By STEVE KRAH
Kris Rumph and Kasper McIntosh have become familiar faces on the IHSAA State Finals wrestling scene.
The two Portage High School grapplers have been on the mats at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis a combined five times and both competed under the lights in — Rumph placing second at 138 pounds in 2017 and McIntosh second at 145 in 2016.
Seniors Rumph and McIntosh are back at those same weights and preparing for what they hope will be plenty more success in their final high school state tournament series.
Portage scored a meet-record 275 points and won the Duneland Athletic Conference tournament in its own gym Saturday, Jan. 13 with McIntosh taking the third DAC crown of his prep career and Rumph his second.
Now, they are focused on getting ready for the Griffith Sectional. The Hobart Regional is , East Chicago Semistate and State Finals - .
Portage wrestlers are trained by seventh-year head coach Leroy Vega and his staff. Vega won individual state titles for the Indians in 1996 and 1997 and went on to be a three-time NCAA All-American at the University of Minnesota.
Vega sees special qualities in both Rumph and McIntosh.
“Kris is very athletic,” says Vega. “He can do things that not many guys in our guys can do.
“His speed is unbelievable. You slow down the film to see ‘how did he do that?’”
Rumph’s combination of speed and strength make it difficult for opponents to prepare for him.
“You can’t train for his speed and his athleticism,” says Vega. “You don’t know what he’s capable of doing.
“You can’t replicate that in the wrestling room. Nobody wrestles like him.”
Vega asked McIntosh to open up his offense and he has done just that with point-producing results.
“We had to make him realize that you are not going to win state title or be very successful with one move (which was the high crotch),” says Vega. “Kasper is just a hard worker. He’s going to take whatever it is to reach his goal. Whether it’s watching film or eating right, he is always striving to be the best.”
McIntosh, who also finished fifth at the State Finals at 145 in 2017 and eighth at 138 in 2015, says it has been a process to diversify his attack.
“It took a lot of time,” says McIntosh. “It’s been two steps forward and one step back.
“I’ve slowly progressed. I’m getting pretty good. At first, it was just a high crotch. Now, I’m getting real good motion and wearing on a guy.
“Putting that all together is working really well.”
McIntosh, who first competed in a Calumet Township elementary tournament as a kindergartener, has placed in High School Nationals, Iowa Nationals, FloWrestling Nationals and Super 32, but there’s just something about competing for a state title.
“The state tournament is the most-anticipated one,” says McIntosh.
After high school, he will follow in Vega’s foot steps and study and wrestle at Minnesota.
“(Vega) was real helpful with the decision,” says McIntosh. “He told me to choose the school that is right for me.”
McIntosh, an honor roll student with a 3.4 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, plans to major in electrical engineering.
He comes from a big family. Keith and Teri McIntosh have seven children. There’s Keith, John, Brian, Shiann, Jason, Kasper and 3-year-old Liam. So far, Kasper is the only wrestler.
Wrestling — with its physicality and tenacity — can be a grind.
Vega and his staff help their athletes push past the pain.
“We make sure the kids are tough,” says Vega. “They have to believe in their training.
“When they are tired, they can go even further.”
Some workouts can be very grueling. But there is a purpose.
“There will be days in practice one guy will get beat on for 30 minutes by two guys,” says McIntosh. “You get to the point where you’re not wrestling, you’re surviving. If we can get through that, we can get through anything.
“We break ourselves down and build ourselves back up. It shows us how far we can go.”
Vega and his assistants build the wrestler back up and fill their heads with positive thoughts.
“The mental part is huge,” says Vega.
Rumph, who also placed fourth at the State Finals at 132 in 2016, is all-in with that way of thinking.
“If you’re not mentally tough, the sport is not for you,” says Rumph. “We push our bodies at practice to a level is insane. Most people are scared to go hard and get tired.”
Rumph is motivated this season to do well for his parents. His mother, Donna McGee, has become his biggest fan since he reached high school and showed he was really serious about the sport. The nurse is always cheering for her “baby boy” — the only one who is still at home, following Briggs Rumph Jr., Jarred Rumph, Mikey Rumph and Kenny Williams.
His father, Briggs Rumph Sr., died when Kris was 7. Before that, he told him to pick a sport and give it his all.
“I’m pretty sure he’d be super happy seeing the stuff I’ve accomplished,” says Rumph, who was a Super 32 semifinalist last summer and competed in the Iowa Nationals the summer before that.
Rumph likes to watch videos of elite wrestlers Jordan Burroughs and Nahshon Garrett.
“I put it in my own little wrestling style,” says Rumph, who does have plans to wrestle in college but is not yet committed.