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#WrestlingWednesday: Garcia has a new approach to his Junior year
By JEREMY HINES
If Asa Garcia ever needed a nickname, perhaps The Fireman would be the most fitting.
Sure, the Avon junior’s favorite wrestling move is the fireman’s carry - but that’s not the only reason for the nickname. Firemen are some of the bravest men on the planet. While most sane people run in the opposite direction of a fire, firefighters run towards it. Garcia is one of those that run toward the fire.
A perfect example of this came a few weeks ago when Avon competed in the team state tournament. Garcia knew that he would have a gauntlet of top tier opponents in his path. He couldn’t wait for the challenge.
Garcia, the top ranked wrestler in an absolutely stacked 126 pound class this year, beat two returning state champions and a fourth place finisher in team state. He dropped last year’s 120 pound champ, Cayden Rooks (now ranked No. 2 at 126 pounds) 3-1. He beat last year’s 113 pound champ Alec Viduya (ranked No. 3 at 126) 7-5 and he also knocked off fifth ranked Colin Poynter, who finished fourth at 120 last year, 3-2.
“Asa was excited for the opportunity to get so many good matches at team state,” Avon coach Zach Errett said. “He was really looking at it as an opportunity more than anything. He knew he was going to get to wrestle and compete with some of the best kids in the state. That’s who he is. He looks to compete, always. I enjoy that about him. He wants to wrestle the best people.”
Garcia said he approached team state with the mentality that it was going to make him a better wrestler, no matter what happened.
“I knew the tournament would be tough,” Garcia said. “I’ve beaten those guys before, but I’ve also taken my lumps to some of them. You don’t know how well you’ll perform until you get out there and do it. Right now, wins and losses don’t matter anyway. If I took a loss or two, it wouldn’t have affected me. At the end of the day, the state tournament is when it really matters. Everything up until that point is practice.”
Garcia won state as a freshman at 106 pounds. He came into that tournament with six losses, but emerged as the champ after pinning Warren Central senior Keyuan Murphy in just under two minutes.
“Getting under the lights is an experience that’s tough to explain,” Garcia said. “You would think you’d be really nervous. But, everything just shuts down and you probably wrestle the best you’ve ever wrestled in your life.”
This year Garcia is making great strides because his approach to practicing has changed. Instead of practicing to get down to weight, he’s practicing to get better.
“Last year stung a little not winning (he placed third at 113),” Garcia said. “It was a tough season all around. I was cutting too much weight and it showed when things started to count. I was like 133 pounds during the week and I was cutting to 113. I wasn’t able to practice to get better, I was practicing to get the weight off. This year is much different. I’m able to maintain my weight and in practice I’m really able to focus on improving.”
One of the keys to Garcia’s wrestling success is his ability to learn and expand his arsenal.
“One of the things I really love about wrestling is when you get out of your comfort zone and do something you aren’t used to,” Garcia said. “It’s no secret my favorite move is the fireman’s carry - but I’ve been able to build a more elaborate offense because I worked on things I wasn’t comfortable doing. You have to work on them until you are comfortable with them.”
Garcia’s top priority this year is to get back under the lights and to claim his second state title.
“You think of getting under those lights all year long,” Garcia said. “You plan in your mind what your celebration would be like. You constantly think of how you want to wrestle and how you react when you win. But, all of that shuts down when you’re actually in the moment. You just have to let go and have fun.”
As a team, Avon breaks down after every practice with a chant of “State Champs.” Garcia knows that after that, it’s his turn to run toward the fire.
WrestlingWednesday: Shenandoah Not a Fly By Night Program
By JEREMY HINES
When Gary Black Jr. interviewed for the head wrestling coach at Shenandoah, his goals were clear. He didnâ€™t want to maintain the status quo for the Raiders. He wasnâ€™t content with getting a few kids through to semistate. He wanted to put Shenandoah on the wrestling map, and he wanted the small Henry County school to compete, and win against the stateâ€™s best programs.
His vision for the program landed him the job, and now, seven years later, he has done exactly what he said he would.
Shenandoah won the schoolâ€™s first sectional two weeks ago. The Raiders dominated larger schools such as New Castle and Richmond in the process.
Last week the Raiders fell 1.5 points shy of winning the schoolâ€™s first regional title.
â€œWe had to get a mentality change,â€ Black said. â€œWe had to understand the physicality of wrestling. We reached out to the elementary school. We implemented a club to get young kids invested in the sport at an early age. It took us a few years, but when we had an opening for the middle school job and I had John Slivka and my dad (Gary) take over, we really started developing our feeder system.â€
Shenandoah has seven wrestlers competing at the New Castle semistate Saturday. Sophomores A.J. Black (106) and Dallas Pugsley (126), senior Ryan Surguy (138) and freshman Silas Allred (170) were all Richmond regional champions. Sophomore Hayden Lohrey (132) lost a close match to undefeated Cainan Schaefer in the championship round. Josh Gee (senior, 160) lost to No. 2-ranked Alston Bane 1-0 in the championship and sophomore Jake Webster placed fourth in the 152-pound class.
The Raider success story is one of heartache, determination and a coach that refuses to give up on his kids.
Coach Blackâ€™s younger brother Levi was perhaps the most talented grappler on the Raider team. He had an insane dedication to the sport and a work ethic that was unrivaled. Levi was well liked by everyone he came in contact with. But, despite all the positives he had going for him, Levi struggled with a mental illness that eventually led him to take his own life, at the high school, in November of 2015.
The death rocked the tiny Shenandoah community, as well as much of the surrounding area. Leviâ€™s funeral brought together wrestlers from around the state. Many wrestlers, such as Bane at Richmond, have shown support of the Black family and helped raised awareness of mental illness by having a green streak (symbolic of Leviâ€™s fight with the disease) dyed in his hair.
The Shenandoah team needed strength during this time. They needed someone to help them cope with the emotional gravity of the situation. The Black family was there to provide it.
â€œBoth coaches (Gary Jr. and Sr.) are my heroes,â€ Gee said. â€œAfter all they went through, they still took care of us â€“ even over themselves. Through their pain they never let us down. They helped us cope and really turned us into a wrestling brotherhood. We are a family.â€
For Gary Jr., he knew he needed to find a way to honor Levi, yet move forward.
â€œThe last 16 months have been a huge learning curve for a lot of us,â€ Black said. â€œNot only are you dealing with the daily grind of being a wrestler at a high level, but these kids already battle a lot of things daily. That was one more added struggle for all of us. There are days for me, my dad and Iâ€˜m sure the kids â€“ being at that exact same place where everything happened â€“ that make it very difficult. All of our lives have been changed.â€
Last year A.J. Black, Levi and Gary Jrâ€™s youngest brother, tried doing everything he could to honor Levi. At times, the pressure got to him. He didnâ€™t want to let his family down. When he lost in the ticket round to go to state, you could see that built up emotion boil over as tears streamed down his face.
â€œThe weight of trying to accomplish a goal for the memory of his brother took its toll on A.J. and just mentally wore him down,â€ coach Black said. â€œWe talked about it. He had to make a shift in how he honors his brother. He needs to start doing things for himself.
â€œI ask him before every match, who he is wrestling for. He now will say â€˜Meâ€™ and then give me a hug and go wrestle. He still honors Levi, but by working his hardest and doing his best. Thatâ€™s all Levi would have wanted.â€
The hard work mantra extends past A.J. To a man, the Raiders pride themselves on outworking other teams. The guys have bought into the system and have dedicated their summers to the sport.
â€œLevi was the hardest worker in the room,â€ A.J. said. â€œEveryone wants to make him proud by working as hard as they can, every day.â€
Take Allred for example. He is a 14-year old freshman that wonâ€™t turn 15 until May 28. Heâ€™s wrestling in one of the most physically demanding classes (170). Yet heâ€™s undefeated.
â€œWe believe success is a mindset,â€ Allred said. â€œI constantly train and constantly push myself to get better. If you want to be the best, you have to work to be the best. You can get better, or worse every single day.â€
Surguy and Gee are two examples of the dividends of that work ethic.
As a sophomore Gee was pinned by Bane in the sectional final in 36 seconds. Last year he lost 5-1 to Bane in the sectional final. This year, Gee has dropped two matches to Bane, but both were by the score of 1-0.
Surguy is another senior that struggled early, but has blossomed due to the work he puts in. This year Surguy is 42-2 with a sectional and regional title.
Gary has built the Raider program to be one of the stateâ€™s best. The Raiders finished No. 2 in the Class A team state, and have higher aspirations down the road.
For Gary, the key to success has been making the wrestlers buy into the fact that the only way to improve, is to outwork the opposition. He also makes sure the wrestlers feel like a family.
â€œWe see each other at our worst, and we see each other at our best,â€ said Allred, who has a 4.0 GPA and is ranked third in his class. â€œWhen one of us has a down day, the rest of us try and pick him up. This is more than a wrestling team. Weâ€™re all friends. Weâ€™re all brothers.â€
The leader of the Raider family is undoubtedly the young coach Black. His passion for the team is evident in every match he coaches.
â€œOn Sundays Iâ€™m exhausted,â€ Black said â€œItâ€™s hard for me to be on the sideline when I just want to go to war with them. I donâ€™t want to be the general just telling them to go into battle. I want to battle with them. Iâ€™ll be the intense guy on the sideline.
â€œI want these kids to win as bad as they do. I get extremely emotionally involved in their success. Iâ€™d like to think they appreciate it, even though I look ridiculous. I love wrestling and I love watching those kids compete.â€
Last year only Lohrey punched his ticket to the state meet for the Raiders. This year Shenandoah has high hopes to have more than one kid represented. They know how hard the road is to get to state, but theyâ€™ve prepared themselves to complete the journey â€“ just like a young coach interviewing for his first head coaching job seven years ago said they would.
#WrestlingWednesday Feature: Konrath Going an Alternate Route
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
When the Indiana High School rankings are revealed, it will appear that there is one glaring omission.
Paul Konrath, who finished second at 106 pounds his freshman year and third at 113 pounds as a sophomore, has chosen to not wrestle this high school season. Konrath is also a Flo and a Fargo champion.
â€œThis was a tough decision,â€ Konrath said. â€œThere was quite a bit of thought behind it. My dad and I weighed the opportunities we saw with not wrestling for a high school and decided that was probably the best option for me.â€
Konrath, who had previously wrestled for Mt. Vernon High School, has also decided to complete his education at Indiana Connections Academy, and online school.
The change in school to an online program will allow Konrath to wrestle in multiple national tournaments throughout the year. Those national tournaments are what the family is hoping will bring the most competition and the most college exposure to Paul.
Tim Konrath, Paulâ€™s dad, didnâ€™t like that Paul had to miss out on several tournaments due to high school.
â€œWe went to as many tournaments as we could last year,â€ Tim said. â€œBut the school frowns on missing too many days and we really pushed that envelope. His grades are very good, but they still want you in class.â€
With the online schooling, that frees Paul up to do more traveling.
Paul will compete in Las Vegas, Missouri and in several other states this year.
The Konrath family believes that by entering so many national tournaments, they will get more college exposure than wrestling the high school season. They also are excited that they will get to train with top notch coaches they have met through some of the big tournaments.
Another reason for the decision, is that the rigors of high school wrestling have taken a toll on Paul, physically.
Paul has dislocated his elbow, cracked his sternum and broken his nose more times than he can remember. He has also dislocated his knee cap multiple times. He had surgery on his knee earlier this year.
â€œHe really has to get some rest,â€ Tim said. â€œThe high school season seems to always be hardest on his body, and the least rewarding as far as furthering his collegiate career.â€
Paul, a devout Christian, doesnâ€™t have a specific college heâ€™s looking to attend. He doesnâ€™t know yet what he wants to study or what he wants to do after college. He said all of those things he has left undecided, waiting to hear what God has in store for him.
â€œI know I may sound like a broken record,â€ Paul said. â€œBut for me itâ€™s a big deal to make sure Iâ€™m going where God wants me to, and doing what God wants me to do. I donâ€™t want to get any ideas in my head about college or a career and it not be Godâ€™s plan.â€
That doesnâ€™t mean Paul doesnâ€™t have goals. He wants to climb the national rankings as high as he can and he wants to keep getting better. He also hopes to stay healthy.
Paul is one of six Konrath brothers. His older brother Andrew was the best wrestler of the group, until Paul came along. Andrew was a two-time state qualifier.
â€œAll of my boys, except Paul, started wrestling when they got to high school,â€ Tim said. â€œNone of them started young like Paul. The boys actually pushed me to get Paul in a program early.
â€œI didnâ€™t know how he would do. Then the coach called and told me that Paul was some sort of freak of nature, and I thought, â€˜Yeah right, heâ€™s a mommaâ€™s boyâ€™. Then I went out and watched him and saw how much he loved wrestling and how he was pretty good at it. He won that tournament and weâ€™ve been doing tournaments ever since.â€
Paul said his favorite moment in wrestling was after he won at Fargo and was able to talk about God during his video interview.
â€œIâ€™ve went to church my whole life and I have a passion for talking to the people around me about God,â€ Paul said. â€œThatâ€™s why whenever we go to a tournament I always meet new friends and I get to tell them about what Jesus has done for me. I love that.â€
Whether or not the decision to not wrestle in high school will help Paulâ€™s recruitment process has yet to be determined. The Konraths are going all-in with the idea that increasing Paulâ€™s national presence can only help.
Paul still has strong ties with the Mt. Vernon wrestling family. His former high school coaches have been supportive. Paul plans to be at as many meets as he can, as a fan, and to be the teamâ€™s biggest supporter.
â€œItâ€™s tough because Paul really loved the kids in that program, and the coaches,â€ Tim said. â€œBut we feel we are still representing Mt. Vernon whenever he goes to these big tournaments. Not only is Paul representing Mt. Vernon, heâ€™s representing Indiana and thatâ€™s something he takes very seriously.â€
#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.
#WrestlingWednesday Feature: Blast from the Past with Randy May
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Randy Mayâ€™s name deserves to be in the mix when talking about Indianaâ€™s all-time best wrestlers.
May went undefeated as a sophomore, junior and senior at Bloomington South High School in the 1974-76 seasons. He won three state championships during that span.
Perhaps the only thing keeping him off the podium his freshman season was that he was too small (he weighed right at 84 pounds), and he was behind the brother of three-time state champion Jim Cornwell for a spot in the varsity lineup.
â€œI was just too little to make the varsity team,â€ May said. â€œMy coach, Kay Hutsell, had already won four state championships as a coach. Bloomington had a tradition back then like Evansville Mater Dei does now. And it was almost as hard to crack our varsity lineup as it was to win a state title.â€
Hutsell had coached Bloomington to team state championships in 1969, 70, 71 and 72. During that span Bloomington had seven individual champions.
In 1973 Bloomington split into Bloomington North and Bloomington South. Hutsell became Bloominigton Southâ€™s coach, and led them to another state championship in the 1973 season.
That season May lost just one time in the reserve matches â€“ to a varsity junior from Owen Valley.
â€œI got beat by him,â€ May said. â€œIt was a good match. He ended up being one win away from going to the state tournament.â€
May hurt his back his freshman year and coach Hutsell sent him to help coach the feeder system at Smithville Middle School.
â€œI was mad,â€ May said. â€œI wanted to be with the team. I had so much energy for the sport. Eventually coach let me travel with the team on dual meets. That was a privilege. I got to be on the team bus with everyone and I was sort of brought up under their wings. I was with guys like Marty Hutsell and Doug Hutsell (both were two-time state champs).â€
May knows living in Bloomington when he did was the best possible place for him to grow as a wrestler. He vividly remembers being allowed to go to Indiana University during their clinics and camps.
â€œI had great coaching,â€ May said. â€œEveryone thought I would one day go to IU. I was able to go there anytime I wanted and I was able to wrestle kids from all over the country that came in for the clinics and the camps.
â€œIn 1975-76 money was very tight and there was a gas shortage. Iâ€™d drive to IU after I got off of work and Iâ€™d go to one of the wrestling clinics where kids would stay for the whole week from across the country. You would get a new batch of kids each week.â€
May would bet the kids that he could take them down. If he took them down, they had to pay him a dime. If they took him down, he would pay a dollar.
â€œI took all their candy money,â€ May said. â€œThat always paid for my gas.â€
May dominated his foes on the mat during the high school season much like he did at the clinics. He never lost a varsity match.
After high school he chose to wrestle at Cleveland State University, which at the time was a national top 20 program.
â€œI had dreams of being a four-time National champion,â€ May said. â€œI had my whole future mapped out. I wanted to be an Olympian and then I wanted to coach wrestling.â€
Things didnâ€™t work out as May had planned. He developed a debilitating disease that changed his life course and took him away from wrestling. He was only able to wrestle one college match.
â€œThe disease shuts down the central nervous system,â€ May said. â€œIt can kill you. But I worked my ass off. They told me I should have been on bed rest, but I didnâ€™t stop working. When I couldnâ€™t stand, Iâ€™d pull myself up. I still went to practice every day.â€
May eventually realized his wrestling career would have to be over.
â€œI was walking with the aid of a cane at the time,â€ May said. â€œI was struggling with guys that I knew I should have been able to kick their ass. I wrestled one match against a four-time state champion from West Virginia. He took me down and I said, â€˜you have got to be kidding meâ€™. I came back and tied the match and won on riding time. But I knew I wasnâ€™t myself anymore. I knew wrestling was over for me.â€
May had to refocus his life goals, and his career. He didnâ€™t want to coach the sport he could no longer participate in. He now runs a business in underground utilities and lives in Florida.
His son, Randy Jr., took up wrestling in high school and quickly found success.
â€œHe was a natural and I loved watching him,â€ May said. â€œHe took fourth in state his junior year and as a senior he was ranked No. 1 and got very sick and ended up finishing sixth. He won over 100 matches and I was at his practices every day. The team won state his senior year and I was able to travel with the guys.â€
Six years ago, Randy Jr., passed away.
May has suffered more than most his age. But he remains positive. He credits his outlook on life on his upbringing.
â€œI was brought up with a good work ethic,â€ May said. â€œWe had tasks and chores. My parents wanted them done right. Iâ€™d complain, but then I realized if I worked hard and did them right the first time, with a good attitude, I was going to get a reward. I could go play in the woods or go swimming.
â€œI guess I carried that attitude over into life. I always try to have a good work ethic and a positive attitude. That will make you successful in anything you do.â€
#WrestlingWednesday Feature: Red's Quest for Perfection
Brought to you by EI Sports
Chad Red, Jr., or C.J as he is known, is one of Indianaâ€™s most dominating high school wrestlers this season. He is the top 126-pounder in the state, and the No. 1 wrestler at that weight in the nation according to FloWrestling. Still, Red is always afraid that the next match might be the one he messes up in and loses. Thatâ€™s what fuels him.
â€œMy goal is to be first in everything I do,â€ Red said. â€œI donâ€™t like being ranked. I like to try and beat the odds. Now I have that number sign in front of my name. It doesnâ€™t mean anything to me except that people are going to come at me harder, and want to beat me that much worse. I know I have to go out each time and work as hard as I can and wrestle the best I can, or Iâ€™ll lose.â€
Red, who wrestles for his dad Chad, Sr., at New Palestine High School, has been beaten before. He hasnâ€™t lost in the Indiana high school seasons. He is a two time state champion and is undefeated in his high school career. But in the national tournaments, he has tasted defeat. He hated it.
â€œI remember I was up 2-0 in a tournament and got caught in a headlock,â€ C.J. said. â€œI immediately called my dad and told him what happened. We talked for a few minutes then I turned off the phone and went back to training.â€
Coach Red says that is one of his sonâ€™s strengths. He can take a defeat and learn much more from that than he ever could from a win.
But those defeats are very rare. So coach Red makes sure to keep his son grounded after each match. If C.J. takes a sloppy shot, or doesnâ€™t have good foot movement, coach Red will point that out â€“ even in victory. Coach Red does not want his son being satisfied with a mediocre win.
â€œWrestling for my dad has its ups and downs,â€ C.J. said. â€œHeâ€™s always on me. He tells me how I didnâ€™t do this right, or that. I know itâ€™s all constructive criticism, and I like it. Itâ€™s good. It makes me want to work harder.
â€œIâ€™ll go out there and feel like I wrestled a very good match. But when my dad tells me I did a good job, thatâ€™s when I really know I accomplished something. â€œ
Inside, C.J. feels vulnerability. He knows he has weaknesses. But on the outside, he has always been a pillar of confidence.
â€œWe do not allow him to be cocky at all,â€ coach Red said. â€œWe do not tolerate that. With Chad though, he has a swag of some sort. He has a confidence. Thatâ€™s Chad. Heâ€™s been that way since he was born. Heâ€™s always been confident in himself. There is nothing wrong with that. He has to believe in what heâ€™s doing. We, as coaches, canâ€™t call plays or audibles from the sidelines in wrestling. He has to have his best every time he steps out on the mat.â€
Thatâ€™s one of the reason C.J. loves wrestling.
â€œItâ€™s only you out there,â€ he said. â€œIf you lose, you can only blame it on yourself. There are no excuses in wrestling.â€
C.J. wrestles a lot of Greco during the summers, despite his dad wishing he wouldnâ€™t. But the 126-pound junior feels that is a way to get better. He wants to push himself, even when it means working on things he is not quite as good at.
Coach Red sees a bright future in the sport of wrestling for his son. Thatâ€™s why they work as hard as they do.
â€œA lot of people tell Chad that he is good,â€ coach Red said. â€œI think heâ€™s pretty good. Iâ€™m his biggest fan, but also his biggest critic. We have very high expectations for how he can perform. There is a big prize down the road for him if he continues to work. Whether itâ€™s a college scholarship or whatever, there is something out there waiting on him. And there is always someone out there working to beat him.â€
New Palestineâ€™s 120-pounder, Eugene Starks, is one of C.J.â€™s main practice partners in the Dragon wrestling room.
â€œChad is very aggressive and quick on his feet,â€ Starks said. â€œIn practice I try to put up a fight with him. It has helped me tremendously. His shots are so good, it helps me learn to defend the shot better. Heâ€™s a great partner and a great teammate.â€
Red won state as a freshman at 106 pounds. Last year he was crowned the 120-pound champ. He has a goal to go undefeated in high school and win four state championships in the process.
â€œItâ€™s been a real blessing having a kid like Chad,â€ coach Red said. â€œHeâ€™s a great son, and a friend. I think the sky is the limit for him. Heâ€™s very solid and has a chance to really do something special. But like I always tell him, he has to keep a level head, stay focused on the prize and work to achieve it.â€
If you have a #WrestlingWednesday feature idea, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
#WrestlingWednesday Feature: Parris is the Newest Lawrenceberg Attraction
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Nestled in the southeastern corner of Indiana, the modest town of Lawrenceburg has established itself as a tourism hot spot. The town is home to the Perfect North Slopes skiing resort, as well as the immensely popular Hollywood Casino. But lately, the top attraction has been the 220 pound monster that lurks in the wrestling room at Lawrenceburg High School. He goes by the name of Mason Parris.
Parris took the state by storm last season as a freshman at 182 pounds. He went undefeated until the state finals, where he lost to eventual champion Chase Osborn 11-10. Parris finished third, with a 54-1 record.
Parris was just 15 years old last year, wrestling in a weight class that showcases some of the most physically gifted specimen in the state. He more than proved he belonged.
This season, all he has done is put on about 40 pounds of muscle. Heâ€™s bigger, stronger, faster and a lot more confident than he was as a freshman.
â€œI thought I had a really good freshman year,â€ Parris said. â€œI made mistakes, and was able to learn from them. Going to state and placing well was a good experience. But this year, I want to do better. I am not satisfied. Iâ€™m working hard. Iâ€™m staying dedicated.â€
Parris, like most Indiana wrestlers, says he has dreamed of winning a state title since he was very young.
Lawrenceburg coach Mark Kirchgassner knew the first time he watched Mason practice that there was something special about him.
â€œI donâ€™t even think Mason was in kindergarten yet,â€ Kirchgassner said. â€œI watched him wrestled and told his dad that Mason is going to be something special. He did things naturally that I had a hard time teaching high schoolers to do.â€
Parris is undefeated so far this season. He hasnâ€™t faced many upper level competitors yet, but he certainly isnâ€™t shying away from them. In one of his first matches this year Parris bumped up to heavyweight so he could go against Union Countyâ€™s No. 13 ranked Clark Minges. All Parris did was tech fall the bigger Minges.
â€œThat was my first match wrestling a really big guy,â€ Parris said. â€œI knew I had to stay out from underneath him. I kept pressure on him and really tried to wear him out.â€
One of Parrisâ€™ main partners in the practice room is No. 6-ranked 160 pounder Jake Ruberg. The two have been wrestling together since they were in elementary school. Itâ€™s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Rubergâ€™s speed helps Parris learn to deal with the faster opponents he will face, and Parrisâ€™ power helps Ruberg contend with the stronger guys he will go up against.
â€œMason really pushes me,â€ Ruberg said. â€œHe really helps my wrestling improve because he is so big and overpowering. And heâ€™s very positive in the room and he helps everyone with technique. I know he can throw me around if he wanted to, but he likes to work on countering my speed.â€
Parris prides himself on his work ethic. Itâ€™s something his coach sees first hand on a daily basis.
â€œMason has just one gear,â€ Kirchgassner said. â€œItâ€™s always go, go, go. He works harder than about any kid Iâ€™ve ever seen, in every aspect. Even in his matches he works on his craft. He isnâ€™t content to just go out and beat a guy. If there is a move heâ€™s trying to work on, he will work on it in a match just to make sure he can do it.â€
Parris is aware that to win a state championship, there is a likelihood he will have to go up against No. 1-ranked, returning state champion Kobe Wood.
â€œKobe Woods is a very good wrestler and Iâ€™ve been preparing for him all year,â€ Parris said.
During the offseason Parris wrestled at the UFC wrestling championships in Las Vegas. He competed at 220 pounds in the 18U division, and won.
â€œThat was a great experience, wrestling in the 18U division with a team,â€ Parris said. â€œI faced some very good wrestlers.â€
Parris is also a gifted football player in the fall. He was a junior All-State in class 3A (heâ€™s a sophomore), and was the defensive MVP in Lawrenceburgâ€™s conference. He plays middle linebacker and offensive guard. This year Lawrenceburg finished with a 7-3 record.
â€œI like football and wrestling equally,â€ Parris said. â€œI couldnâ€™t choose a favorite.â€
Right now Parris is solely concentrating on wrestling. He hopes that focus leads to a state title. One thing is for sure, right now Mason Parris is the biggest attraction in Lawrenceburg.
#WrestlingWednesday: Bailey Seeking the Elusive Blue Ribbon
By JEREMY HINES
Breyden Bailey has done just about everything one can do to improve in wrestling. He puts time in the weight room, works relentlessly in practice and studies the sport. Heâ€™s gotten better in all aspects of wrestling. Yet, each year, despite his improvements, his season has ended in the exact same way -- third place.
Bailey, a senior at Indianapolis Cathedral, is one of the most highly decorated wrestlers in Indiana history. Heâ€™s a four time sectional champion, a four time regional champion and as of last Saturday, heâ€™s a four-time New Castle semistate champion.
Going to state is nothing new for Bailey. Heâ€™s been there four times. Heâ€™s won his Friday night match the last three years. Heâ€™s also won his first and second matches on Saturday for the last three years.
The state semifinals has proven to be the death round for Bailey. He has lost in the semifinals all three years. Each time, the opponent that has beaten him, has then fallen to the eventual state champion en route to a second place finish.
Bailey has went on to win the third place match all three times.
â€œIt does mean a lot to me to be a four-time state qualifier,â€ Bailey said. â€œI am proud of my placings, but I want to win it.â€
Wrestling is in Baileyâ€™s blood. His father, Bryan, is a two-time state champion from Martinsville and a one-time runner-up.
â€œBryan has been coaching Breyden his whole life,â€ Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. â€œHeâ€™s been able to absorb things about the sport. Wrestling really is a way of life for him.â€
Bailey started wrestling when he turned seven. He had instant success, placing second in the ISWA folkstyle state that year.
â€œWrestling really seems to have come naturally to me,â€ Bailey said.
About the time Bailey started wrestling, he also started going to the state finals in Indianapolis to watch the high school guys reach for their goals.
â€œIâ€™ve been going to the state tournament since I was in second grade,â€ Bailey said. â€œMy favorite memory was when Briar Runyan from Martinsville won it. I remember getting my picture taken with him. They are close family friends.â€
Bailey doesnâ€™t participate in any other sport. He says his normal day is waking up early, doing a little lifting or running a few miles, then going to school. During the school day he often gets the opportunity during one of his resource classes to look at film on wrestling. After school he goes to practice, then sticks around some nights to put extra work in with his freshman brother Logan.
Logan lost in the ticket round of the New Castle semistate on Saturday.
McGinley says there really isnâ€™t a weakness in Baileyâ€™s wrestling.
â€œHeâ€™s good from top, bottom and neutral,â€ McGinley said. â€œBut the first thing Iâ€™d say about Bailey is that heâ€™s a student of the sport. Iâ€™ve never had a kid that has so much knowledge, thatâ€™s so involved in our room. Heâ€™s constantly helping other kids and coaching. Heâ€™s on another level in terms of his knowledge of the sport.â€
Baileyâ€™s leadership (heâ€™s a three-year captain at Cathedral) is one of the big reasons the Irish are considered contenders for the team state title this year.
Cathedral won the New Castle semistate and will send seven grapplers to the state meet. The Irish were especially dominant in the middle weights. Jordan Slivka won the 126 pound class, Bailey took first at 132 and Zach Melloh won the 138 pound bracket. Elliot Rodgers finished second at 145.
Ben Stewart finished second for Cathedral at 195 pounds and Andy Guhl was second at 220. Caleb Oliver finished fourth at 113.
â€œWe thought the semistate team championship would be close,â€ McGinley said. â€œI really thought it was Perry Meridianâ€™s to lose. But we always talk about how we want to get on a little bit of a roll. We know if we lose one we arenâ€™t expected to, we need someone who isnâ€™t expected to win to pull off the upset.
â€œThat happened when we lost at 106 with little Bailey. We turned around at 113 and got back on track.â€
Oliverâ€™s advancement was a bit of a surprise, considering he had just an 18-16 record entering the semistate.
For Breyden, he has learned leadership skills by watching guys that were good leaders to him.
â€œMy freshman year we won state,â€ Bailey said. â€œWe had guys like Vinny Corsaro and Wesley Bernard that were great leaders. I learned a lot from their style.â€
Bailey will wrestle for Division I Northern Illinois University next season. His college bio page will talk about his three third place finishes. Heâ€™s hoping there is also a line that reads â€œ2017 Indiana state championâ€ as well.
â€œRight now thatâ€™s my number one goal,â€ Bailey said. â€œI want to get under those lights.â€
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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.”
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Cowboy up! Edgewood's Cash Turner has a unique off-season training regimen
Photo by David Hughes/ BeltBucklePhotos.com
By JEREMY HINES
Cash Turner doesn’t get his strength from lifting weights. His muscles are built by moving over 500 hay bales a year, splitting wood and working on his family’s 100-acre farm. He doesn’t get his grip from the gym either – that comes from holding on for dear life while trying to ride a massive bull for as long as possible. And, that fearless attitude those around him say he has – that comes from growing up with a father that was a phenomenal wrestler and then went on to become an all-around champion in the rodeo world.
The Edgewood junior is certainly not your typical wrestler. He’s the Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV vs. the Ivan Drago’s of the world. His training isn’t conventional, but it works.
“Cash is training without training, and he’s doing it a lot,” Edgewood coach Greg Ratliff said. “I remember one time he went to his grandpa’s place in Kentucky instead of going to workouts. I asked him what he did while he was there, and he told us he and his grandpa spent the week just digging post holes. Somehow, I knew he would get more out of that then he ever would by hitting our weight room.”
Turner knows two things well – rodeo and wrestling. When he’s not in wrestling season, he’s working on his rodeo skills. His only break from the rodeo is when he’s wrestling. Coach Ratliff believes the work Turner is putting in on his rodeo is only benefiting him on the mat.
“We talk a lot about multi-sport athletes,” Ratliff said. “There are a lot of crossovers. The will, the drive, and the determination he uses in bull riding carries over to wrestling. There isn’t as much footwork and agility, but all the toughness that comes with it is a big plus. I think, in a day and age where coaches are asked to do more and more and more, and wrestlers are told they need to wrestle every weekend – but the best wrestler in your room is like – I have this going on. It’s refreshing. You can do other things and still get good. As long as they are training in something, that’s going to help make them better wrestlers.”
For Cash, part of the allure of the rodeo is facing fears and overcoming them.
“The hardest thing in my life is probably trying new things,” Turner said. “I was always an avid bull rider, but my dad asked if I would want to try saddle bronc riding and bareback riding – which is basically riding wild horses. I was the most scared I’ve ever been in my life. I was going to get on a giant horse that wants to throw me off. But I did it. I overcame that fear.”
That bravery has helped Cash excel in the rodeo. He qualified for the High School Nationals in Nebraska where each state brings four representatives to compete.
“The rodeo definitely makes me tougher in wrestling,” Turner said. “I know if I can do that, I can probably put a kid my size on his back on the mat.”
Although Turner’s dad, Toby, was a very good bull rider and wrestler. He didn’t want to push those things on Cash.
“Toby placed second in state in wrestling, twice,” Ratliff said. “In the rodeo he was on the PBR circuit and was a National Champion. It’s really cool to watch their interactions with each other in the wrestling room (Toby is an assistant coach). They are both so stubborn, but his dad really didn’t want to push wrestling or rodeo on his son. As it turns out, those are Cash’s biggest passions. Cash just loves them both.”
Turner found success early in his high school wrestling career. He won the Bloomington North sectional at 106 pounds his freshman season. He then went on to claim the regional title at Bloomington South and advanced to state by placing third in the Evansville semistate. In that semistate, Turner had his favorite match in his career up until this point.
“It was the match after my ticket-round win,” Turner said. “I faced a kid that I had never beaten before, and we had wrestled many times – probably around a dozen or so. I just knew this time would be the time. I wrestled how I wrestle and ended up hitting a lat drop on him and scored a few points, then hit another funky move and ended up winning by quite a few points. So far, that was my favorite match. I was getting over an obstacle.”
Coach Ratliff remembers that match well.
“I remember it because the young man he was wrestling’s dad yelled out ‘watch out for the spladle’,” Ratliff said. “I don’t know if Cash heard it or not, but he immediately hit the spladle. He went up five points. That was an exciting match.”
Turner proceeded to place seventh in state that freshman season.
He did not make it back to state as a sophomore. He won sectional and regional for the second time in his young career, but fell short in the ticket round of semistate, losing in the ticket round to Brownsburg’s Brady Isom. Isom went on to place third in state at 126 that season.
“Last year was tough,” Turner said. “I went up from 106 my freshman year to 126 as a sophomore. That was a big jump. I knew people were going to be a little stronger than me. I went as far as I could. The ticket round loss was a tough loss, but he was a really good opponent. I took what I could from it and I’m trying to work this year at getting back to state. That’s my goal.
“I think when you’re a junior you start to get a sense of urgency you didn’t have before. When you’re a freshman and sophomore you look at wrestling and you’re like, I still have three…or two more years. Now you realize it’s coming fast and pretty soon I’ll just be done. I only have one year after this.”
Turner is coming into the season slightly hobbled. He broke his elbow in September riding a bull.
“Funny story about that,” Cash said. “I had a duck hunting trip planned with a few friends. It was going to be a few days after the rodeo. I went to the rodeo and ended up hurting my elbow. I didn’t know I broke it. I finished my events and even won some events. When we went home, I didn’t think much about it, but I put it in a sling and went to school the next day. I couldn’t bend it at all.
“I showed our athletic trainer and he looked at it and said it was definitely broken. I went to the doctor, and they put a cast from my wrist to my elbow. The first thing I told my mom was I had to see if I could shoot a shotgun with one arm. I went out and tried to shoot a few times. It was hard, but I could do it. I went on the hunting trip and even killed a few birds there. It was an interesting experience.”
Going hunting with a broken elbow, while your entire arm is wrapped in a hard plastic cast shows just how stubborn Turner is.
“He’s the kid that is always stubborn,” Ratliff said. “For example – we do a drill in practice where we set it up like it’s an overtime match. First takedown wins. He might get taken down, because his practice partner is really good at takedowns, but Cash will argue and argue about whether something was a takedown or not. He just doesn’t give up. He’s going to keep wrestling from there. The ref has to really think about it. He will tell you ‘That wasn’t a takedown, I still had a hold of his toe’.”
Turner has several plans after high school. He is currently involved in a fire science and fire safety vocational school and would eventually like to be a firefighter. He said he would like to go to college somewhere that has a fire science education program where he can get a degree in that field. He also wants to pursue the rodeo out west, where there are more opportunities in the sport.
For now, however, he’s focused on getting back to the state finals.
“That’s my ultimate goal,” Turner said. “It was great to go as a freshman and I want to get back there.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Ruberg has overcome more than opponents on the mat
By JEREMY HINES
Lawrenceburgâ€™s Jake Ruberg has battled some of Indianaâ€™s best wrestlers, and more often than not has emerged victorious. But Rubergâ€™s true adversary isnâ€™t an opponent standing across from him on the mat. No, for Ruberg, the demons he has wrestled in his own mind are far more vicious and formidable than any opponent could ever be.
Ruberg emerged on the state scene four years ago. He was a little-known freshman wrestling for a small school a stoneâ€™s throw away from the Ohio state line. He won sectional and regional that year and eventually advanced to state. He lost just twice as a freshman, once to eventual champion Tommy Cash 2-1 in semistate, and then to Jacob Covaciu in the first round of state.
Ruberg had sat at the table of the stateâ€™s wrestling elite. He developed a taste for that success and became obsessed with getting back there. He stepped on the mat 10 times that sophomore season, and all 10 times he emerged victorious. He was well on his way back to Indianaâ€™s pinnacle â€“ the state finals.
Ruberg injured his shoulder during football, and thought he would be able to wrestle. But wrestling can be a cruel mistress at times. Ruberg realized that his shoulder needed more time to heal, and that he would have to stop wrestling for the remainder of the season. That injury led to a dark time for Ruberg, one where he would eventually be hospitalized because of a deep depression.
â€œIâ€™ve had to deal with some pretty tough stuff,â€ Ruberg said. â€œI became very depressed after my shoulder injury and I was in the hospital for a while. It was at the same time that Shenandoahâ€™s Levi Black committed suicide after dealing with a mental illness. I was shocked to see that another kid was having some of the same issues I was having. I knew I had to come out of it.â€
Ruberg made the decision to talk about his issues. He went to therapy. He talked to Leviâ€™s parents and brother (Shenandoah head coach Gary Black). By talking about it, he was starting to get better. He also realized that there might be other kids out there going through similar struggles. So, he made himself available to talk to them.
â€œI wanted to make sure I was there for people,â€ Ruberg said. â€œNobody should battle that alone. Mental illnesses are tough. Iâ€™ve been dealing with them since I was little. Itâ€™s something you have to work out. You canâ€™t just fix yourself in a day. You have to have outlets and people you can talk to. My outlet is wrestling and working out. If Iâ€™m feeling bad, I go lift or work out on the mat. Everyone has to find their own outlet to get their mind clear.â€
Ruberg didnâ€™t advance to state as a junior. He lost in the ticket round to Noah Warren in the New Castle semistate. The loss hurt, but Ruberg has learned to deal with the negative emotions and turn them into a positive.
That was evident this football season. The Tigers advanced to the state championship game, eventually getting second. Ruberg was named the Class 3A Mental Attitude Award winner.
â€œJake is a born leader,â€ Lawrenceburg coach Mark Kirchgassner said. â€œHeâ€™s been a leader on our wrestling team for four years. Heâ€™s a leader on the football field. Heâ€™s just a leader in everything he does.
â€œWith Jake there have been ups and downs. But he has really taken positive steps. Heâ€™s done vigils with people battling depression. Heâ€™s taken kids under his wings. He helps people along the process and heâ€™s been very open with it to other kids. It takes a lot of courage for a high school guy to tell people that he battles depression.â€
Ruberg is hoping this senior campaign ends with him on the podium at the state meet. He is currently ranked No. 10 at 170 pounds. He has a lost twice this year, once to No. 2-ranked Tanner Webster 3-2, and the other time he was pinned by No. 9-ranked Kameron Fuller.
â€œMy goal is to win state, and I expect to be in the top three at least,â€ Ruberg said.
Ruberg has the luxury of being in the same room with three other highly skilled wrestlers in the upper weights. Nationally ranked Mason Parris is at 220. Jonah Rolfes (ranked No. 5 in the New Castle semistate) is at 182 pounds and Sam Tibbets is at 195 pounds.
â€œWe are fortunate for a small school to have four guys of that caliber that can battle every day in practice,â€ Kirchgassner said. â€œThey are really able to push each other.â€
Ruberg loves the success his small school has had recently in wrestling.
â€œPeople try and tell me how much better the Ohio tournament is,â€ Ruberg said. â€œI know they have great wrestlers. But we have a tournament where a school of 600 people gets to compete against a school of 6,000. Your ability really shines. You know you are one of the top 16 when you make it to state. If you win, there is no doubt that you are the best. I do wish we had wrestle backs though.â€
After high school Ruberg will wrestle for the University of Indianapolis. He chose Indianapolis because he wanted to remain close to home, and he really liked the coaching staff.
â€œTheir coach is very down to earth,â€ Ruberg said. â€œHe will talk to you about anything. Heâ€™ll check up with you on the weekends and see how youâ€™re doing. I just really like their program.â€
Ruberg plans to go into nursing. He had people help him when he was at his lowest point, and now he wants to make a career out of helping others.
â€œMy advice to anyone that might be struggling is to find someone that will listen to you,â€ Ruberg said. â€œFind someone you can open up to. Always keep going. There might be bad times, but something greater is always right around the corner.â€
#MondayMatness: Merrillville is more than about creating championships
By STEVE KRAH
Merrillville High School has enjoyed many championships in David Maldonado's 15 years as head wrestling coach.
Since that first season in 2002-03, the Pirates have appeared in the IHSAA Team State Finals three times (2006, 2007 and 2008) and won 12 sectionals, seven regionals and four semistates as a team.
Merrillville has had three top-three places for the Coaches Cup (team score at individual state tournament) on Maldonado's watch with a third in 2005, second in 2006 and third in 2007.
There have been nine individual state title-takers ” junior Wesley English at 145 in 2005, senior Javier Salas at 119 in 2006, senior Dexter Latimore at heavyweight in 2006, senior Jamal Lawrence at 145 in 2007, sophomore Bobby Stevenson at 170 in 2013, junior Jacob Covaciu at 145 in 2015, junior Shawn Streck at heavyweight in 2015, senior Jacob Covaciu at 160 in 2016 and senior Shawn Streck at heavyweight in 2016.
Latimore (heavyweight) and Lawrence (145) were senior national champions in 2006 and 2007, respectively.
Streck (Purdue) and Covaciu (Wisconsin) moved on the college wrestling.
The number of state qualifiers during Maldonado's time at Merrillville is 68.
Including his time at Noll, Maldonado went into the 2016-17 season with a dual-meet record of 301-86, including 261-46 with the Pirates.
But that's not the only way to define success for Maldonado, himself a state champion at 130 as a junior in 1993 and state runner-up at 135 as a senior in 1994 at East Chicago Central.
David Maldonado, a member of the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame as an individual (along with brother Billy) and as part of the famed Maldonado family (six of David's uncles and several cousins, sons and nephews have been or are wrestlers), gets as much satisfaction for the relationships built and life lessons taught as the crisply-executed headlocks and underhooks.
For the Merrillville coaching staff, which also features Gene Bierman, Bobby Joe Maldonado, Paul Maldonado, Tim Maldonado, Joe Atria and Tom Kelly, wrestling does not only build character, it reveals it.
We work every match to get better, Maldonado said. That's all the matters. As long as we do that, everything else will take care of itself. The medals, awards stand, all that stuff takes care of itself.
For some kids, it happens sooner. For some kids, it happens later.
Years ago, Maldonado got into the habit of addressing each of his wrestlers immediately after their match.
It could be a high-five, a word of encouragement or a constructive criticism. He wants the wrestler ” and the wrestler's parents ” to know that he cares.
A son to parents born in Mexico who teaches Spanish at Merrillville, Maldonado also builds these relationships in the classroom.
We're all in this together, Maldonado said. Let's communicate. Some coaches and teachers are afraid to call home and talk to parents. I'm not.
Maldonado, who was also a folkstyle senior nationals champion as a high schooler and then placed third twice and second once in the Big 12 Conference while grappling for Iowa State University and placing second at two more freestyle nationals, takes time every week to talk with parents.
It's a lesson he learned from his coach at Iowa State ” Bobby Douglas, a former NCAA champion and Olympian.
Those little things that coaches do to help, Maldonado said. More than anything else, you need to build that relationship with kids. I always feel like we had a successful season because of those relationships and getting better.
It's about being better at everything ” a better athlete, a better wrestler, a better person.
Maldonado knows that teenagers can see right through you if you are not genuine. But show that genuine caring and by season's end, they'll be willing to run through a wall for you.
But the relationships start long high school for many wrestlers. Maldonado is there at kids wrestling club practices and meets and knows them long before they put on a purple singlet for MHS.
Maldonado also tries to enjoy the ride and wants those around him to do the same.
He knows that wrestling season can be a grind and it's easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment.
We need to just be grateful for having the opportunity and cherish it no matter how it turns out, Maldonado said. At the end of the year, there's only going to be one happy kid per weight class or one happy coach.
At the end of the day, you've still got to be able to look at yourself in the mirror.
#WrestlingWednesday Feature: 900 Wins and Counting
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
NEW CASTLE â€” A lot has changed in the world since Rex Peckinpaugh began coaching wrestling at New Castle High School.
Michael Jackson was the big hit on the radio when Peckinpaugh started out. Ronald Reagan was President. Microsoft introduced the world to MS-DOS, the 3M company started mass producing Post-it notes and MTV first went on the air.
One thing that hasnâ€™t changed for Peckinpaugh, now in his 34th season at the helm of the Trojan team, is his ability to win.
Peckinpaugh reached his 900th dual victory of his career (all with New Castle) last week at the Broncho Duals in Lafayette. New Castle went 8-1 in the meet to push its season record to 27-4.
â€œWhen I got that 900th win, it was a special moment,â€ Peckinpaugh said. â€œI couldnâ€™t help but sit back and think of my mom and dad who didnâ€™t miss a match for about 500 of those wins. But when it was over, I was ready to go for 901 wins.â€
Peckinpaugh has been Indianaâ€™s winningest coach for years. He is No. 2 nationally in high school wins.
â€œRex is obviously a good coach,â€ former Trojan standout turned Shenandoah head coach Gary Black said. â€œYou donâ€™t get anywhere near 900 wins without knowing what youâ€™re doing. But I think heâ€™s an even better motivator in life. For Rex, it isnâ€™t so much about the wins and losses as it is about having the chance to instill great values and teach kids to be good individuals off the mat.â€
Peckinpaugh can still tell specific details about every wrestler that has put on a Trojan uniform for him.
â€œThey are all still pretty fresh in my mind,â€ Peckinpaugh said. â€œI can tell stories on any of them if Iâ€™m asked to do so.â€
Peckinpaugh continues to coach because he loves watching kids improve.
â€œItâ€™s not so much about the winning and losing,â€ Peckinpaugh said. â€œMy favorite part of coaching is seeing kids get better in the sport. I love that moment when the lights go on so to speak. Also, I enjoy building the team each year. Itâ€™s like a construction project. Every year something changes and you have to figure out how to build the team to be successful.â€
This year the Trojans do not have any seniors in the lineup. They are led by seven freshmen, four juniors and three sophomores.
â€œHeâ€™s taken a very young team and has worked to get the most out of his lineup,â€ Black said. â€œItâ€™s easy to see why heâ€™s so successful.â€
One stat that Peckinpaugh is proud of is that all of his teams have either won a sectional, a conference title or a regional. The Trojans had a winning streak of 106 matches from 1992-95. The team won 29 consecutive sectional titles from 1976 until 2003 (a streak that started before coach Peckinpaugh took over at New Castle).
The 2004-05 Trojans lost the sectional to Centerville. It was the only time a Peckinpaugh coach team did not win the sectional tournament. But instead of focusing on the loss, Peckinpaugh geared the team up for the upcoming regional. New Castle would later win the team regional and become the first team in the state to not win a sectional, but turn around and claim a regional title.
â€œThatâ€™s an important thing as a coach and as a wrestler,â€ Peckinpaugh said. â€œYou have to have a short memory. If you get beat, you have to look at whatâ€™s next. If you donâ€™t, youâ€™ll get caught up in celebrating the moment and lose the next one. Or youâ€™ll be so depressed youâ€™ll lose the next one.â€
Peckinpaugh is the first to point out that his success also has a lot to do with those who are helping him. Mark â€œSparkyâ€ Griffith has been an assistant coach for Peckinpaugh for almost the entire time heâ€™s been at New Castle. Frank Ryan, Ted Fitzgerald and Larry Sutton were also instrumental in building the New Castle program. He also points out that his wife Bonnie has been a huge supporter of the team for the last 20 years.
Peckinpaugh has coached three four-time state finalists in Mac Taylor, Matt Jaggers and Connor Mullins. He has had one state champion â€” James â€œBubbaâ€ Dickerson won heavyweight in 1995 as a junior. He passed away before his senior season. He has had a plethora of state placers, including Brenden Campbell who was a state runner-up two seasons in a row. Campbell is currently wrestling for the United States Naval Academy.
In 1995 and 1996 New Castle was the team runner-up in the state. The Trojans took eight to state in 1996.
Peckinpaugh is a health teacher at New Castle. He is also on the New Castle City Council. He was an assistant football coach for the Trojans in the 80s. He also was the girls golf coach for a short time.
â€œCoaching girls golf was an interesting experience,â€ Peckinpaugh said. â€œThey needed someone and I said Iâ€™d do it.â€
Peckinpaugh is not sure when he will retire from coaching. He feels he has a good assistant in Jason Martin who can take over the team and keep it in good hands.
â€œJason has been trying to get me to stay on to maybe go for 1,000 wins,â€ Peckinpaugh said. â€œI donâ€™t know if Iâ€™ll hold on that long. But I do love coaching the kids, and that will never change.â€
If you have an interesting feature idea, please contact Jeremy Hines at email@example.com.
#MondayMatness: The Culp Family is Hooked on Wrestling
By Steve Krah
When the mat sport attracts a child, it often brings whole family with it.
Once that flame is lit, itâ€™s next impossible to extinguish.
An interest sparked into just such a passion for the Culps of Columbia City.
Two topics come up at family meal time.
â€œWrestling and racing,â€ Pat Culp said. â€œThatâ€™s all we talk about at our house.â€
Blane Culp, son of Pat and David, loves the mat and dirt track racing and runs a website (http://www.maximumdirt.com/) dedicated to the latter.
But itâ€™s the love of takedowns, turns and technical falls that has gone on to have a major impact on not only Whitley County but the whole Indiana wrestling community and beyond.
Introduced to competitive wrestling around age 6, Blane Culp enjoyed early success. He placed second in his weight class in at the Indiana State Wrestling Association state tournament in his second year and was hooked.
â€œI lost to a kid named (Angel) Ecobedo (who went on to become four-time IHSAA state champion at Griffith High School and then an NCAA champion and four-time collegiate All-American for Indiana University),â€ Blane Culp recalls. â€œI was probably the last one who came close to beating him in Indiana.â€
Blaneâ€™s older brother, Josh Ross, also was having a blast and winning matches.
Around 1996, the Culps â€” Pat and husband Dave (who had been a wrestler at Lewis Cass High School, where he graduated in 1977) â€” started the Columbia City Wrestling Club. Blane and Josh were an active part of an organization that went on to be one of the bigger ones around the state with an enrollment consistently over 100.
While other family members Kayla Culp, David Stahl and Shane Stahl would be involved on the mats at the club and/or high school levels, Josh would go on to compete at 140 pounds in the IHSAA State Finals in his senior year at Columbia City (1998) while 125-pounder Blane placed third in his final prep season (2004).
Randy Kearby was the Eagles head coach for both boys.
Blane went on to grappled for two seasons at IU. He was an assistant at Bloomington North High School and is now in his sixth years as head coach at Columbia City.
With all the knowledge gained as a wrestler and coach, Blane throws a lot of information at his young Eagles and they incorporate what works best for them.
â€œI show a lot of stuff and they take what they want,â€ Blane Culp said. â€œWe have short stocky guys and tall skinny guys. Some run legs and some run cradles. All of our guys are different.
â€œThere is not a set style in Columbia City and I like that. Thatâ€™s the way it was when I was in school. I wrestled one way, but could change it for someone else.â€
Columbia City wrestlers generally have three of four options to take on double leg takedowns or finishes and they refine those as the season gets closer to conference and state tournament time.
â€œBy the end of the year, theyâ€™re picking their set-ups and their finishes,â€ Blane Culp said. â€œCome January and February, they are fine-tuning their favorite moves. Itâ€™s no longer in my hands. Itâ€™s in their hands.â€
Pat Culp has kept a hand in the sport because she believes in it.
â€œWrestling builds self esteem,â€ Pat Culp said. â€œItâ€™s really good for the kids. Thatâ€™s why I stayed involved.â€
And involved she is.
Pat Culp, the Columbia City club president, got so caught up in the fun and excitement that she began helping to organize wrestling tournaments outside her club and became an ISWA Pairing Developmental Director.
â€œI love organizing events,â€ Pat Culp said.
She routinely runs or oversees multiple tournaments â€” high school and club â€” at the same time. She trains workers and is available on-site or by phone as a trouble shooter.
Mark Dunham, Kyle Keith and Jean Whetstone are other volunteers who keep Indiana wrestling events running like clockwork.
While more and more tournaments use Trackwrestling for scoring, Pat Culp insists that workers know how to manually score a tournament in case something happens like a computer server going down.
â€œWe want to keep the tournament running without people realizing whatâ€™s going on,â€ Pat Culp said. â€œThere are a lot of variables, but itâ€™s a lot of fun.â€
She knows that not all tournaments are the same and she tries to cater to each director. Some are ran as duals and other with individual brackets. Scoring for advancement and match points can differ.
One tournament might be rigid for location of matches and others might go with first available match or use a combination of the two.
â€œI donâ€™t put everybody in a box,â€ Pat Culp said.
If things are going smoothly at a tournament, like the IHSWCA State Duals which she helped run Saturday, Jan. 2, in Fort Wayne, Pat can watch whatâ€™s happening on the mats.
Blane has noticed.
â€œIt seems that moms enjoy wrestling more than what dads do sometimes,â€ Blane Culp said.
â€œSheâ€™s watched all these (Columbia City) kids grow up. At semistate, I can see her across the arena when we are in a â€˜ticketâ€™ round, sheâ€™s still biting her nails. Sheâ€™s still nervous for them. Itâ€™s like when I was in school. Theyâ€™re still her boys.â€
#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.
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Traditionally-strong Rochester Zebras blazing new trails in 2021-22
By STEVE KRAH
Rochester was enjoying a super wrestling season going into the second and third stages of the 2022 IHSAA state tournament series.
The Clint Gard-coached Zebras placed second to Tell City (losing 36-33 in the championship match) in the Class 1A Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals (Rochester were 2A State Duals qualifiers in 2015 and 2019) and won the sixth team championship at the Three Rivers Conference meet (2000, 2002, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2022).
Rochester reigned at the Peru Sectional, running the program's all-time sectional title total to 12.
Then came the Zebras’ first regional crown, won at Maconaquah.
After that, Rochester (enrolled around 510) finished on top at the Fort Wayne Semistate.
The Zebras edged out Adams Central 82.5 to 80 and clinched the title with a win in the 285-pound championship bout by senior Marshall Fishback.
“I would have loved to have just loved it without the theatrics at the end,” said Gard, who has been coaching wrestling at Rochester for 26 years. “But we’ll take it any way we can get it.
“These don’t come along very often with schools of our size. It’s taken years to build this. A lot of the kids you’re seeing are kids that wrestled for us in our youth club. It takes a lot to get to this point.”
Gard, who counts Derrick Holloway, Bryce Roberts, Damic Beck and Tristan Wilson among his assistant coaches, notes that the last three Fort Wayne Semistate champions — Western in 2020, Oak Hill in 2021 and Rochester in 2022 — have come out of the Peru Sectional.
“That’s big for our area of the state,” says Gard. “It’s big for our sectional. It’s big for our regional. It’s big for our conference.
“It’s a pretty awesome experience. It’s kids have worked really hard to get there. It was a team effort.”
The Zebras brought eight semistate qualifiers to Memorial Coliseum Saturday, Feb. 12 and four walked out as State Finals qualifiers. There was champion Fishback (41-1 at 285) plus three runners-up — freshman Wyatt Davis (27-4 at 113) and sophomores Alex Deming (41-2 at 195) and Brady Beck (40-2 at 220).
Juniors Ethan Holloway (39-1 at 120), Aaron Swango (33-8 at 126) and Greyson Gard (33-8 at 152) lost in the second aka “ticket” round and senior Kaleb Shaffer (19-12 at 182) was beaten in the first round.
Holloway, Swango, Deming, Beck, Fishback all won TRC, sectional and regional championships. Davis and Gard also placed first at conference and sectional.
Gard has carried a roster of 32 boys and five girls this season.
“We focus on specific things that we like to do as a team,” says Gard of his practices. “Two or three days a week we’ll try to do a game. We do a lot of dodgeball and try to keep things light.”
There’s around 40 wrestlers in Rochester’s middle school program and 60 to 70 at the elementary school level.
Wrestling has long been a big deal at the school that had been a regional site when the IHSAA sent the Zebras toward the Merrillville or East Chicago Semistate (prior to 2017-18).
“We like to put (wrestling) at the forefront in our community,” says Gard, a physical education and strength coach at Rochester after 23 years of teaching math.
Gard is a 1991 of Richmond High School, where he was a state qualifier as a senior. He went on to grapple for head coach Tom Jarman and assistant Rick Troxel at what is now Manchester University.
Historically, Cory Fornal (Class of 2006) is Rochester’s all-time victory leader with 154. He was a state runner-up at 140 as a senior.
No. 2 on the victory list — Damon Hummel (Class of 1994) went to the State Finals four times (qualifier at 189 in 1991, second at 189 in 1992, second at heavyweight in 1993 and third at heavyweight in 1994).
#WrestlingWednesday Feature: Mater Dei Returns to the Top
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Evansville Mater Dei got a late start to the wrestling season, like many teams with a successful football team. The school of just over 500 students reached the state championship game on the gridiron. That left little time to prepare for wrestling.
But Mater Dei quickly adjusted, and is now a dominating force on the mats.
â€œWe got off to a late start because of football,â€ Wildcats coach Greg Schaefer said. â€œOver half of our lineup plays football. Itâ€™s not just our big guys either.â€
Schaefer wasnâ€™t entirely pleased with the teamâ€™s early dual meets. It wasnâ€™t that Mater Dei had done poorly, it was just that Schaefer puts high expectations on the team with one of the richest wrestling traditions in the state.
Soon, things started to click for the Wildcats. The turning point of the season, according to Schaefer, was the team state meet.
â€œThe guys really turned the corner at team state,â€ Schaefer said. â€œThe New Palestine match, we had guys step up and get some big wins. Then we just seem to have a progression the rest of the day. â€œ
Mater Dei defeated Westfield 73-3, New Palestine 56-9, Warren Central 42-23 and Perry Meridian 31-27 to claim the IHSWCA Team State title for class 3A.
Statistically speaking, the Mater Dei lineup is absolutely stacked. Seven weight classes have wrestlers ranked in the top 12.
Sophomore Will Egli is currently ranked No. 7 at 120 pounds. Senior Alex Johnson is No. 4 at 126. The Lee brothers, sophomore Nick and freshman Joe, are both highly ranked. Nick is No. 1 at 132 while Joe is No. 3 at 138.
â€œThe Lee brothers are hard working kids that maintain good attitudes,â€ Schaefer said. â€œThey are good teammates. As a coach you really appreciate those type of athletes. Itâ€™s not always about them, they are team-first wrestlers. They are good young men as well as good wrestlers.â€
Junior Blake Jourdan is ranked No. 5 at 145 pounds with senior Ashton Forzley ranked No. 9 at 160. Senior Sam Bassemier is the No. 12-ranked 182 pounder in the state.
â€œItâ€™s hard to say where we are at in the history of Mater Dei wrestling,â€ Schaefer said. â€œI will say that from top to bottom this is one of the stronger teams we have had since Iâ€™ve been coaching.â€
Mater Dei has roughly 35 kids on its team this season. That depth has helped lead to success on the mat.
â€œTradition sums up a lot of what Mater Dei wrestling is about,â€ Schaefer said. â€œWe have strong families with a strong sense of community. They take ownership and responsibility to represent the school to the best of their ability. That has led to a lot of our success.
â€œWe have great feeder league coaches that have been around for a long time. They take a lot of pride in what they do.
â€œAnd we also have guys that people donâ€™t know about that are really the backbone of our program. Itâ€™s not the ones that get their names in the paper. Itâ€™s the guys who go to practice and do their jobs every day. You canâ€™t have a good team without good people to practice with. Those guys push the guys in the lineup because there is always competition for those spots.â€
Schaefer does not appoint team captains. He feels the true leaders of the team will step up when the time comes and become the unofficial captains. Everyone on the team is responsible for holding each other accountable in the classroom, after school and on the mats.
Mater Deiâ€™s team goals this season were to win every dual meet. They have just one more dual this season, tomorrow night against rival Evansville Reitz. The team also placed a goal of winning the team state tournament.
Individually Schaefer is hoping to have several state placers this season. Mater Dei has not had a state champ in 10 years. The last Wildcat champion was Matt Coughlin at 152 pounds in 2005.
â€œWeâ€™ve had a few runners up and a few place winners since then,â€ Schaefer said. â€œBut to win a state title it takes more than just being a good wrestler. Things have to go your way. In many cases you have to overcome circumstances or calls. You canâ€™t just be good. You also have to put yourself in the right circumstances.â€
Schaefer would know. He is a two-time state champion.
Schaefer is a theology teacher at Mater Dei as well as the wrestling coach. Itâ€™s a job he loves and plans to stay at for a very long time.