By STEVE KRAH
Heavyweight wrestler Alex Cartwright was very close to representing LaVille High School at the IHSAA State Finals in 2016-17.
An overtime loss in the East Chicago Semistate “ticket” round separated the big Lancer from appearing on the mats at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Cartwright took part in his first state tournament series as a sophomore and won the 285-pound title at the LaPorte Sectional, pinning his last two opponents.
He placed second at the Crown Point Regional, defaulting in the finals because of a neck injury.
At East Chicago, he won his first match then lost in overtime to Merrillville’s Brandon Streck.
“It was kind of a kick in the butt,” says Cartwright of the narrow defeat that denied him a trip to Indy. “I was wrestling kind of nervous. That’s when I learned you can’t let things get in your head. You’ve just got to go when it’s your time. It’s been kind of motivational. I’ve got my head right this year.”
The best opponent he saw last season?
Cartwright says it’s Chesterton’s Eli Pokorney, who he beat 7-5 at the Knox Super Dual.
Back for his junior season in 2017-18, Cartwright is ranked among Indiana’s top 285-pounders. He is currently No. 6.
But he doesn’t dwell on it.
“You never want to get ahead of yourself,” says Cartwright. “I just think of it as a number.”
Alex is the “baby” in Clyde and Shirley’s family of eight. There are four boys and two girls. Alex’s brothers are Corian Correll, Chris Cartwright and Tom Cartwright. Their sisters are Lindsay Scott and Alison Cartwright.
Alex first got interested in the sport by watching big bro Corian, participated as a sixth grader and then came back as a freshman heavyweight.
Correll grappled at 195 for LaVille, graduating in 2016 and is now a part of the coaching staff.
“He’s taught me a lot of about throwing and a lot about the basics, the necessities of wrestling,” says Alex of Corian.
Learning throws from Corian and by attending a Greco-Roman camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center on the Northern Michigan University campus in Marquette, Mich., last summer (one of his opponents was Colton Schultz, who recently became the first American to win a cadet Greco-Roman world title in 20 years), Cartwright has added to his arsenal.
While Corian does spar some with Cartwright (who tipped the scales at the season-opening Jimtown Super Dual Saturday, Dec. 2 at 275 pounds), it’s 220-pound junior Anthony Hatter that serves as his workout partner.
“We do a lot of drilling,” says Hatter. “I teach him things and he helps me work with my moves.
“He’s been working on technique and speed. There’s some quick heavyweights and he’s one of them.”
Cartwright is a mobile big man.
“I shoot and not a lot of heavyweights do,” says Cartwright. “It’s a mixture of speed and strength. It takes a lot of strength to get your shot fully in.”
Cartwright remembers the words of former assistant coach Ronnie McCollough.
“He taught to be more aggressive,” says Cartwright. “Even when you’re on bottom, you don’t sit. You’ve got to move. Just simple things that stick in my mind as a wrestler.”
For his post-high school future, Cartwright is considering two diverse career possibilities.
“I’m looking at going to Seattle for schooling in under-water welding or going local for marketing and business.
“I’ve been looking into (under-water welding). It looks really enjoyable.”
Cartwright has done dry-land welding in his agriculture power class at LaVille.
Current Lancers head coach Sean Webb talks about Cartwright’s improvement on the mat.
“His work ethic has been a lot better,” says Webb, who had been working as a wrestling official and stepped in to run the program when Mike Bottorff had to back off because of health issues. “He’s working really hard and figuring out how to beat the buys he lost to last year this year. He’s trying to do that now rather than later.”
“He knows what he needs to do. Now I’ve just got to push him harder and harder to make sure he doesn’t go out in overtime and he finishes that match.”
Webb, who wrestled for LaVille for four seasons, bumping up in weight each year from 103 to 112 to 119 to 125 for his senior season in 2011, stresses being in proper position then helps tailor a style for each of his athletes.
“The one thing about wrestling is when you keep your stance and keep your hips set and ready to go — in position, as we like to call it — we can ready think about what kind of moves we can do.”
Bottorff was head coach for 26 years. This past year, he suffered a stroke. Three weeks after leaving the hospital he contracted endocarditis, a blood disease that causes inflammation of the heart’s inner lining. He went for daily treatments for two months and then had a heart check.
Having received a mechanical valve in 2007. The next day he was at a wrestling meet. Three times that year, he had to have his heart shocked back into rhythm.
Ten year later, Bottorff went in for another heart procedure.
“Now, I have two mechanical valves and it’s hard for me to get my strength back,” says Bottorff, who was at the Jimtown Super Dual. “I can’t lift over 20 pounds right now. I kneel down on the mat with the kids and I can’t get back up from that.
“I just had to give it up. My health and seeing my grandkids is more important.”
A 1970 LaVille graduate, Bottorff went to college to play basketball. He came back home and joined the football coaching staff at his alma mater when a need popped up in the wrestling program. He was eventually convinced to take it over.
“For three years in a row, I said “no. I know nothing about it,” says Bottoff, who left coaching 16 dual-meet wins shy of 400. “I’ve been here ever since.”
Under the advisement of his heart doctor and his wife of 16 years — Nancy — he is not supposed to get excited or stressed. He had his heart shocked back into rhythm two weeks ago.
“I told the kids I’ll be here to watch them and root them on,” says Bottorff. “My wife says I’m allowed to do that but if she hears me yelling and screaming and getting upset over anything, she won’t let me do it anymore.”
Bottorff enjoyed coaching so much because of the relationship he built with kids. He is hoping for big things from Cartwright.
“He’s a kid you want on your team because he says ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir,’” says Bottorff. “If he does something wrong and you tell him about it, he says ‘OK.’ He never has an excuse. That goes for wrestling or anything. His mom and dad brought him up right. He’s a perfect kid.”
Bottorff does wish Armstrong and Hatter would take to the gridiron.
“I’ve twisted the arms of Armstrong and Hatter in attempt to get them to play football,” says Bottorff. “They’re two of the strongest kids in the school.
“LaVille is a small school and we need three-sport athletes. I do my best to try to talk them into it.”