197 articles in this category1742 1 3
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Prechtel working finish on top
By JEREMY HINES
Jeb Prechtel was the first Jasper wrestler to call the school’s new coach, Alex Lee last season. He wanted to see who would be teaching him for the next few years.
So, Prechtel gave Lee a call and asked if they could practice together.
“I kind of wanted to see if I could beat up on him,” Prechtel joked.
The coach and the student wrestled that first day and Lee scored a few takedowns on the young grappler. Prechtel wanted to learn how he got those takedowns and how he could stop them in the future.
“He called me that night and was asking what he was doing wrong and what he needed to do better,” Lee said. “He expects to beat everyone. He doesn’t care if you’re the coach or Jordan Burroughs. He expects to win. I knew right then this was a special wrestler. It bothered him that he didn’t know some things and he stayed up trying to figure them out. Once you tell him, you don’t have to tell him again. He’s is a very good learner.
Prechtel is currently ranked No. 3 in the state at 160 pounds. The senior is undefeated at 30-0. And, almost shockingly, he is coming off of his very first sectional championship last week.
Prechtel is almost the poster child for bad tournament luck throughout his career.
In his freshman season he ran into a very talented Gavinn Alstott in the Southridge sectional final. He fell to Alstott and then, for the next two seasons, he lost to eventual state champion J Conway in the sectional finals.
“Winning a sectional actually felt really good,” Prechtel said. “Having J Conway in sectional the last two years has really be a learning experience for me. I have learned how to take losses early in the post season. Now I’m wrestling with a lot more confidence.”
Prechtel has one goal this year – a state title.
“Jeb is determined,” Lee said. “He works tirelessly. I’m fully confident that he will reach his goal. I really expect to see him wrestling under the lights.”
According to Lee, Prechtel is a student of the sport. He soaks up as much wrestling knowledge as he possibly can and he’s a relentless worker.
Despite his work ethic and hunger for wrestling knowledge, Prechtel had a weakness he didn’t know how to overcome. He almost feared close matches.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of mental battles in my wrestling career,” Prechtel said. “I lost in semistate one year by one point. I was always scared of one-point matches. That was something I’ve tried very hard to overcome. It was a mental block with me.”
So Prechtel talked with his coaches in high school and his coaches at Maurer Coughlin Wrestling Club. He desperately sought answers to how he could overcome his mental block with those one-point matches.
“I told them, I just don’t know how to fix this,” Prechtel said. “I’ve lost my two most important matches of my career by a point. I don’t know how to overcome this.
“So they told me that I’m going to have one point matches. They said I have to go out there and just know that I trained harder than the other guy and I worked harder than he did. I have to have the confidence in those close matches that I am the better wrestler and I am going to win.”
So, this year he’s had that mindset in every match he’s wrestled. He said he treats every match as if it’s the state championship.
“Every match I’m zero and zero and I’m wrestling for a championship,” he said. “This year I have a totally different mindset. It started at the end of the offseason. I’m more confident. In my mind, I know I outwork anyone. I can push myself further than I have before.”
Lee knows that the sky is the limit for Prechtel because of the amount of work he is willing to put in.
“He’s been a captain of this team for three years,” Lee said. “He’s an awesome leader. He leads verbally. He leads by example. He works harder than anyone I have ever coached.”
When he’s not wrestling, Prechtel enjoys hunting, fishing and snow skiing. He plans to wrestle in college and study business management, but he is currently undecided on where he will go.
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Football’s his future, but Jellison giving his all to wrestling as Elkhart senior
By STEVE KRAH
Brayden Jellison is a two-time Elkhart Sectional champion at heavyweight.
His 42-second pin in the finals Saturday, Jan. 28 helped the Elkhart Lions to a second straight IHSAA Elkhart Sectional team title.
The 6-foot-5, 285-pound Jellison heads to the Goshen Regional on Feb. 4 at 24-4 for the 2022-23 season after he went 35-10 and placed fourth at the Fort Wayne Semistate and sixth at the State Finals at 285 as a junior.
“I’ve definitely come a long way,” says Jellison, who went to wrestling camps at Elkhart Central as a youngster. “I struggled freshman year and sophomore year.”
Brayden was an Elkhart Central Blue Blazer as a freshman. As a sophomore, Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial combined athletic teams in preparation for the full unification of the two schools which took place 2021-22.
How did Jellison raise his mat level?
“Just the hard work in the (practice) room,” says Jellison. “I just wanted to come out here and finish off this year on top (of the podium at State Finals).”
His go-to move?
“An undertook to a single-leg,” says Jellison.
An offensive lineman in football, where he has earned all-state and all-Northern Indiana Conference honors, Jellison is committed to play that sport at Illinois State University in the fall.
Jellison says it’s his agility that has the Redbirds considering him at guard or center.
“Wrestling helps me get the footwork and more stamina built up,” says Jellison.
Elkhart head coach Zach Whickcar admires Jellison’s worth ethic and dedication to wrestling.
“It says a lot about him,” says Whickcar, a former Elkhart Central wrestler. “Football is his first love and wrestling is not easy. He comes out here and pushes himself.”
Jellison is one of the Lions’ leaders.
“He does a great job of making sure everyone is doing the right thing, everyone’s focused and that people are representing us the right way,” says Whickcar. “Obviously, he’s a great representation of what we want to be on the mat.”
Jellison will get to lead a large group at the Goshen Regional. Eleven teammates also qualified, including senior Genesis Ramirez (106), senior Josh Corona (113), sophomore Blake Mock (126), junior Cam Dews (132), sophomore Brennon Whickcar (138), sophomore Cohen Lundy (145), junior Cam Freedline (160), junior Ethan Freedline (170), sophomore Kaullin Price (182), senior Nash Shupert (195) and senior Preston Stimac (220).
Whickcar also sees Jellison leading in the class room, where he carries a 3.7 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale. He is involved in student government and is a National Honor Society member.
“That’s a game changer,” says Whickcar. “Being a great athlete is one thing, but being a student-athlete is big.”
Jellison plans to major in Sport Management at Illinois State.
“I just want to be involved in sports after college,” says Jellison.
Brayden is the son of Elkhart Central graduates Zach and Courtni Jellison and has two younger siblings at Elkhart High — junior Logan and freshman Brynlee.
Zach Jellison played basketball and wrestled his senior year of high school. Courtni was a softball player. Logan Jellison is in football and wrestling. Brynlee Jellison is in volleyball, basketball and track.
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#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Luke x2 lead the Bears into the post season
By JEREMY HINES
It would be hard to find anyone as similar as a pair of Evansville Central seniors. They have so much in common that they even share a first name.
The duo are both excellent students. They are wrestling practice partners. They are both looking to punch their ticket to state for the first time. Both of their dads are wrestling coaches. And, coincidentally, they are both named Luke.
Luke Robards and Luke Kemper have been captains of the Bear wrestling team for three seasons. Robards is 29-2 this season and is currently ranked No. 12 at 145 pounds. Kemper is 28-2 and is ranked No. 5 at 160 pounds.
“The team refers to Luke Kemper as Luke and Luke Robards as Robards,” Evansville Central head coach Brandon Robards (Luke’s dad) said. “It’s Luke, and it’s Robards. But it got a little more confusing this year because my younger sound Beau is on the team too. We told him, dude, you’re Beau, not Robards.”
The two have been practice partners since elementary school. It’s a relationship that has helped the grapplers tremendously.
“They have been practice partners since fourth grade,” Robards said. “They battle every day in practice. They push each other to be their best and they are also each other’s biggest fans. It’s been fun to see them really beat up on each other in the room and then be each other’s biggest cheerleader in the matches.”
The Lukes are similar in many things, but their wrestling styles are quite different.
“Robards wrestles like a little fly,” Kemper said. “I don’t mean that in a mean way. He just buzzes around from side to side and then as quick as he can he gets a leg and he’s driving you to the mat.”
Kemper has a more direct style of attack.
“He’s the polar opposite of me,” the younger Robards said. “He moves forward all the time with his hands up. It’s like wrestling a complete opposite of my style.”
According to coach Robards, the two have different mentalities as well.
“Luke Robards is really focused,” the coach said. “He can be intense in the wrestling room. Luke Kemper is pretty layed back. He’s very coachable and he’s a lot of fun to have in the room.”
Kemper’s dad, Jason, is one of the assistant coaches on the squad. Jason went to state as a wrestler and his other sons, Matt and Isaiah were also state qualifiers.
“Winning a state title has always been my goal,” Kemper said. “Both of my brothers and my dad went to state. I would sit in my room and imagine myself winning a title.”
Kemper had a setback his sophomore year. After just a few matches that season, he tore his ACL. He tried to wrestle through the pain for the next few meets, but soon realized he needed to take time to recover. He didn’t wrestle again that season.
“The recovery was long and rough,” Kemper said. “There was a lot of food involved. I got up to about 185 pounds and that doesn’t bode well on a 5-7 guy.”
Now the two wrestlers have their sites set on making the state tournament. When asked how it would feel if one punched their ticket to state but the other didn’t.
“It would be heartbreaking if one of us made it and the other didn’t,” Luke Robards said. “We have been in this together since elementary. We want to finish this together.”
As far as coaching their sons, or being coached by their dads go – the system they have in place has worked out well for all of them.
“It’s been fun coaching my sons,” coach Robards said. “It’s had its challenges. It’s not easy coaching your kids. Jason and I balance it well. We do a good job of knowing when to step in and coach the other guy’s kid. It’s a good balance.”
Luke Robards agrees.
“It’s an interesting dynamic, that’s for sure,” Luke Robards said. “They have been around us our whole lives. They know how we operate, and they get us. They know where we need to improve. And, when we go home, they know when to still talk with us about things or when to back off.”
Both grapplers are looking to wrestle in college. They aren’t sure where they want to go yet. Robards wants to study pre-law and Kemper wants to go into exercise science. They know there may come a time in the future where they won’t be wrestling with each other.
“It’s a unique situation because we’ve pushed each other pretty hard since we were babies,” Luke Robards said. “It will be weird, for sure, not having each other as partners in college. I’ll miss him. But, I’m sure we will still wrestle each other in the offseason and still push each other to get better.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Rensselaer Central’s Stanley controls emotions, stacks up victories
By STEVE KRAH
Rensselaer Central High School wrestler Mason Stanley sports a career mark of 112-27 — 18-9 as a freshman, 19-7 as a sophomore, 42-8 as a junior and 33-3 as a senior so far.
He was an IHSAA State Finals qualifier as well as sectional and regional champion as a 132-pound junior. The three-time semistate qualifier also earned Hoosier Athletic Conference crowns at 132 in 2021-22 and 126 in 2022-23.
Fifth-year Bombers head coach Hunter Hickman has witnessed a change in Stanley the past two seasons.
“He’s a very passionate individual and he wears his emotions on his sleeve,” says Hickman. “Where we’ve seen the most growth from him is that he’s really started to dial that back a little bit.
“As he’s grown up he’s been able to control his emotions and that’s why he’s had the success he’s had.”
Stanley, who was born in Rensselaer and began wrestling in grade school, has turned into a force on the mat.
“He’s a very physical wrestler,” says Hickman. “He’s a very smart wrestler. He’s not a super-athletic kid but he loves to wrestle. He works hard to make himself what he is.”
Hickman and Stanley’s relationship goes back to the beginning to freshman year so the coach and educator knows the student-athlete well.
“A lot of kids let wrestling results define who they are,” says Hickman, who teaches ninth grade English and had Mason in class, too. “We’ve had a lot of heart-to-hearts over the years. We’ve had a lot of good conversations and a lot of ugly conversations.
“Wrestling is fun, but it’s not going to define who we are at the end of the day.”
Stanley has learned to be aggressive.
“Even if I know I’m the underdog or I’m not as good as the person across from me I’m going to go out there and keep attacking them,” says Stanley. “I wasn’t always this way. I started at the end of last year.
“I’ve been grinding hard in the off-season and realizing it’s the work and how bad you want it and the maturity.”
With guidance from Hickman, Stanley opted to go to 126 this season.
“126 gives me to the best chance to get on the podium,” says Stanley. “I’ve done a lot better than I thought I would (with cutting weight). I don’t think I’ve lost very much strength. I feel good when I wrestle.”
As a senior, Stanley takes his turn as meet captain and he enjoys the leadership role.
“I try to lead by example and work hard in the practice room,” says Stanley. “Kids are watching me and they see what is expected of us.
“I try to have a good attitude even when things don’t go my way.”
Stanley enjoys the team aspects of wrestling.
“We’re a really tight group. It’s a lot of fun everything we do.”
The holder of 4.0 grade-point average through the end of the fall semester, Stanley’s favorite school subject is Social Studies.
“I’ve always liked learning about history,” says Stanley, who has been especially fascinated about World War II. His great grandfather was a pilot in the war. He passed when Mason was young.
While he has not yet made a college choice, Stanley says he is leaning toward Wabash College to study and wrestle.
For the first time since junior high, Stanley chose to go out for cross country last fall.
“I can’t stand running but I really liked being with the team,” says Stanley, who was named to academic all-state honorable mention in cross country. “It’s good for staying in-shape in wrestling.”
Mason is the son of Walt and Jenny Stanley, younger brother of Colin Stanley and twin to sister Claire Stanley. Walt (Class of 1992) and Colin (Class of 2018) wrestled for Rensselaer Central. Jenny teaches at Rensselaer Central Middle School.
Claire and Mason both turn 18 in March.
Hickman, a 2013 Rensselaer Central graduate, is in his fifth season as Bombers head coach after two as an assistant — the first when he was a student and wrestler at Wabash College. He grappled two years at Virginia Military Institute, underwent shoulder surgery as a sophomore and transferred to Wabash.
Assistant coaches in 2022-23 include Matt Anderson, Kent Korniak, James Oliver, Kim Schmid and Bryce Tanner plus middle school coach Elliott Zimmer and volunteers Kyle Carter and Eli Hickman.
Tanner is a 2012 West Central High School graduate and a former semistate qualifer.
Everyone else is a Rensselaer Central alum. Oliver runs the Bomber Wrestling Club, which is mostly for Grades K-8.
Schmid was brought on to have a woman to coach the girls on the Bombers squad. She has two younger wrestling daughters.
Carter attends Colorado State University. Eli Hickman, Hunter’s brother, plays baseball at Concordia University Chicago.
The Bombers have participated in three straight Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Class 1A State Duals, placing sixth in 2020-21, eighth in 2021-22 and eighth in 2022-23.
Rensselaer Central has won 13 sectional titles all-time, including five straight from 2017-18 to 2021-22. The program’s first regional team title came in 2021-22.
A dozen individuals placed in the top six as the Bombers wound up third at the 10-team Hoosier Athletic Conference meet held Jan. 14 at Western.
RC champions were Stanley (126) and senior Jordan Cree (285). Sophomore Beck Doughty (106), junior Larz Hughes (152) and senior Trenton Simmons (195) came in second.
Third-place finishers were senior Kolton Ploughe (120), senior Caleb Oliver (132), sophomore Avery Stanley (145) and sophomore Jack Jordan (160).
Senior Austan Pullins (182) placed fourth while senior Elias McAdow (138) and senior Dominick Maddox (170) came in fifth.
Cree is 38-1 this season and 124-31 for his career. He was a state qualifier at 220 in 2021-22.
Mason Stanley counts Avery Stanley as a cousin and McAdow as a regular practice drill partner.
There are 34 boys and nine girls on the 2022-23.
“We’ve been able to retain everybody this year,” says Hickman. “Nobody’s quit.
“It’s been a really good year.”
Rensselaer Central team. Sophomore Kylie Spencer (126) qualified for the Indiana High School Girls Wrestling State Finals Jan. 13 at Mooresville.
The Bombers went 26-7 in dual meets.
The IHSAA state tournament series sees Rensselaer Central go through the Winamac Sectional Jan. 28, Logansport Regional Feb. 4 and East Chicago Semistate Feb. 11 on the way to the IHSAA State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Hickman has a theory about competing in semistate.
“You’ve got to set yourself up the week before,” says Hickman. “The best way for us to qualify for state is to win our regional.”
On Feb. 17, gates for Session I open 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time/11:30 a.m. Central Time with Parade of Champions at 1:30 ET/12:30 CT, weight classes 106-145 at 2 ET/1 CT and 152-285 at 5:30 ET/4:30 CT.
On Feb. 18, gates for Session 2 open at 8 a.m. ET /7 a.m. CT with quarterfinals/semifinals at 9 ET/8 CT. The fieldhouse will be cleared of all spectators following the semifinals.
Gates for Session 3 open at 3 p.m. ET/2 p.m. CT with consolations at 4:30 ET/3:30 CT and championships at 7:30 ET/6:30 CT.
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#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: It’s all about family for Smith/Banks bunch, Plymouth Rockies
By STEVE KRAH
It’s a word that appears on T-shirts.
Teams shout it as they break huddles.
It’s a closeness and a bond they’re building as they work together.
Plymouth High School head wrestling coach Travis Smith has taken his blended brood of a wife, four boys and a girl and added the members of the Rockies program.
“We’re like a big family,” says Travis. “I don’t know how many kids stay at my house on a regular basis.
“I’ve raised my sons to be very loyal to each other. We don’t fight and bicker as a family. I discipline as needed. They don’t argue with each other. I don’t allow that.
“Because of the family environment we’ve had the privilege of being involved in together we welcome everybody else.”
It’s a welcoming atmosphere.
“We draw people to us as a family,” says Travis. “That’s why kids want to be around because of security, safety and they know they can trust us.
“We’re going to ride and die with them everyday.”
After a few years as a volunteer under Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Read, Smith took over and 2022-23 is his third season in charge at Plymouth.
Travis is married to Cortney Smith.
“She’s the glue,” says her husband.
Their family includes Gavin Banks (22), Dominic Smith (19), Caydn Smith (16), Wesley Smith (16) and Angel Smith (13).
Gavin Banks (Class of 2018) and Dominic Smith (Class of 2021) are former Plymouth wrestlers, Rockies assistant coaches and Lincoln Junior High head coach and assistant respectively.
Caydn Smith (152 pounds) and Wesley Smith (145) are juniors on the PHS squad.
Angel Smith is an eighth grader who will help launch girls high school wrestling at Plymouth in 2023-24.
Caydn and Wesley appreciate the close atmosphere of Plymouth wrestling.
Says Caydn, “We try to create strong bonds with everybody on the team.”
Says Wesley, “We all motivate each other. Nobody (outside the team) really sees that side and what we have to do to prepare for matches. Having those guys in the room are big supporters.”
Travis Smith started at Valparaiso High School and finished at North Judson-San Pierre Junior/Senior High School, grappling for the Bluejays and graduating in 2001.
“I was mediocre in school,” says Travis. “When I became a grown man and started training for (Mixed Martial Arts) and Jiu-Jitsu I got the opportunity to train with a lot of good wrestlers. That’s how I ended up being able to pass that on.”
The owner of Hybrid Combat Club — an MMA gym in Plymouth that teaches Brazlian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai and houses the Hybrid Wrestling Club — has witnessed a mat progression in his family.
“Gavin was the rough draft,” says Travis of the son he adopted when the boy was very young. “Gavin and Dominic didn’t get the resources that Caydn, Wesley and Angel have.
“(Caydn and Wesley) have been able to piggyback off the mistakes we made coming up together. I didn’t have a lot of experience when I was younger so I had to grow with them as a coach.”
With 85, Banks is in the top 10 on the Rockies all-time career wins list.
“My dad and I watched a lot of YouTube and I wrestled a lot of club matches,” says Gavin of his experience in learning the sport. “A lot of it came from at-home work.”
Gavin assesses his younger brothers.
“Wesley and Caydn are very knowledgeable, technical wrestlers,” says Gavin. “Wesley is more savvy when it comes to wrestling. He’s stingy and hard to score on. Caydn is a strong, athletic kid who can do a lot.”
Gavin says having a large arsenal is helpful, but the successful wrestlers have go-to moves.
“Being great at a few things is much better (than being OK at many),” says Gavin.
Dominic has learned that the fluidity of Jiu-Jitsu moves translate well to wrestling.
A club, junior high and high school wrestler at Plymouth, Dominic had Read as head coach his first three seasons and his dad took over his senior year.
It was his “one-more mentality” that Dominic appreciated about Read.
“Uno Mas. He said it all the time,” says Dominic. “You’ve always got one more.”
He says it was a dream to wrestle for his father.
“He’s a great coach,” says Dominic.
He recalls Gavin as a wrestler.
“The big thing that everybody remembers is how natural he was,” says Dominic. “He was always so calm. He never had a worry in the world. He was always ready. We was never going to quit.
“He was always present in a match.”
Dominic says each brother has wrestled with this own style.
“Caydn’s a very, very nasty wrestler,” says Dominic. “He doesn’t care who you are he’s going to press you. Overall, the kid is just mean.
“Wesley is a very, very technical wrestler. He’s always in good position. He’s always ready for anything coming at him.”
Caydn describes his strengths as a wrestler.
“I can just go,” says Caydn. “My cardio is really solid.”
Caydn subscribes to the idea of less is more.
“Perfect a few moves and stick to those,” says Caydn. “Just find different ways to hit those moves.”
Wesley talks about his stinginess and mat approach.
“I don’t give up a lot of points,” says Wesley. “I don’t give up on my position. Some kids don’t know when to bail and when to fight for position.”
Angel started grappling about the time she started school.
“I was born into wrestling and I was always at tournaments with my brothers so I thought I should try it,” says Angel. “I started when I was very young and I’m glad I did because it progressively did get harder.
“My brothers are very good at teaching a bunch of stuff on my feet. Wesley’s very technical on his feet. A lot of stuff that I do I’ve implemented from Wesley.”
Angel takes the quote “Don’t Quit - if you re already in pain, already hurt — get a reward” and uses it to drive her.
“I’ve always thought of that during very tough matches,” says Angel. “When I’m beat up and I feel broke. Getting a reward after that is the greatest feeling.”
Mishawaka’s 32-team Al Smith Classic which concluded on Dec. 30 saw Plymouth junior Anthony Popi (285) come in second. Wesley Smith placed third at 145 and Caydn Smith lost in the “ticket” round at 152.
In the Northern Lakes Conference meet Saturday, Jan. 14 at Goshen, top Rockies placers were Wesley Smith (36-1) first at 145, Popi (34-2) at 285, Caydn Smith (30-6) second at 160, sophomore Christopher Firebaugh (26-10) third 132, junior Alonzo Chantea (21-8) fourth 113, junior Seth Wright (22-8) fourth 138 and senior Matthew McCrum (22-9) fourth at 182.
The Rockies host the Plymouth Sectional Jan. 28. The IHSAA tournament continues with the Penn Regional Feb. 4 and East Chicago Semistate Feb. 11 and concludes with the State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: O'Neill thrives in new role
By JEREMY HINES
Ike O’Neill spent his first year of high school wrestling competing at the junior varsity level. He wasn’t overly strong or fast and his technique was average. There weren’t any real indicators that O’Neill would be a stellar grappler.
O’Neill may not have had many believers that freshman season, but he would soon change that. O’Neill would prove that wrestling was no different than everything else he did in his life. O’Neill has a worker’s mentality and was willing to do more than anyone else to get the results he wanted.
That attitude has led him to be a stellar student. His grade point average is 4.3. It also led him to become an Eagle Scout. O’Neill has proven time and time again that whatever he sets his mind to, he masters.
“Ike is every wrestling coach’s dream, to be honest,” Westfield coach Phil Smith said. “He is a phenomenal student. He’s an Eagle Scout. He’s a phenomenal leader. He’s one of those kids where everything about him is work ethic and being tough.”
As a sophomore O’Neill cracked the Westfield varsity lineup and eventually qualified for semistate. According to Smith, that’s when they knew that O’Neill could be special.
Last season, as a junior, O’Neill qualified for state. It was a bittersweet moment for the Shamrock. While Ike wrestled on mat 4 in the ticket round of the New Castle semistate his older brother Thadeus was wrestling on mat 3. As Ike was wrestling, he could hear the crowd’s reaction and knew his brother had lost his match. So, when Ike won, it just didn’t feel right. He cared about his brother and knew what he was going through.
Thadeus has been able to push Ike to get better in a lot of things. Mainly because the brothers are insanely competitive with each other. Thadeus was going for his Eagle Scout award, so Ike wanted to try and get his first.
“Thadeus and I were always on the same sports teams growing up,” Ike said. “We did everything together. Naturally we started to compete with each other. If he beat me at wrestling, I wanted to go home and beat him at ping-pong or pool. It has developed into competing in everything.”
On the mat Ike has a toughness that some people might not expect.
“My teammates like to poke a little fun at me,” Ike said. “They say I look unathletic in a singlet. I’ve heard it a lot in high school. My friends say I’m the most unathletic kid to ever qualify for state. I just laugh it off.”
Coach Smith says that a lot of people are surprised by Ike’s physicality and strength.
“From his freshman year, on the surface, we didn’t know what he could do,” Smith said. “But we think every kid is capable if they put in work. With Ike, he didn’t have flashes of pure wrestling technique that really inspired us – but I think we always knew with him, it was a toughness thing.
“He’s not the most flashy guy. But after he wrestled someone, his opponents usually come off the mat shaking their heads and thinking, wow, he’s a lot stronger than I thought.”
Ike’s dad, Terry, was the longtime coach at Westfield. In fact, he was Smith’s high school coach. But Terry never forced Ike into wrestling.
“He always gave us the option to wrestle,” Ike said. “Now, he says that, but if we stopped, I’m not sure how kindly he would have taken it. But he never wanted us to burn out in middle school. He let us control the pace that we developed.”
Currently O’Neill is ranked No. 6 in the 145-pound class. His goal this season is to place at state.
“Where Ike was at and where he is now is amazing,” Smith said. “He’s not the most gifted athlete but he certainly outworks everyone around him and his wrestling technique has really responded. That’s a testament to the kind of kid he is. He’s a no-mess around guy. He’s always there. He’s always trying to improve. He’s been our captain for two years now. He’s found his rhythm and it’s fun to sit back and see how good he can get.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Fort Wayne Snider 182-pounder Veazy continues to turn heads
By STEVE KRAH
If he wasn’t already on the statewide wrestling radar, De’Alcapon Veazy made more than a blip when he went 35-6 and placed fourth at the 2022 IHSAA State Finals as a 182-pound freshman.
First introduced to the sport early in his elementary days, Veazy has achieved on the national level in the past two years. He was second at the 16U Freestyle Nationals, third twice at the Greco-Roman Nationals, fifth at the UWW Cadet/17U Greco-Roman Nationals, sixth at the 16U Freestyle Nationals and eighth at the 17U Freestyle Nationals.
As a Fort Wayne Snider sophomore, Veazy began the 2022-23 season with 20 straight victories and placed second at Mishawaka’s 32-team Al Smith Classic, losing 3-2 to Crown Point senior Orlando Cruz (who placed second at the 2022 State Finals) in the championship match Dec. 30.
Veazy’s secret sauce?
“I love to learn and I love to work,” says Veazy. “I learn from mistakes and listen to my coaches.”
Sam Ocampo is in his first season as Snider head coach after helping out at New Haven in 2021-22. He is a 1996 graduate of Bellmont, where he was a state qualifier at 126 as a junior and placed fourth at 130 as a senior. The Braves earned a state team title in 1994, a state team runner-up finish in 1995 and were state team semifinalists in 1996.
Bellmont won the Al Smith Classic 10 times 1992 to 2002.
“There was an expectation,” says Ocampo. “Either you perform or you get pushed out.
“I don’t think I ever got the mental part because of that. It was just ‘next person, next person’ and were multiple-people deep (at each weight class).”
Ocampo, who also runs Beast Mode Wrestling Academy in Auburn, says he wants to instill work ethic and discipline for the Snider Panthers, including Veazy.
“He has a great mentality, knowing I’m going to get it done, nothing’s in my way” says Ocampo. “He’s put in a lot of time and experience to get where he’s at.
“He’s very dominant. He’s aggressive and goes after it. When you’re the aggressor everybody has to react to you. If you’re the person that’s non-aggressive then you have to react and adjust to what (your opponent does).”
Veazy appreciates Ocampo’s approach.
“He likes to work on positioning and technique,” says Veazy. “He’s real big on the small details. Our team has improved (a great deal).
“He pushes us hard, keep our minds right.”
Ocampo pushes sportsmanship and leadership.
“I try to lead by example,” says Veazy.
As a fullback for a Snider football team that went 11-2 in the fall, Veazy honed skills that also help him wrestling.
“It helps me be explosive on my feet and with my cardio,” says Veazy. “I’ve been working on trying to move my feet and my hands more.”
Competing multiple times in a day in a tournament setting, wrestlers do different things between matches.
“I just try to stay warm and try to think about staying in good position,” says Veazy. “I think about what I’m going to do in the match to win.”
He also studies film to see what he’s doing well and where he can improve.
After high school, Veazy sees himself going to college to study Business and wrestling or playing football.
De’Alcapon (pronounced D-Al Capone because “my mom likes weird, interesting names”) is the son of Eric Veazy and Skye Grigsby. His brother is Everett Green and little sister La’Raya Veazy. Eric and Everett are Snider assistants along with Brian Tun, Conner Gimson and Drake Rhodes. La’Raya is also a young wrestler.
Sam and Amy Ocampo have 10 children — seven girls and three boys. Sophomore Julianna Ocampo won the 106-pound title at the Al Smith Classic — the first female champion in the 43-year history of the event.
Veazy and the other Panthers are inspired by Julianna.
“She’s going to fight through everything,” says Veazy.
Snider’s remaining regular-season schedule includes a dual at Fort Wayne Carroll Jan. 10, the Wild Bill Invitational at Fort Wayne Concordia Jan. 14, a home dual against Leo Jan. 18 and the Summit Athletic Conference meet at Snider Jan. 21.
The state tournament series for the Panthers features the New Haven Sectional Jan. 28, Carroll Regional Feb. 4, Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 11 and the IHSAA State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
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#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Thrines making this year memorable
By JEREMY HINES
Brevan and Tylin Thrine know this is it. This is the only chance they will get in high school to wrestle together. The New Castle brothers are hoping to make this a year to remember.
Brevan is a senior and Tylin a freshman. They are the heart and soul of a rejuvenated New Castle team. Both wrestlers just took home championships in the annual Connersville Spartan Classic.
Brevan (145 pounds) won his first two bouts by technical fall before beating Columbus North’s Asher Ratliff 11-2 in the semifinal and cruising to an 8-2 victory over Wester Boone’s Mason Adams in the championship.
Tylin wrestled in the 126 pound class. In the field was undefeated, No. 14-ranked Jesus Aquino-Morales from Union County and No. 7-ranked Griffin Ingalls of Fishers. Ingalls was a state qualifier in the weight class last season.
Tylin, who is ranked No. 12, put on his most dominating performance of the season. He pinned his first two opponents setting up a battle with potential regional opponent Aquino-Moral. Tylin pinned the Patriot junior in just 39 seconds.
That set up a finals match against Ingalls, a senior. Thrine dominated the final, winning 15-7.
“It was pretty cool winning that,” Brevan said. “I heard we might be the first brothers to do it in the same year. Ty wrestled great. He is so naturally athletic. In my head I knew how tough his opponents were but I also knew he could win it.”
The Thrine brothers are quite different with how they approach matches. Brevan tends to get nervous before matches and approaches them all with a strategy in mind.
“Brevan is a great wrestler,” New Castle coach Gary Black said. “He’s a strategist. He’s cautious at times and he’s smart.”
Brevan is 5-4. At 145 pounds he’s constantly facing opponents that have a length advantage on him.
“I really am working at staying more consistent,” Brevan said. “I have to stop taking cross shots. I’m built well. I’m strong enough to compete at 145 but I have to stay physical and fast because of my height.”
Being physical and fast are two of the traits Tylin brings to the table. He’s less cautious than Brevan. He is incredibly athletic and tends to be ultra aggressive on the mat.
“He’s just a freak athlete,” Brevan said of his brother.
“Tylin is super explosive,” Black said. “He’s probably the most athletic wrestler I’ve ever been around. They are both athletic, but Tylin wrestled with no fear at all. He’s not afraid to get after it with anyone.”
The brothers both have a goal this year of placing at state. Last year Brevan qualified for state but lost 12-8 to Center Grove’s Wyatt Kresja in the first round. In his sophomore season Thrine took on Warren Central’s David Pierson in the ticket round of the New Castle semistate. In the first minute Thrine attacked the leg and appeared to get a takedown, but the move was determined to be an illegal slam. Pierson could not continue and therefore was declared the winner. Pierson went on to win the New Castle semistate that day.
“That match broke me a little bit,” Brevan said. “I wasn’t trying to do anything illegal. I had a leg, picked it up and came down and they said he landed before my knee touched. It was hard having my season end that way, but it has helped motivate me.”
Brevan is New Castle’s captain this season. Coach Black said Brevan is the team leader verbally and by example.
“Brevan is just a really great kid,” Black said. “Recently we were at the ECIC tournament and Brevan, on his own, went up to the Jay County coaches and asked if he would be able to wrestle a handicap wrestler they have on the team in an exhibition match. He gave that kid a great memory. I was more impressed with that than I was with anything else he did that day.”
In that tournament Brevan pinned Jay County’s No. 4-ranked Cameron Clark.
Brevan is ranked No. 17 at 138 pounds. He has wrestled 145 all season and is not certain what weight he will compete at come tournament time.
After high school Brevan wants to be a lineman, working on power lines. He has already went to camps and had training for the job.
Tylin doesn’t wrestle year around. He was a state qualifier in middle school in several events in track. He’s a talented football player in the fall and he wrestled in the winter. In the past he has relied on athleticism to help him win his matches. Now that he’s in high school, he’s dedicating more time to the sport and getting better technique.
“I want to place in state all four years,” Tylin said. “I want to keep getting better. It helps that I get to wrestle with Brevan a lot in practice. He’s strong and fast. He’s hard to go against him. You don’t see many people built like him and he presents a lot of challenges for me. So that helps me get better.”
Coach Black believes the brothers will both punch their tickets to state this season.
“I think they will both make it to state,” Black said. “It’s rare for brothers to go there together and they want to make that happen.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Chesterton’s Torres keeps his composure while piling up victories
By STEVE KRAH
Stay Calm and Wrestle.
It’s an approach that has worked well for Chesterton High School senior grappler Aidan Torres.
“I always try and keep my composure and don't let little things get to me,” says Torres, who is 27-0 in 2022-23 after winning the 145-pound title at Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic Dec. 29-30. “If the ref makes a bad call, leave it to the coaches to argue it. Don’t let it get in my head.
“I’m always to try to keep my composure and never lash out.”
In reigning at Mishawaka, top seed Torres earned a first-period pin and major decision on the first day and technical fall, 4-1 decision and first-period pin on the second day.
Torres, an Indiana University commit who turns 18 in January, bested Westfield senior Ike O’Neill in the finals and helped Chesterton placed 10th in the 32-team event.
A three-time IHSAA State Finals placer, Torres placed sixth at 126 in 2020, eighth at 132 in 2021 and third at 145 in 2022.
He is the son of Leelo and Jennifer Torres. He has three older brothers — Nicholas, Isaac and Hunter. Seventh grader Noah is his younger brother and wrestler.
Andy Trevino is in his second season as head wrestling coach at Chesterton.
Trevino took over the program from Chris Joll, who led Chesterton to state runner-up team finishes in 2017 and 2021 and produced 10 sectional, two regional and two semistate championship squad. There were 47 individual state qualifiers and five state champions.
To compete with the best in the state, Trevino says a team has to have its share of year-round wrestlers mixed in with multi-sport athletes.
“You embrace the grind and enjoy the process,” says Trevino. “You’ve got to learn by making mistakes. If you’re afraid to do anything you’re never going to get better.
“Kids have to learn grit and battle through some things. The better kids are working harder. There’s a lot of them.”
The 2022-23 coaching staff also features Brian Bolin, Mike Engberg, Scott Mundell and Brock Peele.
Trevino was a 140-pound state champion for Calumet in 1991 — his senior year. Trained by Warriors head coach Jim Wadkins, he was also a state qualifier at 119 in 1989 and placed fourth at 125 in 1990. His career record was 127-7.
He earned four letters and 70 victories and was a two-time Big Ten placer, NCAA Championship qualifier and team captain at Indiana University for Hoosiers head coaches Joe McFarland and Duane Goldman.
As a coach, Trevino was an assistant at Lake Central, head coach at East Chicago Central and assistant in wrestling and football at Calumet before coming to Chesterton, where he is also a physical education teacher.
Trevino, who has known Torres for a long time having also worked with him at the club level, assesses the athlete.
“He’s a hard-working kid that at a young age decided to love the sport,” says Trevino of Torres. “He’s a student of the sport and he’s always looking to better himself.
“He’s very knowledgable in wrestling. He flows very well. He transitions from move to move. He makes it look simple.”
In serving as a leader for the Trojans, Torres does his best to keep it positive.
“Wrestling’s a very hard sport and it’s a love-hate relationship for sure,” says Torres. “I try to keep everybody happy and always be excited about hard work, getting better.”
Says Trevino, “He’s not real vocal, but what he does everybody sees it because as a team leader he’s doing it first and he’s doing it right. He can speak to the team and he’s sat them down and explained to them that there’s no magic to wrestling or being good at anything other than being consistent, training more often, being on the mat more often and believing in yourself.
“That’s what he does all the time.”
Torres has taken to the mental training promoted by Engberg.
“He makes sure you’re in the right mental state,” says Torres. “Before a match if there’s any negative thought in my head I instantly replace it. You can’t cut out all doubt, but you can easily replace it with a positive thought like nobody’s worked as hard as me.
“So any doubt I have we’re trying to flush it right now.”
Torres plans to pursue Environmental and Sustainable Energy Studies at IU.
“I took AP Environmental Science last year and I got my college credit,” says Torres. “I thought it was super interesting.
“I’m thinking that there will be a lot of job openings too, because of how our world is leaning towards renewable energy.”
Chesterton has Duneland Athletic Conference duals against Michigan City Jan. 4 and at Valparaiso Jan. 11.
The DAC meet at LaPorte is Jan. 14, followed by a dual against LaPorte Jan. 18. Then comes the Lake Station Super 8 Jan. 21.
The state tournament series for the Trojans features the LaPorte Sectional Jan. 28, Crown Point Regional Feb. 4, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 11 and IHSAA State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Cougars read for first taste of Team State
By JEREMY HINES
Ed Hamant loved everything about the team state tournament. The longtime Greenfield-Central assistant coach never got to see one of his team’s compete in team state. He tragically passed away last year.
Hamant coached the Cougars for 40 years. During that time Greenfield never made it to team state. This year the Cougars were the vote-in team for class 3A.
“For us, getting here has been a long, long time coming,” Greenfield coach Josh Holden said. “The big thing on our mind is that this is something Ed Hamant loved. Ed coached for 40 years at Greenfield. He loved the individual state tournament but the team state really had a special place in his heart. He always dreamed of taking a team to it but never got to. When we were selected to compete a lot of people got really excited because they knew Ed would have loved to see this.”
Greenfield is a bit of a mystery team, according to the rankings and the team state selections. The Cougars are ranked No. 3 in 3A, but they were the last team to get selected to the field in team state.
“We are in an interesting situation,” Holden said. “Are we the eighth best team or are we one of the top three that can go in and make some noise? We have to look at ourselves as one of the top teams. We are excited to be there. We feel blessed and humbled and even honored that people would vote us in and we just want to compete and showcase what we can do.”
The Cougars aren’t one of those squads loaded with ranked wrestlers. In fact, Greenfield has just two individuals ranked at all.
Junior Clay Guenin is ranked No. 3 at 170 pounds. He’s the top ranked grappler at that weight in the New Castle semistate.
“Clay is about 6’4,” Holden said. “Our whole team looks like basketball players. Clay hates to lose. He’s probably the most intense kid in our room. He does basic things on the mat, but he does them very well. He’s so aggressive and hard-nosed that you can’t wear him down. He’s an arm bar kid. He’s old school and he pins almost everyone he goes up against.
“Clay is also a 4.1 student. He’s an all-around great kid. We have an entire group of outstanding men and women on this team.”
The only other ranked grappler on the Cougar squad is Isaiah Holden, the coach’s son. Isaiah, a senior, is ranked No. 18 at 152 pounds.
For Isaiah, wrestling is not his only focus. He is very involved with choir. He’s in show choir. He was the lead in a school musical last year. He also is known around Hancock County as the Greenfield Spider-Man. He dresses up as Spider-Man and performs at birthday parties.
“Isaiah is just one of those special kids that has his hands in a little bit of everything,” coach Holden said. “He’s the best teammate I’ve ever been around. I don’t say that because he’s my son, I just truly believe that. If he had the choice between winning state himself or one of his teammates winning, I am sure he would pick for his teammate to win all day, every day.”
Holden has coached at Greenfield for 20 years and he believes this is the best team Greenfield has had during that span.
“I don’t know what the difference is, exactly,” Holden said. “We’ve had good teams in the past. We only have two ranked wrestlers and I have five freshmen in my lineup. I really thought we would struggle this year. But this is such a fantastic group of wrestlers. They make good decisions and work hard. If you asked my team right now how many of them get up in the morning and make their bed, I would bet 99 percent of them do. Everything they do is the right way.”
Holden also says this is the most fun he’s had coaching.
“I told my kids at the beginning of the season that I don’t know what my future holds, but I want to make this a special year,” Holden said. “And we’re doing that. We’re getting ready for team state for the first time ever. We’re going to the Connersville tournament and we’re hoping to win that. There are all kinds of first that we’re trying to get. This has been the most fun year I’ve had coaching.”
Nobody in the Cougar lineup has ever qualified for state. Two years ago Greenfield advanced seven wrestlers to regional, but a Covid spread caused the school to close down all activities and prohibited the Cougars from competing from that point.
The decision was disappointing to the wrestlers, but it also taught them a lesson.
“We know now that you’re never promised tomorrow,” Holden said. “You can’t look to next year or next week. You have to be ready. You don’t always have as much time as you think. You never know when it will be your last match so you have to go out and treat everyone as if it could be.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Bohn uses speed, smarts to win matches for Munster Mustangs
By STEVE KRAH
Munster High School wrestlers are taught about the 5 P’s — Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.
“If you properly prepare for your stuff, you won’t be as nervous,” says Mustangs junior mat standout Chris Bohn. “You won’t perform badly.”
Bohn, 17, began wrestling as a second grader with Griffith Wrestling Club. He moved from Griffith to Munster in sixth grade.
Prior to high school, he got much of his training with Region Wrestling Academy.
Bohn is currently 82-6 for his career and 13-3 for 2022-23 at 138 pounds. He was 42-2 and a and IHSAA State Finals qualifier at 120 in 2021-22. As a freshman in 2020-21, he went 27-1 and qualified for semistate.
From all the time in the circle, Bohn knows many moves.
“I’ve got a decent-sized arsenal,” says Bohn. “I know a good amount of technique.
“I focus on a few things.”
Going from 120 to 138, Bohn knows he is meeting opponents this season who are stronger.
“I rely on speed a lot at 138,” says Bohn, who stands about 5-foot-10.
Fourth-year head coach Zach Slosser sees a fierce competitor and a smart athlete in Bohn.
“He wants to wrestle competition,” says Slosser. “He’s not going to run away from anybody.
“What makes him a good wrestler is his knowledge of the sport. He’s very knowledgable about positioning and all those fine details. He uses technique over strength. He’s a very smart kid.”
Bohn is carrying a weighted grade-point average above 3.6 and counts Advanced Placement Computer Science as his current favorite class.
“I’m good with computers,” says Bohn, who can see himself studying software engineering in college and would like to wrestle at the next level.
With 40 grapplers on the team, the Mustangs head into the post-Christmas part of their schedule at 11-5 overall and 2-0 in the Northwest Crossroads Conference.
“The team aspect (of wrestling) is very important because you need your teammates to help you, work out with you, motivate you and push you in practices,” says Bohn. “You can also have people hang out with and relate with.
“It’s an individual sport because you’re the only one (on the mat), but the team is a big part of it.”
Bohn’s primary drill partners are junior Joey Bartusiak (145) and senior Ezekiel Gomez (132).
“Joey’s fast and he’s a pretty hard worker,” says Bohn. “He doesn’t give up.
“Zeke is solid with technique. It’s usually a battle when we wrestle.”
Munster makes its first appearances in the Mooresville Holiday Classic Dec. 28-29.
“We plan to make some statements there and get some matches for everyone,” says Bohn.
His support system includes parents Christopher Sr., and Angelic.
During a tournament, Bohn spends time between his matches rooting for teammates and he also studies film. His father — a former high school wrestler — shoots video of all his son’s matches.
“I’ll watch my last match to see what I’ve done well, what’ve I’ve done wrong, what I can do better,” says Bohn.
While there is plenty of noise in the gym or arena and the headgear doesn’t make it any easier, Bohn manages to hear his coaches offering instruction from the corner.
“I know what they sound like,” says Bohn.
Munster has an NCC away dual against Lowell Jan. 5, the Lake County Tournament at Hanover Central Jan. 7, an NCC home dual against Hobart Jan. 7 and the NCC meet (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley and Lowell) at Lowell Jan. 14.
The state tournament series includes the East Chicago Sectional (with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hammond Central, Hammond Morton, Merrillville and Whiting) Jan. 28, Hobart Regional Feb. 4, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 11 and IHSAA State Finals at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis Feb. 17-18.
Moving through the Region at tournament time is tough.
“It’s hard competition no matter what,” says Slosser. “You’ve always got to be on your game.”
Slosser, who was an assistant to Mike Crary for four years before becoming head wrestling coach, also coaches football and is an administrative assistant in the Munster athletic office. He has worked hard to recruit athletes for high school, middle school and the Munster Wrestling Club.
“I’ve been working hard to try to make a program,” says Slosser. “Two years ago K through 12, we had 47 kids in the program. Now K through 12, we have 126.
“There were seven middle school wrestlers two years ago and that number has jumped to 45.”
Says Bohn, “It’s not me, but in the time I’ve been here I’ve seen the program grow a lot and it’s cool to see.”
A wrestling club was started at Munster when Slosser was 6, but it went away.
“I said you know what? — this program needs to keep back up and running,” says Slosser, 27. “We’re just a young program fighting to get back.”
Munster has won 11 sectional titles in program history. The last four came in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 when former Evansville Mater Dei wrestler Dan Gelarden was Mustangs head coach.
“(Gelarden) was a very intelligent coach,” says Slosser. “We had (the IHSAA team tournament) back then and he knew how to move the lineup the right way.”
Slosser dealt with injuries throughout his prep mat career and was a semistate qualifier as a junior.
He earned a Business Management degree from Calumet College of Saint Joseph’s in Whiting, Ind., in 2018.
Slosser’s coaching staff features two of his former coaches — Tim Maldonado and Bobby Joe Maldonado — plus Jeff Jorge, Steve Marks and Matt Gille. The middle school season was in the fall. That team was coached by Juan Lopez, Bobby Joe Maldonado and Markus Ciciora. Those men also help out at the high school level.
Slosser is pleased to see former Munster wrestlers who are now parents getting involved with the current Mustangs.
Bohn credits nutrition as a big part of his success. He estimates he takes in about 2,500 calories a day and burns off at least that many.
“I eat a lot of raspberries,” says Bohn. “I love raspberries. You can eat less calories and feel more energized. You just won’t feel like crap when you’re in your match.
“Normally I’m good about (eating) unless it’s a holiday. I don’t cut. I’m going eat good food. It would be rude not to, but that’s the only time I stray away from good nutrition.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Perry Meridian's Billerman bothersome to coaches and opponents
By JEREMY HINES
Perry Meridian wrestling coach Matt Schoettle stands in front of his team of grapplers with a goal in mind. He wants to teach them a technique that will help the young men become better wrestlers and gain an advantage over their opponents. But, as he teaches, a voice resonates from within the team. It’s senior Toby Billerman and he’s smirking as he tells the coach that the moves he’s teaching simply won’t work.
It's not that the technique actually won’t work – it’s just that Billerman has a knack for getting under Schoettle’s skin a little.
“He’s kind of a smart ass,” Schoettle said.
“He calls me that in practice too,” Billerman said. “I always give him a hard time. I mess with him some when he’s showing moves.”
Although Billerman likes to keep the room loose and have fun, he’s a very serious wrestler. Almost to a fault.
Over the summer Billerman put in so much work on the mat that Schoettle went to him and told him he needed to try and take some breaks.
“His dedication and commitment are unique,” Schoettle said. “Over the summer I thought he wrestled too much. He’s been doing that for years. He just loves to practice and compete.”
Billerman defends his workload by saying it’s something he loves to do.
“Coach tells me all the time that I do too much,” Billerman said. “I tell him it’s OK. It’s a sport I love to do. I realized toward the end of the summer that I was doing way too much, and I tried to take a few breaks to relax and hang out with my friends. But even then, I was thinking about wrestling. It’s what I love to do.”
That work ethic has led to an enormous amount of success on the mat for the 120-pound senior. Billerman is currently ranked No. 3 in his weight class. Last year he finished second in the same weight and as a sophomore he finished third at 106 pounds. This year he’s hoping to walk away with a state championship.
Winning state is never easy, but the 120-pound class is loaded. There are 13 former state qualifiers in the top 20. LaPorte senior Ashton Jackson is currently sitting on top of the hill. Jackson is a two-time state champion, winning 106 in 2021 and 113 last season.
Right behind Jackson in the rankings is returning 106-pound state champ Jake Hockaday, a sophomore from Brownsburg. There are other proven winners in the weight class as well, like Sullivan senior Lane Gilbert (ranked No. 8). Gilbert has placed the past three seasons, with his best finish coming in 2021 when he placed third at 120 pounds. Other 120 pounders, such as Kokomo junior Jalen May, Evansville Mater Dei sophomore Isaiah Schaefer, Delta junior Neal Mosier, Western junior Tanner Tishner, Columbus East senior Liam Krueger and Center Grove sophomore Eddie Goss have all placed in state before as well.
“Ashton Jackson has to be the favorite right now,” Schoettle said. “He beat Toby a few years ago in the semis. But I would never count Toby out. He can beat anyone.”
Billerman’s practice partner in the Perry Meridian room is senior Kenton Morton. Morton is ranked No. 16 at 132 pounds and is a two-time state qualifier.
“They have been wrestling together for the last 13 years,” Schoettle said.
Although winning an individual title is a major goal for Billerman, he would also love to win the Team State title. The Falcons have a very solid squad with five ranked wrestlers in the lineup. In addition to Billerman and Morton, Hruai Liam, Zach Huckaby and Andy Warren are all ranked in their respective weight classes.
After team state, Billerman and company will shift their focus to the individual tournament.
“I just want to go into the tournament and have fun,” Billerman said. “I want to wrestle hard. I want to compete. And, from there, whatever happens, happens.”
After high school Billerman will wrestle at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He is currently considering studying nursing but admits that might change.
“Toby is a slick wrestler on the mat,” Schoettle said. “He’s got great technique and he is pretty physical. No doubt he’s a team leader and has been for a while. But he’s also a great kid. A great student and he never gets in trouble. He’s a very good role model for the younger guys.”
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#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Wawasee Warriors manage to successfully mix focus on team, individuals
By STEVE KRAH
Embracing the group component with many eyes on personal achievement, Wawasee High School wrestlers are having another win-filled season.
The Warriors head into the week of Dec. 19 at 12-4 in varsity duals (including 4-0 against Northern Lakes Conference goes). Senior 170-pounder Gavin Malone is unbeaten so far in 2022-23. Seniors Hunter Miller (152) and Logan Stuckman (138) have one loss apiece and junior Kaleb Salazar (106) has two setbacks.
Asked to name his best qualities as a wrestler, Malone says “being dedicated and hard work. I’m trying to be the best leader I can be.”
Depending on the situation, Malone leads either by example or vocally.
At 18, he’s been grappling since 3.
“There’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” says Malone. “Since I joined the Viper Wrestling Club I’ve developed a lot of moves that I can use in a match.”
The Wawasee Wrestling Club has about 80 members and about 20 of them with the advanced/competition-ready Vipers.
Malone is driven by the advice of several coaches — present and past.
Middle school coach Kevin Taylor, who was Wawasee’s head coach for six seasons, talks about hard work and dedication.
Former assistant Jesse Espinoza said “jam, jam, jam” — the idea of being tough on top and being the hammer rather than the nail.
From Bumgardner, Malone heed the call to keeping pushing and focusing and staying in good position.
From Garrett Stuckman, it’s “keep fighting and always be moving.”
Malone says the team’s main focus at the beginning of the season is the State Duals.
“Wrestling is an individual sport with a team part,” says Malone. “At the end we strive for our goals. I hope everybody’s goal is to be a state champion.”
Gavin’s primary workout partner is senior Cameron Zimmerman (182) though he also drills with Miller or junior Donovan Blair (195).
“If I can use by strength with the technique it will get me a lot further,” says Malone.
After high school, he hopes to wrestle in college and study Criminal Justice.
Miller, 17, has been wrestling since he was 3.
“I have a lot of tricks in my bag, but I focus on two or three good moves in each position,” says Miller, who counts Malone and Stuckman as practice partners. (Logan is) quick and he holds pretty good position like me.
“It makes us able to capitalize on mistakes.”
He sees himself and Malone as by-example leaders and Stuckman and Zimmerman as vocal leaders.
Hunter also likes the individual part of the sport.
“My goal is to be a state champ,” says Miller. “You don’t have anybody holding you back.
“You’ve got to get it done for yourself.”
After high school, Miller plans to study engineering in college at either Purdue University or Trine University. He says scholarship opportunities and which school he chooses will have a bearing on whether he wrestles at the next level.
Stuckman says he prefers to push the pace and “jam, jam, jam.”
“It’s go, go, go,” says Stuckman, who at 17 has been wrestling for 12 years. “What makes our team stand out is we’re all good at something.
“You have to respect us.”
After high school, Logan says he expects to work in the family business — Stuckman’s Sanitiation.
What makes this team of 42 (35 boys and seven girls) what it is?
“It’s a collection of great human beings,” says Bumgardner. “It’s the way they care about each other and love each other.
“They are extremely coachable. It’s been a lot of fun working with this group so far.”
Bumgardner and his assistants (Jamie Salazar, Braxton Alexander, Mike Deak, Isiah Faurote, Hal Heagy, Hunter Reed, Miguel Rodriguez, Shawn Senter, Garrett Stuckman, Raymon Torres and Dillon Whitacre) have grapplers competing really hard but in a relaxed environment.
“It’s painted on our (practice room) wall — Warrior Tough. It’s a mindset,” says Bumgardner. “We try to do everything to the best of your ability.”
Another motto: “Score points and have fun.”
“We’re not focused on pressure,” says Bumgardner. “There’s a lot going on in the world today and we need to focus on being great human beings rather than letting wrestling athletics consume our identities.”
Braxton Alexander (Class of 2019) is tied atop the career wins list with Kevin Carr (Class of 1999) at 166.
Wawasee is scheduled to host NLC opponent Concord Wednesday, Dec. 21 then gear up for the 32-team Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 29-30.
The Warriors make their sixth straight appearances at the IHSWCA Class 2A State Duals Jan. 7. The competition will be held at Jay County.
In the past, the program has placed first in 2018, second in 2019, qualified in both 2020 and 2021 and came in fourth in 2022.
Wawasee hosts the NLC meet (with Concord, Goshen, Mishawaka, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth and Warsaw) Jan. 14.
The IHSAA state tournament series takes the Warriors to the Plymouth Sectional (with Bremen, Culver Academies, Culver Community, LaVille, Plymouth, Tippecanoe Valley, Triton and Warsaw) Jan. 28, Penn Regional Feb. 4, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 11 and IHSAA State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Frank Bumgardner is in his eighth season as Wawasee head coach.
He says the Warriors schedule allows for emphasizing team at the beginning and individuals at the end.
“There are situational awareness things we do,” says Bumgardner of the approach in dual meets where team points are so precious.
He welcomes the challenge of the State Duals where Wawasee wrestlers will “face hammers all day long.”
A graduate of Whitko Junior/Senior High School (2007), Bumgardner was head coach at his alma mater before coming to Wawasee.
Bumgardner earned an Education degree Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and was teacher. He is now leading training and development at Viewrail, a Goshen-based company which designs, manufactures and installs custom stairs and railing.
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Owen Valley striving for 2A excellence
By JEREMY HINES
The Owen Valley High School wrestling team has one main goal – to make the Class 2A Team state tournament. On Sunday the Patriots will find out if they get invited to the tourney.
“Last year getting to team state was our goal,” Patriot coach Steven Spicer said. “Nothing’s changed for this year. We have talked about it all offseason. The guys know what the goal is. They have bought in. If we get in, it will be huge for our program.”
Last season was the first time Owen Valley’s wrestling team was ever ranked in Class 2A. Spicer felt it would come down to a dual meet between the Patriots and Monrovia for the final spot in the team state field. In that dual meet Monrovia won by three points, and got in.
“I would make a case for our team by saying that we haven’t lost to a 2A school this season,” Spicer said. “We are undefeated in our class. Our community is behind us as well. Right now our wrestling ticket gate is higher than our basketball. The team is already very motivated, and if they get in, they will just be on fire.”
Currently the Patriots are 11-2. Their losses come at the hands of Terre Haute South and Cascade.
The heart and soul of the Patriot squad is junior Branson Weaver. He is currently ranked No. 11 at 138 pounds.
“The kid is a mat rat,” Spicer said. “He loves wrestling. He wrestles year around. He went to Fargo. He’s our leader both vocally and by example. He runs our warmups. When he talks, the team listens.
“On the mat Branson is a freak athlete. He’s explosive, strong, fast and incredibly flexible. His wrestling IQ is very high. He’s always wanting to learn and he asks every coach questions, daily.”
Senior Eli Hinshaw is the highest ranked grappler on the Patriot squad. He is currently ranked No. 10 at 220. Coach Spicer said Hinshaw is a quiet leader on the team. Hinshaw was named All-State in football this season.
Sophomore Emery Jackson is ranked No. 18 at 126 pounds and senior Bryce Mills is currently ranked No. 7 in the Evansville semistate at heavyweight.
Hinshaw is the only wrestler on the team with any wrestling experience before Spicer took over the program five years ago.
“Everyone else on the team started after I took over,” Spicer said. “Bryce started wrestling as a freshman. Eli Hinshaw started as an 8th grader. Jackson started in seventh grade.
“But they have all bought into the offseason,” Spicer said. “They are competing against guys that have wrestled their whole lives. We’ve started doing some sort of wrestling year around and we are always looking for opportunities to get on the mat. We are lucky here that the coaches in other sports are all on board. We are a smaller school, and we all know we have to share athletes.”
When Spicer started with the team there were five wrestlers. Now they have 24. This year he talks about how, for the first time, he has flexibility with the lineup and how that makes a big difference in dual meets.
“Last year we were really solid, but there was no room for us to bump anyone around,” Spicer said. “We couldn’t manipulate our lineup. This year it’s been nice to have some freedom with the lineup.”
Individually, the Patriots are hoping to have several wrestlers punch their ticket to state. Spicer believes a few of the guys can compete for a state title.
But right now the goal is to get into team state. That’s the focus.
“The guys deserve it,” Spicer said. “We went to the Midwest Classic. We went to Disney. We competed as a team and we don’t take anyone that’s not on our team. We could have. We could have been a little tougher that way. But we wanted only Owen Valley guys.
“I truly believe that has made us more competitive this year. In reality, with our guys, we can put up points against any team in the state. I feel we can be competitive with anyone. We are not the most experienced team and we know that. But we want to be the better athletes. We want to be in the best shape and we have to be the toughest team out there. We are athletic, we are in great shape and we are tough and I hope we get to prove that at team state.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Concord’s Koltookian raising mat profile at end of prep career
By STEVE KRAH
Many wrestlers who enjoy success on the Indiana high school scene can look back at many years of training and competition.
Some have been known to start even before they begin kindergarten.
Such is not the case with Concord High School’s Armen Koltookian.
His mat career began after he quit the freshmen boys basketball team.
The athletic Koltookian got into the Minutemen’s varsity lineup in 2019-20 and posted a 7-4 record. He went 20-12 and was a Goshen Regional runner-up at 182 pounds as a sophomore in 2020-21 then really broke out.
Stepping into the circle at 195, Koltookian won 37 of 43 bouts while earning second place to Mishawaka’s Christian Chavez at the Northern Lakes Conference meet and earning Elkhart Sectional, Goshen Regional and Fort Wayne Semistate titles as a junior in 2021-22.
“He caught a lot of people by surprise last year,” says first-year Concord head coach Anthony Snyder. “He’s a great kid and a great leader. He comes in every single day with a positive attitude and wants to learn.”
Koltookian was edged 3-2 by eventual eighth-placer Samuel Saunders of Terre Haute North Vigo in the first round of the IHSAA State Finals.
Improvement on the mat came through open-room training at Mishawaka and Jimtown and made a few visits to Midwest Xtreme Wrestling in Mishawaka and Midwest Regional Training Center in New Carlisle.
With the help of Concord’s Fitness and Performance Center director Scott Pherson, Koltookian got stronger by increasing his weight room numbers in the deadlift and clean-and-jerk.
After another standout football season for the Craig Koehler-coached Minutemen in the fall (he was named all-NLC), NCAA Division II Hillsdale (Mich.) College gridiron verbal commit Koltookian opened the 2022-23 wrestling season at 5-1 with four pins at 195 then moved up to 220. In the Raider Invitational at Northridge Saturday, Dec. 10, he went 4-1 and is 9-2 on the season.
“Wrestling definitely helped me improve as a football player, physically and mentally,” says Koltookian, a standout linebacker who also shined at H-back on offense. “I got tougher and I got a whole lot better with my hand-eye coordination and hand-fighting through the line.
“I saw numerous things that improved from wrestling football. So I'd recommend any football player that's thinking about it to get out and try it.”
Both grueling sports, wrestling and football require mental toughness.
How does Koltookian deal with this?
“I always like to remember that I've got bigger things in my life going on,” says Koltookian. “I always focus on the future and the success that comes with grinding through these times.
“It also helps a lot to have a lot of teammates that support me — Lance Army (Class of 2023) being one of them. He's our heavyweight and he always supports me and is there to wrestle with me, push me and keep me mentally in-check.”
Armen, who carries a grade-point average of 3.96 on a 4.0 scale, is the son of Aram and Shelley Koltookian and the younger brother of Zaven Koltookian, a 2022 Concord graduate now on the football team at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y.
Snyder, a 2008 Mishawaka graduate, leads the Concord program after spending the past five seasons guiding Bremen. The Lions won one dual meet in 2017-18 and 13 in 2021-22.
Snyder’s staff include Concord alum and veteran wrestling coach Brian Pfeil (the 1991 graduate went 97-18 and placed fifth at 189 as a senior) as well as Brandon Barcus, Andrew Cortez, Tyler Norment and Bryce Track. Barcus was with Snyder at Bremen.
“I’ve surrounded myself with people who I though could help me build what I view this program can be,” says Snyder. “They all have the same vision as I do.”
Snyder made the move for a few reasons.
“It’s a better opportunity,” says Snyder. “It’s closer to home. It’s on my way to and from work (as a production leader at Lippert Components in Goshen). There’s a lot of support from the administration.
“It’s just nice to be at a big school that wants wrestling to succeed and get to that next level. I feel like we can make it into a contender in the northern part of Indiana if not the state.”
Before Bremen, Anthony was on Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mark Kerrn’s staff at Jimtown.
Uncle and IHSWCA Hall of Famer Darrick Snyder (currently the head coach at Brownsburg) was Anthony's coach at Mishawaka.
Snyder helped establish the Concord Wrestling Club which around 45 members. The Concord Junior High School team has begun practices with more than 60 participants.
At the high school level, the Minutemen’s next meet is a dual Tuesday, Dec. 14 at Mishawaka. Not in the Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka this year, Concord is part of the 16-team McKee Memorial Invitational at Rochester Saturday, Dec. 17. The NLC meet is Jan. 14 at Wawasee with the Elkhart Sectional Jan. 28, Goshen Regional Feb. 4, Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 11 and IHSAA State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Hamilton Heights is poised to shock the state
By JEREMY HINES
Hamilton Heights coach Gary Myers doesn’t feel like his wrestling team is getting the respect and state-wide attention they deserve. He’s OK with that.
“I got to tell you, I’d rather not be ranked,” Myers said. “I was ranked No. 1 my whole senior year and that just put a target on my back and wore me out. When these kids aren’t ranked, I don’t even care. They will just go out and prove it. I know I have 10 kids that should be in the mix. Maybe not top 10, but top 15 to 18 for sure. But rankings are just opinions, that’s why everyone wrestles on the mat.”
Myers reminds his squad constantly that nothing will be given to them. He tells the story of his own career, where he finished in the top four at state as a junior. Then, as a senior, he entered semistate undefeated and ranked No. 1, but he lost in the first round.
“There are no guarantees in this sport,” he said. “We had four guys in the ticket round last year. This year we want more but they are going to have to work to get there.
The Huskies have lofty goals this season. They want to win the team state title, send 12 wrestlers to regional and semistate and six or seven to state.
Currently only one Husky wrestler is ranked in the state poll. Senior Evan Tilton is ranked No. 3 at 195. He could possibly wrestle 182 come tournament time.
“Our decision now is what to do with Evan,” Myers said. “I think we’ll let him make his debut at 182. We were going to take him to 170. I asked him if he could win semistate at 182 and he said yes.
“Evan is a funky wrestler. He can be in a bad spot and somehow, he always comes out on top. He’s hard to coach. He doesn’t do anything orthodox. He doesn’t even know where’s going to end up. He just finds ways to win.”
According to Myers, this Husky team is the best he has ever coached. In fact, Myers believes this is the best team in school history.
“We are a solid team at every weight,” Myers said. “We are going to be a problem for anyone. I used to have teams with seven good wrestlers. Teams could move people around against our lineup. You can’t do that now. You have to go heads up with us. Anywhere you move someone you’re going to get a good wrestler.”
Currently the Huskies are ranked No. 6 in Class 2A.
“When I saw that, I thought, this is unbelievable,” Myers said. “Our team is tough. We are going to shock some people. We are going to embarrass a few. We are going in hoping to win team state. I’ll never have this team again. This year we are going all in. The rankings just give us that feeling that we were slighted and we want to prove some people wrong.”
Kendall Moe, a freshman, will be the team’s 106 pounder this year. She was an All-American at Fargo and is ranked No. 5 at that weight in the girls’ state rankings.
Junior Jeylen Pugh will wrestle 126 for the Huskies. Last year Pugh wrestled at 132 pounds. Pugh has 11 siblings, and they have all wrestled for coach Myers. His sister, Zoe, is ranked 7th in the state for female wrestlers.
Isaac Kuhn will be the team’s 132 pounder. Kuhn is one of the team captains along with Tilton.
“People overlook Isaac,” Myers said. “He’s been in the ticket round at semistate two years in a row. He wrestles every offseason. He always shows up. He doesn’t miss practice. He’s very, very quiet. Once and a while you need the hard workers to show the others how to put in the time.”
Junior Alex Furst has been a nice surprise, according to Myers. He will wrestle at 138 this year and is currently 6-0 on the year.
Junior Carson Fettig will wrestle at 145 this season.
“Carson has wrestled against high schoolers since he was in seventh grade,” Myers said. “He would beat them a lot of times. We are hoping for a good season out of him.”
Michael Cain, a sophomore, will either be 152 or 160 this season for the Huskies.
“He’s a very good wrestler and he’s going to be a problem for everyone,” Myers said.
Senior Jimmy Lacey will be the team’s 170 pounder and classmate Josh Brown will wrestle at 220. Brown was a ticket-rounder last year.
Mason Moran will round out the lineup for the Huskies at heavyweight.
Myers wrestled with tenacity when he was younger. In fact, he did pay per view mixed martial arts fights well into his 40s. Through that he earned the nickname Iron Bear.
“My mom gave me the name bear when I was two,” Myers said. “But I wrestled in Russia in 1990 and I had an overtime match against a Soviet champion (Alexandir Markov). I didn’t quit wrestling and the Russian press started calling me the Iron Bear. I almost caused an International incident that day. They called me that because I refused to give up.”
That mentality is something the Hamilton Heights wrestlers will have this year, according to Myers. They won’t give up and they are going to turn some heads.
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#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: With mantra of ‘hold the rope,’ Delta wrestlers keep on winning
By STEVE KRAH
Delta High School has a history of wrestling success.
The Eagles have piled up victories and titles over the years.
From 1980-81 to 1984-85, Delta won five straight IHSAA team championships.
There have also been eight semistates, 15 regionals, 19 sectionals,12 conference titles and numerous champions and state placers.
Cody LeCount is in his second season as Eagles head coach in 2022-23 and working to keep Delta among the elite programs in Indiana.
LeCount is a 2014 graduate of Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis where he went 184-2 and was a two-time IHSAA state champion (2013 at 132 pounds and 2014 at 145) and one-time state runner-up (2012 at 126). He was the Indianapolis Star’s Wrestler of the Year in 2014.
He grappled for two years at Central Michigan University and spent two years at Marian University in Indianapolis.
LeCount began his coaching career as an assistant for three years at Carmel High School before moving to Delta, where he is also a special education teacher.
He got to work with Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Tonte as well as Matt Schoettle at Perry Meridian, National Wrestling Hall of Fame Michigan Chapter member Tom Borelli at Central Michigan, IHSWCA Hall of Famer Steven Bradley at Marian and IHSWCA Hall of Famer Ed Pendoski at Carmel.
“Growing up around wrestling my whole life I’ve been around really, really good coaches,” says LeCount, who competed for . “I’ve learned a lot of things from a coaching standpoint on how to train, how to get in shape and get through the grinding season.”
In LeCount’s first season at Delta, the Eagles went 14-5, won a sectional title and were Class 2A IHSWCA State Duals qualifiers. The only senior on that team was Dillon Tuttle (who placed eight at the state meet at 138).
So far in 2021-22, Delta is 7-0 and has outscored foes 475-78. The Eagles beat Tri, Lapel, Alexandria-Monroe, Frankton and Greenfield-Central at the Rex Leavitt Elwood Invitational Nov. 19 and earned dual wins against Muncie Central Nov. 29 and South Adams Dec. 1.
Seven individuals are 7-0. Five are state-ranked — Ayden Bollinger (Class of 2025) No. 3 at 106), Neal Mosier (Class of 2024) No. 7 at 120, Braxton Russell (Class of 2024) No. 13 at 170, Kolten Rhone’s (Class of 2024) No. 14 at 145 and Kaeb Stebbins (Class of 2025) No. 16 at 152.
On a roster of 31, there are four seniors with two in the varsity lineup — Garrett Clay (160) and Heath Sprague (195).
Borrowing from a locker room speech give by Susquehanna Township (Pa.) High School football coach Joe Headen, LeCount and his assistants — Austin Crouch, Jacob Gray (No. 3 on Delta’s all-time win list and a state champion at 182 in 2017), David Locke (No. 7 on the win list and a state champion at 145 in 1984) and Keith Rhonemus — have Delta wrestlers learning how to “hold the rope.”
“When we’re the climbing the mountain everybody’s got to hold on to that rope,” says LeCount.
“If one guy slips he might make everybody else fall. It’s our job to hold on to the rope and it’s also our job to help everybody else stay on the rope.”
It’s about teamwork and accountability.
“If I do my job, everybody else can continue to do their job,” says LeCount. “Don’t let that guy slack off in practice. Don’t let this guy give up an extra two points in a dual meet.
“These kids have bought into that kind of system.”
LeCount has gotten his athletes to “do everything to their full potential and just trust the process.”
“If they do everything right they can get to where they want to be,” says LeCount. “They know that there are days when they’re going to be really tired. There are going to be days that are really hard. They might lose a match. They might win a big match.
“It’s knowing the ups and downs of the season, how to train and compete and just love each other.”
High school wrestling presents the opportunity to compete in an individual sport in a group setting.
“Wrestling is 1 v 1 out there,” says LeCount. “You mess up it’s one you. The team aspect of things makes it even greater.
“I might be biased, but it’s the greatest sport there is. There’s nothing else out there like it. It makes you have to depend on yourself to win your match and help your team.”
So many wrestlers come off the mat after a loss in a six-minute match in tears because they gave it their all.
And it’s as much mental as physical.
“That internal drive, mental toughness and voice in your head, it all has to come from within,” says LeCount. “You can always do so much more than what your mind’s telling you.”
2A No. 2 Delta goes to Jay County Tuesday, Dec. 6 for a double-dual. The Eagles grappled with Winchester at 6 p.m., followed by 2A No. 1 Jay County. Yorktown will also wrestle Winchester.
Delta goes to Class 2A IHSWCA State Duals at Jay County Jan. 7. The Hoosier Heritage Conference at Pendleton Heights meet is Jan. 14. Then comes the IHSAA state tournament series — Delta Sectional Jan. 28, Jay County Regional Feb. 4, Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 11 and State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Purdue Polytechnic ready for their first full season
By JEREMY HINES
After five years of watching others compete in Indiana’s wrestling state tournament, Purdue Polytechnic will finally get its chance to participate.
Polytechnic started six years ago but this is the first year the school is fully sanctioned to compete in the Indiana High School Athletic Association tournaments.
The Techies are hoping to find quick success on the mat this season.
“This year we have some kids that we think will do pretty well in the state tourney,” Polytechnic coach Cory Graham said. “We want to get into team state and eventually work toward a team state title.”
The school has just over 500 students. The wrestling team has 42 grapplers and fills every weight class.
“If you look at most high schools, the kids come from the same location,” Graham said. “Here we have kids traveling from all over the Indianapolis area. We have kids from Greenwood, the west side and all over the city. We are a very diverse school, but we come together and work toward a common goal.”
Although there are a good number of wrestlers on the team, the Techies are very inexperienced on the mats compared to other schools they will compete with.
“We started with 16 kids when we started the program,” Graham said. “We’ve grown every year. I only have a couple of kids that come with some decent experience. We started a middle school program, but we only have six kids that have come up from that.”
Currently the Techies have 22 freshmen and 12 sophomores on the team. They have just four seniors, two male and two female.
“I’m excited about that,” Graham said. “This is a great opportunity for these kids to get experience and learn.”
The only ranked wrestler in the program currently is sophomore Silas Foster. Foster is ranked No. 18 at 138 pounds.
“My personal goal is to get a state title,” Foster said. “I want to wrap up our schools first state championship and then I want to go out and get two more in my junior and senior seasons.”
Foster has gone to the New Castle semistate as a spectator several times. He has witnessed the emotion of the ticket-round matches and the thrill of the champions being crowned.
There are seven female wrestlers on the Techie squad. Seniors Katelynn Hernandez is ranked No. 3 in the girls’ polls at 132 pounds. Her senior classmate, Carmen Castillo, is ranked No. 10 at 182.
“I’ve had three girls that have been runners-up in the girls state tournament,” Graham said. “I’ve had six placers at girls state. We have four kids wrestling in college right now.”
On the boys side, senior 152-pounder Canaan Miller is the team’s leader.
“In the room he’s really vocal and he works well with the young guys,” Graham said. “He has wrestled all four years for us. He’s pretty tough. We bumped him up against Daleville to wrestle the NO. 9-ranked kid at 160 and he wrestled him pretty well. He’ll scrap with anyone in the state.”
Although the wrestlers on the team come from all different parts of the Indy area, they have been able to bond.
“We’re a very positive, upbeat team,” Graham said. “All the kids are super funny. They cool part of this team is that a lot of them played football together and they have like a brotherhood mentality. We are really close. It’s like a family but we can flip the switch when it comes time to practice and compete.”
The Techies are hoping to build on whatever success they have this year, and in the near future they are hoping to become a strong wrestling program with multiple accolades.
“It has been a long process to go through to become sanctioned by the IHSAA,” Graham said. “After fighting the battle for five years, we finally got in. A lot of our kids didn’t understand how the tournament even worked, especially my new kids. They are excited to be a part of this and to learn from it.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Brady relishes leadership role for Garrett Railroaders
By STEVE KRAH
A can’t-quit attitude has helped Hayden Brady amass impressive numbers as part of a decorated wrestling program at Garrett High School.
With a 9-1 start to the 2022-23 season at Goshen’s RedHawk Super Duals, 5-foot-10 1/2, 126-pound senior Brady is now 102-17 for his career (including 35-6 as a 106-pound freshman state qualifer, 27-4 as a 113-pound sophomore state qualifier and 31-6 as a 120-pound junior fourth-place finisher at the IHSAA State Finals).
He moved past Andrew Wertman (98-65), Trevor Moe (100-31), Beau Schendel (100-19) and Brayden Moreau (100-29) on the Railroaders’ all-time win list.
The Garrett victory call is topped by Brayden Shearer (152-37), followed by Clayton Fielden (141-26), Bryce Schendel (133-25), Beck Davis (127-38), Dylan Demarco (125-46), Zac McCray (125-29), Lance Moe (119-31), Bo Davis (116-39), Hayden Lee (114-7), Blake Davis (112-24) and Chandler Shearer (106-35).
Tenth-year Railroaders head coach Nick Kraus says Brady has the chance to finish his prep mat career as high as No. 3 on the victory list and No. 2 in winning percentage.
Brady has amassed 63 career pins. The school record — held by Fielden — is 84.
“I don’t pay attention to any of that,” says Brady. “I just go out and do my job.”
Kraus was introduced to Brady’s tenacity in the grappler’s first season at Garrett. The coach recalls Brady placing third a Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic as a freshman.
“He had some technique, but it was mostly heart,” says Kraus. “His only loss that year was to (Crown Point’s) Sam Goin (who went on to place fifth at 106, fourth at 126 and first at 152 in the past three State Finals).”
On the second day of the 32-team tournament, Brady earned victories in double overtime and ultimate tiebreaker.
Says Brady, “It was two back-to-back matches that it took me a lot of heart to win.
“He was just fighting and landing on top,” says Kraus. “He is a student so his wrestling has come a long way.
“He was always pretty good when he was in the top position, but neutral (was not special) and he’s recognized that and really, really tried getting better at it. That’s what makes him him.”
Where does he get the drive?
“I’m very, very competitive and just motivated and always striving for better,” says Brady. “I never want to settle for anything less than what I can achieve.”
Kraus encourages Brady to use multiple moves if the match situation allows it.
“If it’s a pretty winnable match — and a lot of them are pretty winnable for Hayden — we might say ‘why don’t you work on this for this match?’ or ‘why don’t you try doing this takedown?’”
This is done so when Brady is in a spot that he won’t be predictable for those scouting his tendencies.
SETL are letters that are associated with Garrett wrestling.
It’s the acronym for a motto that came from Bill Kraus who died when his son was 16 and wrestling in high school.
“My dad had a pretty distinctive voice,” says Nick Kraus. “He’d say ‘Show ‘Em The Lights’ and you knew it was his voice.
Looking for something to brand to program with something of meaning, Nick — who was a Garrett assistant for two years before becoming head coach — adopted SETL.
“It’s kind of funny because my technique wasn’t the best when I was younger,” says Kraus. “I thought you had to pin somebody in wrestling. Beating somebody by points wasn’t much of an option. If I got off the mat and I didn’t win by pin I was kind of disappointed.”
Kraus racked up 31 pins his senior year.
“That’s what we did — ‘Show ‘Em The Lights,’” says Kraus, who counts Mike Poppe, Alex Arney, Tyler Lanning, Josh Buuck and Carlos Aguirre as assistant coaches in 2022-23. “It’s a big part of our culture. In town, people know what it means. It’s printed on shirts. Some kids have SETL tattoos once they’ve graduated.”
Hayden Brady was first shown the mat by his father — former Churubusco wrestler Dennis Brady — and began competing as a middle schooler.
“I thought I’d give it a shot,” says Hayden. “Over the course of the year I kind of fell in love with the sport and started wrestling more and more.”
He was involved in other sports, but gave those up to concentrate on his new love.
Wrestling has given him the opportunity to compete all over the country.
“I’ve been on both coasts several times,” says Brady. “And several other places.”
Hayden was at Churubusco in seventh grade and Central Noble in eighth grade before starting high school at Garrett.
Hayden’s mother — Cassie Phillips — lives in Colorado. Older brother Harrison is in Montana and serving in the U.S. Air Force.
Sister Lillie is a Garrett sophomore and a wrestling manager.
After graduating from Garrett, Brady wants to wrestle in college and pursue an Aviation degree.
Kraus teaches middle school Physical Education and Health at Garrett.
He’s also coached football, helped out with youth baseball and taught high schoolers.
“Middle school is my favorite,” says Kraus. “Some people think that those kids are difficult to work with. I enjoy it. I’m able to get kids to come out and wrestle. P.E. is a pretty fun job. You get to play basketball, football, baseball — whatever — all day.”
He was also an MMA fighter for 11 years.
Kraus admires Brady for his character.
Looking for volunteers to coach at a junior varsity tournament on Nov. 19 at West Noble, Kraus saw Brady give up a free Saturday and don a coaching shirt and help out.
“He was amped up about it and enjoyed coaching,” says Kraus. “He didn’t have to come to that. He chose to wake up super early.
“He is willing to do that for his teammates.”
Brady, who is a team captain, has also taken the time to work with other less-skilled wrestlers and drilled with them in the practice room.
“He’s truly a team player,” says Kraus.
Says Brady, “It’s a leadership thing. I was just showing up for my teammates. Even though they may not be the varsity kids they are the future of our program.”
It’s that kind of attitude that has allowed Garrett to enjoy so much recent team success. The Railroaders won a Class 2A Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Team Duals title in 2021 and were IHSWCA 2A Team Duals runners-up in 2018 and 2020 as well as IHSAA sectional and regional champions in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Garrett also reigned in the Allen County Athletic Conference in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2019 and the Northeast Corner Conference in 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
The 2023 2A IHSWCA State Duals at Jay County is Jan. 7.
There’s also the Al Smith Classic Dec. 29-30, Garrett Invitational Jan. 14 and the NECC Tournament at Eastside Jan. 21 with the Carroll Sectional Jan. 28, Carroll Regional Feb. 4, Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 11 and State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Garrett’s next competition is a home dual at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30 against DeKalb.
“If you get a quality dual meet, you can’t beat the atmosphere and what it does for fans,” says Kraus. “We’re renewing that rivalry. (The Barons) should be pretty good this year and I think we’re pretty good.
“Wednesday night should be fun.”
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Cascade ready for year two under Harris
By JEREMY HINES
The story seems familiar. Big city guy, through fate, ends up in a small town and falls in love with the community. Although Christmas is fast approaching, this isn’t a Hallmark movie script. It’s the real-life journey of Quinn Harris and his Cascade wrestling team.
Harris is a 2015 graduate of Avon High School. Avon’s enrollment is close to 3,000 students. After high school he helped coach at Avon, then coached at Ben Davis, which also has close to 3,000 students. Last year he took the head coaching job at Cascade, a tiny high school in Clayton, IN with an enrollment of under 500.
“There isn’t a whole lot to do here,” Harris said. “It’s a small farm town. 4H and agriculture are huge around here. A lot of kids live and work on the farm. They own pigs. They show pigs. The kids go hunting and fishing. It’s a much different culture than what I’m used to.”
The wrestlers on his Cadet squad like to tease him a little bit about his city-guy life.
“They tease me all the time,” Harris said. “They talk about how my jeans are a little tighter than the other guys.”
The relationship has worked. Last year, in his first season at the helm of the Cadets, Harris led the team to a spot in the team state championship. The Cadets finished sixth at team state, won the Indiana Crossroads Conference for the first time, won a New Castle invitational and had a sectional champion for the first time since 2016.
“All around, I couldn’t have been happier with the year,” Harris said.
Early in the season Harris learned just how close the Cascade wrestling family was.
“Last year, before I accepted the job, they lost a teammate to a disease,” Harris said. “Kadeo Lewis was his name. He would have been a senior last year. It was a big loss for their team. He was a captain as a junior. So, senior night they called it Kadeo Lewis night. We all wore orange in his honor. Orange Cascade shirts when the normal colors are Carolina blue. But the entire crowd was in orange, and it was a big crowd. We sold over 100 shirts that night. It was just a cool thing. Kids that had never went to a wrestling meet before came there. It really showed me that Cascade is a family, for sure.”
Last year Harris was getting to know the team. This year he’s hoping to lead them to the 1A state title. He’s got a nucleus of seven highly talented seniors along with some key underclassmen that could push Cascade to the school’s best season in history.
“This year we have an extremely motivated attitude,” Harris said. “There is a difference in practices. This year they are believing it on their own. They have expectations. Other than cheerleading and cross country, there has never been a team at Cascade that had been to a state championship. The kids are starting to believe it’s possible to win it.”
The Cadets are led by four-ranked seniors. Liam Farmer (182), Michael Hutchison (160) and Dominic McFeeley (126) are all ranked No. 10 in their respective weight classes. Logan Bickel comes in ranked No. 8 at 113 pounds. Walker VanNess isn’t ranked, but he finished the year with a 31-9 record last year at 220 pounds.
“This is a tough senior class,” Harris said. “Five of the seven had over 30 wins last year. Three were semistate guys and one a state qualifier. They are the reason we will have so much success. They are 100 percent leaders. They are our five captains. All five did a lot of off-season wrestling. They went out and competed at Virginia Beach and at Disney.”
Bickel reached the 100-win mark at the end of the season last year. He is a three-time semistate qualifier. He was also the first Fargo All-American from Cascade.
“He’s a big move kind of guy,” Harris said. “He has a lot of fire and passion. He’s a very cool kid and he didn’t even start wrestling until seventh grade. He’s very strong and athletic. I’m looking forward to seeing how far he can go.”
McFeeley was the lone state qualifier from Cascade last year.
“In some people’s eyes that was a big surprise,” Harris said. “He took out a returning 4th place finisher in semistate. He’s one of the hardest workers in our room. He leads day in and day out and he’s very humble. He does things the right way. He really likes working with the younger kids as well.”
Hutchison is another team leader that likes to stay and help the younger kids at practice. He has a brother, Carter, that is the team’s 145 pounder as a sophomore.
Farmer is more of the vocal leader on the team. He was a football phenom this past season as well.
“Liam is a stud on the football field,” Harris said. “He broke our single game rushing record this year. He had a game with seven touchdowns and somewhere around 375 rushing yards. He was in the top 10 in the state for rushing yards.”
Farmer broke his leg in the first round of sectional but is expected to be able to return to the mat sometime in December.
The Cadets expect big contributions this season from Carter Hutchison and fellow sophomore Brayden Burelison as well. Burelison was a conference champion last year and Hutchison was a conference runner-up. Both had over 25 wins as freshmen.
A few other key contributors to this year’s squad will be heavyweight Kyle Sullivan and 106-pound junior Logan Schnarr. Last year Schnarr only had one win going into team state, but he pinned all four of the opponents he faced in the tournament and was named the team MVP.
Harris believes the team state aspect has really helped sell the kids in the sport. It gives them something to be motivated by.
“The kids have really bought into this,” Harris said. “The community really backs the team as well. I think last year we sold around 200 team state T-shirts. When I was at Avon we went to team state, but I didn’t realize how much it meant to the small schools. The fans travel so well in these small communities. It’s extremely cool to see how much this means to them.”
Harris believes because of his young age he has really been able to relate to the kids and help keep them motivated.
“I was just in their shoes not too long ago,” Harris said. “I don’t know exactly what they are going through, but I know what it was like being a kid in high school. I think I’ve built a really good relationship with them on a personal level. Wrestling is about building character for the days after wrestling is over, and I’m glad to be a part of that here.”
The city guy in the small town is learning to adapt. In fact, although he’s never been hunting or fishing before, he’s going to give it a try. The team has been wanting to take him out and teach him some of the small-town ways.
“I’m interested in just about anything, and I’m going to give it a try,” Harris said.
But for now, Harris and the Cascade Cadets have goals to meet on the mat.
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Mikey Robles ready to finish strong
By STEVE KRAH
Sometimes a change of venue is the best thing for a person.
Mikey Robles placed fifth at the Michigan High School Athletic Association State Finals as a Niles High School 103-pound freshman in 2020.
He qualified for the regional stage as a sophomore then had to quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic and saw his season end. His grades began to slip, making him academically ineligible. There were other distractions in his life that caused him to look for a new school.
“It was so I could better my life and move away from all the drama and stuff,” says Robles of his decision to change schools.
The oldest of eight children (four boys and four girls), Robles came to Indiana and Kim Wagley (the grandmother of his girlfriend) became his legal guardian until he turned 18.
“(Wagley) treats him like a son,” says Steven Sandefer, head coach at Mishawaka High School where Robles enrolled after Niles. “She’ll do anything for him. She’s a sweet lady.
“She’s working with us to keep him motivated and on-track and making good decisions. He’s come a long way in the last two years.”
Sandefer, who is in his ninth year as a wrestling coach and sixth leading the Cavemen program, knows what it takes to be successful inside the circle.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” says Sandefer. “You have to have discipline. I say this to my guys weekly: In wrestling and in life you’re going to have to do things you don’t want to do things are not always going to be easy if you want to get where you want to go.
“It reinforces a lot of those bigger life lessons.”
That message has reached Robles.
“Wrestling has helped me be a better person in life,” says Robles. “Since it does come with discipline you show people a lot more respect and it also helps you stay out of trouble.”
Robles was with the Cavemen in 2021-22 but ineligible to compete.
“My grades have gotten back up to where they are pretty good,” says Robles, who counts History as his favorite subject and sees a future as an electrical engineer.
With then-Niles wrestling head coach Todd Hesson bringing his Vikings to Penn’s Henry Wilk Classic, Robles had competed against Mishawaka in the past.
Before joining the team, Mikey was familiar with Cavemen grapplers Christian Chavez, Chris Peacock, Courtney Rider, Gunnar Sandefur and Isaac Valdez.
The 2022-23 season — Robles’ senior campaign — opens with him No. 12 in the Indiana Mat preseason rankings at 138 pounds for a team that is No. 2 in Class 3A.
“When I’m on the mat I just like to get physical,” says Robles, who is 18 now and got started in the sport at 5. “I just love to wrestle. This is my senior year. I want to go as far as I can and leave everything on the mat.”
Sandefer says he saw “flashes of greatness” from Robles last winter and during the off-season, but is not sure he was yet fully in grappling shape.
“He has a lot of room to grow in his wrestling,” says Sandefer.
Many wrestlers progress from the end of one high school season to another.
“When the season gets here you can see the improvements the kids made in the off-season,” says Sandefer. “They get to showcase their talents.
“That’s the real rewarding part.”
Robles’ regular workout partners are 113-pound senior Peacock and 145-pound junior Brabender and — occasionally — 132-pound junior Zar Walker. The coaches he works with most are Sandefer and assistant Fabian Chavez.
“We don’t screw around,” says Robles of their practice room mentality. “We go in their and try to get better.”
The wrestlers teach each other moves and talk about making them more effective.
“Staying in shape and packing on muscle is good,” says Robles, who stands 5-foot-7 1/2. “But it’s really not how strong you are to go out there and win a match.
“I believe technique beats strength any day of the week.”
Four state qualifiers return for Mishawaka — Walker (who placed sixth at 132 in 2021-22 and is ranked No. 2 at 132 in the preseason), seniors Chavez (No. 4 at 195) and Valdez (No. 8 at 170) and Brabender (No. 6 at 145). There’s also senior Xavier Chavez (No. 6 at 106).
They are are part of a large squad of 47 (45 boys and two girls).
“That’s about 10 more than usual,” says Sandefer. “My first year I had 30 kids so it’s come up.
“All 47 kids have shown they’re committed.”
A physical education teacher at Mishawaka, Sandefer leads athletes and others through weight training classes. Most wrestlers are in these classes, learning power movements like the bench press and squat.
“We do pull movements,” says Sandefer. “If you’re on a guy’s leg you want to be able to pull him in.
“We also need that leg strength.”
Practices at Mishawaka began Nov. 1. The first boys meet is slated for Tuesday, Nov. 29 at Northern Lakes Conference foe Warsaw.
Among the other competitions for the Cavemen are the Chris Traicoff Memorial Invitational at Calumet New Tech Dec. 10, a dual against crosstown rival Penn Dec. 21 at Mishawaka (Alumni Night), the 32-team Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 29-30, the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association 3A State Duals Jan. 7 at Franklin Community, the NLC Championships Jan. 14 at Wawasee, Mishawaka Sectional Jan. 28, Penn Regional Feb. 4, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 11 and IHSAA State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
It’s not all about wrestling for Robles. He played football at Niles as a sophomore and Mishawaka as a senior. He was a middle linebacker for the 10-2 Cavemen in 2022. A shortstop/left fielder in baseball, he intends to try out for that sport in the spring. He stepped away from the diamond after eighth grade to focus on wrestling.
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Buttler looking to sprout under the lights
By JEREMY HINES
Whiteland junior Joey Buttler has a knack for gardening. Yes, gardening.
It’s an unusual skill for a teenager in 2022. For Buttler, however, it just makes sense.
Buttler likes to see the literal fruits of his labor. He enjoys knowing the work he puts into something will pay off in the end. He is quite proud of the fact that this year he was able to grow 27 different types of tomatoes. He was able to tend to his apple trees and pear trees, his blueberry, blackberry and honeyberry plants with great success as well. His labor paid off with a bounty of fresh food.
“I really got into gardening a few years ago,” Buttler said. “I was thinking about how people grow their own food and how cool that is. It’s exciting to me to see all the things you can do with your own garden.”
It just makes sense, knowing Buttler’s passion for working hard and seeing that work pay off, that he also gravitated to the sport of wrestling.
Buttler started wrestling a little later than many elite-level grapplers. He got into the sport in seventh grade. He’s felt he was behind other competitors in technique and skill. He decided to work as hard as possible to close that gap.
Saturday Buttler won the Evansville semistate at 126 pounds. He is currently ranked No. 4 in the state and has a 32-1 record.
“I love wrestling,” Buttler said. “I like the fact that you’re going to get what you deserve, whether you agree with it or not. Luck favors the person who works the hardest. It’s a sport where you really work in silence. I like that. And when you achieve your goals, you aren’t happy because of other people’s reactions, you’re happy because you did something for yourself.”
Buttler focused his offseason training on technique. He felt his strength was there with anyone in the weight class, but felt he was lagging behind on the technical side. So, he watched videos, went to different wrestling academies such as Wright Way Wrestling, Outlaws and Contenders.
“I lacked experience compared to a lot of the other guys I go up against,” Buttler said. “I’ve really dialed in on technique. The experience aspect is starting to equalize between me and other kids. I feel a lot more natural now.”
Whiteland coach Anthony Meister says Buttler is the hardest worker in the room.
“He’s always asking questions,” Meister said. “He’s eager to learn. If he could, he would practice seven days a week.”
Another interesting aspect of Buttler’s is that he has an uncanny ability to retain information. That has helped him accumulate a 4.2 GPA and it helps him learn technique quicker than most others on the mat.
“I feel fortunate that I’m naturally gifted in school,” Buttler said. “Information comes into my brain and for some reason I don’t forget it. The ability to not forget things has helped me in wrestling. I can retain knowledge. I watch wrestling content and I don’t ever get tired of it. I keep taking in the information and I am able to retain it.”
Buttler will square off against Adams Central’s Gavin Cook (30-7) on Friday night in the state finals.
Last year Buttler placed eighth at 113 pounds. He’s hoping to improve on that this year.
“My goal is to win state,” he said.
This season Buttler will have a teammate with him at state, something he went at alone in the 2021 campaign. Elijah Brooks qualified at 132 pounds. Brooks and Buttler are practice partners. Last season Brooks got a concussion right before sectional and wasn’t able to compete in the tournament. This year Brooks broke his ankle in December but was able to recover in time to wrestle in sectional.
Brooks is currently 9-6 on the year.
“Eli has made me a better wrestler,” Buttler said. “It’s really cool having him there with me. It was unfortunate he didn’t get the chance last year.”
Meister sees a lot of similarities in the two wrestlers.
“They are both overall good kids and grinders in the room,” Meister said. “I took over the program and this is the first class I’ll have for four years. I put a lot of pressure on them in hopes of turning the program around. I don’t have any seniors on the team, but our club level, middle school and high school numbers are going up and these guys are a big reason why.”
After high school Buttler wants to wrestle in college. His ultimate goal is to win an Olympic medal.
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Traditionally-strong Rochester Zebras blazing new trails in 2021-22
By STEVE KRAH
Rochester was enjoying a super wrestling season going into the second and third stages of the 2022 IHSAA state tournament series.
The Clint Gard-coached Zebras placed second to Tell City (losing 36-33 in the championship match) in the Class 1A Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals (Rochester were 2A State Duals qualifiers in 2015 and 2019) and won the sixth team championship at the Three Rivers Conference meet (2000, 2002, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2022).
Rochester reigned at the Peru Sectional, running the program's all-time sectional title total to 12.
Then came the Zebras’ first regional crown, won at Maconaquah.
After that, Rochester (enrolled around 510) finished on top at the Fort Wayne Semistate.
The Zebras edged out Adams Central 82.5 to 80 and clinched the title with a win in the 285-pound championship bout by senior Marshall Fishback.
“I would have loved to have just loved it without the theatrics at the end,” said Gard, who has been coaching wrestling at Rochester for 26 years. “But we’ll take it any way we can get it.
“These don’t come along very often with schools of our size. It’s taken years to build this. A lot of the kids you’re seeing are kids that wrestled for us in our youth club. It takes a lot to get to this point.”
Gard, who counts Derrick Holloway, Bryce Roberts, Damic Beck and Tristan Wilson among his assistant coaches, notes that the last three Fort Wayne Semistate champions — Western in 2020, Oak Hill in 2021 and Rochester in 2022 — have come out of the Peru Sectional.
“That’s big for our area of the state,” says Gard. “It’s big for our sectional. It’s big for our regional. It’s big for our conference.
“It’s a pretty awesome experience. It’s kids have worked really hard to get there. It was a team effort.”
The Zebras brought eight semistate qualifiers to Memorial Coliseum Saturday, Feb. 12 and four walked out as State Finals qualifiers. There was champion Fishback (41-1 at 285) plus three runners-up — freshman Wyatt Davis (27-4 at 113) and sophomores Alex Deming (41-2 at 195) and Brady Beck (40-2 at 220).
Juniors Ethan Holloway (39-1 at 120), Aaron Swango (33-8 at 126) and Greyson Gard (33-8 at 152) lost in the second aka “ticket” round and senior Kaleb Shaffer (19-12 at 182) was beaten in the first round.
Holloway, Swango, Deming, Beck, Fishback all won TRC, sectional and regional championships. Davis and Gard also placed first at conference and sectional.
Gard has carried a roster of 32 boys and five girls this season.
“We focus on specific things that we like to do as a team,” says Gard of his practices. “Two or three days a week we’ll try to do a game. We do a lot of dodgeball and try to keep things light.”
There’s around 40 wrestlers in Rochester’s middle school program and 60 to 70 at the elementary school level.
Wrestling has long been a big deal at the school that had been a regional site when the IHSAA sent the Zebras toward the Merrillville or East Chicago Semistate (prior to 2017-18).
“We like to put (wrestling) at the forefront in our community,” says Gard, a physical education and strength coach at Rochester after 23 years of teaching math.
Gard is a 1991 of Richmond High School, where he was a state qualifier as a senior. He went on to grapple for head coach Tom Jarman and assistant Rick Troxel at what is now Manchester University.
Historically, Cory Fornal (Class of 2006) is Rochester’s all-time victory leader with 154. He was a state runner-up at 140 as a senior.
No. 2 on the victory list — Damon Hummel (Class of 1994) went to the State Finals four times (qualifier at 189 in 1991, second at 189 in 1992, second at heavyweight in 1993 and third at heavyweight in 1994).
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#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Feeler's ready for one last ride
By JEREMY HINES
No matter what happens in the next couple of weeks, Brandon and Donnie Feeler are going to end a journey the same way they started it – together.
Donnie Feeler is a senior 106-pounder from Crawford County. Brandon is his father and the only coach he has ever had.
“Our situation is a little unique,” Brandon said. “I’ve coached him since he was five years old. We’ve been on this journey for many, many years. It means a lot to both of us, to say the least.”
Brandon still remembers the day Donnie came home from school, waving a flyer about wrestling around and begging to be able to be part of it.
“Donnie was a big fan of WWF wrestling back then,” Brandon said. “He would constantly watch it on TV. At the time we lived in Scottsburg and he brought home this flyer about wrestling – thinking it was going to be jumping off the ropes like they did in WWF. I explained to him what it was, and he was still really eager to go.”
So, Donnie joined wrestling and Brandon started coaching the sport. Brandon had a background in grappling, but he was learning wrestling at the same time he was teaching it to Donnie.
The two dived headfirst into the sport. Brandon would drive Donnie to tournaments across the country. They would have hours together in the car, in the hotels and in the restaurants. They formed a strong bond through the sport.
“Me and my dad, we’ve had our differences,” Donnie said. “But the sport has really grown us closer. It’s not just me out there. It’s him too. We go through the same emotion and the same stress. It’s not easy being a coach of a son. There are times when I just don’t want to train. But it’s good to have a coach that keeps after me and keeps me going.”
Last year Donnie did something that no other kid in the history of his school has accomplished. He qualified for the state tournament.
“There were a lot of emotions when he won his ticket round match,” Brandon said. “He punched his ticket. That was just a real proud moment.”
Qualifying for state put a new fire in Donnie. He didn’t win his Friday night match, but he started working harder than ever before. He and his dad went to tournament after tournament last summer. They hit the mat hard and pushed like never before. The problem was all that wrestling started to burn Donnie out. He questioned whether he wanted to go on.
“I was just burnt out,” Donnie said. “I was exhausted from the off-season wrestling. I just didn’t want to do it anymore.”
Qualifying for state also came with some high expectations for Donnie. His focus seemed to change, according to his dad.
“To some degree he was wrestling for all the wrong reasons,” Brandon said. “He was trying to be the best wrestler for an audience, not for himself. He contemplated whether he even wanted to wrestle his senior year. He did some soul searching and came back with some confidence. He was ready to unlock his potential.”
Donnie said that renewed vigor came from having some talks with his dad.
“That relationship with my father, and just speaking with him and listening to what he had to say – that really helped me regain my focus,” Donnie said.
This year Donnie is coming off a regional championship. He is Crawford County’s first regional champion, and now he’s a two-time champ. He’s ranked No. 12 at 106 pounds and currently has an unblemished 20-0 record. His goal ultimate goal is to be his school’s first-ever state placer in wrestling.
Crawford County has just a handful of wrestlers on the team. In practice Donnie’s only choice is to go up against guys weighing 120-152. But that’s OK. He embraces the David vs. Goliath philosophy. He likes being the underdog. He likes coming from a small school and wrestling the big programs. He likes being counted out.
“I want to win it all,” Feeler said. “But no matter what happens I’m going to give it my all. If all else fails, we gave it a good run and had a fun four years.”
For Brandon, the next few weeks will mark the end of a journey.
“We started his career together and we’re going to finish it together,” Brandon said. “It’s going to be an emotional time, for sure. But we’ve had a heck of a ride.”
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#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Multiplicity of moves favors East Noble senior grappler Sprague
By STEVE KRAH
It may not be for everyone, but the way Aidan Sprague approaches wrestling has been good for him.
“I’m pretty funky and I move on my feet,” says Sprague, an East Noble High School senior. “I’m not the strongest one out there, but I can use my technique and that works in my favor.”
During Sprague’s prep career, the Knights’ postseason path has gone through the Westview Sectional (2019, 2020 and 2021) and West Noble Sectional (2022), Goshen Regional and Fort Wayne Semistate.
As a 106-pound freshmen in 2019, Sprague placed second at sectional and regional, fourth at semistate and was a State Finals qualifier.
As a 113-pound sophomore in 2020, Sprague was a sectional regional champion, semistate runner-up and placed sixth at State.
As a 120-pound junior in 2021, Sprague took sectional, regional and semistate titles and placed sixth at State.
As a 126-pound senior, Sprague heads into the 2022 Fort Wayne Semistate at 35-0 with sectional and regional titles to his credit.
Sam Riesen is in his fourth season as head coach at East Noble after 10 years in charge at Churubusuco High School.
Sprague, a University of Indianapolis commit, tries to follow the coaching staff’s directive during his matches.
“I really cut a lot of people and they just want me to look as sharp as I possibly can on my feet,” says Sprague. “I get most of my tech falls like 20-5.
“They want me to get as many takedowns as I can. I love it because I have a good mindset about it. It gets me in better shape. I’m drilling different types of takedowns almost like it’s like a practice.”
How many takedowns are in Sprague’s bag of tricks?
“I do five or six consistently,” says Sprague. “Then I’ll throw some tricky ones out there every once in a while.
“It’s important to have a lot of stuff. When you only have one or two good things you become one-dimensional. That’s really when people can game plan against you. If everybody knows I have a good dump, they’re not going to let me tie up.
“It’s so much harder to wrestle someone if they have multiple good moves.”
Sprague grew up in Kendallville and began wrestling in the sixth grade. When he did not place in the middle school conference meet as a sixth or seventh grader, he spoke with his father Adam about becoming more serious about the sport and put basketball aside.
As an eighth grader, he was a conference champion and a state qualifier.
“Aidan is just an extremely focused, driven kid,” says Riesen. “He sets his mind to a goal and really gives everything he can to accomplish it.”
Sprague plans to study Social Studies at UIndy with plans on being a teacher and coach.
“It’s awesome to see a young guy going into education at a time where you don’t see colleges filled with people graduating with degrees in teaching,” says Riesen. “It’s exciting to see that.
“He and his brother have super-supportive parents (in Adam and Susan Sprague, who both teach in the West Noble system).”
Aidan Sprague is a three-sport athlete — outside linebacker and team captain in football, wrestling and pole vaulter with a personal best of 12-foot-6 on the track and field team.
Alex Sprague is a 170-pound freshman wrestler and is also in band.
“His parents are running them all over,” says Riesen. “They find the time to get them to wrestling practices all over the area during the off-season.
“They go that extra mile to make sure he gets everything he needs.”
Aidan has traveled to Indianapolis Cathedral to train with the Outlaws.
While Riesen doesn’t name captains, Sprague has essentially filled that role.
“He’s a natural leader,” says Riesen. “The team has followed him in a lot of ways — like in terms of attitude. He’s a light-hearted kid but he gets focused when he needs to. That really rubs off on the team.”
“He’s pretty special in the fact that he doesn’t just have one go-to move. He’s constantly scoring and looking at different techniques and takedowns.
“In practice, he’s just always innovating and trying new things.”
East Noble assistant coach Austin Moore, a State Finals qualifier at Central Noble in 2017 and 2018, is a frequent workout partner for Sprague.
“They do a lot of play wrestling, water wrestling — whatever you want to call it,” said Riesen. “They wrestle through and find different positions.
“There’s really a lot of spots where he’s pretty comfortable.”
Aidan Sprague is a three-sport athlete (outside linebacker and team captain in football, wrestling and pole vaulter with a personal best of 12-foot-6 on the track and field team.
Alex Sprague is a wrestler and is also in the school band.
“His parents are running them all over,” says Riesen. “They find the time to get them to wrestling practices all over the area during the off-season.
“They go that extra mile to make sure he gets everything he needs.”
Aidan has traveled to Indianapolis Cathedral to train with the Outlaws.
While Riesen doesn’t name captains, Sprague has essentially filled that role.
“He’s a natural leader,” says Riesen. “The team has followed him in a lot of ways — like in terms of attitude. He’s a light-hearted kid but he gets focused when he needs to. That really rubs off on the team.”
“He’s pretty special in the fact that he doesn’t just have one go-to move. He’s constantly scoring and looking at different techniques and takedowns.
“In practice, he’s just always innovating and trying new things.”
East Noble assistant Austin Moore, a State Finals qualifier at Central Noble in 2017 and 2018, is a frequent workout partner for Sprague.
“They do a lot of play wrestling, water wrestling — whatever you want to call it,” said Riesen. “They wrestle through and find different positions. There’s really a lot of spots where he’s pretty comfortable.”
“His freshmen year we butted heads a little and had some debates on which way he should go in terms of being more funky or more traditional.”
As Sprague has progressed and enjoyed success, the coaching staff has resisted pigeon-holing the wrestler and let do what feels and works best for him.
Riesen says the first eight minutes of practice are devoted to “roll around” — which allows the athletes to try different positions and finishes and figuring out how to get out of certain spots.
“I think it really has helped a lot of our kids,” says Riesen. “One thing we do really well as a staff is allow kids to explore different wrestling positions and options and figure out what works for them.”
Popular among other wrestlers, Sprague has been called “The People’s Champion.”
“He’s a great kid beyond being an obviously very talented wrestler,” says Riesen. “He’s been an awesome kid to have these last four years.”