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#WrestlingWednesday: Eiteljorge is kinda cool
By JEREMY HINES
There’s cool, and then there’s Jack Eiteljorge cool.
The Carmel senior wrestler may even be too cool.
“Jack’s the guy I want to do my heart surgery because he’s as cool as a cucumber,” Greyhound coach Ed Pendoski said. “He doesn’t get rattled by anything. But, that’s one of the things we are trying to work on this year. I want him having emotion. We’ve talked to him about how sometimes you have to have emotion, whether it be positive or negative.”
Just how cool is Eiteljorge?
“He’s so cool that you could sit him down and tell him that someone just walked into his house and killed his dog, Bacon. His reply would be, ‘Oh, OK.’,” Pendoski said. “You could tell him that Taylor Swift is in the hot tub and wants to make out with him, and he’d say ‘Oh, OK’.”
Eiteljorge is currently ranked No. 2 in the state at 160 pounds. He is a three times sectional and regional champion, but he has never punched his ticket to state. Pendoski thinks opening up and getting a little emotional may be the edge that Eiteljorge needs to finally get to state - and possibly win.
“Going into this year, after the Super 32, we had just had two pretty bad losses,” Pendoski said. “We really started dialing in on our mental part. He’s done a good job reacting to that. The phrase we use a lot is that mental toughness is the ability to manage the thoughts in your head. We went back to that simple platform. We talked to him about getting excited. We said let’s get angry. Let’s be happy. Show something.”
The plan has worked. Eiteljorge is 33-2. He has pinned or tech falled all of his opponents in the state tournament except for one, and that match he won 18-8.
“I’ve been trying to show emotion,” Eiteljorge said. “Coach wants me to, and he has a lot of muscle so I listen to him. He feels that sometimes I’m like a robot on the mat. He wants me to just start having fun.
I’ve really been working on that part. It’s a big change from past years. Making myself be less methodical is the key. I have to go out there and make the matches fun.”
Eiteljorge isn’t one of the kids that found immediate success in the sport of wrestling. When he was young and just started going to CIA, Pendoski’s wrestling academy, he was the guy getting beat up on.
“Jack was in a group with some very, very good wrestlers,” Pendoski said. “He was the beginner. The partners he was with had been around for years and were winning championships. I think Jack went two or three months before he even scored a point. But, he was the guy that would stick around after practice and do pull-ups or pushups.”
Eventually he won his first club level state tournament. Pendoski says that was a turning point for him.
“That’s the day I knew this little ankle-biter would be OK one day,” Pendoski said. “It was nice to see a guy that started from the beginning, worked his tail off and then started to see the results.”
Eiteljorge lost in the first round of semistate his freshman year. As a sophomore and a junior he lost in the ticket round.
“This year my goal is to win state,” Eiteljorge said. “My goal is not just to get to state. But, I still know there will be a pressure on me to get past the ticket round. If I win that match, I’ll certainly feel a weight has been lifted.”
Eiteljorge isn’t one to talk about personal successes, he’s too cool to brag. But, he’s more than willing to gush about his teammates.
“I have really good teammates,” he said. “They are awesome. I love hanging out with them. Carmel’s team chemistry is what helps us be a top program. We are always improving. We have a casual, playful environment. We have fun. But when it’s time to get serious we focus and get the job done.”
Next season Eiteljorge will wrestle for the University of Indianapolis.
“The University of Indianapolis is going to be real happy with the product they are getting with Jack,” Pendoski said.
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King sees Oak Hill earn its first semistate mat crown
Andrew King has seen plenty in his 35 years a wrestling coach at Oak Hill High School.
Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer King has enjoyed more than 450 dual-meet victories and lots of in-season and postseason championships.
But the 1981 Oak Hill and 1985 DePauw University graduate had never seen the Eagles celebrate an IHSAA semistate team title until Saturday, Feb. 13 at Memorial Coliseum.
“The pieces all fell together,” said King moments after his team hoisted the trophy. “It’s a great feeling for Oak Hill.
“Most people don’t know where Oak Hill is.”
The Grant County school of about 520 students is located in Converse, Ind.
Oak Hill’s first semistate crown came on the day the Eagles had two individual semistate winners — 152-pound senior Aidan Hardcastle and 138-pound junior Brody Arthur — for the first time.
Hardcastle (36-0 on the 2020-21 season) pinned South Adams junior A.J. Dull in 5:26, bested Huntington North senior Julian Fletcher by 13-2 major decision and edged Adams Central junior Alex Currie 2-1 before besting Carroll senior Evan Ulrick 5-2 in the finals.
Arthur (38-1) scored four pins for his semistate championship — Carroll junior Jared Landez in 3:13, Lakeland junior Ben Miller in 2:11, Columbia City senior Jarrett Forrester in 2:58 prior to Daleville junior Julius Gerencser in 1:38 in the finals.
Seniors Jett Thompson (second at 182) and Harper Dedman (fourth at 126) were also placers for Oak Hill. Thompson goes to Indy at 34-4 while Dedman is 27-4.
Senior Julian Perez (120) and Freshman Tyson Kendall (106) also represented the Eagles at semistate.
The top four in each weight division advanced to the first round of the State Finals Friday, Feb. 19 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
King talked about all the time put in my his wrestlers and their parents, grandparents and siblings.
“That’s why makes a great wrestling program — the families that are involved,” said King. “It’s a family affair.
“I”m proud to be a part of it. That’s all I am — a part of it — and everybody plays a part.”
With 76.5 points, Oak Hill finished ahead of Western (67.5), Northridge (64.5), Fort Wayne Carroll (63) and the rest of the field.
During all his years of coming to the semistate, King has seen the larger schools earn team titles.
“I like to say that wrestling is classless,” said King. “Whether you’re a big or a little school, we’re all in the same boat.”
In 2020-21, Oak Hill, Western and Kokomo finished 1-2-3 at the Oak Hill Sectional. Western, Wabash and Oak Hill took the top three spots at the Maconaquah Regional.
“We love to hate Western and Western loves to hate us,” said King. “We thrive on it. Steels sharpens steel.”
Like everyone in the athletic world, Oak Hill has had to deal with COVID-19 issues this season.
“I’m a lay coach so when I come to school I have an open mind,” said King. “I’m not going to get mad about it. I deal with it as it is.
“I walk into the school and see my athletic director (Ryan Fagan) coming down the hallway and I cringe because he’s going to tell me which two, three or four kids are now out of for the next 10 days because of social distancing. You just do what you can each day. We’ve had our challenges with that. but our kids have been really good.”
Oak Hill has been extra-diligent about keeping the wrestling practice room clean.
“We’ve gone overboard spraying down the room before practice after practice and in-between practice,” said King. “You can only have one practice partner, you can’t have three, four or five (because of contact-tracing protocols).
“We have to keep doing what we’re doing.”
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#WrestlingWednesday: LIttell hungry to get his shot
By JEREMY HINES
Brayden Littell’s high school wrestling career hasn’t exactly gone as planned. The junior has just one loss in high school, a one-point defeat at the hands of two-time state champion Asa Garcia. He has defeated another Indiana state champion, twice. Yet, Littell has yet to wrestle a single state tournament match.
Littell grew up wrestling in the Center Grove school district. He wrestled with the Trojans in elementary school and middle school. As a freshman, however, he enrolled at Perry Meridian.
During that freshman season Littell defeated Roncalli’s Alex Viduya twice. Viduya went on to claim the state championship at 113 pounds. Littell never made it to the tournament. He had a falling out with the Perry Meridian team and transferred back to Center Grove, mid-season. The transfer rules forced him to sit out the rest of the season.
“There wasn’t too much going on with my situation at Perry Meridian,” Littell said. “I guess you could say it was more of some pet peeve type of stuff. The Perry program is great, but the way the practices and the program went, I didn’t think it was what was right for me and my family.”
When the IHSAA ruled Littell ineligible for the remainder of his freshman season, he took the news pretty hard. He sat in the stands and watched Viduya, a guy he had beaten twice that season, claim the state title.
“That was painful,” Littell said. “I’ll be honest, I cried a lot. I wanted Alex to win it though. If I wasn’t out there, he’s the guy I was cheering for.”
Things went from bad to worse for Littell his sophomore year. He suffered a knee injury playing youth football (tore his ACL) when he was in elementary school. It always bothered him, but he was able to wrestle with it. By his sophomore year the knee started hurting so badly he couldn’t wrestle. He went to his doctor and was told that not only was his ACL torn, so was his MCL and he had damage to his meniscus. He would need a season-ending surgery.
“I felt defeated when I found that out,” Littell said. “First I lost my freshman season and then I was told I wouldn’t be able to wrestle as a sophomore either. I thought I’d be able to push myself and get back in time for the tournament, but my doctors didn’t want that.”
For two years Littell has been hungry to showcase what he can do on the mat. For two years he watched others have the success he felt could and should be his. Two years of physical and mental pain escalated to a boiling point in the young wrestler, and now, as a junior he’s able to unleash on his opponents. He is currently 17-0 on the season and ranked No. 1 at 120 pounds. He has pinned every wrestler he has faced up to this point.
“Braydon is a special type of athlete,” Center Grove coach Maurice Swain said. “He has a combination of speed, power and great technique that you just don’t see in most high school athletes. And, he loves the sport. His speed is off the charges. His power is off the charts.”
Littell is the type of wrestler that lives for the big moments. He gets excited when he gets to wrestle the better opponents. He will likely get the chance to see Crown Point’s No. 3-ranked junior Riley Bettich at the Al Smth tournament.
“I’m super excited to wrestle him,” Littell said. “I’m pumped for it.”
More so, he’s excited for the chance to show Indiana what he has to offer on the mat.
“I feel, for sure, like I have something to prove to the state,” Littell said. “I feel people sort of forgot about me. I want to show them what I can do. I’m hungry. Sitting out two years and watching others go on to have success has just forced me to work harder. It motivates me.”
Littell isn’t alone. Coach Swain is also excited to showcase his star junior.
“We think the world of Brayden here,” Swain said. “I think he’s just a special athlete. I’m excited to see him compete and excited for the state of Indiana that has heard his name but not got a chance to see him wrestle. I’m excited for them to see what he can do.”
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#MondayMatness: Bellmont, family tradition carries on with Ruble brothers
By STEVE KRAH
It’s an Indiana tradition unique to wrestling and two brothers from Bellmont High School will follow in the footsteps of so many Braves that came before them.
Qualifiers for the IHSAA State Finals will parade into Bankers Life Fieldhouse before first round of the tournament Friday, Feb. 15 and Jon and Isaac Ruble were be representing their family as well as their storied mat program.
“That’s pretty exciting, especially for their parents, Becky and Joe,” says Bellmont head coach and former state champion Paul Gunsett.
“They’ve done a lot for those two. They’ve traveled everywhere for these two to wrestle. They’ve earned it with all the time and effort they’ve put in.”
Jon Ruble is one of Bellmont’s captains and often leads the squad in during warm-ups at practice.
“He’s a leader in our program,” says Gunsett of the older Ruble boy.
“He’s been real reliable for me. He’s pretty special. He spends a lot of time with our younger kids. He spends more time with them than he probably needs to. He’s helped groom them and made them better.”
Freshmen Carter Thomas (120) and Dominic Litchfield (113) are Isaac aka Ike’s usual workout partner during practice.
Like many wrestling families in and around Decatur, Ind., there is a mat legacy. Joe Ruble is one of Bellmont’s many State Finals qualifiers, competing at Market Square Arena in 1991. The boys’ uncle Paul qualified for State and blew out his knee the week of the meet and was unable to compete.
Joe Ruble’s uncle Kent Buuck was a a standout Braves wrestler. His best friend was Bill Schultz (uncle to Becky Ruble). When Buuck died in a highway accident before his senior year, Schultz dedicated his training to Buuck and became the second state champion in Bellmont program history, winning the IHSAA heavyweight title in 1977.
The Braves’ first state winner was Phil Lengerich (138 pounds in 1969). Gunsett reigned at 135 in 1988. On 10 other occasions, a Bellmont wrestler has ascended to the top of the victory platform —Chris Mahlan (185 in 1979), Brent Faurote (98 in 1981), Paul Baker(130 in 1988), Tim Myers (119 in 1993 and 130 in 1994), Jason Baker (125 in 1996), T.J. Hays (152 in 1996), John Sheets (103 in 2000), Matt Irwin (135 in 2006) and Billy Baker (215 in 2009).
The Braves reigned as team state champions in 1987, 1988 and 1994 and were runners-up in 1979, 1999, 2006.
Jon Ruble (36-6) took an early 2-0 lead and made it stand in beating Rochester senior Drew Sailors in the Fort Wayne Semistate championship match.
“I got that two-point lead and I’ve been riding leg stuff all year so I put the legs in and tried to ride it out and possibly get turns,” says Ruble, who was a state qualifier at 145 in 2018. “(Winning the semistate) means a lot. There’s such a big difference between second place and first place. You’re setting yourself up for that state run.”
Both Ruble brothers —#DosRubles on social media — placed first at the Jay County Sectional and Jay County Regional. Isaac Ruble (36-6) placed second at semistate.
Sharing the season and the State Finals experience with his sibling is something the older Ruble brother does not take lightly.
“This is the only time we get to wrestle together,” says Jon Ruble.
“This means the world to me. “We talk about it all the time.”
What does Jon see in Isaac the athlete?
“He’s a competitive kid,” says Jon Ruble. “He always thinks he’s the best.”
With his family history, Jon Ruble was destined to be a wrestler.
“I had no other choice,” says Jon Ruble. “Being a part of Bellmont history means the world. They’ve had such a great program forever. To be a part of that tradition is amazing.”
The youngest Ruble brother has soaked up his learning opportunities in his first high school season.
“I learn things and try to get really good at the — like firemen’s carries,” says Isaac Ruble. “It really helps me out.
“There are certain things (Gunsett) gets on me about — like keeping my head up — and I fix them.”
Given the age and size difference, do the two brothers wrestle against each other?
“I can’t hang with him,” says Isaac. “He’s pretty good.”
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#WrestlingWednesday: Gilbert's big dream will not be deterred
By JEREMY HINES
For as long as Sullivan freshman Lane Gilbert can remember he has dreamed about having his hand raised at the Indiana High School wrestling state championships.
He’s done more than dream about it. As a young kid he would go into the wrestling room at Sullivan High School and act out having his hand raised. It didn’t matter that nobody else was around him. In his imaginary scenario he always emerged victorious. No obstacle stood in his way. No opponent could beat him. He was the champ. That dream would never be taken away.
The dream was much different than real life for Gilbert. In real life, he has had far more hardships than one kid should experience. He’s overcome situations that would break others. Through it all, he’s come out stronger.
To get a clear picture of just how tough Lane Gilbert is, it is important to dive into his uncomfortable past.
Gilbert’s mother, Rachel, became Indiana’s first female sectional champion in wrestling. She won the 103-pound class in the North Knox sectional in 2002. Rachel was going places in life. News agencies had reported on her wrestling journey, because at the time, female wrestlers were still very new in the state. She had some colleges showing interest in her.
But Rachel began facing a more formidable opponent than anyone she went up against on the mat. She started battling an addiction with drugs. Lane’s father had his own battles with drug addiction.
For Lane’s father, that addiction would eventually lead to a prison sentence.
Young Lane didn’t want to miss an opportunity to visit his dad, even if that meant going to the prison any time he could.
“Lane worshipped his dad,” Lane’s wrestling coach and grandfather Roy Monroe said. “Lane never failed to go see him. He always wanted to see him.”
Tragically, Lane’s father developed cancer while in prison and ultimately died due to the disease.
“That was really rough on Lane for a while,” Rachel said. “His dad was a drug addict for a long time and Lane always held out hope that one day he would get better. Once he got sick, that was probably the hardest thing. Lane stayed strong through the whole thing.”
At nine-years-old Lane did something no kid his age should ever have to do. He stood up in front during his dad’s funeral and sang a special song.
“I don’t know how he did it,” Monroe said. “That’s almost an impossible thing to get through, and he did it. He toughed it out.”
That’s what Lane always does. He toughs things out. He toughed it out when his mom was having her struggles. He toughed it out seeing his dad in prison, and then watching as cancer slowly took its toll. He toughed it out when his uncle Jordan, who had taught Lane quite a bit about wrestling, died in a fiery car crash. No matter what life threw at Lane, he toughs it out.
Perhaps he gets his fighting spirit from his grandfather. Roy has been a major part of Sullivan wrestling for over 30 years. He’s watched his daughter struggle with drug addiction. He lost his son in that tragic car accident. He’s experienced heartache and he remained the rock Lane needed in his life. Lane could always stay the night at Roy’s house. He could always get the right words from his grandpa. And, on the wrestling mat, he could look to Grandpa Roy for direction as well.
“He’s my role model,” Lane said. “He’s nice to everyone. He’s a good coach. He’s all the things you can think of if you were to make the perfect person – that would be how I describe him.”
But Lane’s toughness also comes from his mom.
In a time when people frowned on girls wrestling against boys, she held her ground. In fact, she and Roy had to go to the Sullivan school board to even get approved to wrestle back in her high school days.
Later, as has already been alluded to, Rachel battled a fierce drug addiction. But, for Lane’s sake – and for her sake, she fought through and emerged victorious. She is currently a Dean’s List student working to become a nurse.
“I am so proud of her,” Roy said. “I’ve been a counselor. I’ve went into the jails and counselled drug addicts. I’ve seen them come in and out of addiction. The real truth is, only about one percent of drug addicts make it to where she is now. It’s so hard to overcome, but she’s done it. And she’s a great mom.”
She is also very, very protective of Lane and worries almost to a fault about the decisions he makes in his own life.
“After having made the decisions at a young age that I made, I saw first-hand what can happen and how quickly everything can just spiral out of control,” Rachel said. “One mistake and everything can be gone. I have that fear in the back of my mind that he’s of the age and he could make the wrong choices. I’m almost too hard on him, but I am terrified because I know what can happen and I keep my eye on him. I do trust him. He’s seen what can happen and how bad things can get.”
Lane knows when his mom tells him to keep on the straight and narrow, it’s because she cares.
“I have so much respect for my mom,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from her.”
One thing Lane has learned is to never doubt himself. This summer when he was a third alternate for the Pan-American games, he let doubt creep into his psyche. After the first two qualifiers couldn’t attend the games, Lane got the call to participate. But, going into the event, he felt like he really didn’t belong.
Boy was he wrong. Lane went undefeated in both freestyle and Greco-Roman. News of his success quickly spread throughout the town of 6,500 people. When he arrived home, he was given a police escort through the streets.
“Oh my gosh,” Rachel said. “The town put on this whole show when he returned. The police and emergency vehicles all met up on the north end of town. He had no idea it was going to happen. There were fans from all over our town and they all followed him to the high school. It was so cool. He was so surprised.”
Currently Gilbert is 28-1 on the season and ranked No. 5 at 113 pounds. He has carried the confidence he developed during the Pan-American games over to the season. Now he knows he belongs. Now he knows that dream he played through his head so many times growing up isn’t just a dream – it’s an attainable goal.
“I’ve been coaching at Sullivan for 13 years as head coach and I’ve been there 30 years as an assistant,” Monroe said. “I’ve never seen anything like him. I look at Lane, with his skills and what he’s been through, and I just know that adversity isn’t a problem anymore. He can do whatever he sets his mind to do.”
As for Rachel, well, she says nowadays she’s just like any other wrestler’s mom.
“I’m still up in the stands screaming my head off,” she said. “But when I’m shouting, at least I know which moves to shout. The other moms look at me and ask what they should be yelling.”
#Mondaymatness: Portage seniors Rumph, McIntosh hoping to end prep careers in a big way
By STEVE KRAH
Kris Rumph and Kasper McIntosh have become familiar faces on the IHSAA State Finals wrestling scene.
The two Portage High School grapplers have been on the mats at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis a combined five times and both competed under the lights in — Rumph placing second at 138 pounds in 2017 and McIntosh second at 145 in 2016.
Seniors Rumph and McIntosh are back at those same weights and preparing for what they hope will be plenty more success in their final high school state tournament series.
Portage scored a meet-record 275 points and won the Duneland Athletic Conference tournament in its own gym Saturday, Jan. 13 with McIntosh taking the third DAC crown of his prep career and Rumph his second.
Now, they are focused on getting ready for the Jan. 27 Griffith Sectional. The Hobart Regional is Feb. 3, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 10 and State Finals Feb. 16-17.
Portage wrestlers are trained by seventh-year head coach Leroy Vega and his staff. Vega won individual state titles for the Indians in 1996 and 1997 and went on to be a three-time NCAA All-American at the University of Minnesota.
Vega sees special qualities in both Rumph and McIntosh.
“Kris is very athletic,” says Vega. “He can do things that not many guys in our guys can do.
“His speed is unbelievable. You slow down the film to see ‘how did he do that?’”
Rumph’s combination of speed and strength make it difficult for opponents to prepare for him.
“You can’t train for his speed and his athleticism,” says Vega. “You don’t know what he’s capable of doing.
“You can’t replicate that in the wrestling room. Nobody wrestles like him.”
Vega asked McIntosh to open up his offense and he has done just that with point-producing results.
“We had to make him realize that you are not going to win state title or be very successful with one move (which was the high crotch),” says Vega. “Kasper is just a hard worker. He’s going to take whatever it is to reach his goal. Whether it’s watching film or eating right, he is always striving to be the best.”
McIntosh, who also finished fifth at the State Finals at 145 in 2017 and eighth at 138 in 2015, says it has been a process to diversify his attack.
“It took a lot of time,” says McIntosh. “It’s been two steps forward and one step back.
“I’ve slowly progressed. I’m getting pretty good. At first, it was just a high crotch. Now, I’m getting real good motion and wearing on a guy.
“Putting that all together is working really well.”
McIntosh, who first competed in a Calumet Township elementary tournament as a kindergartener, has placed in High School Nationals, Iowa Nationals, FloWrestling Nationals and Super 32, but there’s just something about competing for a state title.
“The state tournament is the most-anticipated one,” says McIntosh.
After high school, he will follow in Vega’s foot steps and study and wrestle at Minnesota.
“(Vega) was real helpful with the decision,” says McIntosh. “He told me to choose the school that is right for me.”
McIntosh, an honor roll student with a 3.4 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, plans to major in electrical engineering.
He comes from a big family. Keith and Teri McIntosh have seven children. There’s Keith, John, Brian, Shiann, Jason, Kasper and 3-year-old Liam. So far, Kasper is the only wrestler.
Wrestling — with its physicality and tenacity — can be a grind.
Vega and his staff help their athletes push past the pain.
“We make sure the kids are tough,” says Vega. “They have to believe in their training.
“When they are tired, they can go even further.”
Some workouts can be very grueling. But there is a purpose.
“There will be days in practice one guy will get beat on for 30 minutes by two guys,” says McIntosh. “You get to the point where you’re not wrestling, you’re surviving. If we can get through that, we can get through anything.
“We break ourselves down and build ourselves back up. It shows us how far we can go.”
Vega and his assistants build the wrestler back up and fill their heads with positive thoughts.
“The mental part is huge,” says Vega.
Rumph, who also placed fourth at the State Finals at 132 in 2016, is all-in with that way of thinking.
“If you’re not mentally tough, the sport is not for you,” says Rumph. “We push our bodies at practice to a level is insane. Most people are scared to go hard and get tired.”
Rumph is motivated this season to do well for his parents. His mother, Donna McGee, has become his biggest fan since he reached high school and showed he was really serious about the sport. The nurse is always cheering for her “baby boy” — the only one who is still at home, following Briggs Rumph Jr., Jarred Rumph, Mikey Rumph and Kenny Williams.
His father, Briggs Rumph Sr., died when Kris was 7. Before that, he told him to pick a sport and give it his all.
“I’m pretty sure he’d be super happy seeing the stuff I’ve accomplished,” says Rumph, who was a Super 32 semifinalist last summer and competed in the Iowa Nationals the summer before that.
Rumph likes to watch videos of elite wrestlers Jordan Burroughs and Nahshon Garrett.
“I put it in my own little wrestling style,” says Rumph, who does have plans to wrestle in college but is not yet committed.
#WrestlingWednesday: Sibling rivalry leads to Wilkerson's success
By JEREMY HINES
There are times when things get so heated in the wrestling room at Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville that brothers Chase and Chris Wilkerson have to be seperated. Like most brothers, they hate to lose to each other. When they practice together, things can start to get a little testy.
Those moments certainly aren’t the norm. Chase, a junior and Chris, a sophomore are each other’s biggest fans. They practice together, condition together and talk strategy together. When one brother is struggling, the other is there to pick him up.
“They really have a neat dynamic,” Marauder coach Chad Masters said. “Every big match, they are both on the sidelines coaching each other. They are both the first one there to congratulate each other. They console each other after tough losses. They are two of the best kids I’ve ever met. They are the type of people you want in the room and you know they’ll be successful in whatever they do.”
This year Chase is ranked No. 11 in the state at 120 pounds and is ranked fourth in the New Castle semistate. Chris is not state ranked, but is No. 6 in the New Castle semistate at 132 pounds.
Before his last middle school season started, Chris weighed 170 pounds. He had always wrestled the bigger guys due to his size. But, when he started really focusing on improving, he started to get in better shape as well. He wrestled at 145 pounds by the end of his eighth grade season. Then, in high school, he got down to 132 pounds and he maintained that weight all summer long. This is his second season at that weight class.
Last season ended in trying fashion for Chris. He was the No. 2 seed in the Warren Central sectional. He won his first two matches then ran into senior Tim Wright. During that match Wright’s head slammed into Chris’s face. The force from the blow knocked a tooth out of Chris’s mouth, and caused other damage. He had to injury default out of the tournament and go to the hospital immediately. That injury ended his freshman campaign.
“That was the worst feeling in my life,” Chris said. “Just hearing that I couldn’t continue. It was the first time I had cried in years. It was awful knowing that all the hard work I had put in, and nobody was going to see that pay off.”
That’s when Chase stepped in.
“Chase helped me to cope with knowing I was out,” Chris said. “He was telling me to bounce back harder. He told me to work harder. And, he did the same. Seeing him work as hard as he did started pushing me to get better as well.”
Chase lost to New Castle’s Trevor Ragle in the first round of semistate 4-1. Ragle went on to advance to the state tournament. Before the Ragle match, Chase had fallen short against other ranked guys as well.
“This year started out the same way,” Masters said. “He wrestled Zane Standridge and lost in the last 20 seconds. He knew he could wrestle the ranked guys, but he wasn’t sure he was able to beat them. It seemed like every time something would go wrong and he’d lost the match at the end.”
The turning point for Chase came 14 days after the Standridge match. Chase was wrestling a familiar foe, Greenfield’s Gavin Rose. The two were once practice partners at Mt. Vernon, but Rose left for the neighboring Greenfield school. He had defeated Wilkerson in the past, but this time was different.
Chase scored four points on two reversals to beat Rose 4-2. That match showed Chase he could win the big match.
“That was a big turning point with Chase,” Masters said. “It showed Chase that he could not only wrestle with these guys, he could beat them. It showed he could beat anyone.”
The two wrestled again Saturday in the championship of the Hoosier Heritage Conference tournament. The match went to triple overtime before Rose pulled off the 2-0 victory.
Chris also had a big match in the HHC tournament. He was taking on Yorktown’s Alex Barr, the No. 1 seed in the 132 pound weight class. With 10 seconds left in the match Barr had a 1-0 lead and was on top of Chris. That’s when Chris made his move, he scored an escape point and Barr fell toward the out of bounds line. When Chris saw Barr down, he dove at his legs and was awarded the takedown to go up 3-2 with three seconds left. On the restart he let Barr up to secure the 3-2 win.
“I couldn’t contain my emotions,” Chris said. “I had to let it out. That was such a crazy match and I was just so excited to win it.”
The brothers have very different styles on the mat. Chase likes to go for the takedowns and be aggressive offensively. Chris is a patient wrestler who minimizes his mistakes.
Both brothers have a goal to reach the state tournament.
“I definitely think I should go to state this year,” Chase said. “It’s going to be rough for sure, but I feel like I can make it.”
One of the keys to getting to state might just be having a sibling to push you. It’s working for the Wilkerson brothers right now.
“Having a brother is definitely an advantage,” Chase said. “You grow up beating the crap out of each other. But, whenever you need someone to work with - we are there for each other and we want each other to succeed. When he does well, I feel as good as if I had done well myself.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Hadley is first from Lapel to wrestle at state
By JEREMY HINES
In middle school Harrison Hadley weighed 60 pounds but had to wrestle in the 75 pound weight class because that was the smallest class available. Today, he’s the big man on campus at Lapel High School.
Hadley, a junior 106-pounder for the Bulldogs, became the school’s first wrestler to ever reach the state finals when he defeated South Dearborn’s Eli Otto 13-5 in the ticket round of the New Castle semistate.
“I definitely feel like I’m the big man on campus right now,” Hadley said. “The elementary school made this big banner for me and everyone signed it. People are going up to me in the halls and around town telling me congratulations and wishing me luck. The school recognized me for advancing. It’s pretty cool right now.”
Lapel has been a school since before the 1870s. At first Lapel was a one-room school house, but over time the location has changed and school buildings have come and gone. The school’s history is one of the oldest in the state. To be the very first athlete to accomplish going to state is something first-year coach Jake Stilwell doesn’t believe has fully sunk in for Hadley yet.
“This is huge for Lapel wrestling,” Stilwell said. “There have only been five semistate qualifiers in school history. For our program, this is absolutely huge. The younger kids see that state isn’t something impossible now. They see it can be done.
“It’s never occurred here before and most people didn’t think it could happen. Now they see Harrison has done it, and it gives them hope. I don’t even know if Harrison has grasped what has happened. It will take a little time for this to all settle in.”
After Hadley won the ticket-round match he immediately wanted to watch film on the match to see what he could have done differently. That’s what he does every match, win or lose.
“I like to see what type of positions I exposed myself to,” Hadley said. “I look at how I could have improved. I look for things that will take me to the next level. I always critique myself, even if I tech fall or pin a kid.”
Stilwell wanted Hadley to take a moment to take in the importance of what he had accomplished at semistate.
“He was very excited when he won,” Stilwell said. “But when he came off the mat he likes to dive right into what just happened and look for ways to improve. We had to stop him and remind him about what he just accomplished. He was excited, but wasn’t showing that emotion. He was still just trying to think of what he could have done differently.”
According to Harrison, the person most excited after the ticket round was his mom, Sonya.
“She was crying and everything,” Hadley said. “She was telling me how proud she was of me. I’ve never really seen her like that. It was a great moment.”
Hadley enters the state tournament with a record of 39 wins and only three losses. Two of those losses came last week at semistate. Hadley fell to Perry Meridian’s Alex Cottey in the semifinal round, then lost to Warren Central’s David Pierson in the consolation match.
Hadley, who likes to race 600cc mini sprint cars in his free time, has wrestled 106 pounds his entire high school career. As a freshman he came into the season weighing just 99 pounds. He’s put on about five pounds per year, but is easily able to get down to weight for the wrestling season.
Hadley is hoping his victory could help the team. He says it’s great to go to state, but it would be much sweeter going there with teammates also competing.
“I see some schools take nine or 10 guys to state,” Hadley said. “I think that would be awesome. Just seeing Cathedral’s team and how well they did at semistate and the bond those guys have, it’s fun to watch.
“Our program has struggled. We have never been that strong. But, if we can start advancing more kids it will really help build things up.”
Last year Lapel had just eight wrestlers. This year there are 17 on the Bulldog roster.
“Lapel is a school that has some good athletes,” Stilwell said. “The challenge is to get those kids to go out for wrestling. I really think Harrison’s success is going to help with that.”
Hadley will take on Brownsburg freshman Kysen Montgomery (38-7) in the Friday night match.
“For me, wrestling is an escape from everything,” Hadley said. “It’s something that helps me focus on my goals. It helps me in life situations and helps build my character. Right now my major goal is to be able to wrestle in college.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Cathedral ascends to the top once again
By JEREMY HINES
It was the moment Cathedral’s Jordan Slivka had dreamed about his whole life. He was about to wrestle under the lights at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse with a weight-class and the team state championship on the line.
“Earlier in the day I had told my coaches that I knew it was going to come down to me,” Slivka said. “I just had that feeling. That’s not a dig on my teammates, but I just knew it was going to come down to me. That’s what I wanted. If there was anyone in the state that I would want in that position, I’d choose me.”
Slivka battled for six minutes with Yorktown’s undefeated senior Christian Hunt. In the end, Slivka emerged victorious in the narrowest of margins - a 1-0 victory. That win gave Slivka his first state title and also clinched the championship for Cathedral.
The Irish outscored the field with a total of 108 points. Brownsburg finished with 100.5 followed by Columbus East with 98.5.
“We knew the score and we knew Brownsburg had two big guns left,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “Slivka told me not to worry about it, he was going to take care of it. He said he’s going to get it done. He’s one of the most mentally tough kids I know, and at the end he pulled it out.”
The Irish sent 10 wrestlers to the state meet. On Friday night, seven of those 10 won their match to guarantee a top eight finish.
“I said at the beginning that our goal was to win a state championship,” McGinley said. “The only way we were going to win was by committee. We did. We brought 10 to the finals and then had a great Friday night. We had seven place winners. We battled and we won the close ones. We pulled a lot out in the last seconds and ended up on top.”
In the tournament Cathedral won seven matches by two points or less.
Perhaps the most pivotal match of the tournament came at 138 pounds when Cathedral’s Zach Melloh took on Brownsburg’s Blake Mulkey.
The match went to the ultimate tie breaker, after a controversial stalling call on Mulkey. Melloh eventually won the match 3-2.
“That was two teams going at it right there,” McGinley said. “The thing about Zach Melloh, he’s always going to give us six minutes no matter what. He pushes the pace. Sometimes you are going to get a call, and sometimes you don’t. We got the call in this one and took advantage of it and scored when we needed to.”
Cathedral had four wrestlers reach the final. Alex Mosconi (132 pounds), Mellow (138) and Elliott Rodgers (152) all earned runner-up finishes. Slivka was the Irish’s lone champ.
Cathedral also got a third-place finish out of 106-pounder Logan Bailey and a fourth by Lukasz Walendzak (120). Jacob Obst (285) finished seventh. Caleb Oliver (113), Andrew Wilson (126) and Anthony Mosconi (160) lost in their respective Friday night matches.
“All year we knew we had a group of kids that are really tough to beat,” McGinley said. “We knew we would have our hands full in the finals. The guys we were taking on were all very quality guys and great wrestlers. We were able to pull one out, but for us, it was all about committee. Everyone scored points for us when we needed them.”
Another key to Cathedral’s success, according to Slivka, was the team’s swagger.
“My motto is ‘Learn to love it’,” Slivka said. “You have to have fun in this sport or you’ll start to hate it. That was really the main key. We went out there and had fun all day. We were confident and we had swagger. I’m not sure coach cared for it too much, but it kept us relaxed and ready to get the job done.”
The title was Cathedral’s second in wrestling. The Irish also won the team title in 2014. Next season seven of the 10 state qualifiers will return. Only Melloh, Anthony Mosconi and Obst are seniors.
#MondayMatness: Marion’s Lee sets sights high in final prep mat season
By STEVE KRAH
Strength, speed and strategy have helped Victor Lee achieve success inside the wrestling circle.
Creativity and drive have allowed him to excel away from it.
The Marion grappler is hoping for even more mat achievements in his last high school go-round and a future filled with wrestling and film.
A state qualifier at 195 pounds in 2017-18, Lee is currently ranked among the top competitors at 220.
“I’m a naturally strong guy,” says Lee. “Speed is something I rely on most. I usually try to attack below the knee.”
Giants head coach Lonnie Johnson likes the way the 5-foot-11 Lee moves on the mat.
“He’s really mobile for a bigger guy,” says Johnson. “I want him to be a go-go-go guy and wear guys down. He’s in pretty good shape. I want him to pick up the pace a little.”
Lee has been working hard on his stance since last season. If he has a signature maneuver it would be his high crotch.
It’s what Ohio State University’s Kollin Moore used against University of Missouri’s J’den Cox.
“It’s a move to be feared,” says Lee, who started his wrestling career in sixth grade, grappled in the 215 class as a middle schooler and was at 195 his first three seasons of high school.
Gabe Watkins (285) and Corey Horne (152) have served as practice partners for Lee, each giving him a different look.
Lee has studied the methods of Cox, who was a bronze medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“He has a very strategic way of practicing and coming from different angles,” says Lee of Cox. “He tries to keep his attack percentage really high. He’s not real aggressive like (Arizona State’s Zahid) Valencia.
“He’s very technical. I try to emulate that. I use hand fighting to tire the other guy out and keep his head down so all he’s looking at is the mat.”
Johnson is a 1995 Marion graduate. He wrestled at 189 his first three seasons and 215 as a senior. He has coached in the Giants system for two decades and is in his third season as head coach.
The coach has offered advice that has stuck with Lee.
“He says to always be confident in my shots, be persistent and always finish through them,” says Lee of Johnson. “Last year, he sometimes got himself in a bind with 30 seconds to go. I want him to get up on guys 10-3 or 10-4 and then stick them.
“He reminds me of Darryn Scott (who was a two-time state qualifier and placed sixth in the 2010 State Finals at 189) with his strength and his speed. (Scott) would go at you. (Lee) sits back and tries to pick you apart.”
Lee won his first sectional title and qualified for his third regional in 2018. After reigning at the Oak Hill Sectional and qualifying for his third regional. He placed second to Maconaquah’s Aaron Sedwick at the Peru Regional then third at the Fort Wayne Semistate, his first appearance there.
“I was always trying to prove myself, says Lee, who lost 6-3 to West Noble’s Draven Rasler in the semistate semifinals. Rasler then was pinned by New Haven’s Jaxson Savieo in the finals.
Lee was pinned by New Albany’s Jaden Sonner in the first round at the State Finals, but got a taste of that big stage in Indianapolis.
“I won’t be blinded by all those fans,” says Lee, who plans to be back at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in February 2019. “I’ll be going to State with better confidence in my abilities.”
Besides his wrestling prowess, Lee is also a solid student.
“I’ve never had a teacher complain about him,” says Johnson. “I don’t have to worry about the attitude.
“When it comes to that he’s maintenance-free.”
Lee plans to major in drama and film and cinematography at Indiana University and hopes wrestling will also be a part of his college experience.
It’s the behind-the-scenes side of the arts that Lee appreciates most.
“I don’t do acting,” says Lee, who intends to take theater and drama classes at IU next summer. “I mostly direct and writing scripts for plays. I hope one day I can make movies.”
Lee has made a few small films on his own and has started an Instagram account with a friend that he can see leading to film production company.
Why the interest in film.
“Me and mom watched movies a lot together and it just stuck with me,” says Lee, who is the oldest of four adopted by single mother Rosalind Lee. Victor is 18, Zella 17, Levi 16 and Diamond 15.
Foster children at first, the four youngsters were allowed to choose their new first and middle names at the time of the adoption.
During his freshmen year, Javion Mack became Victor Lee.
“We try to make it easier on her,” says Victor of what he and his siblings do for their mother. “We do our chores and we all try to stay
out of the house so it’s not so cluttered.”
Levi is a 220-pound sophomore who came out for wrestling for the first time last season.
“He’s getting pretty decent at it,” says Victor of Levi. “I spar with him sometime then give him another partner so he can speed up.”
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#WrestlingWednesday: Slivka poised for another big run
By JEREMY HINES
Jordan Slivka may not be the fastest wrestler in the state, the most powerful or the most dynamic – but, he just might have the most heart.
“He’s probably the most mentally tough wrestler I’ve ever had,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “He loves the big matches. As coaches we ask ourselves who we want to have out there, down one going into the third period. I’d put Jordan Slivka in that spot over anyone.”
Slivka, a senior for the Irish, showed just how much ice is in his veins in the state tournament last season. The Irish needed a win in the worst way if they were going to have a shot at winning the team state title. Slivka just told them to relax, he was going to win.
That’s what he did. He claimed his first individual state championship by beating Yorktown’s Christian Hunt 1-0. That win also sealed Cathedral’s team state title.
“Winning state felt amazing,” Slivka said. “I envisioned it before I won it. I told myself in the locker room before my match that I knew it was going to come down to my match. I said I was going to win it, and I knew that’s what I was going to do.”
Slivka has made a career out of winning the close matches. In the state tournament Slivka is 16-3 in matches determined by three points or less.
“I come out in each of my matches with a game plan,” Slivka said. “I don’t try to rush things and I don’t try to force points. I have the mentality that nobody can take me down, nobody can escape me and nobody can ride me. I’m confident that I own people on the mat.”
This season Slivka has continued to shine in the close matches. Recently in a dual meet with Indianapolis Roncalli Slivka bumped up to 170 to face No. 5-ranked Elijan Mahan. In that match Slivka injured his ribs and had to take two injury time outs, but he didn’t want to quit. He eventually escaped with a 6-4 victory which helped lead the Irish to the team win as well.
“He just gutted that win out,” McGinley said. “He was in a lot of pain. You really see his mental toughness in matches like that. As the seasons go on you just see how many of those close matches he wins, and you know he’s the guy you want out there in those situations.”
Slivka also edged No. 7-ranked (160) Peyton Asbury and No. 5-ranked (160) Nathan Conley by 1-0 scores. He beat No. 3-ranked Brooks Davis 3-2 and No. 4 ranked Peyton Pruett 5-2. He did lose one close match this season, falling to Conley 3-2.
Slivka started out in the Shenandoah school district. He went to Shenandoah until his freshman year. His dad was one of the coaches who helped turned that program around. His father, John, is a former state champion in Georgia.
“My dad, in that Shenandoah room made sure we were all tough,” Slivka said. “One of the drills we had was we would get in our stance and dad would walk around a bunch and snap our necks down. We kept going long after we were tired. It taught me to be tough.”
Slivka’s older brother, Johnny, was also a solid wrestler for the Raiders. Jordan even has a game plan for wrestling his older brother.
“If we do takedowns, Johnny might beat me,” Jordan said. “But in a full match I have him now. He’s a little out of shape. The first and second period he might get me, but come the third, he’s mine.”
Slivka is ranked No. 2 at 160 pounds behind Portage senior Donnell Washington. The two wrestled earlier in the season with Washington claiming the 8-3 victory.
“I am 1 and 1 against him,” Slivka said. “He beat me this year and I beat him last year. I’ve taken losses before and have been able to come back from them. I hope this is no different.”
Slivka’s goal this season is to win another state title. He admits it will be very hard to top last year’s title – with the team state championship being on the line as well.
“I have no clue how you top that,” Slivka said. “Only thing I can think of is doing it again and scoring more points.”
Next year Slivka will wrestle for Ohio University.
“My plan is to be as good as I can be in college. It’s the next challenge.
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#WrestlingWednesday: Going once, going twice, you're pinned by Freije
By JEREMY HINES
It is said that a good auctioneer can almost hypnotize bidders into spending money. The seemingly random words used by the auctioneer are well rehearsed and designed to lull bidders into opening the pocketbooks and splurging on the products presented before them. Auctioneers talk fast – and that too has a purpose. The speedy delivery gives a sense of urgency to the bidders. If they don’t act now – they may miss out on that item they just have to have. A good auctioneer demands the attention of the room and can quickly have the audience doing exactly what they want them to.
Indianapolis Roncalli senior Tyce Freije is a good auctioneer. In fact, he’s the best at his young age. And, just like he does on the auction block – Freije dazzles audiences on the wrestling mats as well.
Freije is currently ranked No. 6 in the state at 152 pounds. He is a two-time state placer and is coming off a season where he finished fourth at 138 pounds. Off the mat he is the reigning International Junior Auctioneer champion.
“I’m a fourth-generation auctioneer,” Freije said. “My grandpa and my dad both have an auctioneering business right by my house. We host an auction at least once a month. We sell everything from cars to tractors, lawn mowers, antiques, toys and guns. I really enjoy it and I will be pursuing it in my future.”
Freije excels at whatever he does. He’s a stellar student, a good leader, he is an experienced member of the 4H community in addition to wrestling and auctioneering.
“Everything the kid touches he works at it until he beats it or becomes the best,” Roncalli coach Wade McClurg said. “He’s very business-like and mature in his approach, whether it’s in auctioneering, wrestling, his faith, showing pigs, school, etc. He’s a winner and the ultimate competitor in everything he does.”
Freije’s wrestling style is an in-your face, I’m coming at you, try to stop me approach. He’s physical and strong. He’s also tough. As a sophomore he broke his hand and refused to have surgery because he didn’t want to miss the entire season. He didn’t get to wrestle until the sectional, but he ended up making it to the ticket round of semistate before losing to eventual state runner-up Alex Mosconi.
“Tyce loves the fight and is a super tough guy,” McClurg said. “He’s a strong and physical wrestler that goes at a high pace and has a big motor. He’s especially passionate about his wrestling. He enjoys the process of a training cycle and improving his game.”
Freije’s goal this season is to become a state champion. He wrestles with Alec Viduya, a former state champ, in the Roncalli room often. In fact, the two recently wrestled in their inter-squad match and Viduya won in triple overtime. The two are able to push each other in practice, which in turn helps them during matches against other opponents.
Freije credits his family for a lot of the attributes that make him the person he is. He learn auctioneering from his family and he says he also comes from a family of wrestlers. His uncle, Bob Freije, wrestled and coached at Brownsburg.
“My parents have taught me growing up that I have to earn everything I want,” Freije said. “If I want success, I have to earn it. I have to work harder than everyone else to have a shot at it. They really drilled that mentality into my head, and I know that’s why I’ve been able to find success in things. I am willing to work to achieve my goals.”
Freije also tries to help younger wrestlers understand that if you want results, you have to put in the work.
“He’s an exceptional leader for our program,” McClurg said. “He does things the hard way which is the right way.”
After high school Freije plans to attend college and wrestle, but he hasn’t decided where yet. He also plans to go into the family auctioneering business.
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#WrestlingWednesday: Three-sport athlete KJ Roudebush ready for the challenge
By JEREMY HINES
Most wrestling stories don’t begin like K.J. Roudebush’s did. Then again, most wrestlers aren’t wired quite like the three-sport star from Tipton, either.
Roudebush got into wrestling as a punishment, and because a household lamp was broken.
“It’s really a funny story,” the Tipton senior said. “I was in fifth grade and my oldest brother was in college so my middle brother and I were downstairs wrestling around. Right when dad got home from work we were still wrestling and my brother and I had gotten mad at each other and one of my mom’s lamps got broken. My dad wasn’t happy. He said if we wanted to continue wrestling at home, we were going to join the wrestling team. I went to the wrestling team and I just fell in love with it.”
Roudebush is currently ranked No. 10 in the state at 195 pounds. He lost in the ticket round last year at the New Castle semistate to current No. 1-ranked junior Silas Allred of Shenandoah.
Roudebush doesn’t make excuses for that loss.
“Silas is something special,” he said. “I went out on the mat and he just dominated me. I couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t tired or anything, he was just better than me.”
This season Roudebush wants to go one step further than he did last year. He wants to advance to the state tournament.
For Roudebush, wrestling is a part-time gig. Unlike most highly ranked Indiana wrestlers, Roudebush doesn’t wrestle in the offseason. Summers are for baseball and the fall is for his first love, football. Roudebush plays quarterback on Tipton’s offense and splits time between linebacker and defensive end on defense.
“K.J. is in the top 10 of his class,” Tipton coach Mark Barker said. “He’s such an intelligent guy and he’s a leader in every sport he does. To me, he’s one of those exceptional people that don’t come along that often. If he focused solely on wrestling, I really think it would be hard for anyone to beat him.
“But I like multi-sport athletes. The more sports you do the better you’ll become at all of them. That’s the way things have always been here at Tipton.”
Currently Tipton has just seven wrestlers. For Roudebush, that’s perfectly fine.
“Being on such a small team could really suck, but we get a lot more attention from the coaches,” Roudebush said. “Our individual time with the coaches is through the roof. We’ve never had a big team. I think the most I’ve seen here is 10 wrestlers. Because of that, we don’t win a lot of matches as a team, but when you look at our head-to-head and don’t count forfeits, we’ve won close to 40 duals. We also have a very close bond with each other. I wouldn’t trade that for a bigger program with more practice partners.”
The Tipton team has adopted a philosophy through necessity. The goal is for every wrestler in the lineup to pin their opponent. If they do that, they have a shot at winning dual meets.
“We know what we are up against going into the match,” Roudebush said. “Coach tells us we’re starting out down 24-0, or something like that. We know every single one of us have to pin in order for us to win. It’s awesome. All of a sudden, Bam! We pin everyone and pull off the surprise win. We love that challenge. When we get people on their backs, we keep them there.”
In practice Roudebush alternatese from wrestling with the team’s heavyweight, sophomore Nate Morgan to wrestling with their 145-pounder Blake Hicks.
“Nate is stronger than me and that makes me really focus on my technique,” Roudebush said. “Blake is a scrapper. He’s good on top and he can put the legs in. He has a mean crossface cradle and he’s tough. It helps me a lot getting to wrestle with guys with different body types and strengths.”
Roudebush beat Elwood’s Jalen Morgan last year 5-2 to claim the sectional title. Morgan reversed that decision in regional, winning 3-2. That put Morgan on the opposite side of the semistate bracket as Allred. Morgan advanced to the championship match, losing to Allred but still advancing to state. Roudebush was eliminated in the second round.
“I want to go one step further,” he said. “That’s all I’m worried about. We have a tough sectional. The regional is even harder and I think New Castle is arguably one of the most difficult semistates. My focus is on getting past the ticket round. I’m worried about each match in front of me because wrestling is a different kind of sport. Anyone can win. You have to be ready at all times.”
#MondayMatness: Manchester’s Moore looking to make his move in senior season
By STEVE KRAH
Delton Moore has already accomplished a great deal during his athletic career at Manchester High School.
But the Squires senior wants to do more.
The featured running back on the Manchester football team in the fall, he ran and ran. He racked up 334 yards in a game against neighboring Wabash. He wound up with 1,701 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The early part of the season has been a transition in getting into wrestling shape.
“It’s never as easy as it would be from the outside looking in,” says Moore. “Wrestling condition is a whole different type of condition than football. Football is more strength training. Wrestling is more endurance training.”
On the wrestling mat, Moore carries a career mark of 111-28 and season record of 17-2 (his two losses are both to Rochester senior Zane Gilbreath) heading into the Jan. 5 East Noble Invitational. He was an IHSAA State Finals qualifier at 170 pounds in 2018. He earned Peru Sectional and Peru Regional titles as a 160-pound sophomore and placed third at the Fort Wayne Semistate as a junior. He has been in the varsity lineup since his freshmen year, starting out at 145 and moving up.
Competing this season at 170 (with some bouts at 182), Moore reached the 100-win mark during the Dec. 1 Wabash County Tournament.
All four of Randy and Jenny Moore’s boys — Clayton (Class of 2015), Quentin (2017), Delton (2019) and Ashton (2020) — have wrestled for Manchester.
Clayton Moore was a two-time state qualifier. Quentin Moore was a four-time semistate qualifier.
Delton’s usual workout partner has been 182-pounder sophomore Trescott Duffy.
“I try to pick the toughest,” says Moore. “He’s a hammer. He works really hard. I’m focusing on getting him ready for his next few years.
“He’s like a sponge. He soaks everything up.”
Younger brother Ashton, a 195-pounder, sometimes spars with Delton. Home on his break from Ancilla College, older sibling and Quentin has also drilled with Delton.
“I’ve been practicing pretty hard,” says Delton Moore. “I was looking a little slower and heavier on my feet so I’ve been working on our feet quite a bit and building the endurance.
“You can never have too good of endurance.”
Manchester head coach Byron Sweet cites Delton’s best qualities.
“He has a lot of athletic ability and is very explosive,” says Sweet.
“He’s one of those guys who work hard. He has great attendance at morning workouts.
“He does a lot of work in the weight room and extra time to get better.”
Those weight sessions have helped condition Delton’s body and mind.
“You start grinding in the morning and keep going,” says Moore.
“Calluses start building up.”
Sweet notes that Moore is pretty solid on his feet and has been competing this season with freshman 120-pounder Dylan Stroud for the team lead in takedowns.
Delton spends part of the school day at Heartland Career Center in Wabash and works part-time for Chad Lambright at C&C Machining in North Manchester. After graduation, Moore hopes to follow Lambright to a new operation in Plymouth.
Besides wrestling, football and machining, Delton has been involved in the Campus Life program with Youth for Christ throughout his high school days.
To not be consumed by sports, a rule in the Moore house allows the boys to be in no more than two until they are seniors. Delton plans to add track and field in the spring.
Sweet trains his high school wrestlers with a college mindset. He grappled at Manchester College (now Manchester University) 2005-08 and was an assistant to Spartans head coach Matt Burlingame, who is now an assistant to Sweet at Manchester High.
“We go for multiple takedowns to break (an opponent),” says Sweet. “We tell our kids to never be scared to let a kid up if you think you can take him down again.”
Burlingame wrestled at Virginia Tech. Quentin Moore brings his experience to the practice room as does Will Mikesell, who grappled for Sweet at North Miami High School.
Sweet was at North Miami for six years prior to Manchester High. He became an assistant to Jeremiah Maggert and then took over when Maggert left for Jimtown High School.
Sweet is a 2002 West Lafayette High School graduate. As a 152-pound senior, he lost to Mishawaka’s Jim Schultz in the “ticket” round at the Merrillville Semistate. Schultz went to state three times (qualifier at 152 in 2001, third at 152 in 2002, third at 160 in 2003).
The coach uses that as an example for his athletes. You can’t control the draw so wrestle the best you can at the previous level.
Sweet has had five state qualifiers during his career as a head coach — four in his six seasons at North Miami and Moore last winter at Manchester. North Miami’s Alan Mock went at 106 in 2012 and 113 in 2013, Levi McKee at 145 in 2013 and Evan Beach at 285 in 2015. With nine underclassmen in 2018-19, including 126-pound sophomore Elijah Burlingame, consistently in the lineup, Sweet has watched his Squires climb into the Class 1A team rankings. Manchester won Rochester’s John McKee Memorial Invitational Dec. 22.
Sweet doubles as junior high coach to help build the program from the younger levels.
“It’s important for the head coach to show he cares at every level,” says Sweet. “We want to make it where wrestling is one of the most solidly consistent sports at the school.
“We’re on the right track. We’ve just got to keep working.”
#MondayMatness: Diaz brothers showing mat moves, smarts for Wheeler Bearcats
By STEVE KRAH
The Diaz family was on the ground floor in building the wrestling program at Wheeler High School.
Now, two Diaz siblings are reaching for the heights during the 2017-18 IHSAA state tournament series.
At the Jan. 27 Crown Point Sectional, senior Jose Diaz Jr. placed second at 113 pounds and sophomore Giovanni Diaz finished first at 106. They both move on to the Feb. 3 Crown Point Regional.
“He’s very intelligent,” says third-year Wheeler head coach Robin Haddox of Jose Jr. “He knows the sport very well. He’s extremely fast. He’s strong. He’s got the whole package.”
A 106-pound Jose Jr. became Wheeler’s first State Finals qualifier in 2016. He placed eighth at 113 in 2017. Giovanni was an East Chicago Semistate qualifier at 106 in 2017.
Jose Jr. explains why he enjoys wrestling.
“It’s you and another person,” says Jose Jr. “You go out and show who you really are. It’s what you decide to put on the mat.
“Winning feels great. Every time I get my hand raised, it feels great and motivates me to keep going.”
Giovanni likes to be pushed to his limit — something that he gets with wrestling.
“I like everything about it,” says Giovanni. “Most days, we try to push ourselves even when it’s supposed to be a light day.
“You’ve got to have a certain mindset. If you want to achieve your goals, you’re going to have some toughness and think you’re going to break.”
While they sometimes drill with other wrestlers in practice, Jose Jr. and Giovanni often trade moves.
“It’s always close when we wrestle,” says Jose Jr. “It’s always fun.”
Says Giovanni, “sometimes it get a little rough, but we keep it under control.”
The Wheeler Bearcats officially hit the mats six years ago. Jose Jr. was a seventh grader. Giovanni was a fifth grader. Father Jose Sr. introduced the boys to the sport soon after they were born.
Jose Sr. wrestled at Taft High School in Chicago, placing fourth in the city championships — just one win from the Illinois State Finals — as a senior in 1999.
“I loved it,” says Jose Sr. of the sport. “Wrestling helped me stay out of trouble. That’s what it does for a lot of Chicago Public Schools kids.”
The elder Diaz and wife Patty moved their family to unincorporated Valparaiso near uncle Luis Del Valle.
“It was one of the best decisions we made,” says Jose Sr. “It’s a better than the life I lived.
“There have been a lot of opportunities for all of my kids (Jose Jr., Giovanni, third grader Aidan and second grader Emma).”
Jose Sr. knew he wanted his boys to wrestle and they began training at home, but he waited for them to commit to competition. When Jose Jr. was in third grade and Giovanni first grade, they joined the Boone Grove Wrestling Club as athletes and their father as a coach.
Then came the Wheeler Wrestling Club and the high school squad. Steadily the numbers have grown. This winter, the Bearcats filled nearly every weight class in most duals. The club has swelled to more than 40 wrestlers and the middle school team competed for its second season.
“Wheeler is not a dominant program yet, but we have guys who go down-state,” says Jose Sr., a construction contractor.
Jose Jr. likes the idea of leaving a legacy.
“I want to be remembered at this school as a good wrestler,” says Jose Jr. “When I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a role model. I was always shy. (Success in wrestling) helps me understand that I can be. It helped me with my confidence.”
Jose Jr. stays after high school practice each day to help younger club grapplers and is proud of what Bearcats wrestling has become.
“I love coaching the little kids and giving back to the community,” says Jose Jr. “With our numbers. our program has started getting 10 times better. Being part of this program means a lot to me.”
The Diaz boys will also leave their mark at Wheeler for his academic achievements.
Jose Jr. carries a 4.089 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and is on his way to making the Wheeler Academic Hall of Fame. Giovanni has a 4.105 GPA.
“Wheeler is great for academics,” says Jose Jr. “Teachers are always there for you.”
With about 500 students, the teacher-to-student ratio allows for one-on-one attention.
Jose Jr., a National Honor Society member, has been accepted at educationally-prestigious Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., where he will compete in NCAA Division I wrestling. He plans to study health science with the aim of becoming a physical therapist.
“It’s a perfect fit for Jose,” says Jose Sr., of Franklin & Marshall, where Mike Rogers in head wrestling coach. “It’s a small private school. The student-to-staff ratio is 9-to-1. The school has history. It’s like an Ivy League school. A degree from there opens up a lot of doors. You go to Franklin & Marshall for academics, not for wrestling.
“I get a good feeling, handing over my son. Jose has been coached by me. I’ve been his dad and his coach. It’s a big step. I wanted to make sure Jose goes into a program that fits him.”
Jose Jr. knows it will be transition.
“I’m nervous to not have (my father) in my corner,” says Jose Jr. “He’s been there since Day 1. He sees what I don’t see. He tells it straight on.
“I’m not always happy about it, but it helps me tremendously.”
The student half of student-athlete is important throughout the Wheeler wrestling program.
“This is the highest grade-point average team I’ve ever been involved with,” says Haddox, an industrial construction manager. “The majority of our kids are 3.0 or better. We have not had to worry about grades at all with any of our wrestlers.”
Haddox wrestled at Chesterton High School, where he graduated in 1981, and the University of Tennessee. After a time in Texas, he moved back to northwest Indiana and began helping with the Portage High School wrestling program before Wheeler came calling.
Besides Haddox and Jose Diaz Sr., the Bearcats are coached by Alex Bravo (former Valparaiso High School wrestler) and Yusef Mohmed (who has a background in mixed martial arts).
#WrestlingWednesday: Hunt ready for one last title run
BY JEREMY HINES
If it were all about heart, Bloomington South’s Noah Hunt would likely be a multiple time state champion. But, in life and on the wrestling mat, sometimes heart isn’t enough.
Hunt grew up around wrestling. He was naturally gifted in the sport and he spent many nights fine tuning his craft. But, in sixth grade, he decided he had enough. The love just wasn’t there like it used to be.
“I was burned out,” Hunt said. “I quit.”
Soon Hunt realized that quitting wasn’t part of his character. Being away from the sport showed him how much he actually loved it. Midway through the seventh grade season he returned to wrestling.
“I came back with a new mentality,” Hunt said. “I was ready to go. I was ready to get better than ever.”
Hunt pushed his body to the limits for the sport. His sophomore year that hard work started to pay dividends. He won sectional and regional and advanced to the Evansville semistate at 120 pounds. That’s when Hunt’s journey of pain, frustration and a quest for redemption began.
In the first round of the semistate Hunt hurt his knee. He was nine seconds into his match with Eastern’s Robbie Stein. Hunt shot in and grabbed Stein’s leg. As he was lifting it in the air to secure the single, he stepped wrong and twisted his knee. He knew he was in pain, but he continued to compete.
Hunt ended up winning that match in dominating fashion, 9-1. His knee did not feel right, and he knew it - but he had put too much work in to give up. If he was going to get to state, he had to wrestle through the pain and win the next match.
Hunt punched his ticket to state the next round, beating Center Grove’s Zak Siddiqui 12-1.
Hunt ended up finishing fourth at the semistate, winning two matches with a severely injured knee. He couldn’t wait to wrestle at state the next week. It was a dream come true for him - at least that’s what he thought.
The knee injury ended up being worse than Hunt expected. Doctors did an MRI and determined he had completely torn his ACL in his left knee. As much as he begged and pleaded to be able to wrestle at state, the doctors would not release him.
“It was a terrible feeling,” Hunt said. “I knew I could wrestle on it, and win. But I wasn’t allowed to.”
For Hunt, the road to recovery was a long, painful one. It took six months for him to be fully back to wrestling condition. He missed the entire summer of workouts. He knew while his competition was working on improving - he was working on getting back to the level he was previously.
Still, Hunt had a goal to return better than ever - and he did just that.
As a junior Hunt had more regular season losses than he did his sophomore year - but by tournament time he was clicking on all cylinders. He won the sectional and regional at 126 pounds. Then, at semistate, he defeated North Posey’s Cameron Fisher, Center Grove’s Peyton Pruett and Evansville Mater Dei’s Matt Lee in succession. He lost the semistate championship to Graham Rooks, 8-3.
Hunt won his Friday night match at state, guaranteeing him a placement in the top 8. He beat Ft. Wayne Carroll’s Joel Byman in that Friday night round, but then lost back-to-back matches to Michael DeLaPena and Jordan Slivka.
The only thing left for Hunt to wrestle for was seventh or eighth place. There was only one problem - he had hurt his right knee in the previous match. He recognized the feeling, it was almost the same as he had the year before.
He decided to wrestle anyway, knowing the pain he was in. This time around, Matt Lee won the match 6-3 - giving Hunt 8th place in the state.
A few days later he got the news that he had feared - he had torn his ACL. Six more months of recovery. Six more months of watching everyone else get better. Six more months off the mat.
“I just had to focus on what my ultimate goal was,” Hunt said. “I couldn’t feel sorry for myself. I knew I had to work in order to make the most of my senior year.”
Hunt’s mom, Melissa, didn’t want him wrestling again. She thought it wasn’t worth it.
“She was worried about me hurting myself again,” Hunt said. “I told her I’m sorry, but I have to do it. She wasn’t super thrilled, but she knew this was something I just had to do.”
This season Hunt is ranked No. 18 at 138 pounds. He is 32-3 and coming off a dominating sectional performance where he won the championship by eight points.
“A state title is pretty much his goal,” Bloomington South coach Mike Runyon said. “We set that goal early on in his career and despite everything he’s went through, that’s still his goal.”
Hunt has spent a full year of his high school life recovering from knee injuries. He said the hardest part of returning to the sport was getting his mat awareness back. Once he did that, he feels he’s ready to get the job done.
“I never had the thought that this isn’t worth it,” Hunt said. “All I see is wrestling, wrestling, wrestling. I’ve been pushing it as hard as I can. I’ve lost a few. But, if that’s what it takes to make my goals happen, then so be it. I’m there mentally and physically now. If I beat the kids ranked higher than me, some might think it’s an upset - but I won’t. I think I can wrestle with anyone and win.”
Bloomington South is a school rich in wrestling tradition. Pictures of past state champions line the wrestling room - a constant reminder of those that have claimed the state’s ultimate prize. Hunt says he looks at those pictures every day, and every day dreams his will be there as well. If so, perhaps no other wrestler in school history has had to overcome as much as he has to get that prize.
#WrestlingWednesday: Avon's Band of Brothers leading the way
By JEREMY HINES
The Avon wrestling team knows exactly where to look for inspiration as the season winds down and the state tournament draws near. The Orioles look to their own past.
Avon has learned first hand how wild and unpredictable the tournament can be. Wrestlers on the team have proven that it doesn’t matter if you win sectional, or regional. It doesn’t matter if you take some losses during the regular season. What matters most is surviving and advancing.
Avon senior Asa Garcia has epitomized that philosophy in his stellar career.
As a freshman Garcia lost to Ty Mills of rival Brownsburg in the sectional championship. Mills went on to beat him again in the regional, and then handed him a 5-0 loss in the semistate final. At state, however, Garcia was the one standing at the end. Mills lost to Warren Central’s Keyuan Murphy 9-2 in the semifinal round. Garcia pinned Murphy in the state championship to claim his first title.
Garcia had a fantastic sophomore year - winning sectional, regional and semistate, but he fell just short of his goal of back-to-back state titles, losing to eventual champion Alex Viduya in the state semifinal round. Garcia finished third that season.
As a junior Garcia again lost to Mills in sectional (2-0) and regional (5-1). In the semistate Columbus East’s Cayden Rooks handed Mills a semifinal defeat (1-0) and then dealt Garcia a loss in the semistate championship (3-1). But, like his freshman year, Garcia learned from his losses.
In the state finals Garcia ran through an absolute gauntlet of wrestling phenoms. He took out Beech Grove’s Ethan Smiley. He then faced Mills, who had dealt him so many previous losses. This time Garcia came out victorious 8-1.
In the championship, Garcia would once again take on Rooks - who had just beat him the week before. This time Garcia won the match 3-2 to claim his second title.
“Asa is really the heart and soul of our team,” Avon coach Zach Errett said. “As he goes, so does the team. He’s not afraid of losing. That’s really a quality that a lot of our guys have. You have to learn from your losses, and Asa has really shown he can do that.”
This year Avon has seven state-ranked wrestlers in the lineup. Garcia is No. 1 at 132 pounds this season and senior teammate Carson Brewer is ranked No. 1 at 182 pounds.
Asa’s younger brother, Blaze, a freshman, is currently ranked No. 12 at 106 for the Orioles. Sophomore Tyler Conley is ranked No. 10 at 120 and his older brother Nathan Conley (12) is ranked No. 4 at 152.
Junior Raymond Rioux is currently ranked No. 7 at 126. Sophomore Jaden Reynolds rounds out the ranked wrestlers for Avon, at No. 10 in he 138 pound weight class.
“Asa, Nathan and Carson really lead the way for us,” Errett said. “They are great leaders and they work hard. That shows the other kids what’s expected and what needs to be done in order to have success.”
Avon has three sets of brothers on the team in the Garcias, the Conleys and Jaden and Trae Reynolds. Trae, a senior, is injured and will miss the remainder of the season.
“Trae had been ranked for most of the year,” Errett said. “Then at team state he dislocated his elbow and is out for the year. I feel terrible for him. The type of kid he is, he will probably be first team academic all-state. He had either the highest or the second highest GPA in all of the juniors and seniors last year. He’s a phenomenal young man. He’s a hard worker. His senior year ended in the wrong way, but he still comes in the room and helps coach. He’s trying to help his teammates anyway he can. He’s been an awesome kid.”
For the last few years Avon has finished just behind Brownsburg in sectional and regional standings. The Orioles are hoping this year they can pull off the upset.
“Our goal is to win the IHSAA state title,” Errett said. “We know in order to do that we have to have a lot of things go right for us. In this sport, that’s unpredictable. But, we really feel we have a chance if everyone is wrestling their best.”
#MondayMatness: Jimtown’s Gimson twins gearing up for senior season
By STEVE KRAH
The identical Gimson twins — Conner and Matt — return for their senior wrestling season for Jimtown High School in 2018-19.
Both brothers are two-time IHSAA State Finals qualifiers. Both stepped onto the State Finals podium last season — Conner placed fifth at 138 pounds and Matt eighth at 132.
Both Jimmies are back and looking to do even better in their last prep mat go-round. They will likely be in those same weight divisions.
After going 46-4 in 2017-18, Conner Gimson’s three-year career record stands at 123-21. Matt Gimson went 46-5 last season and is now 127-20. “They have a ceiling that’s still really high,” says Jimtown head coach Jeremiah Maggart of the Gimsons, who are the youngest of Scott and Sherry Gimson’s four children (Drew and Kylie are the oldest). “They’re successful because they wrestle really hard and do things strong.”
Both brothers honed their skills and got different looks by competing in out-of-state tournaments last spring and summer. Among those were individual and national duals in Virginia Beach, Va., and the Super 32 in North Carolina.
“They showed me a different way to wrestle so I have to think differently,” says Conner Gimson.
His approach on the mat has changed since the beginning of his high school days.
“Earlier in my career, I was thinking strength could win it all,” says Conner Gimson. “But you need both technique and strength.
“You have to have the dedication in practice everyday. You push yourself more today than you did yesterday to be a better wrestler later on.”
Matt Gimson is also taking the lessons he learned in the summer and applying them in the Jimtown practice room. To improve, he has grappled with Maggart, Conner, Hunter Watts and others.
“I thank everyone that’s helped me through the process,” says Matt Gimson. “I’m better at getting takedowns (compared to my early prep career). In the neutral position is what I’ve been working on from my freshman year to now.”
Repetition is the key.
“When you do something so much, you get used to it will become muscle memory,” says Matt Gimson. “That’s what I think has gotten better for me.”
Conner has witnessed an improvement in Matt, his older brother by 27 minutes.
“He’s gotten smarter, faster and stronger, too,” says Conner Gimson of his brother. “He can do a quick re-shot compared to some other people.”
Maggart says he is trying to get Conner to realize his potential.
“He can win big matches,” says Maggart. “Last year, he lost at the Charger Invitational (at Elkhart Memorial) and two matches at the Al Smith (Classic at Mishawaka).”
After that, Conner told his coach that he wanted to step up his game.
His work ethic increased and so did his focus on technique.
“We drilled everyday from the Al Smith to State,” says Maggart of Conner Gimson. “He worked really hard in positions he wasn’t good at.
A kid coming up and saying I want to do this is pretty awesome.
“He beat a lot of good kids from the regional on (including Elkhart Memorial’s Bryton Goering in the Elkhart Sectional and Fort Wayne Semistate finals as well as Central Noble’s Austin Moore in the regional final and Yorktown’s Colt Rutter in the semistate “ticket round,” Western’s Hunter Nottingham in the semistate semifinals and Culver Military’s Adam Davis is the fifth-place match at State).”
Matt Gimson’s first loss as a junior came to Indianapolis Cathedral’s Alex Mosconi in the Al Smith Classic finals.
“That didn’t faze him,” says Maggart. “Sometimes you lose a match or two and you’re kind of shaky on where you’re at.
“(Conner and Matt) stayed the course and listened to our coaching staff about getting them where they want to be — state place winners.”
Maggart has seen the twins excel with what appears to be natural strength. It might also come from a 6-foot-4 father and grappling against bigger kids at a younger age.
“Wrestling stronger kids made me who I am today,” says Conner Gimson.
Their coach has noticed that muscle in both twins.
“They are so strong,” says Maggart. “They are no live-in-the-weight room kids. When they grab on to you, you say that kid’s really strong for 130 pounds.”
Does it help to have many moves in your arsenal?
“It helps if you know a lot of things, but if you stick to the basics that will be the best,” says Conner Gimson. “The basics we talk about are high crotches, single-legs and doubles.”
Maggart notes that the Gimsons have improved technically a lot the last year and a half, but there is a comfort zone with certain moves. “I’m confident that I can get the stuff done if I do it my way,” says Conner Gimson.
Conner Gimson was once known for his spadles and Matt Gimson his cradles, but both have worked to diversify their attacks.
“I have to have other moves if that one doesn’t work,” says Matt Gimson.
Some wrestlers can become known for certain things. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can be stopped.
“If you do something well enough and hard enough, it doesn’t matter if they know it’s coming,” says Maggart. “You can’t be a one-trick pony and have one move. But if you have a couple of things and you do them well enough that no one can stop you, you’ll be OK.
“Jordan Burroughs is one of the best wrestlers in the world. Everyone in the world knows he shoots a double and he still scores on doubles on everybody.”
Not only are the brothers physically tough, there’s mental toughness there, too.
“Probably the biggest part of the sport that is unnoticed is how tough are you when things are tough?,” says Maggart. “Everybody’s going to eventually get in that spot. (The Gimsons) are tough. They’ll do whatever you ask them to do. They show up. They put a lot of time in.
“They’re always mentally in it.”
Both brothers plan to wrestle in college, but have not yet made commitments.
The Jimmies open the season with the Jimtown Super Dual Dec. 1. Some of the other competition include the Charger Invitational at Elkhart Memorial Dec. 8, the Henry Wilk Classic at Penn Dec. 15, a dual at NorthWood Dec. 18, the Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 28-29, the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals in Fort Wayne Jan. 5, a dual against Northridge Jan. 8, Northern Indiana Conference Tournament Jan. 12 and a dual against Edwardsburg (Mich.) Jan. 15.
#WrestlingWednesday: Warren Central focusing on team
By JEREMY HINES
Warren Central wrestling coach Jim Tonte was watching a documentary on the life of South African Nelson Mandela. That documentary sparked a philosophical mantra that Tonte would use to help push his team-first mentality.
“We really adopted the term ‘Ubuntu’,” Tonte said. “To Mandela, it meant ‘I am because we are.’ Mandela talked about everyone sacrificing for the good of the people. South Africa found success because they worked together. It wasn’t about me, it was about us.”
Although wrestling is largely considered an individual sport, Tonte embraces the team aspect first and foremost. His teams have won four state titles (three with Perry Meridian and one with Warren Central). Individually, he has coached eight state champions.
With over 70 wrestlers in the program Tonte feels it is vitally important to stress the team-first mentality.
“A lot of people don’t understand or believe my philosophy,” Tonte said. “I believe in building a team and building depth. A lot say the team state isn’t as important as individual. They say you can just make one really good team. But that doesn’t make Indiana wrestling any better.
“I remember one year we got second in state and we had Nick Walpole, who was a state champion. Nick said he would trade that individual ring any day of the week and twice on Sunday for a team title. We are a family from the little kids on. You build your elementary, your middle school and you all support each other.
“I’m good at reenacting what other greats do. Mater Dei really had this same philosophy and year after year they would produce great teams because of it.”
This year Tonte is hoping his team lives up to their potential.
“From top to bottom we are as solid as we were in 2016,” Tonte said. “We aren’t as flashy as the 2016 team, but we’re as solid.”
The Warriors return three state qualifiers from last season. David Pierson finished fourth at 106, Antwaun Graves was fifth at 145 and Jarred Rowlett qualified at 132.
Four other returners were semistate qualifiers last year – Jevian Ross, Aundre Beatty, Brice Coleman and Aaron Taylor.
Sophomore Carlton Perry will likely be the Warriors’ 106-pounder. Perry is currently ranked No. 12. Pierson is ranked No. 4 at 113 pounds.
Senior Chris Stewart will be at 120 for the Warriors with Ross, a sophomore, filling the 126 varsity spot.
Ross was an All-American at the Disney Duals over the summer, just three weeks after a stray bullet came through his house, into his bedroom and struck him in the head.
“That was a freak, freak thing,” Tonte said.
Beatty, a junior, will fill the 132 spot with Rowlett, a senior, moving up to 138. Coleman will wrestle 145 for the Warriors.
Graves, at 152, is perhaps Warren’s most decorated grappler. He was a preseason national champ last season. He beat eventual state champion Jordan Slivka in the semistate and beat Kasper McIntosh, who now wrestles for the University of Minnesota, in the placement round at state.
“When Antwaun is on a roll he can beat anyone,” Tonte said. “He’s legitmate. He’s one of those kids that learns during a match. He’s very coachable. His freshman year at team state duals he had a kid named Joe Lee (Mater Dei). Lee only decisioned him. At the time, Antwaun was our JV kid. Can you imagine Joe Lee decisioning a JV kid, and at the end of the match Joe got called for stalling. I told Antwaun then that he can be a state champion.”
Graves is ranked No. 4.
Taylor will be Warren’s 160 pounder.
“He’s one of the most athletic kids I’ve ever coached,” Tonte said.
At 170 junior Damon McClane will look to make his mark in his first year as a varsity wrestler.
“Damon has been very successful during the offseason at all three levels,” Tonte said. “We’re hoping he will really surprise people this year. He was a JV guy for us last year.”
Senior James Dycus will wrestle at 182 for the Warriors with senior Nathan Bishop getting the 195 spot.
Warren’s 220 pounder and heavyweight will likely be filled by members of the state championship football team. Senior Carlos Mitchell will wrestle at 220 and either Dennis Hubbard or Alex Hernandez will fill the spot at heavyweight.
With such a large number of wrestlers, Tonte says there could be others that break into the lineup at some point in the season.
“We have guys like Jajuan Anderson as a back up at 145-152. He just All-Americaned at Iowa in the preseason nationals as a sophomore.”
Tonte said part of his strength as a coach is to emphasize to everyone that they have an important role on the team. That helps when there is so much competition for position spots.
“That’s my niche,” Tonte said. “We have to find ways for kids to stick around. If there is one thing in this sport that I’ve been pretty good at, it’s probably that. I try my best to keep kids around the program. Even the worst kid in the world is important to the program. We are going to have wrestle offs this week and we’ll have state caliber kids battling to stay in the lineup. But, in the end, they know it’s all about the team and they’ll do whatever they need to do to help the team win.”
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#MondayMatness: O’Neill returns to Wabash, helps Apaches thrive
By STEVE KRAH
The second time around has been extra sweet for Jake O’Neill and the Wabash High School wrestling program.
O’Neil spent six seasons as Apaches head coach then four as an assistant at his alma mater — Ben Davis in Indianapolis — and is now in his second six as head coach at Wabash.
With the help of several folks, O’Neill and the Apaches have enjoyed a resurgence since he was drawn back to the northern part of Indiana.
“I like where this little school’s going,” says O’Neill. “I’m excited about it.”
“I love this community.”
Wabash has a population of about 10,000 and around 400 attend the high school.
This season, the Apaches will participate in the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals for the first time. Wabash will be in Class 1A for the Jan. 5 meet in Fort Wayne.
The Apaches’ varsity schedule also includes the Wabash County Invitational, Western Invitational, Whitko Invitational and duals with Maconaquah, Rochester, Lewis Cass, Eastbrook, Peru and Western.
“When you have rivalries and communities meet up it only only helps the sport grow,” says O’Neill. “We had a nice gym going against Maconaquah. It was a fun atmosphere.”
There are 27 wrestlers on the Wabash team.
“We have a really big sophomore group,” says O’Neill. “Quantity helps. Quality is what we’re looking for.”
In the mix are freshman Jared Brooks and sophomore R.J. Steg at 106 and 113, sophomore Ethan Higgins at 120, junior Braden Brooks at 126, junior Jaxon Barnett at 132, sophomore Anthony Long at 138, freshman Brayden Sickafus at 152, junior Traydon Goodwin at 152, sophomore Grant Carandante at 160, sophomore Justin Heckman and sophomore Bryson
Zapata at 170, senior Blake Wiser at 182, senior Luke Voirol at 195, sophomore Grant Warmuth at 220 and senior Justin Samons and junior Blake Price at 285.
Higgins and Braden Books competed in the off-season at the Freestyle and Greco-Roman Nationals in Fargo, N.D.
“They got to see guys who will be on the (IHSAA State Finals) podium at the end of the year,” says O’Neill. “Training with them all summer was definitely good for them.”
Carandante is O’Neill’s stepson. His other two children are freshman wrestler Kiersten O’Neill and sophomore basketball player Keegan O’Neill.
Upon his return to Wabash, O’Neill established the Apache Wrestling Club. It now has about 30 grapplers in grades K-6.
There are also about 20 sixth, seventh and eighth graders in the junior high program.
A wall was knocked down in the weight room to double the size of the Wabash wrestling room.
“We’re changing the culture here with the sport,” says O’Neill, who notes that the Apaches scored four points and were down to six wrestlers the season before his return. “The community is starting to see the hard work these young men and women are putting in.
“We want to continue to get kids up on that podium at Bankers Life and get kids up on our little wall of fame at school. We’ve got to aim big. That’s how I want my wrestlers thinking.”
Ross Haughn and Jimmy Olinger are coaching the elementary wrestlers and are part of a high school coaching staff which also includes Tyler Niccum, Jeremy Haupert and Isaac Ray. Ray wrestled at Hamilton Heights High School and at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., about 15 miles from Wabash.
“I have a solid relationship with Coach (Kevin) Lake (at Manchester U.),” says O’Neill. “I use my resources wisely with that.”
Chad Ulmer, who wrestled at Triton High School and Manchester U., has departed Wabash for Hendricks County, where he will serve as a probation officer and likely help coach wrestling at one of the area schools.
At Ben Davis, where O’Neill had graduated in 1995, he joined with then-Giants head coach Aaron Moss to have plenty of mat coaching success.
“We produced some pretty good wrestlers together,” says O’Neill.
O’Neill was dating a Wabash girl — Aimee — and decided to look for a job that would bring him back north. He took an interview at nearby Manchester High School.
By then, principal Jason Callahan had become superintendent of Wabash City Schools.
“(Callahan) made it happen,” says O’Neill of the former Daleville High School wrestling coach. “A job created (at Wabash) within a couple of weeks."
“He believed in me a bunch.”
Jake and Aimee O’Neill have been married for five years.
In his first tenure in town, O’Neill formed some key relationships like those with Peru coach Andy Hobbs and Northfield coach Bill Campbell (now retired).
“They put their arms around me and helped me,” says O’Neill. “I’m proud to call them mentors and friends.”
He’s also grateful to Pat Culp for her role in running tournaments at all levels around Indiana.
“She’s a blessing for everybody,” says O’Neill, who is an Indiana State Wrestling Association director for Cadets. “She encouraged us to host tournaments. She played a big rule in helping us grow this program.”
O’Neill admits that during his first tenure he was looking to go elsewhere. This time, he’s in it for the long haul.
“My first year back at Wabash, I started approaching it looking at the big picture and setting long-term goals with the program,” says O’Neill.
About that time, O’Neill discovered a move-in from North Carolina in his eighth grade physical education class.
Noah Cressell qualified for the IHSAA State Finals twice and placed third at 182 pounds in 2018 — Wabash’s first state placer since heavyweight Tim LaMar won a state title in 1999.
“That kid did a lot with helping this program grow,” says O’Neill of Cressell. “It was not just his wrestling, but his personality. He was a humble kid and everybody loved him. He was the poster boy for our program.”
Cressell is now on the team at North Dakota State University.
And the Wabash Apaches are back on the state wrestling map.
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#WrestlingWednesday: Cornwell looking to finish on top
By JEREMY HINES
Kyle Cornwell was ready to give up wrestling for good. Almost every time he stepped on the mat, he would eventually watch his opponent have his hand raised in victory. The losses piled up, and the frustration mounted along with it.
“I’ve had some mental blocks in wrestling,” Cornwell said. “In sixth grade I was something like 1-26. I was so frustrated with myself. I didn’t think wrestling was for me. I really wanted to just throw in the towel.”
That’s when Cornwell got a little encouragement from his family and one of his closest friends.
“My dad (Jade Cornwell) and friend Jalen Morgan talked me into sticking with wrestling,” Kyle said. “Jalen told me we have to start training. We’re not going to get better without putting in the work. So, we started training. We trained and trained and trained. By my 8th grade year we went to a preseason national tournament in Iowa and Jalen finished third in his weight class and I won mine.”
That tournament success vaulted Cornwell’s wrestling career. He fell in love with the sport and is now ranked No. 1 in the state at 220 pounds and will wrestle for Indiana University next season. The Elwood senior’s training partner is still that same kid that told him in sixth grade to stick with wrestling. Morgan is ranked fourth at 182 pounds.
“Jalen and I have been friends since fourth grade,” Kyle said. “We wrestle every day at practice. He has more speed than I do, so that helps me, and I am stronger than him, so that helps him.”
Last season Cornwell finished fifth at 220 pounds. He was a state qualifier in the same weight class in 2017. He is happy to be ranked No. 1 this season.
“It’s really a relief to be ranked No. 1,” Cornwell said. “Yeah, you have a target on your back a little, but I’ve been ranked behind Mason Parris for a while and it’s nice to have that top spot now. You have to be confident to be that No. 1 guy or you are going to lose. You don’t go to a match with your head down. You know who you are and that you can beat anyone.”
Cornwell wrestled Parris last season in the New Castle semistate championship. That match didn’t work out well for Cornwell, as Parris pinned him in 1:14.
“It was a really good experience to wrestle Mason,” Cornwell said. “He’s one of the top kids in the nation. It opened my eyes to what I need to be like and what I need to be training for. It really helped me step up to that next level.”
Cornwell committed to improving in the offseason, with a focus on pushing the pace and scoring. His mission is to score as many takedowns and points as possible. He wrestled over 100 matches during the offseason and feels right now he’s at the best he’s ever been.
“Kyle has a funk to him that he’s been getting into for the last few years,” Elwood coach Fred Short said. “He likes to do the scrambling like they do in college. In high school it’s a little weird to see when you’re not used to it. He is a lot slicker now than he was last year. I think a lot of that is because of wrestling with Jalen and really having to be quick against him.”
Cornwell’s goals this season were to go undefeated and win a state championship.
Elwood, as a team, is down this season. The team had 10 wrestlers early on but are down a few since that time. Coach Short, who has been a wrestling coach in some capacity since the early 1980s, is retiring after this season.
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#WrestlingWednesday: Dickens and Lee are looking for gold
By JEREMY HINES
Matt Lee and Eli Dickens are practice partners in the Evansville Mater Dei wrestling room. They are good friends, they are both juniors and they are both ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes. The similarities don’t end there.
The two are soft spoken and humble. They have extremely similar voices, so much so that it’s hard to differentiate them if talking on the phone. They both have a 3.9 grade point average.
“On the wrestling mat they both like to push the pace,” Wildcat head coach Greg Schaefer said. “They are both students of the sport and they love fine tuning techniques. They are both competitive. They don’t like giving up anything. They just push each other and the other guys in the room.”
In fact, the two are so similar that coach Schaefer has a hard time finding any differences.
“I don’t really know how they are different,” Schaefer said. “There isn’t a lot of differences that I know of. There are a lot more similarities than differences.”
Lee also struggled to think of a difference.
“We are pretty similar,” Lee said. “We are really good friends and practice partners and our styles are similar.”
Dickens was the only one that could offer up some differences between the two.
“I guess the main thing that separates us is our setups,” Dickens said. “He is more of a high crotch guy and I’m more of a getting ankles and sweep singles kind of guy.”
Lee, who is the younger brother of Indiana legends Joe Lee and Nick Lee, is currently 30-0 on the season and holds the top ranking in the 145-pound class. He finished seventh the last two years in a row and is hoping to climb the ladder more this year.
“It was a good feeling to place at state,” Lee said. “But you can’t be truly satisfied unless you get first. It’s always good to be at the top. I was happy to place, but I wanted more. I was hungry for more. That pushed into this year and drives me.”
Being the younger brother of Nick (won state in 2015, now wrestles for Penn State) and Joe (won state in 2016 and 2017) hasn’t put a lot of pressure on Matt.
“People always talk about the pressure of being their younger brother,” Matt said. “I don’t feel that pressure. I talk to them and they give me advice. They help me as much as I allow them to. I keep them as a source of information. I don’t pry them to learn everything they know, but if I need help I can always go to them.”
Matt said watching Nick wrestle for Penn State makes him nervous.
“I’ve heard how it’s hard on parents to watch their kids wrestle sometime and watching Nick wrestle I know what they are going through now,” Matt said. “I didn’t understand that before. I get more nervous for Nick’s matches than I do for any of my own.”
Dickens has not placed in state so far, but he did qualify last year. This season he defeated former No. 1 ranked Elliott Rodgers 4-3 and that catapulted him to the top spot in the 152-pound weight class.
“It was pretty amazing to see that I was ranked No. 1,” Dickens said. “I try not to think of it too much, but it was exciting. It gave me more confidence and belief in my ability. I knew that I could beat anyone, but that just solidified that idea in my head.”
One big key for Dickens is that he doesn’t have to worry about his weight like he did last season. He feels that has helped him to be stronger and not focus so much on the weight aspect of the sport.
“I had a huge growth spurt last year where my body wanted to grow mid-season,” Dickens said. “This year I’m wrestling up three weight classes and I feel so much healthier.”
Matt is currently 30-0 on the season and Eli is 31-2, with both of his losses coming to out of state wrestlers.
Both Matt and Eli are hoping to wrestle in college, but neither have decided where they want to go.
Matt enjoys watching television, playing games and watching movies on weekends when he’s not wrestling.
“I’m a pretty average kid,” he said. “Probably my favorite thing to do is eat, but you can’t do a lot of that during the season. I just like to try to find fun in the small things. I’m just normal and I like hanging out with my friends.”
Eli enjoys going to his Bible study on Wednesday’s with his youth group.
“I feel that it really builds me spiritually and gets my mindset right,” he said. “I focus on God and the bigger picture.”
The two will compete Saturday in the Evansville North regional.
“I don’t want to sound boring,” Schaefer said. “But they are both just awesome kids that work really hard. I hope they are able to accomplish their goals.”
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#WrestlingWednesday: Mullets and Mustaches, Oh My!
By JEREMY HINES
The Man. The Myth. The Mullet. The Mustache.
Outside of the famous Willie and Red’s smorgasbord (best fried chicken and prime rib in the area), senior wrestler Jake Combs is the biggest attraction in Hagerstown.
He’s popular because he’s a phenomenal three-sport athlete, because he has a mullet and mustache that would make Billy Ray Cyrus jealous and because he has become the first Tiger wrestler since 2003 to advance to the state finals.
“I can’t put it into words, honestly, what going to state means to me,” Combs said. “It’s something I’ve been dreaming about ever since I lost here last year. It just feels amazing.”
Combs had a huge contention of fans Saturday at the New Castle semistate. When he won his ticket round matchup against Frankfort senior Ezekial VanDeventer, it seemed as if the whole gym erupted in applause.
“Wrestling is unlike any sport in many ways but the family aspect that comes with it is truly humbling,” Hagerstown coach Anton Payne said. “I feel the entire TEC (Tri Eastern Conference), our sectional and regional teams were pulling for Jake today. The crowd from Hagerstown was huge but when Jake won there were hundreds, if not thousands of people screaming and jumping out of their seats.”
Combs doesn’t have the typical wrestling story of athletes that are going to the state finals. He didn’t wrestle as a young kid. He didn’t wrestle in middle school. He didn’t even wrestle as a freshman or sophomore, despite coach Payne practically begging him every year to give it a try.
Payne finally wore Combs down before his junior season.
“Jake started wrestling for the first time 15 short months ago,” Payne said. “I tried my best to get this young man out since junior high, but it wasn’t until his junior year, in November that he said he would try a practice to see if he likes it.”
Combs fell in love with wrestling. Early on it was evident that he was strong as an ox, but he didn’t have any technique to go along with that raw strength. As the season progressed, Combs continued to learn the sport and by tournament time, he was good enough to advance to semistate. That success created a hunger.
Combs started working as hard as he could to learn more about wrestling. He went to open gyms in the summer. He traveled to Carmel and other places looking to soak in as much knowledge as possible. It paid off.
“I told Jake that we would have to work hard,” Payne said. “I told him we would have to push through adversity. We would have to wrestle through pains. We would have to stay on the mat as much as possible in the off season. We would have to work on our explosiveness. We would have to gain more mat confidence and we would have to be 100 percent committed. Jake’s response was ‘let’s do it.’ “
This season Combs is 38-5 and was perhaps the surprise of the 182-pound class in the New Castle semistate. He knocked off Greenfield’s Scott Stanley by fall in the first period to advance to the ticket round. In the ticket round he dominated VanDeventer, pinning him 1:53.
But Combs wasn’t done yet. In the next round he had the task of taking on No. 14-ranked J.D. Farrell of Fishers. Combs won that match 3-1 to advance to the semistate championship.
Combs lost in the finals to Elwood’s No. 12-ranked Jalen Morgan 5-0.
To Combs, wrestling is fun. That’s part of the reason he grew his world-class mullet and mustache – which some accredit to his quick rise to success in the sport. Combs isn’t sure which one gives him these special powers, though.
“You know, I’m thinking it’s the mullet,” Combs said. “It’s newer. I’ve had the mustache for a while. But, you know what, it has matured a lot, so maybe it’s that, too. It might be both.”
In Hagerstown they have made fan support T-shirts for Combs. The shirts just have an outline of a mullet and a mustache. Combs loves them.
“Wrestling is such a serious sport and I’m just trying to bring a little flavor to it.”
Friday Combs will get to showcase that flavor at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in front of the state’s most die-hard wrestling fans. He will take on Oak Hill’s No. 16-ranked Bradley Rosman in the first round.
“Jake has accomplished what he said he would do last year after semistate,” Payne said. “But we are not satisfied yet.”
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#WrestlingWednesday: Irick back bigger and better
By JEREMY HINES
Hamilton Southeastern senior Andrew Irick suffered a devastating knee injury in the spring of his junior year. It might have been the best thing for him.
Irick knew, because of the injury (he tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus), he wouldn’t be able to remain in the 220-pound weight class. He also knew he needed to get stronger, but he couldn’t do much with his legs in the weight room due to the surgery on his knee and the recovery time needed. So, he started working upper body. Weight gain wasn’t an issue because he was planning to bump up to heavyweight for his senior season.
“He probably put on 55 pounds,” HSE coach Nick Brobst said. “He’s a totally rebuilt athlete now. His wrestling reflects that. He’s bigger, way, way stronger and way more aggressive with his attacks. Wrestling in the heavyweight division makes him look even faster. He’s a much, much improved wrestler over what he was last year.”
Last season Irick was no slouch. He had his best season of his career, ultimately finishing fourth at state.
Irick started out as a freshman in the 182-pound class. He then moved up to 195 as a sophomore and 220 as a junior. Those early weight class competitions forced Irick to get better on his feet. That has ultimately helped him now that he’s in the heavyweight class.
Irick’s older brother Matt wrestled for Indiana University. His other brother, Spencer, wrestles for IU now. Matt worked a lot with Andrew to help him on his feet and with takedowns. That has transformed Irick’s attack on the mat.
“He has got a lot more aggressive on his feet,” Brobst said. “We used to joke that he wrestled using what we called the ‘Irick stall’ where he would do anything and everything to make a match last forever. Last year he started developing his own gas tank and now he doesn’t want the matches to go that long.
“He still has that heavyweight mentality to a tee,” Brobst said. “Last year he won on Friday night at state. At weigh-ins Saturday morning his teammate was eating yogurt, fruit and a granola bar. Andrew is there eating a bag of leftover Halloween candy. He said ‘this is what I do. Leave the process alone.’ “
Irick is currently ranked No. 2 in the state in the 285-pound class. He’s ranked just below Brownsburg’s returning state champion Dorian Keys. The two could potentially wrestle in 10 days at the Hoosier Crossroads Conference tournament.
“Conference is important,” Irick said. “But ultimately my goal is to win a state championship and that’s the bigger picture for me right now. I want to be at my best come tournament time.”
According to coach Brobst, Andrew goes through a whole gamut of emotions before he wrestles.
“Andrew is probably the first kid I’ve coached in 10 years that’s just never serious,” Brobst said. “He’s a complete goofball everywhere he goes. But come meet time, he goes through this process. He’s nervous at first. Then he starts doubting himself and thinking he can’t beat the other guy. Then he decides he’s going to go out and kick that guy’s butt. Something clicks and he’s ready to go. It’s like that every match.”
Irick is in the top 10 percent of his class academically. He has a 4.27 GPA and plans to follow in his brothers’ footsteps and wrestle at Indiana University next season. He will study biology or chemistry with the goal of becoming a doctor.
Like wrestling, becoming a doctor runs in the family. Both of Irick’s parents are doctors, his grandfather is a doctor, his uncle is a doctor and both of his brothers are studying to be doctors.
“It’s hard to see him as a doctor, knowing him as an 18-year old,” Brobst said. “But I have no doubt that he will be. He might go into a field where he works with kids. He’s extremely good with kids. My son is a kindergartener and thinks Andrew walks on water.”
Irick is focused on getting back to state this year and potentially making is way to the championship match.
“The atmosphere at state is just indescribable,” Irick said. “I can’t wait to get back there.”
#MondayMatness: Jay County’s Hare, Winner stepping back on Indiana high school wrestling’s big stage
By STEVE KRAH
“We have two from the Patriots of Jay County!”
Gaven Hare and Mason Winner are back for their second appearance in the IHSAA State Finals “Parade of Champions.”
Once the pre-meet pageantry is over at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis Friday night, it’s time to get down to business for 220-pound senior Hare and 160-pounder Winner.
There’s no more “just happy to be here.”
Hare was a state qualifier at 220 as a junior. Winner placed seventh at 145 as a freshman.
This year, Hare’s postseason path has included runner-up finishes at the sectional and regional tournaments — both held at Jay County — and a championship at the Fort Wayne Semistate.
“This year, I know not to go in there content,” says Hare, who is 38-7 for 2017-18 and 120-44 for his prep career. “I have to stay hungry. “I’ve already lost two title matches (at sectional and regional). I know how bad it feels to lose. I’m not trying to have that feeling anymore.”
It was Hare’s first semistate title and Winner’s second straight (the sophomore also won sectional and regional in 2018).
Other Jay County semistate champions include Glenn Glogas (1982), Greg Garringer (1982), Eric Lemaster (1987), Geoff Glogas (1987), Larry Brown (1988), Casey Kenney (2008 and 2009), Drake Meska (2011) and Eric Hemmelgarn (2013 and 2014).
When Hare earned his semistate title, he impressed a number of people in the Memorial Coliseum crowd.
“I was getting feedback on both sides of the coin,” says fourth-year Patriots head coach Eric Myers. “I had at least 10 people come up to me afterward and say that he was one of their favorite wrestlers to watch.”
It’s obvious to his coach by the smile on his face that Hare is enjoying the challenges of wrestling.
“He likes to compete and have a good time,” says Myers. “Gaven is great for the sport. He makes it exciting out there.” Myers, a former Adams Central wrestler and South Adams head coach, is a seventh grade teacher and he first encountered Hare as a junior high student. It was in that seventh grade year that Andy Schmidt recruited the young man to the mats.
“He was really raw at first,” says Myers. “But he had this athleticism and this innate sense to compete and to win.”
As a freshman, Hare set his sights high and he won a challenge match to take a sport in the varsity lineup.
“He’s always set goals,” says Myers. “ I’m going to be here by such and such time and usually he’s achieved those goals.”
Myers has watched Hare experience some ups and downs in his senior season. He took two losses and narrowly avoided a third at the Carroll Super Dual and suffered setbacks against South Adams senior Isaiah Baumgartner in the sectional final and Adams Central senior Chandler Schumm in the regional championship match.
Those only served to re-focus him.
“He’s been pushing himself just a little harder than he did before,” says Myers. “He was banged up going into state tournament series so he backed off and that showed in his results.”
At semistate, Hare edged Baumgartner 5-4 in the semifinals and pinned Central Noble junior Levi Leffers in 1:58 in the finals.
A three-sport athlete, Hare is also a two-way lineman in football and right-handed pitcher in baseball. He has worked as an umpire and would like to explore coaching, something he has discussed with his Jay County head coaches — Myers in wrestling, Tim Millspaugh in football and Lea Selvey in baseball.
When he’s not playing school sports, he is likely competing with friends or family in basketball, wiffleball, bowling or something else.
“I’m a sports fanatic,” says Hare.
Between all his other sports, Hare has found time to make it to off-season open rooms and works out in practice with assistant coaches like Bryce Baumgartner, who placed seventh at 182 as a Bellmont senior in 2017.
“These older guys give me a good pounding,” says Hare. “They show me more technique and the moves that will get me through the tough matches.”
Myers has two paid assistants in Jeff Heller and Bruce Wood and three volunteers in Baugmgartner, Jon Winner and Chad Chowning. Bellmont graduate Heller was a Myers assistant at South Adams and is also his brother-in-law. Wood and Chowning are Jay Country graduates. Jon Winner is a former Monroe Central wrestler and the father of Mason.
The son of Molly Robbins and Zack Hare and middle sibling between Destiny Hare and Corbin Hare, Portland resident Gaven says he would like to pursue one or more sports in college.
As self-described academic slacker his first few years of high school, Hare pulled a 4.0 and 3.8 in the first two grading periods this school year.
“I’m trying to catch up,” says Hare, who has drawn some interest from college wrestling programs and will wait to see what unfolds this spring on the baseball diamond.
Winner, who is 44-2 on the season and 83-6 for his career, has been around wrestling almost non-stop since he was a second grader. He has traveled extensively with the Indiana Outlaws and trained with the best at CIA and Pride centers and attended Jeff Jordan’s camps.
“He’s a year-round grinder,” says Myers of Winner. “He immerses himself in the sport and so does his family.”
Winner, who topped Fort Wayne Bishop Luers senior Chandler Woenker 3-0 in the semistate finals, is always looking to make himself better.
That’s why he started running cross country in sixth grade.
“It’s whether you want to push yourself or not,” says Winner. “They say that wrestling is 90 percent mental. It’s whether you want do to it or not. You have to push yourself — in running or wrestling.”
Winner has a way of pushing himself and his opponent.
“He’s an in-your-face wrestler that will keep coming at you,” says Myers. “He’s got a quality that is hard to implant in kids. He’ll keep going until he gets what he wants. He’s hard-nosed and mentally tough.
“He has the confidence to keep going after it.” Mason also draws inspiration from his family. Jon and Kimberly Winner have three children — Mason, Mitchell and Mallory. Mitchell is a
freshman and also runs cross country. Fifth grader Mallory competes with the Jay County Wrestling Club and also plays softball.
The Winners are Ridgeville area farmers and have about 50 head of Charolais cattle between their property and that of Bill and Sandra Winner — Jon’s parents.
Both of Mason’s paternal grandparents were too ill to attend semistate.
“I’m wrestling with so much more emotion,” says Mason. “My grandpa has Alzheimer’s (disease). He’s my hero.
“It would mean so much to me to win a state title for him.”
Two Patriots — Geoff Glogas (98) and David Ferguson (105) — reached the top of the State Finals podium in 1987.
Jay County’s state placers:
• Glenn Glogas (second at 112 in 1981; second at 119 in 1982).
• Greg Garringer (fifth at 155 in 1982).
• Kurt VanSkyock (third at 145 in 1984; third at 155 in 1985)
• Larry Wilson (fourth at 167 in 1985).
• Geoff Glogas (state champion at 98 in 1987; fifth at 103 in 1988).
• David Ferguson (state champion at 105 in 1987).
• Shawn Jordan (sixth at 152 in 1997).
• James Myers (seventh at 125 in 1997).
• James Brewster (seventh at 215 in 1999).
• Casey Kenney (second at 103 in 2008).
• Eric Hemmelgarn (third at 285 in 2012; fifth at 285 in 2013; fourth
at 285 in 2014).
• Kyle Garringer (sixth at 195 in 2013).
• Andy Kohler (sixth at 182 in 2016).