That was unheard of not so many years ago. You might have one or two outstanding guys that would break the mold, but the quality of wrestling has increased multi-fold and that’s very gratifying. That is the driving force as to why there were 33,000 people going there and watching it this year.”
Whitehead has announced over 8,000 matches in his long career. He doesn’t have a favorite match, but said the atmosphere this year at the state finals was great. He misses the old scoring system for the team title, and believes that created a big interest throughout the tournament.
“That was what separated the great sessions from the average sessions,” Whitehead said. “The team race was great when you had a few teams battling for the team title. That really hasn’t happened since we went to the new format.”
One of Whitehead’s best memories from the finals came in the 80s. The weather was exceptionally bad and the finals got bumped from Market Square to the New Castle Fieldhouse.
“They had to wrestle it all on one day,” Whitehead said. “It started early and ran late. The crowd was huge and New Castle was absolutely packed. When it was over, we all knew we can through a tough time with the weather for wrestling. We had this sense of community afterwards.”
As far as announcing, Whitehead said when he calls out for the wrestlers to clear the mat for the second time, that’s when things start to get serious. He says he doesn’t have any go-to catch phrases from behind the microphone, but he does love the unique names. He prints the finals brackets off as soon as they are available and practices how he will say the names.
Whitehead wrestled for Franklin Central in the early 1970s. He never got past regional but was a Marion County runner-up and a sectional runner-up.
He retired from the Kroger Corporation after a long career spent in packaging development. He lives in Louisville now and spends time golfing with his son when he gets a chance, working around the house and tending to his vinyl record collection.
“I have a 45 vinyl collection with about 3,000 records,” Whitehead said. “I started collecting in the 60s, but I really started in earnest when I found a great Goodwill Store near Indiana State University. At the time, vinyl was junk. But now it’s very collectible.”
Whitehead said he has no intentions of quitting his announcing gig at the state finals. He plans on announcing for as long as he’s allowed to do so.
- by Y2CJ41
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Evan Eldred’s dad taught him a valuable lesson when it comes to wrestling. He taught him that Evan doesn’t have to be the best wrestler in the state.
Ironically, that advice has molded Edred into a semistate champ and the No. 3-ranked 138 pounder this season.
“The best advice I’ve been given in wrestling is when my dad tells me that I don’t have to be the best,” Evan said. “I just have to be better than my opponent for six minutes. It doesn’t matter who I’m wrestling or what they’ve done. I took that to heart. If I go out there and do my best, it doesn’t matter if the guy across from me is the best in the state or whatever, you can’t let that make you nervous.”
Eldred has been nearly flawless this year on the mat. He’s 39-1, with his lone loss coming at the hands of No. 1-ranked Brayton Lee in a close 5-3 match.
“Last year I started my season off with a close loss to Brayton Lee,” Eldred said. “This year I ran into him at conference and had a close match with him. It was probably the best thing for me because it made me realize I’m close, but I wasn’t to where I needed to be.”
Eldred is a superb student. He has a 3.78 GPA, was Academic All-State honorable mention, and will wrestle next season for the Indiana Hoosiers.
Eldred’s older brother, Dillon, attends IU and Evan always dreamed of going there as well.
Westfield coach Terry O’Neil knew about Eldred’s desire to go to IU, so when he had a chance meeting with Hoosier coach Duane Goldman, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about his talented senior.
“I crossed paths with Coach Goldman at the Indiana wrestling coaches clinic,” O’Neil said. “I told him we had a kid whose brother goes to IU and that is where he really wants to go as well. I told him that Evan has flown under the radar and told him about Evan’s wrestling and academic resume. He called Evan that night.”
O’Neil has the highest praise for Eldred.
“I’m pretty biased,” he said. “But if I had only one 138 pounder in the state to pick to be on my team, he would be my choice. I know he can compete with anyone.”
O’Neil says he has never coached a kid with the ability to learn and utilize technique as well as Eldred.
“Several factors go into making Evan special,” O’Neil said. “You can show him a technique on a Tuesday and he will use it in a match on Wednesday. His ability to recognize technique is like nothing I’ve ever seen in a high school athlete.
“Another factor is that he never lets the moment get to him, no matter how important the match is or how big the stage is. He is even tempered and able to maintain an incredible focus.”
Eldred had goals to be Westfield’s first four-time state qualifier. He qualified as a freshman at 120 pounds, but then fell short his sophomore season, losing in the ticket round of semistate. He bounced back last year and placed sixth at 132 pounds.
Not making it to state his sophomore year was heartbreaking for Eldred, but it showed Coach O’Neil just how good of a kid Evan was.
“Evan’s older brother Dillon wrestled for us,” O’Neil said. “He was two years older than Evan. When Evan did not make it to state as a sophomore he was very upset. But when his brother qualified for the first time for state as a senior, the same year, Evan was so proud and so happy for him. His joy for his brother superseded any of his disappointment about not making it himself.”
Evan has worked extremely hard to improve every season. The best semistate finish he had up until this year was fourth. This year he broke through by winning the New Castle semistate. He’s hoping this is also the year he gets to wrestle under the lights in the championship match.
“My dad has been taking me to the wrestling finals since I was about five years old,” Eldred said. “He would always tell me that someday I could be there. Every single year I went I just dreamed about what that day would be like.
“My best wins in high school would be a tie between last year winning on Friday night and knowing I was going to be a state placer – and when I placed at Fargo Nationals two years ago. But getting under the lights would blow both of those two wins away.”
- by Y2CJ41
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Indianapolis Cathedral’s Blake Rypel is one of Indiana’s most dominating forces on the wrestling mat. His name is recognized by just about everyone who cares even a little bit about the sport in the Hoosier state. Rypel wants more though – he wants everyone in the country to know his name.
“I want to be one of the most recognizable names in college wrestling as well,” Rypel said. “I want to be a four-year contender for the National Championship.”
Rypel, a senior at Cathedral, will wrestle next season for the Indiana Hoosiers. He currently is 34-0 this season and is riding an 80-match winning streak.
“Blake is the kind of wrestler that is tough to coach,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “He can do so many things that you really don’t practice. You kind of let him go on that. He’s so good on the mat, he’s teaching us in the room. He’s a very special wrestler.”
Last season Rypel was the state champion at 195 pounds. This year, in order to benefit the Cathedral team, Rypel has cut down to 182 pounds.
“Here’s a guy that is committed to IU,” McGinley said. “He’s a returning state champ. He’s ranked No. 1 in the state at 195 pounds. But he decides to drop weight and go down to 182 for the betterment of the team. That right there tells you what kind of kid Blake is.”
Rypel’s decision to drop to 182 was for the benefit of the team, but it was also to help out his good friend Ben Stewart.
“Ben is a football player,” Rypel said. “He wants to play in college and he wants to be bulking up, not cutting weight. So I said I would go down to 182 so he didn’t have to.”
Stewart is currently ranked No. 2 in the state at 195.
“If Blake doesn’t go down to 182, Ben doesn’t wrestle,” McGinley said. “So obviously his decision to drop has greatly helped our team.”
Rypel finished seventh as a freshman at 160 pounds. He was second his sophomore season at 182 and he won last year at 195.
His freshman year was one of his most trying seasons because his father passed away unexpectedly a few weeks before the start of the season.
“That was terrible,” Rypel said. “I used it as motivation though. I dedicated a lot of my wins to my dad. Every once in a while I start to dwell on his death, but I try not to.”
Rypel comes from a basketball family. His dad, brother and sister were all basketball standouts. Ironically, Blake was introduced to wrestling through basketball.
“My basketball coach at the time, I think it was around 2005 or 2006, had a son that wrestled and he told me that I might like it,” Rypel said. “The first year I thought wrestling was OK, but in the second year I really started winning and fell in love with the sport.”
Rypel is already focused on his college wrestling. He has dreamed of going to Indiana University ever since he was little, and he can’t wait to put on that Hoosier singlet.
“Every college I visited was pretty cool,” Rypel said. “But I already knew everyone on IU’s team. I have been a Hoosier fan all of my life. I never thought that one day I’d be good enough to wrestle for them.”
McGinley believes Rypel will have a lot of success in college because he is a dominating wrestler on top, which suits the college style.
As far as finishing his high school career, he said anything less than a state championship would be a disappointment.
Rypel won the Lawrence Central sectional last week, beating No. 3 ranked Cameron Jones 8-6 in the final.
He hopes Cathedral can also claim the team state championship. The Irish have seven ranked wrestlers still competing: Lukasz Waldensak (No. 13, 106), Jordan Slivka (No. 12, 113), Breyden Bailey (No. 2, 126), Zach Melloh (No. 6, 132), Rypel (No. 1, 182), Stewart (No. 2, 195) and Ryan Guhl (No. 9, 220).
“I really believe we have some of the strongest wrestlers in the state,” Rypel said. “As long as our guys can place, we have a real good shot at winning.”
- by Y2CJ41
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Two Indiana Wrestling Hall of Famers will be at the forefront of expanding the state’s college wrestling reach next season.
Steve VanDerAa will be Ancilla College’s first wrestling coach beginning in the 2016-2017 season. Steven Bradley will be at the helm of Marian University’s first year program, also beginning next season.
“Obviously being the first coach, nobody has been before me,” Bradley said. “There are no footsteps to follow and not a lot of pressure. I get to create my own footsteps. It’s a good thing. When I’m all done, many years from now, hopefully I will have set a standard that other people will want to strive to acheive.”
Bradley was a three-time state champion wrestler from Beech Grove High School. He has coached at the college level for 10 seasons. The move to Marian was exactly the kind of job he was looking for. It enables Bradley to be closer to his family.
For VanDerAa, who coached Winimac High School for 20 seasons, he couldn’t resist the chance to get back into the coaching game.
“I’ve officiated the last couple of years, but I’ve really missed coaching,” VanDerAa said. “I can’t wait to get back into it.”
VanDerAa is the first lay coach to be inducted into the Indiana Wrestling Hall of Fame. He has a coaching record of 404-96 and says all but six of his career losses came at the hands of schools larger than Winimac. He has helped coached Indiana legends like Angel Escobedo and Alex Tsirtsis.
Both coaches are excited about the chance to build their programs from the ground up.
“That’s the most exciting part,” said VanDerAa. I have a say in how we’re going to put the wrestling room together. We’re ordering all new equipment and when we are recruiting we get to tell them that they are the first and they are going to be the foundation of our program.”
Bradley said recruiting has been relatively easy from the start.
“It’s been nice,” Bradley said. “I’ve receive a lot of interest already. There are a lot of people contacting me and talking about the school. I’ve started talking to kids. The interest has been amazing at how many people in the first few weeks have sent emails, calls and text to get information. They love that there is another choice out there.”
Bradley sees wrestling rising in popularity, especially at the small college level.
“The interest is increasing across the country,” Bradley said. “We give kids another option. They can stay close to home and compete. I think it’s a good thing Indiana has more options. It will help Indiana wrestling as a whole. It will help high school kids. The more kids going to college and wrestling, the more young kids will see that and want to follow behind.”
Both Bradley and VanDerAa have similar characteristics they look for in a recruit.
“Academics are important,” VanDerAa said. “But I’m also looking for athletes that want to be part of our charter program. I want kids dedicated to the sport. I want guys that will do hard work, follow directions and be model young men for the sport.”
Bradley is also looking for hard workers.
“They have to be able to work hard,” Bradley said. “We need kids with integrity. We want kids that want to do well academically and kids that want to do well on the mats. I want kids that constantly want more for themselves and push themselves towards their goals.”
Ancilla College is a part of the National Junior College Athletic Association, while Marian is a part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
- by Y2CJ41
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Randy May’s name deserves to be in the mix when talking about Indiana’s all-time best wrestlers.
May went undefeated as a sophomore, junior and senior at Bloomington South High School in the 1974-76 seasons. He won three state championships during that span.
Perhaps the only thing keeping him off the podium his freshman season was that he was too small (he weighed right at 84 pounds), and he was behind the brother of three-time state champion Jim Cornwell for a spot in the varsity lineup.
“I was just too little to make the varsity team,” May said. “My coach, Kay Hutsell, had already won four state championships as a coach. Bloomington had a tradition back then like Evansville Mater Dei does now. And it was almost as hard to crack our varsity lineup as it was to win a state title.”
Hutsell had coached Bloomington to team state championships in 1969, 70, 71 and 72. During that span Bloomington had seven individual champions.
In 1973 Bloomington split into Bloomington North and Bloomington South. Hutsell became Bloominigton South’s coach, and led them to another state championship in the 1973 season.
That season May lost just one time in the reserve matches – to a varsity junior from Owen Valley.
“I got beat by him,” May said. “It was a good match. He ended up being one win away from going to the state tournament.”
May hurt his back his freshman year and coach Hutsell sent him to help coach the feeder system at Smithville Middle School.
“I was mad,” May said. “I wanted to be with the team. I had so much energy for the sport. Eventually coach let me travel with the team on dual meets. That was a privilege. I got to be on the team bus with everyone and I was sort of brought up under their wings. I was with guys like Marty Hutsell and Doug Hutsell (both were two-time state champs).”
May knows living in Bloomington when he did was the best possible place for him to grow as a wrestler. He vividly remembers being allowed to go to Indiana University during their clinics and camps.
“I had great coaching,” May said. “Everyone thought I would one day go to IU. I was able to go there anytime I wanted and I was able to wrestle kids from all over the country that came in for the clinics and the camps.
“In 1975-76 money was very tight and there was a gas shortage. I’d drive to IU after I got off of work and I’d go to one of the wrestling clinics where kids would stay for the whole week from across the country. You would get a new batch of kids each week.”
May would bet the kids that he could take them down. If he took them down, they had to pay him a dime. If they took him down, he would pay a dollar.
“I took all their candy money,” May said. “That always paid for my gas.”
May dominated his foes on the mat during the high school season much like he did at the clinics. He never lost a varsity match.
After high school he chose to wrestle at Cleveland State University, which at the time was a national top 20 program.
“I had dreams of being a four-time National champion,” May said. “I had my whole future mapped out. I wanted to be an Olympian and then I wanted to coach wrestling.”
Things didn’t work out as May had planned. He developed a debilitating disease that changed his life course and took him away from wrestling. He was only able to wrestle one college match.
“The disease shuts down the central nervous system,” May said. “It can kill you. But I worked my ass off. They told me I should have been on bed rest, but I didn’t stop working. When I couldn’t stand, I’d pull myself up. I still went to practice every day.”
May eventually realized his wrestling career would have to be over.
“I was walking with the aid of a cane at the time,” May said. “I was struggling with guys that I knew I should have been able to kick their ass. I wrestled one match against a four-time state champion from West Virginia. He took me down and I said, ‘you have got to be kidding me’. I came back and tied the match and won on riding time. But I knew I wasn’t myself anymore. I knew wrestling was over for me.”
May had to refocus his life goals, and his career. He didn’t want to coach the sport he could no longer participate in. He now runs a business in underground utilities and lives in Florida.
His son, Randy Jr., took up wrestling in high school and quickly found success.
“He was a natural and I loved watching him,” May said. “He took fourth in state his junior year and as a senior he was ranked No. 1 and got very sick and ended up finishing sixth. He won over 100 matches and I was at his practices every day. The team won state his senior year and I was able to travel with the guys.”
Six years ago, Randy Jr., passed away.
May has suffered more than most his age. But he remains positive. He credits his outlook on life on his upbringing.
“I was brought up with a good work ethic,” May said. “We had tasks and chores. My parents wanted them done right. I’d complain, but then I realized if I worked hard and did them right the first time, with a good attitude, I was going to get a reward. I could go play in the woods or go swimming.
“I guess I carried that attitude over into life. I always try to have a good work ethic and a positive attitude. That will make you successful in anything you do.”
- by Y2CJ41
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Matthew McKinney approaches academics with the same ferociousness he has when he steps on the mat for a wrestling match.
“Academics is just another competition for me,” McKinney said. “Whether it’s in the classroom or on the mat, I want to be the best at everything I do.”
McKinney is currently ranked No. 15 out of his class of 791 seniors at Warren Central High School. His grade point average is 3.97.
“I really take a lot of pride in my academics,” McKinney said.
He also takes pride in his wrestling. He is currently ranked fourth in the state at 138 pounds. He is a two-time state qualifier. He advanced to state his freshman year at 106 pounds and again the next season at 120 pounds.
McKinney believes he outworks anyone he steps across the mat against. He religiously goes into school early three times a week and either runs or swims. He also stays late after practices and puts in extra conditioning. That hard work has paid off when it comes to the long, three period matches.
“I really pride myself on being able to go six minutes as hard as possible and wearing on my opponent with heavy hand fighting,” McKinney said.
The practice room at Warren Central is full of practice partners for McKinney. If he wants to work on speed and agility, he faces Warren’s 126 pounder Joel McGhee (ranked No. 6). If he needs to work against stronger opponents, he goes up against Trent Pruitt (ranked No. 4 at 152 pounds). If he’s looking to get as much work in as possible, he has a host of partners he can go against.
“We have around 70 guys at practice and we have three mats going on,” McKinney said. “That gives me a lot of partners to push me. For sure that’s an advantage because you never run out of guys to wrestle. When you’re wrestling live, there is always a fresh guy to come in and keep pushing you.”
The Warrior team is absolutely loaded this season. Warren Central has ranked wrestlers in 10 of the 14 weight classes. Jim Tonte took over the program this season, after having a very successful career at the helm of Perry Meridian’s program.
One thing McKinney noticed right away about Tonte’s coaching style, is that he wanted the team to have a good chemistry.
“The biggest difference between last year and this year is that we are a lot closer as a team,” McKinney said. “We hang out outside of wrestling. We have more of a team atmosphere. Coach Tonte stresses team bonding. We’ve gone to the movies together, had hang out sessions. And, a lot of us have been together for four years now so we are naturally close.”
Brownsburg defeated Warren Central in the team state championship this year. That doesn’t sit well with the senior Warriors.
“We have to give props to Brownsburg,” McKinney said. “They really brought it to us. It was very humbling for our team, but we’re excited for our second chance. Our goal is to win the state championship. I want to win it with my team and individually. We feel we are good enough, and that goal is always on our mind. We break every practice with a ‘Blue Rings’ chant for the blue medal you get when you win state.”
McKinney did not qualify for state last season. He was beaten in the ticket round of semistate. But this year he feels he can see a lot of improvement.
“I’ve faced seven ranked guys and lost just one,” he said. “I’m right there with the top guys. It gives me confidence to know I can go out and beat anyone in front of me. Last year Nick Lee beat me. He took me down, cut me, took me down, cut me and then pinned me real quick. This year I went the distance with him. The score still wasn’t what I wanted, but I can tell I’ve improved.”
Coach Tonte said at the beginning of the season some people wanted McKinney to wrestle at 132 pounds this year.
“Matthew spent so much time in the weight room every day that he eventually filled out and made it to be a true 138,” Tonte said.
Tonte said it was probably a difficult transition for McKinney to have a new coach for his senior year.
“I’ll be honest,” Tonte said. “It was probably somewhat tough for him. He had a competitive match with one of the kids I coached last year and I know it was probably really tough on him to know I was coming in to be his coach. But he has responded very well and he realizes we care about him. He’ll run through a wall for us. He’s responded to everything we are doing.”
McKinney is a two-sport athlete at Warren Central. He is the kicker and backup punter for the Warrior football team. He says football is a sport he does for fun, but he really enjoys being part of the program.
After high school McKinney would like to wrestle collegiately. He is not sure what he wants to study or where he wants to attend.
“Matthew is just one of those kids that you don’t ever have to worry about his future,” Tonte said. “His future is open for whatever he wants to do. He has a great drive, a great family and you can tell he has really been raised well. He will succeed at whatever it is he sets out to do.”
For now, he is setting out to win the 138 pound weight class in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.
- by Y2CJ41
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Columbus East senior Coy Park has wrestled at 182 pounds his entire high school career. But when coach Chris Cooper told Park it would help the team if he dropped to 170, Park did just that.
“Coy said he would cut the weight and get down to 170,” Cooper said. “When I told him it would help the team, there was never any question in his mind. He was going to do whatever he needed to do to help us succeed. Coy is without question our team leader. He leads by example and he can be vocal. He’s 100 percent about the team all the time.”
That mindset has driven the Olympians to success this season. Every wrestler on the team will do whatever it takes to make the team better. Cooper feels that his squad can be a legitimate contender to win the team state title as long as they keep getting better.
Leading the way for the Olympians is a core of young ranked wrestlers at the lower weights. Freshman Cayden Rooks is the No. 1-ranked 106-pounder in the state. Freshman Jake Schoenegge is ranked No. 14 at 113. Graham Rooks, who finished third last season at 106 pounds, is now ranked No. 4 at 120. Sophomore Dawson Combest is the 14th ranked 126 pounder in the state.
“Those guys kind of give you some hammers in your lineup,” Cooper said. “They are the kind of guys that live and breathe wrestling. They are the kind of kids that have been in big meets before, and big situations. That experience, even at a young age, helps everyone on the team.”
The only other ranked wrestler on the Columbus East squad is senior heavyweight Sean Galliger. Galliger is ranked No. 5.
Rounding out the lineup is sophomore Corbin Pollitt at 132, senior Jake Martindale at 138, freshman Hunter Dickmeyer at 145, senior Ben Wilkerson at 152, junior Austin Wilson at 160, sophomore Lane Goode at 182, junior Seth Turner at 195 and junior Austin Sheckles at 220.
Senior Quade Greiwe was a semistate qualifier last season for the Olympians, but had a season-ending ACL injury earlier this year.
The Olympians started the season out with a loss to sectional rival Jennings County, 37-28. Cooper is hoping the team has improved significantly since that time.
“We are fired up for the state tournament to begin,” Cooper said. “We are not the best team in the state today. We didn’t start out as the best team in the state. But we hope to be one of, if not the best team in the state come tournament time.
“Jennings County is tough. They beat us already. They are returning sectional champions. But we hope we are a different team now and up to the challenge.”
The Olympians last won the Jennings County sectional title in 2013. In 2014 Columbus East finished fifth behind Greensburg, Jennings County, Madison and Columbus North. Twenty points separated the top five teams that season.
Last year Jennings County ran away with the championship – outscoring Columbus East 268-148.
Cooper has stressed the importance of summer wrestling to his team – which has bought in to his philosophy. The kids wrestled over 30 matches during the offseason and also bonded as a team. Now they are also buying into Cooper’s philosophy that they have to improve each and every day.
“I think that’s one of the biggest keys to success,” Cooper said. “You have to use every day to get better. Every day you have to make a conscious effort to improve in something.”
The Olympians have tried to make their schedule very difficult, especially early on.
“We want to find out early what our flaws and our weaknesses are,” Cooper said. “That’s why we start with such a tough schedule. Then we can work on those flaws, and as the season progresses we really show how battle tested we are.”
- by Y2CJ41
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
In a matter of seconds, Richmond’s Alston Bane caught the attention of the Indiana wrestling community.
Last season Bane entered the state tournament as a relative unknown. He was ranked 18th at the time of the tournament. He advanced to state with a fourth place finish in the New Castle semistate, a tournament in which he was pinned by Trent Pruitt and he lost a decision to Evan Smiley.
His Friday night draw didn’t seem favorable. He had to go up against the No. 2-ranked grappler in the 145 pound weight class in Yorktown’s Cael McCormick. But Bane loved the draw.
“I had wrestled Cael several times when we were younger,” Bane said. “He beat me in Greco each time, but anytime we wrestled and I could touch his legs, I beat him. So I had a lot of confidence going up against him.”
Bane ended up scoring a last-second takedown with his signature dump move to beat McCormick 4-3.
He wasn’t done quite yet. He went on to knock off No. 5-ranked Blake Jourdan and then avenged two earlier losses to Smiley, the No. 4-ranked guy in the weight class, to take third at state.
Bane’s only loss at Banker’s Life Arena was to eventual state champion Jacob Covaciu in a close 4-2 affair.
Bane’s third place finish was better than anyone else from the New Castle semistate in that weight class.
Now, a year later, a lot more people know about Alston Bane. He has bumped up to the 160-pound weight class where he is currently ranked No. 2 behind only Covaciu.
“People knew me before the state tournament last year,” Bane said. “But I never really got a lot of recognition. A lot of people didn’t see me as a threat. Now this year I have a little bit more of a target on my back.”
Last season there was a question as to whether Bane would even be able to wrestle in the state tournament. He tore the meniscus in his knee and had to miss the North Central Conference tournament.
“That was very tough on me, mentally,” Bane said. “I knew as soon as it happened what it was. It was my third time doing it. I tore the meniscus once on my left knee and it was the second time on my right knee. I couldn’t walk. I was crying as I was sitting on the trainer’s bench and then my dad (Richmond coach Jeremy Bane) came over and when he saw me he started tearing up, too.”
Bane knew he had to force himself to recover, and quickly if he wanted any shot at wrestling come sectional time.
“I really worked hard and pushed to get my leg where I could walk on it and get stability,” Bane said. “I sat out of the NCC meet, but mentally I knew I just had to push through the pain and get my strength back.”
The recovery process, and then his dramatic run through the state tournament have helped Bane to be much more confident this season. He believes that’s the biggest difference for him between last year and this year.
“My confidence has improved a lot,” he said. “That is a huge factor for me. I really feel now, especially after state last year, that I can wrestle with anyone.”
Coach Bane can see the change as well.
“The big thing for Alston now is his confidence and his belief in himself,” Jeremy Bane said.
Alston grew up wrestling with some of Indiana’s elite wrestlers. He and Chad Red are good friends dating back to when they were in elementary school wrestling tournaments together. Jeremy and Chad Red Sr., coached together at Red Cobra and Lawrence Central.
“We have some of the kids that we coached that are really good at the high school level now,” Jeremy said. “Alston grew up with Chad, Brayton Lee, Blake Rypel and a few others. They are all very successful now.”
Bane, a junior, recently won his 100th match. It was one of several goals he has for himself, which culminates in winning a state championship.
Eventually Bane would like to wrestle in college. He’s a two-sport athlete who stands out on the football field for the Red Devil defense.
As a sophomore Bane recorded 67 tackles and had eight interceptions. This season he moved to strong safety and finished with 88 tackles and an interception.
“I’ve talked to a lot of college coaches and I’ve went to so many wrestling camps,” Alston said. “Coaches make it clear that they really like kids that play multiple sports. I love being competitive and football helps me do that, and plus it’s a lot of fun to play.”
Bane finds himself having to alter his style slightly to deal with the stronger opponents he is facing this year in the 160-pound class. He tries to utilize his technique and speed more than relying on his strength.
“He has unbelievable grip strength though,” coach Bane said. “He isn’t going to get outmuscled by many guys.”
Coach Bane says that guys wrestle Alston differently this season, now that they know more about him.
“We see a lot of the better wrestlers wrestling Alston with a more defensive approach,” Jeremy said. “They try to take away his offense and they look for certain moves. But he has several ways to score the takedown and he’s been pretty successful.”
Bane is currently undefeated on the season. His closest match came in the New Castle Invitational against Lawrenceburg’s No. 7-ranked Jake Ruberg. Bane won the contest 4-3 in double overtime.
“We have almost identical styles,” Bane said. “So those matches are very close.”
Bane is currently wrestling in Spartan Classic at Connersville. This is a tournament he has never won. He was third as a freshman and lost last year to Evan Smiley.
- by Y2CJ41
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Nestled in the southeastern corner of Indiana, the modest town of Lawrenceburg has established itself as a tourism hot spot. The town is home to the Perfect North Slopes skiing resort, as well as the immensely popular Hollywood Casino. But lately, the top attraction has been the 220 pound monster that lurks in the wrestling room at Lawrenceburg High School. He goes by the name of Mason Parris.
Parris took the state by storm last season as a freshman at 182 pounds. He went undefeated until the state finals, where he lost to eventual champion Chase Osborn 11-10. Parris finished third, with a 54-1 record.
Parris was just 15 years old last year, wrestling in a weight class that showcases some of the most physically gifted specimen in the state. He more than proved he belonged.
This season, all he has done is put on about 40 pounds of muscle. He’s bigger, stronger, faster and a lot more confident than he was as a freshman.
“I thought I had a really good freshman year,” Parris said. “I made mistakes, and was able to learn from them. Going to state and placing well was a good experience. But this year, I want to do better. I am not satisfied. I’m working hard. I’m staying dedicated.”
Parris, like most Indiana wrestlers, says he has dreamed of winning a state title since he was very young.
Lawrenceburg coach Mark Kirchgassner knew the first time he watched Mason practice that there was something special about him.
“I don’t even think Mason was in kindergarten yet,” Kirchgassner said. “I watched him wrestled and told his dad that Mason is going to be something special. He did things naturally that I had a hard time teaching high schoolers to do.”
Parris is undefeated so far this season. He hasn’t faced many upper level competitors yet, but he certainly isn’t shying away from them. In one of his first matches this year Parris bumped up to heavyweight so he could go against Union County’s No. 13 ranked Clark Minges. All Parris did was tech fall the bigger Minges.
“That was my first match wrestling a really big guy,” Parris said. “I knew I had to stay out from underneath him. I kept pressure on him and really tried to wear him out.”
One of Parris’ main partners in the practice room is No. 6-ranked 160 pounder Jake Ruberg. The two have been wrestling together since they were in elementary school. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Ruberg’s speed helps Parris learn to deal with the faster opponents he will face, and Parris’ power helps Ruberg contend with the stronger guys he will go up against.
“Mason really pushes me,” Ruberg said. “He really helps my wrestling improve because he is so big and overpowering. And he’s very positive in the room and he helps everyone with technique. I know he can throw me around if he wanted to, but he likes to work on countering my speed.”
Parris prides himself on his work ethic. It’s something his coach sees first hand on a daily basis.
“Mason has just one gear,” Kirchgassner said. “It’s always go, go, go. He works harder than about any kid I’ve ever seen, in every aspect. Even in his matches he works on his craft. He isn’t content to just go out and beat a guy. If there is a move he’s trying to work on, he will work on it in a match just to make sure he can do it.”
Parris is aware that to win a state championship, there is a likelihood he will have to go up against No. 1-ranked, returning state champion Kobe Wood.
“Kobe Woods is a very good wrestler and I’ve been preparing for him all year,” Parris said.
During the offseason Parris wrestled at the UFC wrestling championships in Las Vegas. He competed at 220 pounds in the 18U division, and won.
“That was a great experience, wrestling in the 18U division with a team,” Parris said. “I faced some very good wrestlers.”
Parris is also a gifted football player in the fall. He was a junior All-State in class 3A (he’s a sophomore), and was the defensive MVP in Lawrenceburg’s conference. He plays middle linebacker and offensive guard. This year Lawrenceburg finished with a 7-3 record.
“I like football and wrestling equally,” Parris said. “I couldn’t choose a favorite.”
Right now Parris is solely concentrating on wrestling. He hopes that focus leads to a state title. One thing is for sure, right now Mason Parris is the biggest attraction in Lawrenceburg.
- by Y2CJ41
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
In an instance Kadin Poe went from a wrestling standout, to someone broken so badly he wasn’t sure he’d be able to wrestle again.
It happened on a Monday evening in May, near Murray St., in Indianapolis. Poe and his friend Kyle Dicecco were just walking home. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a dark colored Chrysler 300 came barreling down the street, right into Poe. He hit the windshield and landed on the side of the road. The car never stopped. To this day, the driver’s identity is not known.
But what is known is that Poe, who had qualified for the IHSAA state championships as a wrestler earlier in the year, was now in a battle for his life. He had a broken neck, a concussion, his eyes were swollen, his hands and back were scraped badly.
“I was just walking to get my book bag from my buddy’s house,” Poe said. “He lived two streets over at the time. I was walking back with him. I stopped at the stop sign and then a car came and hit me.”
At first Kyle tried to chase the car down to get more information. But he quickly returned to his friend, picked him up and walked him home. Poe was quickly transported to the hospital, where he spent several days.
Doctors initially weren’t sure if Poe would be able to wrestle again, because of the severity of the neck injury. But soon he was told that he would have no permanent damage. That’s when the recovery began. Poe was going to wrestle again – and nothing was standing in his way.
“My mom really helped me more than anything,” Poe said. “She and my coaches pushed me, even when I didn’t want to be pushed.”
Poe had gained a lot of weight due to the recovery process. At first he wasn’t allowed to exercise, so he sit at home on medication. He quickly got up to over 150 pounds.
“The hardest part of battling back was getting back into shape and getting my weight back down,” Poe said. “A lot of people were doubting me. Everything at that point was just tough.”
But Poe did make it back. This season he opened the year wrestling a match at 138 pound. He pinned his opponent. But in his next match he injured his shoulder and is expected to miss two to three more weeks because of the injury.
He is hoping he can be back sooner, and be trimmed down to 126 pounds in the process.
“I want to win a state title within the next two years,” Poe, a junior at Decatur Central, said. “Then I want to go on and win nationals in college. I will bounce back from this.”
Poe’s coach, Angelo Roble, believes in his wrestler.
“I remember him sitting in the hospital with tubes running all through him,” Roble said. “But I never doubted that he would be back because he’s a tough kid. What makes him a great wrestler isn’t as much his technique, as it is his fight. He hates to lose more than he loves to win.”
Poe believes going through this adversity has just fueled his desire to get stronger, and better on the mat.
“It’s been a real struggle,” he said. “At first I was starting to think my career was over. And now I’m back to wrestling. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m back.”
Roble credits Poe’s mentality for his rapid progression.
“Anything this kid puts his mind to, he does well,” Roble said. “We do a lot of things to have fun in practice, like playing football. He always wants to be the quarterback. He wants to have the ball if he is playing basketball and in the wrestling room he wants center circle so everyone knows it’s his room. I hope that attitude carries over to everything in life. All he has to do is put in the effort and he will be successful.”
- by Y2CJ41