A new era in the northwest part of the state will commence this Saturday at the John A. Baratto Athletic Center on the campus of East Chicago Central High School. After 40 plus years at Merrillville High School, the wrestling semi-state has changed venues and moved to the 2nd largest high school gymnasium in the nation. The additional space should allow for an earlier finish time but the biggest plus in my mind will be that athletes should have adequate space to warm up for their matches.
106 â€“ Four state ranked flyweights headline the bill at 106. Pennâ€™s returning state qualifier Kory Cavanaugh has a fine 35-4 record and will face fellow upper classman, Dylan Petrovski of Lake Central in round one before a match up between the winner of Rensselaerâ€™s Ryne Webb and Lowellâ€™s Andres Moreno. Cavanaugh is the heavy favorite.
On the same side of the bracket we find state ranked Jose Diaz of Wheeler. Looking to become Wheelerâ€™s first state qualifier for their young program he must defeat Tyson Coon of Benton Central and then Portageâ€™s Brock Peele. Not an easy task.
On the top half of the bracket is arguably the toughest quarter bracket. Crown Point regional champ Jacob Moran is the favorite by virtue of his 27-1 record and his #9 ranking in the state. But he will likely face a stiff challenge from state ranked (19) Angel Perez of Hammond Morton.
The last quarter bracket has no state ranked kids but does feature 50 match winner Trey McCartney of Lafayette Harrison.
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ Two great ticket round match ups are in this bracket. Crown Pointâ€™s rookie Moran vs. Angel Perez of Hammond Morton. The other is the likely matchup between Jose Diaz of Wheeler and the peaking Brock Peele of Portage
4 on the Floor - 1. Cavanaugh â€“ Penn. 2. Moran â€“ Crown Point 3. Peele â€“ Portage, 4. McCartney â€“ Harrison.
113 â€“ Six state ranked wrestlers will make the 113 class highly competitive and highly entertaining. The top quarter bracket presents the most compelling story line with last yearâ€™s 106 pound state champion, Colton Cummings of Lowell likely squaring off with last yearâ€™s 5th place finisher at 106, Tylor Triana of Hobart. Triana is in the ticket round match because of another Portage Indian who is peaking at the right time.
Colin Poynter is that Indian who by virtue of defeating Triana last week has set himself up to make a run at Indy. He will likely face Duneland rival Austin Line of Valpo. Line is a senior and that will give him some extra motivation to qualify for state.
Austin Slates of Penn is the silent beast in the Kingsman lineup. He is not talked about very much but is a likely qualifier and will be a bad draw for someone next week at state.
In the final quarter bracket, an interesting battle between one lose junior Donavan Johnson of Logansport and super talented freshman Rehan Uribe of Crown Point is the likely ticket round match. Will the Berry ripen or burst in the Region?
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ Three of the four quarter brackets have excellent potential ticket round tilts but the most competitive will likely be the donnybrook between Valpoâ€™s Austin Line and Portageâ€™s Colin Poynter. Will a senior trying to qualify for the first time be able to trump a sophomore coming off the biggest win of his career.
4 on the Floor - 1. Cummings â€“ Lowell 2. Poynter â€“ Portage 3. Slates â€“ Penn
4. Uribe â€“ Crown Point.
120 â€“ Another weight class with six state ranked wrestlers means that a couple of deserving kids will not be getting the opportunity to continue their season next week. The bracket gods were kind and put the #1 and #2 wrestlers in the state on opposite sides of the semi state bracket. #1 Drew Hildebrandt of Penn is looking to for a 2nd semi state crown but he should be tested by #2 Jeremiah Reitz of Griffith.
Jon Anderson of Lafayette Jeff and Jonathan Moran of Crown Point seem to be frontrunners for the other two spots in the state final bracket but their paths are both filled with potential trouble.
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ Andersonâ€™s potential ticket round match with Culver Militaryâ€™s Adam Davis should be excellent.
4 on the Floor - 1. Hildebrandt â€“ Penn 2. Reitz â€“ Griffith 3. Moran â€“ Crown Point
4. Anderson â€“ Lafayette Jeff.
126 â€“ Only 3 grapplers crack the states top 20 at 126 and two of them are in the same quarter bracket. To me that means this should be a wide open bracket where upsets will be common. Senior Gaige Torres of Portage is the clear favorite here. He has been there and done that, wrestling under the lights in Indy last year.
In the other quarter bracket, Torresâ€™ likely semi final opponent is anyoneâ€™s guess. Steve Biancardi wrestled lights out this past Saturday and really seems to be hitting on all cylinders.
At the top of the bracket another wide open quarter bracket is found with one loss Justin Porter of Logansport facing the winner of Kankakee Valleyâ€™s Bryce Niewoehner and Griffithâ€™s Cole Cervantes. These two seem very evenly matched.
The final golden ticket will probably be secured by the winner of a great match between Michael DeLaPena of Merrillville and Ryan Hardesty of Mishawaka. DeLaPena hammered Hardesty at the Al Smith but Hardesty is wrestling much better at this point in the season.
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ DeLaPena vs. Hardesty. A great matchup between two blue blood programs as well as two former state qualifiers.
4 on the Floor - 1. Torres â€“ Portage 2. DeLaPena â€“ Merrillville 3. Biancardi â€“ Chesterton 4. Niewoehner â€“ Kankakee Valley.
132 â€“ I really like the way this bracket has taken shape. Like 126 it looks like much of the top talent is fairly evenly matched which makes for close matches, upsets and excitement all around. With that being said, Brendan Black of Hobart is a clear favorite to win this bracket. He should cruise into the semis where the funky Blake Strawsma of Benton Central is likely to meet him.
The other half of the bracket is full of regional flavor. Chestertonâ€™s Jack Tolin is peaking at the right time and has a regional crown to prove it. He will have to slay the scary Cody Crary of Munster in the round to go to become a state qualifier. Mishawakaâ€™s Preston Risner is another hot wrestler but he will have his hands full with battle tested Kris Rumph of Portage.
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ Tough call here. Risner vs. Rumph and Crary vs. Tolin should be tightly fought battles.
4 on the Floor - 1. Black â€“ Hobart 2. Tolin â€“ Chesterton 3. Rumph â€“ Portage
4. Strawsma â€“ Benton Central
138 â€“ A fistful of ranked wrestlers dot the bracket at 138 and many of them are familiar names to those who follow region wrestling. 9th ranked Daylan Schurg of Crown Point might be the thirty-fifth Schurg to wrestle for Crown Point but he is 34-1 with a regional crown to his name. He will most likely face the winner of #19 Jacy Leon of Hobart and Trace Manspeaker of Penn. Leon won a narrow 7-4 decision over Manspeaker back in December at the Al Smith.
After a long four year wait, the bracket gods seem to have looked favorably on Benton Centralâ€™s Cole Lukaszka. The long predicted state finals appearance will look to be a reality as Lukaszkaâ€™s three potential quarter bracket opponents have a combined 40 losses.
The bottom half of the bracket has the two highest ranked wrestlers with Jason Crary appearing to have the easier ticket to punch. In the final quarter bracket, Warsawâ€™s â€˜Slothâ€™ Hatch will be tested in his quarter final round match by Valpoâ€™s Tristan Dembowski but should make it through for his third trip to state.
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ Hatch versus Dembowski is the top ticket round match up in this bracket. Dembowski has the skill to pull off the upset but I am guessing he would rather be in another quarter bracket.
4 on the Floor - 1. Hatch â€“ Warsaw 2. Schurg â€“ Crown Point 3. Crary â€“ Munster 4. Lukaszka â€“ Benton Central
145 â€“ The 145 class returns 3 state qualifiers from last year and five state ranked wrestlers. Kasper McIntosh has a state medal to his name and looks to be the favorite in the top quarter bracket. He should have a very competitive ticket round match with Pennâ€™s senior Cameron Beam.
Another former state qualifier looks to be the front runner in quarter bracket number 2. South Bend Rileyâ€™s 8th ranked Austen Laughlin went absolutely bananas last year at semistate on his way to a championship. He must defeat Crown Pointâ€™s Noah Lamore in what looks to be an epic ticket round match up.
The bottom half of the bracket features Logansport regional champ Clay Jones, who should be tested by Dante Colza. Jonesâ€™ funky style is tough to prepare for and look for the Broncho to move to the semis where he will seek revenge for one of his two losses on the season. Culverâ€™s Triston Rodriguez narrowly topped Jones over Christmas break.
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ Two ticket round beauties await the fans at 145. In the top quarter bracket, a rematch from last yearâ€™s ticket round between Kasper McIntosh of Portage and Cameron Beam of Penn is likely. In the second quarter bracket, Rileyâ€™s explosive Austen Laughlin will mostly likely tilt with Crown Pointâ€™s steady Noah LaMore.
4 on the Floor - 1. Rodriguez â€“ Culver 2. Laughlin â€“ SB Riley 3. Jones â€“ Laf. Jeff
4. McIntosh â€“ Portage
152 â€“ 152 is a scary weight class that has seven to ten guys that have state level talent. Steven â€œBAMâ€ Lawrence is the unquestioned favorite and one my favorites to watch in the entire state. Kassius Breathitt of South Bend Riley got the â€œdeath drawâ€ notice on Saturday night and will have to pull off a miracle to be a qualifier.
Looking to meet BAM in the semi finals is a trio of grapplers I feel have state finalist level of talent. Unfortunately, only one of the three will qualify. Matt Grammer of Lafayette Jeff, Tavris Evans of South Bend Adams and Diego Lemley of Chesterton are all three excellent wrestlers. The two seniors, Evans and Grammer, will square off early Saturday morning for a chance to face super sophomore Lemley in the ticket round.
In the bottom half of the bracket are regional winners Denzyl Prentice of Penn and Cody Widner of Twin Lakes but neither is lock for state due to the depth at this weight class. Prentice must dispatch of 11th ranked Zach Lorek of Crown Point to earn his first trip to Indy. The final quarter bracket is the proverbial meat grinder with Widner having to beat studs Micah Calhoun of Plymouth and Lucas Scott of Lowell to punch the golden ticket.
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ 3 of the 4 will be intense and some of the best wrestling all day. Iâ€™m not even that sure who will be in most of them.
4 on the Floor - 1. BAM - Portage 2. Prentice â€“ Penn 3. Lemley â€“ Chesterton
4. Calhoun â€“ Plymouth
160 â€“ Merrillville is making its debut when it comes to state qualifiers and they will do it with a bang due to the presence of defending state champion Jacob Covaciu. Covaciu has gone wire to wire this season and has barely been stressed. The University of Wisconsin recruit is the poster child for consistency and toughness.
The second quarter bracket features two of the top juniors in the semi state. Pennâ€™s Jarod Swank and Valpoâ€™s Greg Lichtenberger are both very seasoned and both have wrestled schedules to prepare them for this moment. Swank was dinged up earlier but appears to be clicking on all cylinders at this time.
Oszkar Kasch of Crown Point highlights the next group of four. He has put together a great sophomore campaign and has already won sectional and regional. He will be challenged by Duneland rival Drake Guerrero and Triton senior Gage Waddle.
Tavonte Malone is the definition of a bad draw for Logansport winner Dennis Ingle. Malone is a returning state finalist, strong, skilled and hungry after last weeks loss to Swank.
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ Swank of Penn versus Lichtenberger of Valpo is my top pick here. Both are hard nosed, lunch pail type kids who will leave it out on the mat.
4 on the Floor - 1. Covaciu â€“ Merrillville 2. Malone â€“ SB Adams 3. Swank â€“ Penn 4. Kasch â€“ Crown Point
170 â€“ One of the OGâ€™s dominates the bracket at 170. That Original Gorilla is Drew Hughes of Lowell. Hughes has grown from a lil 120 pound freshman into the 170 beast in four years. He is very likely to pick up his second state title on his way to wrestle in East Lansing, Michigan for Sparty. He has been so dominant this year that only one wrestler has made it to the second period.
That wrestler who made it to the second period is Portageâ€™s Ismael Cornejo. Cornejo has put together a 30-6 season with Portageâ€™s brutal schedule and thatâ€™s a good enough resume for me to pick him as the runner up. Challenging Cornejo for a spot in the finals should be Delphiâ€™s Hunter Mote. Seemingly around forever, this is Moteâ€™s senior season and he would love to make the finals at Merrillville. Rounding out the fab four should be Tristan Goering of South Bend Riley.
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ Logan Nowak of Kankakee Valley will face Ismael Cornejo of Portage for the right to wrestle in Indy. Itâ€™s been a few years for a Wheatfield wrestler to make the big stage.
4 on the Floor - 1. Hughes â€“ Lowell 2. Cornejo â€“ Portage 3. Mote â€“ Delphi
4. Goering â€“ South Bend Riley.
182 â€“ In much the same Hughes has dominated the 170 class this season, Chestertonâ€™s Andrew Davison has had his way with 182 class this season. Davison has already committed to the University of Michigan halfway through his junior season. Only a nationally ranked Blake Rypel is keeping Davison from being top ranked in the state.
In the fight for second place, Lowellâ€™s Ike James looks to join his practice partner at the Big Show next week. There will be no easy tickets, however, and James will have to avenge an earlier season loss to Plymouthâ€™s Jeremy Splix in order to qualify.
The other two qualifiers will also not be regional champs according to my prognostications. I see South Bend Clayâ€™s Mason Cao earning a trip for himself and first year coach, Adam Oâ€™Neil. Hanover Centralâ€™s Ashton Mutuwa seems poised to be Hanover Centralâ€™s next state qualifier but he must defeat Logansport regional champ Isaac Mathis of Lafayette Harrison to do so.
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ South Bend Clayâ€™s Mason Cao and Lake Centralâ€™s Russell Gibbs look to be the top ticket round tilt.
4 on the Floor - 1. Davison â€“ Chesterton 2. James â€“ Lowell 3. Cao â€“ SB Clay
4. Mutuwa â€“ Hanover Central
195 â€“ One of the worst death draws at East Chicago is in the top quarter bracket at 195. 6th ranked Jake Kleimola of Lake Central will likely match up with Chesterton sophomore, Lucas Davison. Both of these guys deserve a spot at the state finals.
The second group of four is tough to call. The regional champ here is the largely unknown Damari Embery of South Newton. The Rebel has only one loss but South Newton is so far off the grid that Embery doesnâ€™t even appear in the semi state rankings. Embery will have to knock off either LaVilleâ€™s Corrian Correll or Plymouthâ€™s peaking sophomore, Nate LaFree.
In the third quarter bracket another brutal ticket round match loom between one match Evan Larsen of Hanover Central and Chris Kidwell of West Lafayette. Larsenâ€™s father was a state champ for the Wildcats and Evan has been to the semi state 3 times.
The final berth is wide open as none of the four wrestlers look to be favorites. The interesting thing about this last quarter bracket is that there is a grappler from Penn, Portage and Crown Point. Whomever comes out on top of this group will have helped their team tremendously.
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ Kleimola vs Davison will be fun for the fans but heart breaking for the loser.
4 on the Floor - 1. Kleimola â€“ Lake Central 2. Evan Larsen â€“ Hanover Central 3. Damari Embery â€“ South Newton 4. Vakalahi â€“ Penn
220 â€“ Pennâ€™s Kobe Woods is a runaway favorite here and might not be tested until the semifinals of state. The Purdue recruit might be looking for bonus points all day in order to help his team secure a semi state crown. Returning state qualifier Justin Akers of Crown Point got the proverbial death draw and will likely face Woods in the ticket round.
Facing Woods in the semi finals and earning a trip to state will be the goal of regional champ Brandon Streck. Coming off of injury might be a barrier for Streck 2.0 and seniors Dan Mochen of Chesterton and Dylan Trent of West Lafayette will be gunning for that state berth.
Big Alex Kukurugya of Valpo is the favorite at the top of the bracket. Mishawaka Marianâ€™s Patrick Ernst will be no pushover for Big Green. In the final quarter bracket Warsawâ€™s Andrew Brock seems likely to battle with regional champ Donnie Crider of Lafayette Harrison.
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ Kukurugya of Valpo and Ernst of Mishawaka Marian should be outstanding. A contrast of styles usually makes for good entertainment.
4 on the Floor - 1. Woods â€“ Penn 2. Kukurugya â€“ Valpo 3. Dan Mochen â€“ Chesterton 4. Andrew Brock - Warsaw
285 â€“ Streck 1.0 has been a real joy to watch over the past 4 years. He would be my pick for the best heavyweight wrestler the state has ever produced. In the East Chicago semi state he will probably face either Duneland rival Gio Murillo or big Aron Ceglarek of Kankakee Valley. Ceglarek has really impressed me over the past two weeks.
Isiah McWilliams of South Bend Washington is a fast rising sophomore who looks like he could bench press a Buick. He will likely face Delphiâ€™s Garrett Clark in the 3rd and 4th place match-up.
Top Ticket Round Tilt(s) â€“ Ceglarek of Kankakee Valley and Gio Murillo should be a doosy. Murillo has faced the best and Ceglarek moves very well for a big man.
4 on the Floor - 1. Streck â€“ Merrillville 2. Ceglarek â€“ Kankakee Valley 3. McWilliams â€“ South Bend Washington 4. Clark â€“ Delphi