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#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: A champ at the national level, New Prairie’s Carroll finally competes in high school
(Photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
By STEVE KRAH
Christian Carroll took care of business in the first three bouts of his high school career, earning pins in 13, 14 and 10 seconds against Wawasee, Peru and Hamilton Heights.
The New Prairie High School junior 220-pounder made his debut as a Cougar at the Jan. 8 Class 2A Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals at Martinsville.
A knee injury kept Carroll out of action during his freshman year at Penn (2019-20). When he transferred to New Prairie after the first semester of his sophomore year (2020-21), he was required to sit out for a year. That made him eligible at the end of this past week.
Not that Carroll is a newbie on the mat scene. With two Super 32 titles and a Junior Freestyle Nationals crown to his credit, he is among the top-ranked grapplers at his weight in the country.
He has committed to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to wrestle and study Finance in the Wharton School of Business.
“Instead of thinking about my next four years, I’m thinking about my next 40,” says Carroll, 18. Each Quaker grappler in the Wharton School is assigned an alumni mentor and his is David Pottruck. “I’ve always been curious about stocks and how to use money. I have an entrepreneur mindset.”
Christian is the youngest of Tony and Erin Carroll’s five children behind John, Jill, Ben, Cassidy and Katie. Tony Carroll works in finance with Aldi Foods. Erin Carroll is employed as a nursing home activity director at West Woods of Niles (Mich.).
Christian grew up in the Jimtown area of Elkhart and started wrestling at age 5. He began to really take the sport seriously as an eighth grader in the Penn system at Schmucker Middle School.
Over the years, Carroll has developed a mentality that is apparent to New Prairie head coach Bobby Whitenack.
“He has a passion for the sport,” says Whitenack. “He has an intensity at practice and goes hard all the time.
“He’s truly engaged every minute.”
The athlete expects extra effort out of himself.
“What you work for is what you get,” says Carroll. “There are no free lunches in this world.
“That’s why I love wrestling. There’s no politics. It’s just you and the other guy battling on the mat.”
Since joining the New Prairie program, Carroll has taken to the Whitenacks, especially Bobby and son/senior heavyweight Hunter.
“(Coach Whitenack’s) a great role model,” says Carroll. “For him, it’s more about life (than wrestling). He cares about our well-being. He preaches so much about life.
“How are you not excited to wrestle for a guy like that? He creates a family culture. That’s not a cliche.’ It’s real.”
Hunter Whitenack, who is committed to study and play football at the University of Illinois, is a workout partner for Carroll and a team leader.
“What’s awesome about Hunter is he’s in that big brother role,” says Carroll. “He’s always motivating, always positive and let’s get this job done. He guided me through the system being a new kid.
“It’s about brotherhood. He doesn’t have to risk an injury for football. He puts his team and his community above himself.”
Bobby Whitenack is a special education teacher and a 1999 New Prairie graduate. He came back from Manchester University, where he played football, to assistant Cougars head coach Wes Hobart then took over the program in 2010-11 and surpassed the 300-win plateau this season.
“I reflect on how many people who made that happen — all the adults and wrestlers,” says Whitenack of the milestone.
The coach has two sons in his lineup with freshman Hayden Whitenack at 132.
What Carroll enjoys most about New Prairie is being part of a team in wrestling and an active student.
“I release my knowledge and disperse as much as I can,” says Carroll of his relationship with wrestling mates. “We have a lot of sponges in the room. It’s a good atmosphere. There’s a certain standard in the room — leaving it all out on the mat.
“I don’t think there’s a point in holding back (in class). I have a Type A personality. Communication flows and that is a good way to learn. Fear is False Evidence That Appears Real. I’m not afraid to fail (in wrestling or life). My aspirations are so much higher.”
Whitenack appreciates Carroll’s willingness to give.
“He’s really good at helping others,” says the coach. “He can work with any kid in the room and give them pointers. It’s a peer review. It’s different from hearing from a coach. He leads by example. You can’t say it if you’re not doing it yourself.”
Away from New Prairie, Carroll works out with Chris Fleeger at Midwest RTC in New Carlisle.
“He’s a technician,” says Carroll of Fleeger, who was a three-time All-American at Purdue University, Big Ten champion and trained at the U.S. Olympic Center. “He’s instilled a lot of morals in my brain and life perspective.”
In the past year, Carroll is placed second at the World Trials. At the nationals, he won every bout by pin or technical fall except for one. In September, he competed in the Flo Wrestling Who’s No. 1 and lost a 3-2 nail-biter super match to heavyweight Nick Feldman, an Ohio State University commit from Malvern Prep in Pennsylvania.
Carroll’s Super 32 titles have come at 195 (2020) and 220 (2021).
Christian stands 5-foot-11 now, but he anticipates a growth spurt since his father and uncles are in 6-2 to 6-3 range and big guys.
Whitenack, who has about 50 on his roster, has his wrestlers attack the season in two portions.
“The beginning of season gets you ready,” says Whitenack. “We want to peak at sectional.”
New Prairie once competed in Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic, but opted for super duals like the one at Lafayette Jeff.
“Our average kids got better and that set us up to have more success in the postseason,” says Whitenack. “We want to go into sectional with the right mindset. We want everybody moving in the right direction.”
Chris Carroll is now a part of that mix.
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Bluffton’s Bertsch has sights set on making history
By STEVE KRAH
Landon Bertsch did not start wrestling in elementary as some top performers do. He was a swimmer in elementary school.
Then as a sixth grader, he met up with Ben Sprunger.
The winningest grappler in Bluffton High School history, Sprunger came back to his hometown to teach middle school Physical Education after college and began introducing youngsters to wrestling.
“For me it’s about numbers,” says Sprunger. “It’s about getting as many kids out, motivating them, getting them in love with the sport and continuing to develop them.”
That strategy worked with Bertsch.
“I fell in love with it,” says Bertsch. “It took me awhile to get good at it.”
By the time he reached high school, Bertsch was getting pretty good on the mat. A 132-pound Bluffton Tigers senior in 2021-22, he is a three-time IHSAA State Finals performer (qualifier in 2019 at 113 with a 39-3 record, qualifer in 2020 at 126 with 42-2 mark and sixth-place finisher in 2021 at 126 with a 24-2 ledger). His career mark 10 bouts into his final prep season was 115-7.
“He lives for wrestling,” says Sprunger of Bertsch. “That’s his thing. He puts a lot of effort into it.
“He has the grit and the toughness you can’t always coach, It’s that X Factor. Either you have it or you don’t.”
Sprunger, who is in his sixth season as Bluffton head coach, finished his high school career at 139-10 and placed three times at the State Finals — seventh at 125 as a sophomore in 1998, second at 125 as a junior in 1999 and first at 130 as a senior in 2000.
Bertsch, who also trains with the club at Bellmont and at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, has the chance to catch and pass Sprunger on the victory list and become Bluffton’s first four-time state qualifier.
For Bluffton, the IHSAA tournament series goes through the Jay County Sectional and Jay County Regional and Fort Wayne Semistate.
“I don’t plan on losing this year,” says Bartsch, who went 6-0 in the Allen County Athletic Conference Duals Saturday, Dec. 11 at Jay County and is 10-0 on the season. “I just want to be the best.
“My coach helps me and encourages me.”
It’s confidence that Bertsch has taken with him in each of his previous State Finals appearances.
“What goes through my mind is that these guys are not better than me,” says Bertsch. “They are the same level. I can beat every single guy here.”
As a freshmen, he was pinned by eventual fifth-placer David Pierson of Warren Central in the first round.
As a sophomore, Monrovia’s Ben Dalton edged him 6-4 in the Friday match on the way to seventh place.
“That still haunts us a little bit,” says Sprunger of the late takedown that eliminated Bertsch in 2020.
In 2021, he beat Wawasee’s Branden Dilley by technical fall in the first round and lost 5-3 to eventual runner-up Cheaney Schoeff of Avon in the second round on the way to sixth.
What about the down time between matches at a big meet?
“I mess around with my friends and let my body relax,” says Bartsch. “It helps me stay calm and not get too anxious or too excited.
“When it’s time to wrestle. it’s ‘go time’ again and I’m get ready to go.”
As his high school days have progressed, Bertsch has gotten bigger and become a tough defender and attacker.
“He’s growing up a little bit and filling out,” says Sprunger. “He’s stubborn on his feet. He won’t give up takedowns. If he’s on top, he’s a beast. He’s tough on his feet, too.
“He’s not scared of any opponent or any situation.”
Bertsch counts junior Austin Lewis — a returning state qualifer at 120 now at 145 — as a regular workout partner.
“They make each other better,” says Sprunger. “They both have a hunger to wrestle.”
The coach also rolls with the Tigers in practice, including Bertsch.
“He’s crazy,” says Bertsch of Sprunger. “He beats up on all of us.”
Bertsch notes that Sprunger keeps him honest and he makes it a point to stay in position.
“It allows you to set up and make shots and it allows you to have a good defense,” says Bertsch. “You’ve got to have good balance to be in good position. You’ve got to keep moving.”
When Bertsch moves on from Bluffton, he plans to go to college as an engineering major and wrestler. He has not yet decided on which school. His favorite high school subject is math and he’s looking forward to Calculus next semester.
Landon’s father — former middle school wrestler Matt Bertsch — is a civil engineer and owner at Bertsch-Frank & Associates LLC, a land surveying and construction engineering company located in Fort Wayne where his oldest son did an internship last summer.
Adams Central High School graduates Matt and Elizabeth Bertsch have three children — Landon, sophomore Alydia, eighth grader Eli and fifth grader Addie.
#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.”
#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.”
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Goshen’s Detwiler has turned himself into strong mat competitor
By STEVE KRAH
Goshen High School junior wrestler Laish Detwiler is 75-11 over the past two seasons (35-9 in 2021-22 and 40-2 so far in 2022-23) and is heading into his second IHSAA Fort Wayne Semistate Saturday, Feb. 11.
Detwiler has been involved with the mat sport since seventh grade. But something changed his sophomore campaign.
“Last year I started taking this seriously,” says Detwiler. “I wrestled throughout middle school but I wasn’t very good. Last year I just put my mind to getting better.
“I don’t have that much time left in high school and I just have to change something. I just had to push myself and start working harder.”
Detwiler, who competed as a light 195-pound freshman and 170-pound sophomore, is now at 182 as a junior.
This season he is 2-1 against NorthWood senior Kaden Lone with a 4-2 loss in the Northern Lakes Conference finals, a 3-2 win in the Elkhart Sectional championship match and a 3-1 loss in the Goshen Regional finals. Lone (38-4) is a three-time semistate qualifier who placed seventh at the 2022 State Finals.
“He’s a hard worker,” says RedHawks coach Jim Pickard of Detwiler. “He had never played football until this year and by the end of the year was a two-way starter (making 41 total tackles at defensive end and 23 carries as a running back). He’s become very athletic. He’s learned a lot and put some time in.”
Detwiler drew Jay County junior Bryce Werk (30-6) as his first-round semistate opponent. The winner of the match faces the winner of Maconaquah sophomore Austin Ringeisen (39-2) and Fort Wayne Carroll sophomore William Jeffries (25-7).
The 182 field also features Fort Wayne Snider sophomore De’Alcapon Veazy (34-1) and Monroe Central senior Hunter Page (35-0).
Detwiler will be at Memorial Coliseum with five teammates — junior Cole Hinkel (39-5 at 113), senior Camden Wiese (32-6 at 126), senior Nolan Castaneda (32-11 at 138), junior Jonathon Flores (32-10 at 160) and senior Marcus Castaneda (31-10) at 170.
In the 2021-22 state tournament series, Detwiler competed at 170 and was a runner-up to Jimtown senior Landon Buchanan at the Elkhart Sectional and Goshen Regional.
At the Fort Wayne Semistate, Detwiler beat Fort Wayne Bishop Luers’ Mason Daring then lost in the “ticket round” to Eastern of Greentown’s Brodie Porter, who went on to top Buchanan in the semistate finals.
Porter and Buchanan placed second and fifth, respectively, at the 2022 State Finals.
“His losses last year were very quality,” says Pickard. “He’s turned it on this year.”
Leadership is another of Detwiler’s assets.
“A lot of it is leading by example and making sure I’m always doing the right thing,” says Detwiler. “I’m pushing my teammates when they’re having an ‘off’ day and making sure they’re still getting through their workouts.”
After going 15-10 overall and 4-4 in the NLC in 2022-23, Pickard has 517 career dual victories and is in 30th season at Goshen.
“It’s still that different connection with the kids that you get,” says Pickard of why he continues to coach. “I enjoy it. I think I’ve built a decent program here.”
He served as an assistant principal for eight or nine years while leading GHS wrestling and took on athletic director duties toward the end of the 2021-22 season.
With Josh Abbs, Tom Gangwer, Taylor Grim, Matt Katzer, Eric Kilmer, Greg Mueller, Travis Pickard and Troy Pickard as assistant coaches this season, the RedHawks are using a new hashtag on apparel and social media — #fightforsix.
“It encompasses it all,” says Jim Pickard. “Don’t give up. Go for six full minutes and when you can go for six points (for a pin).”
Detwiler has taken his head coach’s guidance to heart.
“Coach Pickard has given me a lot of advice,” says Detwiler. “The main thing he tells me is to keep my head up and keep working hard in practice no matter what.”
Besides wrestling and football, the 5-foot-10 Detwiler enjoys lifting weights.
“I’ve gotten a lot stronger,” says Detwiler. “I wasn’t very strong my freshman year and then I started hitting the gym my sophomore year and it translated into getting better.”
Grim is also a strength and condition specialist at Goshen and has his athletes doing traditional lifts like squat, bench press, deadlift and clean and jerk.
“He’s really helped us with technique a lot,” says Detwiler of Grim. “He’s always in there pushing us to make sure we’re on-task.”
Detwiler is a strong student. He carries a 3.7 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and is considering pursuing wrestling and sports medicine in college.
Laish — a name that comes from the Old Testament — is the second of Aaron and Renita Detwiler. Sister Emma is a college freshman. Brother Judah is 9.
“My dad got me into wrestling,” says Laish of his father’s mat experiences in Pennsylvania and Virginia. “He wrestled his whole life so he is a big inspiration for me.”
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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.
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Jimtown’s Buchanan focuses on mental game, stays positive for teammates
By STEVE KRAH
Landon Buchanan landed back on top at the Elkhart Sectional after being forced to injury default in the finals in 2021.
Buchanan, a Jimtown High School senior, moved to 33-2 on the 2021-22 season with a second-period pin victory in Saturday’s finals.
A sectional runner-up at 160 a year ago, he was first at 145 in 2020 and second at 145 in 2019.
A Fort Wayne Semistate champion and eighth-place finisher at the State Finals in 2021, he lost in the second round at semistate in 2020 and the first round at semistate in 2019.
Buchanan talks about his senior season.
“I haven’t worked too much on technique,” says Buchanan. “I think I have the technique. It’s just more mental for me. It’s knowing what I need to get to and pushing myself.”
Like many successful grapplers, Buchanan started focusing on the sport before high school.
“It all kind of changed in middle school,” says Buchanan. “I started coming in with the high school (team) and see how they practice. I really made a jump there. I learned how to practice with (Martin Moyer).”
Buchanan was a standout for Jimtown’s 9-3 football team in the fall.
“It took awhile to get into the rhythm of things,” says Buchanan of the transition from gridiron to mat in the fall. “The conditioning is a lot different.”
While he is not sure where, Buchanan does plan to wrestle in college and will likely study business.
“I’m trying to find the best fit for me,” said Buchanan. “
While he likes to do well as an individual, he also cares about being part of a team which had six weight class winners (himself plus junior Alex Moyer at 106, senior Aaron DeLaLuz at 120, junior Mikey Kallimani at 126, senior Noah Eberhart at 138 and junior Conner Watts at 145) and lost to Elkhart by a whisker (223.5 to 223) for the 2022 sectional team championship.
“We have guys with so many different wrestling styles — we’ve got strong guys, fast guys, funky guys,” says Buchanan, who moves on to the Feb. 5 Goshen Regional. “We’ve got everything you need.”
Jimmies head coach Jerimiah Maggart encourages Buchanan to be a team leader.
“I just encourage my teammates,” says Buchanan. “They all know what they need to do. I’m yelling for them and getting excited.
“When I’m not in matches I’m on the sideline just like my coaches.”
Maggart appreciates the example Buchanan sets.
“He’s not loud, but he’ll do anything to help his teammates, which is awesome” says Maggart. “He leads by example. He never misses practice and he works. He stays after practice and helps the little kids every time.”
Maggart also sees an athlete that is focused on his goals.
“He’s got the determination and drive and he’s very level-headed,” says Maggart. “You know that when some kids lose you can’t talk two them for a few minutes. I could walk right up to him and talk to him.
“He gets it. He’s easy to coach and break things down. That’s really one of the coolest things.”
Landon is the third of Eric and Judy Buchanan’s four children. His older siblings are Mitchell Smith and Cheyenne Smith. His younger brother is Hayden Buchanan.
“He’s 10 and he’s a pretty tough wrestler,” says Landon.
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Lakeland record setter Miller hoping to break through in state tournament
Photo by Nathaniel Labhart
By STEVE KRAH
Lakeland High School senior Ben Miller won his third Northeast Corner Conference wrestling title Saturday, Jan. 22 at Lakeland.
Miller, who has a single-season school record 74 takedowns to go with 118 career victories — 26 as a freshman, 28 as a sophomore, 27 as a junior and 37 as a senior — took his late NECC championship at 145 pounds. Ehren Misner, a 1991 graduate, leads the Laker win list with 136. Miller was previously thought to have gone to No. 1 using win-percentage projections from missed matches during the 2020-21 season.
After a 10-6 loss to Prairie Heights senior Sam Levitz in the Dec. 4 NECC Super Dual, Miller came back Saturday for a pin in 1:32 that secured Miller’s latest NECC crown.
“(Levitz) is very strong and he likes to get me out of my position so I just had to hold it,” said Miller. “I made up that loss and I want to keep continuing from this and go for that (State Finals) podium.
“It’ll be important that I don’t take short cuts.”
Said Lakeland head coach Kevin Watkins of the Miller-Levitz rematch, “Those are two high-profile wrestlers. Ben’s been thinking about redemption all season.”
The state tournament series opens for Miller and his teammates Saturday, Jan. 29 at the West Noble Sectional. The Feb. 5 Goshen Regional and Feb. 12 Fort Wayne Semistate follow that.
Miller, who competed at 113 as a freshman, 120 as a sophomore and 138 as a junior and put on more muscle as a senior, has competed at the Fort Wayne Semistate three times, but has not yet broken through to the State Finals (this year’s event is Feb. 18-19 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis).
As a junior, Miller pinned his way to the title at the Westview Sectional. He was a runner-up with two pins at the Goshen Regional.
It was as a Lakeland seventh grader Miller became focused the mat sport.
“I went to one outside tournament and I got beat,” said Miller, who moved from LaGrange to Fort Wayne and back before starting his wrestling career. “That’s when I said if I want to be good I have to go to all of these different things.
“That’s when I really took it serious.”
Miller tends to grapple with three Lakers in the practice room with junior Gabe Miller (138), Brady Schiffli (152) and Keagan Schlabach (126). All three placed in the NECC meet, brother Gabe Miller and Schlabach placing second and Schiffli fourth.
“I’ll roll around with Keegan to get my speed up.” said Miller. “(My brother) is really good at holding his position. I have to fight really hard to get my takedowns and everything. (Schiffli) is strong and relentless so I have to be on my game every practice. I can’t just be sloppy in my practice moves.”
There’s an intensity between the Miller brothers on the mat. But that goes away off it.
“It gets kind of heated in the practice room,” said Ben Miller. “But when we get out of practice we’re friends. We’re cool and everything.”
After the NECC meet, Schlabach is 33-6 and Ben Miller 29-3.
Ben and Gabe’s father is Wayne Miller. Mother Kathy Miller lives in Fort Wayne. There two older sisters — Hadassah and Audrey— and an older brother, Jaden Miller, who introduced Ben to wrestling. The Longs — including former Lakeland head coach Charlie — got Jaden into the sport.
Watkin was a four-time Michigan high school state finalist and won a 152-pound state title for the Dale Wentela-led Constantine Falcons in 2000.
What has made Miller a better wrestler this year than last in the coach’s eyes?
“He learns,” said Watkins. “He’s a student of wrestling. He breaks down his own matches. I’ll build my report and he’ll built his and they’re usually pretty much the same.
“He’s a very easy kid to coach. Even in matches he loses he never hangs his head. He goes to the drawing board, figures out what he did wrong and he fixes that. He’s just that type of kid.”
Watkins, who was on the U.S. Marine wrestling team and served in the Corps for a decade, admires Miller’s drive and work ethic.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever yelled at him,” said Watkins. “He’s a great kid.”
After high school, Ben Miller sees himself flipping houses.
“I’ve been in construction trades for two years now,” said Miller. “That gives me experience and my dad has experience so he’ll teach me.”
The house built by Lakeland students goes to the non-profit organization — Agape Missions of LaGrange County.
“They have really cheap rent for people who are struggling,” said Miller. “They can stay there for three months until they’re back on their feet.”
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#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: LaPorte’s Jackson likes to light up the scoreboard
By STEVE KRAH
If Ashton Jackson gets his way, scoreboard operators are kept plenty busy during his matches.
The LaPorte High School junior wrestler prefers to stay on the offensive and put points on the board.
Jackson, who earned the Slicers first state title since 189-pounder Matt Graham in 1994 when he reigned in the 2021 IHSAA State Finals at 106, sums up his plan as he looks ahead to the rest of the 2021-22 season at 113.
“It’s about scoring points, not being sloppy and keeping up the rate of attack,” says Jackson. “I want to work my moves and get on and off the mat. Like Dan Gable said: “I shoot, I score. He shoots, I score.”
“I’m chugging away to the state series. I haven’t really been taken into deep waters yet. I’m really looking forward to that.”
Through the Dec. 18 Munster Super Dual where he and LaPorte seniors Caden Ellenberger (145) and Noah Salary (152) went 5-0, Jackson is 21-0. The only match to go the distance was a major decision against Crown Point.
Next up for Jackson and the Slicers is the Dec. 29-30 Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka.
“Those should be mostly tight matches and I can test myself,” says Jackson. “I’m looking forward to the fight.”
Looking back, Jackson went 35-2 in 2020-21, including 4-0 at the State Finals in Indianapolis after going out in the “ticket round” at the East Chicago Semistate as a 35-8 freshman.
“Going through the East Chicago Semistate, the Duneland (Athletic Conference) and northwest Indiana, it’s high-quality stuff and we pride ourselves in battling at that level,” says LaPorte head coach Louie Kuzdas, a 1986 LaPorte graduate in his 26th season as head coach 32nd on the Slicers staff and physical education/health teacher at the school.
It was last season that one of his young teammates brought up a potential mat milestone.
“I’m close to 100 career wins and everybody talks about,” says Jackson, who is 91-10 ???. “It’s something cool to have. But it’s not the end-all, be-all.”
The current season opened Nov. 26-27 for Jackson and his teammates as Jackson went 9-0 as the 113-pound champion at the Goshen RedHawk Super Dual.
“He’s been traveling all over the country getting some elite mat time,” says Kuzdas. “He’s just living and breathing wrestling right now. It’s what you need to do to be at that top level.”
Jackson went to the Freestyle Nationals in Fargo, N.D., and Super 32 in Greensboro, N.C.
“It wasn’t that successful an offseason,” says Jackson, who also trains in LaPorte and Elite Athletic Club in Lake Station and went with the Warren Central squad to the Disney Duals in Orlando, Fla. “That’s just motivation for this season to prove myself and prove what I can do.”
Kuzdas looks to Jackson as a team leader.
“He takes young’uns under his wing and walks them through different steps,” says Kuzdas. “He’s very, very interested in learning more about the sport.
“After winning (a state championship) as a sophomore, we sat down and discussed that he’s already accomplished something that a lot of people don’t. But you still don’t know everything. He agreed 100 percent.”
Says Jackson, “I’m just staying persistent in my training and having faith in my coaches and my teammates who’ve guided me along the way. Coach (Kuzdas) definitely pushes aggression. You’ve just got to fight. That’s the beauty of wrestling. It’s you and the other guy. The better-prepared man’s going to win.”
Practice partners include freshman Josh England (120) and Landyn Hunt (126), junior Thomas Adred (126) and assistant coach Ian Barclay.
“I think I stay in pretty good position,” says Jackson. “And I know if I don’t try my best it’s a loss.”
Adam Jackson — Ashton’s father — was Kuzdas’ first state qualifier as LaPorte head coach, making it to Indy as a 135-pound junior in 1997.
Crediting his father for his work ethic and sense of urgency on the mat.
“He’s really involved, but not so involved to the point that it’s overbearing,” says Ashton. “He holds me to high standards — which is good.”
Damen Jackson, a 2015 graduate of John Glenn High School, is a Glenn assistant this season after teaching and coach at Warren Central. He was there for Ashton at the beginning of little brother’s wrestling career.
“When I was little he’d always help me out a kid tournaments,” says Ashton. “He was being a big brother and showed me nuances that little novice me wasn’t aware of at the time.”
Ashton’s mother is New Prairie High School graduate Nacole and has two younger siblings in LaPorte — sophomore/sister Bailey
and sixth grader/brother Brayden.
Jerry Jackson, a 1982 LaPorte graduate, was a three-time state qualifier at 185 with a state crown in 1981 and third-place finish in 1982.
“He’s no relation,” says Ashton. “But he’s a pretty cool dude.”
#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.
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Monroe Central’s first state placer as sophomore, Page shining at start of junior season
By STEVE KRAH
Hunter Page loves it on a wrestling mat. But he hasn’t spent too much time there when at match time so far in 2021-22.
Page, a Monroe Central High School junior 182-pounder, won the 2021 East Central Indiana Classic title Dec. 23 to move to 17-1 (13 pins and a major decision).
“I shoot first,” says Page. “I don’t wait around.”
Page, whose current current record in 85-14, was the first IHSAA State Finals placer in Monroe Central history when he came in sixth at 182 in 2021.
Brett Hodson (Monroe Central Class of 1985) and Calvin Combs (Monroe Central Class of 1988) represented MC as seniors then Logan Swallow (Monroe Central Class of 2020 made it there as a junior and senior.
“The community was completely behind Hunter last year,” says second-year Golden Bears head coach Andy Richardson. “Last year was an unusual year with restraints on the number we could have in the audience (because of the COVID-19 pandemic). At least we were able have a season. Illinois didn’t have a season.”
Richardson is watching Page have another strong campaign.
“Hunter’s just a hard worker,” says Richardson, who was a Monroe Central assistant for two years before becoming head coach. “Last year, he surprised some people.
“He’s a grinder and not real flashy. He’s a strong kid and very athletic.”
Page is also coachable, taking information and applying it.
“He’s a sponge,” says Richardson. “He’s bought into our blue collar approach. We’re going to work and we’re going to win.”
Richardson is a 1993 Muncie Southside High School graduate who was a freshman on the 1990 state championship team which featured senior Tony Abbott (now head coach at Cowan High School).
Including the U.S. Navy (he served for 11 years) and stints with Bob Brennan at Zionsville, Mike Smitson at Greenwood and Brett Clark and Gary Schliessman at Delta, Richardson has coached 26 years.
Noah Richardson, Andy’s son, is a 2017 Delta graduate and current Monroe Central assistant. He and cousin/two-time state qualifer Scottie Evans were both 100-match winners as Eagles.
Though Page can put points on the scoreboard, Andy Richardson says he is content to win close, low-scoring matches.
“We go after that first takedown,” says Richardson. “It’s something we preach — set the tone. I want (opponents) to react to us, not react to them.
“(Senior 160-pounder Jonah Jones) does that, too. I think he’s going to have some real success this year.”
Jones is a regular workout partner.
“He’s quick and technical,” says Page of Jones, who shares team captain duties with Page and senior Peyton Tinsman.
“I try to lead by example,” says Page. “I help show moves (to others).”
Page grappled at 160 and 170 as a freshman and went 32-6. He posted a 36-7 mark at 182 as a sophomore.
The 6-footer is still at 182 this year, but with more strength.
“I was in the weight room a lot this year,” says Page, who as a defensive lineman enjoying breaking through the line making 34 total tackles with eight for loss and one quarterback sack in helping Monroe Central football go 10-1 in the fall.
Page started school at Union (Modoc) and came over to Monroe Central in third grade. His first real exposure to the mat came in the Golden Bear Wrestling Club.
Page, who lives on a farm near Modoc, is considering either Architecture or Agriculture for a college major and might wrestle as well if the situation is right.
His father is Tink. His mother is Jennifer. Siblings are Lexi (20), Destiny (6) and Leo (6).
Jennifer’s boyfriend, Nick Terharr (Monroe Central Class of 2004), was the Delta Sectional champion at 171 in 2004.
“Nick helps me out with my singles,” says Page. “Andy kind of polished it up.”
Uncle Zeb Doss, who wrestled at Winchester, also offers occasional mat advice.
The lone loss this season for Page came Dec. 22 in Fort Wayne Snider Duals against Snider freshman D’Alcapon Veazy.
Monroe Central’s next match is a Jan. 4 dual at Southern Wells. The Randolph County meet is Jan. 15 at Winchester. The Mid-Eastern Conference meet is Jan. 22 at Cowan.
The Golden Bears’ postseason path includes the Delta Sectional Dec. 29, Jay County Regional Feb. 5 and Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 12 with the State Finals Feb. 18-19 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
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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.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Peru’s May hopes to reap dividends of varied mat experience
By STEVE KRAH
An increase in aggressiveness and confidence has Peru High School’s Jalen May shooting for high achievement in his second high school wrestling season.
The son three-time IHSAA State Finals Placer Nic May (sixth in 2000-2001 at 103 pounds; third at 112 in 2001-02 and second at 112 in 2002-03, losing in the finals to Lawrence North’s Reece Humphries), Tigers sophomore Jalen May gets plenty of encouragement and pointers from his father.
“He always tells me to work hard,” says Jalen of his father who is No. 2 on the all-time Peru win list at 159-5 (2005 graduate Daric Fuller is tops at 168-16). “He would do anything to wrestle again. He tells me all the work will be worth it. Only I know how hard I can push myself.
“We have a mat in our basement and try to wrestle around four times a week and focus on one move.”
Jalen May went 25-6 at 106 as a freshman in 2020-21. Along the way he topped eventual state champion Ashton Jackson 7-4 at the Western Triple Dual.
“That shows Jalen can wrestle at that level,” says Andy Hobbs, Peru’s head coach since 1996.
May lost in the “ticket” round at the 2020-21 Fort Wayne Semistate.
“My freshman year I was a little naive,” says May, who is currently 25-3 as a sophomore 106-pounder. “That semistate opened my eyes.
“I’m a lot more aggressive (since last high school season) and my confidence has gone up. I used to be scared to wrestle certain people and now I’m always ready to go.
“I always try to stay positive in the practice room, on meet days or while I’m working out to lose a little bit of weight.”
In 2021-22, May lost in the 106 semifinals of Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic to Crown Point freshman Gavin Jendreas (May beat Jendreas 1-0 at the 2021 IndianaMat Hoosier Preseason Open aka IHPO) and placed third.
“It went alright,” says May. “I expected to do better. I know I’ll see (Jendreas) again this year.”
Hobbs and his staff want to keep May challenged.
“I’m getting ready for the state tournament,” says May. (Coaches) like me to have good matches. They’d rather me have a good match and lose than pin the kid in 30 seconds.”
Hobbs, a 1986 Tipton High School graduate, coached Nic May and saw him go to Ken Chertow camps in the off-season.
Jalen May, who says he really increased his drive for wrestling in the seventh grade, has gone to Chertow and Jay Robinson camps, travel team practices, club practices in Kokomo and with Central Indiana Academy in Indianapolis.
“Jalen has had a lot more experiences (than his father),” says Hobbs. “He’s doing all the right things. He’s getting all the experience it takes to make a run at it.
“He’s well-rounded wrestler and just a very fluid athlete. He’s wide open. We’re trying to get him to expand the playbook. He can do so many things. It’s a simple sport, but it’s really difficult.”
May says his go-to takedown move is a high-crotch.
His regular workout partner this season has been junior Cooper Baldwin (138).
“It helps you a lot (to drill with a bigger athlete),” says May. “When I do wrestle somebody my size it’s a lot easier.”
How does May benefit Baldwin?
“Cooper is hard-working,” says May. “I have really good technique. I help him with that. He’ll feel my aggressive side.”
Like the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals, May has bumped up in weight to try to help the Tigers and challenge himself.
“It got me a little better wrestling bigger kids in six-minute matches,” says May.
Jalen is the oldest of Nic and Ashley May’s four children ahead of brother Josh, sister Mischalay and brother Nicholas Jr. The family resides in Peru.
Post-high school plans for Jalen currently call for wrestling and studying law in college.
“My grandma (Jodi May) works at a law firm in Kokomo and one of our assistants Dustin Kern is a city attorney in Peru,” says May. “I’ve always thought it’s cool. It’s a very interesting job.”
Peru’s remaining schedule includes the Three Rivers Conference meet Saturday, Jan. 22 at Maconaquah. The Tigers’ IHSAA state tournament series path goes through the Jan. 29 Maconaquah Sectional, Feb. 5 Maconaquah Regional, Feb. 12 Fort Wayne Semistate and Feb. 18-19 State Finals at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.2120 2
#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.
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Senior Bailey has already forged unprecedented career with River Forest Ingots
By STEVE KRAH
Jeffrey Bailey is doing things that the wrestling program at River Forest High School in Hobart has never witnessed.
With a 2021-22 season-opening victory (takedown/near-side cradle/pin in 31 seconds) Nov. 17 against East Chicago Central, Bailey, a 106-pound senior, added to what is already the best mark in Ingots mat history at 106-12.
He went 35-5 as a freshman in 2018-19, 38-3 and an IHSAA State Finals qualifier as a sophomore in 2019-20, 32-4 as a junior in 2020-21 and became River Forest’s first state placer when he came in sixth.
As a freshman, Bailey came in fifth at Frosh-Soph State and placed second at Frosh-Soph State as a sophomore.
Bailey grappled in middle school, but he really became serious about the sport as a freshman – the same year that Mark Hidalgo became Ingots head coach.
Hidalgo, a 1989 Merrillville High School who has coached wrestling and football at several schools the past 25 years, brought enthusiasm and made the mat matter at River Forest.
“Before Coach Hidalgo got here we didn’t have a tradition,” says Bailey. “Guys just showed up.”
Bailey points to a turning-point moment during his sophomore year when Hidalgo sat him down for a heart-to-heart talk.
“He told me I have potential to do something no one has ever done in the school before,” says Bailey of the coach/Physical Education teacher. “I used to struggle with my confidence. I didn’t have confidence in anything I did.”
Suddenly, Bailey was full of tenacity and that showed in his matches.
“He knows wrestling, says Hildalgo of Bailey. He’s always watching it and trying to better him better. He’s pretty solid in all aspects, but he’s best on his feet.
“He’s been shooting doubles for years. He’s added a lot more to his arsenal over the summer and in the offseason.
“There’s a lot of good things about Jeff. He cares about this team. He pushes himself everyday in practice. He also puts in the work in the classroom. He’s a fun kid to be around. We’ve got a pretty good relationship.”
Hidalgo placed fourth at state as a senior heavyweight. He was in football, wrestling and baseball (one year) at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., where he was coached by former Eastern Illinois University heayweight All-American Dave Klemm who had clashed with future NCAA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Bruce Baumgartner. Hidalgo was also at Purdue University for one year when Jeff Jordan coached the Boilermakers.
Marcus Shrewsbury, a 189-pound state champion at Crown Point in 2009, is Hidalgo’s nephew.
The coach was on the Bill Kelly’s East Chicago Central staff when Hector Mendez ascended to the top of the IHSAA state heap at 125 in 2002.
Hidalgo says Bailey had a real shot to win a state championship in 2021.
“This year he’s focused,” says Hidalgo. “It’s state title or bust — one of those things.”
Some chances for Bailey to get better and for fans to see him include Nov. 27 at the North Newton Invitational, Dec. 4 at the Harvest Classic (Lake Central), Dec. 11 at the Traicoff Memorial (Calumet New Tech), Jan. 8 at the Lake County Tournament (Hanover Central) and Jan. 15 at the Greater South Shore Conference Tournament (Hanover Central) – where River Forest will be trying of a third-straight title. The IHSAA tournament series includes the Jan. 29 Portage Sectional, Feb. 5 Hobart Regional and Feb. 12 East Chicago Semistate followed by the Feb. 18-19 State Finals at Gainbridge (formerly Bankers Life) Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Bailey says he has gotten to the point where he is good in the top wrestling position.
“I like to turn and a I like to ride,” says Bailey. “It happened over time. My freshmen year, I gave up reversals.”
Charles Voss, Jeffrey’s uncle, was a state qualifier at Owen Valley, but that’s the only wrestling Bailey has in his family tree.
Jeffrey’s father – DeWayne Bailey was a high school basketball standout at Maranatha Christian in Portage and his youngest son also took the court when he was younger.
“I tried, but I would get dejected and get mad,” says Jeffrey Bailey. “Everybody was so much bigger than me. I really couldn’t do anything.”
At 5-foot-8, Bailey is among the taller 106-pounders and he uses those longer limbs to his advantage.
“In scrambles I don’t get in bad positions where I’m uncomfortable,” says Bailey.
But even with parents DeWayne and Heather preparing his meals he just wasn’t going to be that big. In fact, Jeffrey tried to add weight in the off-season and go up a class or two, but it just didn’t stick.
“I burned too many calories,” says Bailey.
He does go against bigger practice partners, including senior Jonathan Schultz (126), junior Alejandro Ramirez (132) and first-year Ingots assistant Eric Keith. Schultz is a semistate qualifier and Ramirez has been to regional.
Keith was a four-time state qualifier with a state title at 140 as a Portage High School senior in 2000. His career prep mark was 170-8.
“We have smaller guys in the room, but they don’t give me the feel that I want,” says Bailey. “Wrestling stronger guys makes me better.”
Bailey trains and competes pretty much year-round, going to workouts around northwest Indiana and many Indiana State Wrestling Association events. Last year, he also went with Hammond Gavit grapplers to the Disney Duals.
After high school, Bailey can see himself wrestling college if that opportunity arises. He expects to study History and pursue a path to becoming a high school Social Studies teacher and coach.
Bailey is particularly interested in Biblical history.
“I’m a Christian,” says Bailey. “I’m always trying to learn about my faith.”
Jeffrey and his father have Bible study twice a week and have enjoyed a net series called “The Days of Noah.”
Jeffrey grew up in the River Forest area with his parents and older brother DeWayne. He enjoys walking around town now and having them ask him about wrestling. It’s a big deal there now thanks in large part to Bailey, who returns the affection.
Says Bailey, “I love my community, my parents and my coaches.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Solomey family has impact on Kankakee Valley wrestling fortunes
By STEVE KRAH
The house is rockin’ and it is super-loud.
Coaches, wrestlers and spectators are all yelling encouragement and instructions.
Can athletes in the circle really pick out these messages above the din?
Cole Solomey, a two-time IHSAA State Finals placer heading into his junior mat season in 2021-22 at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatfield, says he can.
“I can hear my dad and brother,” says Cole Solomey. “I hear them everyday.
“I can hear exactly what they’re saying no matter how far away they are.”
Mike Solomey (Class of 1992) and Luke Solomey (Class of 2017) both grappled for the Kougars.
Mike Solomey is No. 2 on KV’s all-time win list at 117 (2005 graduate Dominic Willis is No. 1 at 119) and was a state qualifier at 130 pounds as a senior.
Luke Solomey made it to the “ticket round” at the East Chicago Semistate as a 160-pound senior.
Cole, the youngest of Mike and Becky Solomey’s three children behind Luke and Irelynn, was introduced to wrestling at age 4 with Caleb (son of Mike’s brother Shane Solomey, who was a 171-pounder during much of his KV mat career) coming to the sport a short time later.
“When we grew up we didn’t have the opportunities that Cole and Caleb have,” says Mike Solomey.
“(Cole) was good when he started out. He’s very self-motivated. Nobody has to talk him into going to practice. He does it on his own.
“I’m hoping to see him higher on the (State Finals) podium as the next two years go by.”
Luke is a KV volunteer assistant coach when his job of working for his dad’s roofing contractor business allows.
“Weekends in the winter time are spent in the gym,” says Luke Solomey, who joined the staff during the COVID-19 pandemic last season because spectators were not allowed at most matches and he was able to help his brother.
“I was in the corner for most of the year,” says Luke Solomey. “Cole can hear me when it’s very loud. It’s a different look in the corner — I can see something he can’t see (other wrestlers’ tendencies).”
Luke, who was known for his cradles as a KV wrestler, gives Cole a chance to work on defending that move in practice.
“One of Cole’s strengths is escapes,” says Luke Solomey. “If he’s on his game there’s nobody that can hold him down.”
Luke has also noticed Cole’s growth spurt.
“He’s grown up and out,” says Luke Solomey. “Puberty hit him pretty hard over the summer.”
Two off-season events where Cole shined were the IndianaMat Hoosier Preseason Open (IHPO) in September and the USA Wrestling Brian Keck Memorial Preseason Nationals in DesMoines, Iowa, in October. He was top eight at IHPO and sixth at Preseason Nationals after going out in the “blood round” in 2020.
“I wrestled a lot more offensively at Preseason Nationals (in 2021) and competed really well,” says Cole.
Third-year Kankakee Valley head coach Eric Kidwell first saw Cole on the mat when he and Brad Burvan state the Kougar Wrestling Club.
“I don’t know where he gets his drive from,” says Kidwell. “He’s very competitive. He hates losing. He has improved every year.”
“Caleb pushes Cole. He has that drive. He’s a tough kid.”
Caleb placed seventh at Frosh-Soph State last year.
Cole Solomey went 39-6 and placed seventh in the 2020 IHSAA State Finals at 120 and 27-7 and came in sixth at the 2021 state meet at 132. He finished third at the Crown Point Sectional, third at the Crown Point Regional and third at the East Chicago Semistate as a freshman then came in second, third and third at those stages as a sophomore.
It was 66 at the start of the season, but don’t ask Cole how many career wins he has.
“I only remember the losses,” says Cole Solomey. “I’ve always wanted to make a name for our school in wrestling.”
The 2021-22 season opens with a bigger, stronger Cole Solomey competing at 138 with his cousin, classmate and training partner Caleb Solomey moving up from 126 to 132 after placing second at sectional and regional and losing in the second round at semistate as a sophomore.
Both Solomey boys are 17.
“Caleb and I drill pretty hard together everyday, especially when it comes to weight-cutting,” says Cole Solomey. “His strength is on his feet with his shots.
“He hasn’t been able to get over the hump to get to the State Finals. I keep trying to push him as hard as possible every year.”
Caleb lost out on mat time in middle school because of a dislocated elbow.
Cole went up about an inch to 5-foot-9 and gained muscle in the weight room since last season. He says his “walking around” weight in 2020-21 was about 145 and now its around 150.
“Through lifting I gained more mass,” says Cole Solomey. “I’ve gotten a whole lot stronger (with my power, arms and grip) the last couple of years.”
Working out in the off-season with Chris Fleeger at Midwest Regional Training Center in New Carlisle in off-season as well as with Pete Petroff at Region Wrestling Academy in Schererville, Cole has upped his hand-fighting game.
“It creates larger shot opportunities and opens up my opponent a whole lot more,” says Cole Solomey.
“My mentality has also improved.
“I know how much more I have to give. You don’t know much more you have to give until you have to give it.”
Cole played baseball until middle school and football through eighth grade then decided to focus on wrestling.
“The off-season is about getting better and I saw other kids training year-round and passing me up,” says Cole Solomey. “Is there such a thing as too much mat time. In my perspective — no.
“The more time you’re spending on the mat those are more situations you would not be in if you’re sitting at home.
“Drilling is definitely a huge part of wrestling. Some practices where you don’t go 100 percent is where you learn (a move). Then you go into situational wrestling and get a real feel for it.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Three-time state finalist Farnell enjoying the ride with Maconaquah Braves
By STEVE KRAH
Maconaquah High School wrestler Logan Farnell has earned his third trip to the IHSAA State Finals.
The Braves 160-pound senior has absorbed something from his other visits to Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and the state tournament series leading up to them.
“I learned just to enjoy the moment, have fun and wrestle my match,” says Farnell, who finished second to Rochester’s Brant Beck at the Peru Sectional Jan. 28 and reigned at the Peru Regional Feb. 4 and Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 11 and is scheduled for his State Finals first-round bout on Friday, Feb. 17.
Gates open at 12:30 p.m. The Parade of Champions begins at 1:30. The first round for weight classes 106-145 starts at 2 with 152-285 beginning at 5:30.
Friday’s winners advance to Saturday, Feb. 18. Doors open at 8 a.m. The quarterfinals/semifinals session starts at 9 a.m. After the fieldhouse is cleared, doors open at 3:30 with the consolations at 4:30 and finals at 7:30. All times are Eastern.
Farnell, who is comfortable on his feet or on the mat, scored a 17-1 technical fall then three pins to earn his latest semistate title. He took first place at semistate and went on to place sixth at the 2022 State Finals. He was a semistate runner-up then lost in the first round at State in 2021.
He posted a 1-3 record as a freshman then went 40-4 as a sophomore and 46-3 as a junior and is 45-1 as a senior. His 129 career wins ranks him third all-time at Maconaquah. At the top of the list are state qualifiers Chase Wilson (Class of 2014) with 167 and Joe Schrock (Class of 2004) 143.
Farnell is also a three-time Three Rivers Conference meet winner.
His commitment to wrestle and study University of Indianapolis was set a couple of months ago.
“I wanted to get it done before the season so I can relax and have fun,” says Farnell, who will join the Jason Warthan-coached Greyhounds and study physical therapy.
“I thought it would be fun and my mom has gone through physical therapy,” says Logan for his reasons of choosing that major. “I want to help people. I want to give back to the community. I feel that’s a way I can do it.”
Bob Freije, who is in his 19th year as Maconaquah head coach, has been training Farnell since the wrestler was in elementary school.
“He’s a work-in-progress like everyone should be,” says Freije of Farnell. “He keeps learning more and more and more because knowledge is power.
“That’s really leading to all his success.”
Freije appreciates Farnell for what he means to the team.
“He’s a good leader and mentor to his peers,” says Freije. “He’s very humble. Everything you want in a student-athlete.”
Logan, who also plays baseball, is one of Danielle and Michelle Farnell’s five children.
Dalton Farnell (Class of 2020) is the oldest brother and a former wrestler and baseball player at Maconaquah.
Ethan Farnell is a 170-pound sophomore wrestler for the Braves who lost in the second round at semistate. He also plays football.
Caitlyn Farnell is a freshman wrestling manager. Aidyn Farnell is a middle school wrestler.
The Farnell brothers were two of seven grapplers making the trek from Bunker Hill to Fort Wayne Saturday.
Junior Brayden Raber (113) placed fourth and earned a State Finals berth. Sophomore Austin Ringeisen (182) bowed out in the second round. Falling in the first round were senior Camron Montgomery (285) and Wyatt Price (145) and junior Alex Ousley (126).
Robert A. Freije is the son of 2008 Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee Robert H. Freije, who went 322-120 in 26 seasons (1978-2003) at Plainfield and Brownsburg.
“I learned a lot from my father,” says the younger Bob Freije, who has 371 dual wins on his ledger. “Growing up around that and knowing that family atmosphere and trying to connect. You mold them and make them as good as they can be.
“Don’t be a cookie-cutter. I got that from my dad. Every one of his wrestlers were different. Having him as my mentor has made me the type of coach I am.”
Frieje is a physical education teacher at Maconaquah and runs the whole wrestling program, including the Battling Braves club. His assistant coaches are Derrick Page and Bill Tabler.
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Tiny Cowan clicking along after pausing program for several years
By STEVE KRAH
Wrestling has come back in a big way at a little school.
Cowan Senior/Junior High School in Delaware County folded its program following the 1994-95 for lack of interest.
As a Muncie Southside High School senior in 1989-90, Tony Abbott went 35-2 and was the IHSAA 152-pound state champion, grappled for the University of Indianapolis, served as head coach at Southside 1995-96 to 2012-13 and was inducted into the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame in 2017.
“I started coaching my first year out of college,” says Abbott, who also owns Abbott’s Body Shop in Muncie. “I’ve had no break since I was six years old.”
With Abbott as Cowan head coach, the Blackhawks came back to the prep mat in 2016-17 — a few years after establishing club (which drew about 50 kids the first year and around 60 the next) and junior high programs with all athletes funneling into CSJHS. That happened with the advice of former Muncie Central mat coach and then-Cowan principal Jim Suding and the support of parents.
That first new era high school team had four wrestlers and the next year six. By 2018-19, Cowan had 14 grapplers and filled all 14 weight classes. The Blackhawks had 25 out the next season, including oldest son Toby, and the numbers have been at least that high in each season since then.
“We started having a little bit of success,” says Abbott. “There’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears. The fun part of this whole team is that every one of the kids on my team have been Cowan kids in that club.
“We have 27 kids on the team right now. These kids were just kids and didn’t have anything to do. Now they’e wrestlers.
“They’re embracing the grind. The secret to success is there’s no secret. You’ve got to keep moving forward.”
Those wrestlers representing the Black and Gold of Cowan (enrollment below 250) won the Delaware County Tournament for the first time and claimed the school’s first sectional title (earned at Delta) in 2020-21. The Blackhawks placed fourth in the IHSCA State Duals.
As a 145-pound junior, Toby Abbott became Cowan’s first-ever regional champion and state placer (eighth).
“It happened later than I wanted it to,” says Toby of his state meet run. “I wanted to do it all freshmen and sophomore year.
“I didn’t have too many losses during the season. But it’s a good thing I did have the losses. I leaned from them.”
Abbott finished 33-5.
“At Cowan, we’re all-around wrestlers,” says Toby. “We wrestle hard and train hard.”
Toby, who also has three siblings — one older sister, one young sister and one young brother — says he would like to wrestle in college. He’s not decided on where he will attend or what he will study, though he is considering sports management or physical education.
What does Tony see in Toby the wrestler?
“He’s guy that everybody wants to coach,” says Tony Abbott. “He does what you tell him and he works hard.
“All the Cowan kids were brought up by me. They didn’t see older guys sitting around or cutting corners.”
A year-round wrestler with younger brother Levi (Class of 2024), Toby works out in the family barn, attends Central Indiana Academy workouts in Indianapolis and last summer went with a Cowan group to the Virginia Beach Duals.
“We wrestle everyday,” says Toby of he and Levi, who placed fourth at sectional and was a regional qualifier at 138 as a freshman. “He’s my practice partner in the room (the third court in the auxiliary gym where mats are no longer rolled up daily). I get him where he wants to be and he gets me where I want to be.
“We get along pretty well. My dad tries to make it pretty competitive in the room. All the coaches do.”
Cowan assistants are Casey Bradley (who wrestled at Muncie Southside and coached at Baldwin-Wallace University in Berea, Ohio), former Delta state qualifier Ronnie Goney and Cowan semistate qualifier Steve May.
Three seniors graduated from the 2020-21 Blackhawks – Garrett Smith (second at the Delta Sectional and Jay County Regional and a Fort Wayne Semistate qualifier at 285), Keagan Keesling (third at sectional and a regional qualifier at 152) and Preston White (third at sectional and a regional qualifier at 132).
Cowan does not open the season until a Dec. 2 home match against Blackford so weights and the lineup is still being sorted out.
The Keith twins — Raef (third at sectional and regional and a semistate qualifier at 106 in 2020-21) and Bowen (third at sectional and a regional qualifier at 113) shined as freshmen and are back as sophomores.
Junior Jesse May (fourth at sectional and a regional qualifier at 126) returns as does senior Austin Jones (first at sectional, second at regional and a semistate qualifier at 160), senior Malachi King (fifth at sectional at 170), senior Dalton May (fourth at sectional and a regional qualifier at 182) and junior Brandt Thornburg (fourth at sectional and a regional qualifier at 220). Regional qualifiers from 2019-20 include senior Cade Jones and junior Alex King.
There are two girls on the high school team and one is senior Cricket Morey (fifth at Girls State Finals at 98 in 2020-21).
The 2021-22 Delaware County Tournament is slated for Jan. 6 at Wes-Del with the IHSWCA State Duals Jan. 8 (site to be determined) and Mid-Eastern Conference Tournament Jan. 22 at Cowan. The Blackhawks’ state tournament series includes the Delta Sectional (Jan. 29), Jay County Regional (Feb. 5) and Fort Wayne Semistate (Feb. 12) leading up to the State Finals (Feb. 18-19).
#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).
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Unorthodox style proves successful for Lake Central’s Sues
By STEVE KRAH
Jake Sues does not wrestle in what many call a conventional way.
But the 182-pound senior at Lake Central High School has used his unique style for mat success in his final two prep seasons.
In 2020-21, Sues went 22-7 and placed eighth at the IHSAA State Finals after finishing first at the Crown Point Sectional, third at the Crown Point Regional and third at the East Chicago Semistate.
Through Dec. 29-30 Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka, where Sues placed fifth, he is 19-5.
“I’m awkward to wrestle,” says Sues. “Funky might be a better word to describe it. I’m very different from the standard wrestler.
“Being funky kind of found me. Being weird is what worked so I rolled with it. I’ve always been kind of a defensive wrestler. I make other people uncomfortable.”
Lake Central head coach Luke Triveline has watched Sues use his unorthodox approach and his long limbs to his advantage.
“We have a coaching style, but we try to push individualism,” says Triveline, a 2003 LC graduate who is in his 14th season coaching in the Indians program and fifth as head coach.
“He’s good at using his length and body top against kids. He’s not a super-aggressive kid. If he keeps it close, he knows when to push the pedal and look to score.”
At 6-foot-3, Sues is taller than most of his opponents.
“I like to put people super far away,” says Sues. “When they try to shoot, they have to go a far distance. People give pressure then I hit my moves from there.”
By forcing his foe to the end of his reach, he can use a slide-by, collar tie, ankle pick, front head lock or other move.
Sues, 18, came to the sport as a Hal E. Clark Middle School sixth grader. By freshmen year at Lake Central, he was 170 and over 6-foot. Sues qualified for semistate as a freshman, but his record was well below .500. As a sophomore, he did not get past regional.
He grew too much after his sophomore year to stay at 170 and bumped up to 182.
“He’s not very intimidating-looking in general. He’s not super muscular. He’s a pretty intelligent wrestler when it comes to keeping himself in matches against pretty tough kids.”
Though looks may deceive, Sues is very strong.
“He spends a lot of time in the weight room,” says Triveline. “You’re not going to push him around.
“Putting on size looks cool, but it doesn’t necessarily make you a better athlete.”
Triveline is the owner of Fitness Evolution Strength and Conditioning in Crown Point and trains Sues in the wrestling off-season.
“We spend time working on him as an athlete,” says Triveline. “Being able to use strength in the joint angles that are conducive to wrestling and looking good with your shirt off are two different things.”
Mental strength has also increased for Sues.
“I can recall the specific moment where he changed,” says Triveline. “His first two years (of high school), he never stopped talking. He was always chirping and running his mouth.
One day, I just snapped. I couldn’t handle it anymore.”
There was a talk between the athlete and coach.
“Ever since then, he has put his head on straight and does what we ask him,” says Triveline.
“Jake’s one of the favorite wrestlers I’ve ever coached. He comes from a good family. He’s a hard worker.”
The son of Rob and Cindy Sues, Jake has an older brother Ryan and younger sister Sarah. Ryan is a 2020 LC graduate and Sarah is a current sophomore swimmer for the Indians.
Though undecided about what college he will attend or if he’ll wrestle there, Sues does enjoy his current Graphic Arts course. The career center class meets the first half of each school day and is taught by Jereme Rainwater.
“We do all the printing for the high school like magazines or posters,” says Sues. “It’s a lot of working with machines. I’m good with deadlines and I keep everybody on-task as much as I can.”
Senior Michael DeGrado (220) has long been a regular workout partner for Sues.
“He helps me with my front head locks and defense,” says Sues. “I have to make sure that every detail is perfect or it won’t work. He has the strength and he’s pretty technical, too.”
With the Al Smith Classic and the calendar turning to January, Sues and all other IHSAA wrestlers now get a two-pound allowance.
Weight control has not been an issue for him.
“Coach Luke has a lot of catch phrases,” says Sues. “One is ‘You’ve got to fuel your Ferrari.’ I’m pretty good about watching what I eat for the most part. I like to pick healthier options (like sugar-free cookies). I definitely have a sweet tooth.”
Heading into the IHSAA tournament series, Lake Central looks forward to a Duneland Athletic Conference dual Jan. 5 vs. LaPorte, the Lake County tournament Jan. 8 at Hanover Central, DAC dual Jan. 12 vs. Merrillville, DAC meet Jan. 15 at Merrillville and DAC dual Jan. 18 vs. Crown Point. Then comes the Crown Point Sectional Jan. 29, Crown Point Regional Feb. 5, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 12 and State Finals Feb. 18-19 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“We see a lot of good competition,” says Triveline. “That prepares yourself for the postseason. Season accolades are nice. We don’t train our kids to be Mishawaka champs although that would be nice.
“We want kids fighting for state placement.”
That includes “funky” Jake Sues.
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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.
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