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#WrestlingWednesday: Cathedral comes up clutch in the finals
By JEREMY HINES
“You’re still in this. It’s not over.”
Elliott Rodgers kept hearing those words coming from his corner Saturday night in the championship match of the 152-pound weight class at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.
With under a minute to go in the match Rodgers trailed Greenfield’s Cooper Noehre 7-4. Rodgers was wrestling for an individual title and a chance to all but secure a team title for the Irish.
“It was nerve wracking,” Rodgers said. “It’s scary to be trailing like that. I don’t like it. But, you just have to think if you win, you win. If you lose, you lose. The coaches are in my corner yelling that it’s not over. That kept me going.”
Rodgers earned an escape point to cut Noehre’s lead to 7-5. Then, with under 10 seconds remaining, he earned a takedown to tie the score and force overtime. It was the third overtime meeting this season between the two rivals.
This time Rodgers pulled out a move he has been working on in practice but hadn’t shown Noehre yet – an inside trip. The move worked, and Rodgers won the match. The victory gave him his first state title and helped Cathedral win its second team title in as many years.
“Elliott just grinded it out,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “He was down points but he didn’t panic and he battled back. He didn’t just do it in the finals, he grinded out wins in the quarterfinals and on Friday night.”
Rodger’s teammate, senior Jordan Slivka sealed the team championship for the Irish in the next match.
Slivka took on Portage’s No. 1-ranked Donnell Washington Jr. in the 160-pound championship. Washington beat Slivka 8-3 during the regular season and appeared on his way to beating him again in the final.
Washington took Slivka down early in the match and then cut him (gave him a free escape). Washington continued his dominance for most of the first two periods. Then, in the final minute of the match, Slivka came alive. The Ohio University commit scored seven points in the final minute to win the match 12-7.
That victory ensured no other team could catch the Irish in points. Slivka won his first individual state championship last season, and coincidentally, that victory also sealed the team title for the Irish.
“This title felt better than last year’s,” Slivka said. “My goal wasn’t to be the best wrestler at Cathedral. I didn’t think I could ever accomplish that with guys like Blake Rypel and Lance Ellis. But no other Cathedral team has won two titles, and I wanted to be able to say I was the best team captain.”
Slivka’s wrestling shirt has the word “clutch” on the back of it – one that coach McGinley feels is appropriate for the senior.
“He comes through when people count him out,” McGinley said. “Washington is extremely, extremely talented and tough. He was on us that first period. We just wanted to stay close and ride it out. Slivka never lost faith and he pulled out that win.”
Going into the final Cathedral looked to be in great shape to claim the team title. The Irish had four wrestling for weight-class championships and a small lead in the team standings. But things got a little dicey in the early goings.
Irish freshman sensation Zeke Seltzer lost the 113 pound final to returning state champion, No. 1-ranked senior Jacob Moran of Portage 3-0. Then Cathedral’s Alex Mosconi fell to No. 1-ranked Matt Lee, 5-2 in the 145-pound final.
When Avon’s Asa Garcia earned a pin over Roncalli’s Alec Viduya in the 132 pound final, suddenly things got interesting. Avon still had Carson Brewer to wrestle at 182 pounds. Brewer was the heavy favorite in the match, and if he pinned his opponent, Avon had a chance to take the team title.
That’s when Rodgers and Slivka stepped up and won back-to-back matches to eliminate that possibility.
“If we polled everyone they would have probably said we were an underdog in three of the matches and probably a push in the fourth,” McGinley said. “We knew the odds were against us, and we just needed someone who was going to step up and pull it through.”
In all, Cathedral sent five wrestlers to the state tournament. Rodgers and Slivka won their weight classes. Seltzer and Mosconi placed second and Lukasz Walendzak finished 8th at 126.
#MondayMatness: Indianapolis Cathedral runs state title streak to three
By STEVE KRAH
With a few exceptions, the cast of characters changed. But the plot was the same for Indianapolis Cathedral: Win Indiana’s high school wrestling team championship.
“You always want to set your expectations high,” said Irish head coach Sean McGinley. “We thought going in we had a legitimate shot to be very successful. We had several goals and one of our goals was to win a state title. We were able to accomplish that.”
Cathedral traveled across town to Bankers Life Fieldhouse and took the program’s third straight title and fourth overall Saturday, Feb. 22 at the 82nd annual IHSAA State Finals.
“I’ve said it before, Friday night is always key,” said McGinley after the latest hoisting of the state trophy. “Our goal is not a state championship, it’s to get through Friday night. That’s our state championship adage. We got five out of eight which gave us a chance. We thought we were still in it. Saturday morning was the big round for us. We went five for five with several kids getting bonus points. Bonus points probably made the difference. We were getting them but
(eventual runner-up) Crown Point and (third-place team Evansville) Mater Dei was also getting them.”
Two of the eight State Finals qualifiers in the 2020 field were finalists on Cathedral’s 2019 state title-winning squad.
“This year’s team was way different from last year,” said sophomore Zeke Seltzer, who won the 2020 crown at 120 pounds after placing second as a freshman at 113. “The only people we had returning to State was me and Elliot (Rogers). Logan (Bailey) was returning, but he didn’t make it last year.”
“We had some guys step up for sure.”
What was the difference between standing on the second step of the podium and the top for Seltzer?
“I’ve been working for this for a whole year now,” said Seltzer. “It feels great to finally get it.”
Rodgers was a state champion at 152 as a junior and finished third at 160 in 220 as a senior.
Five of eight Irish wrestlers in the field earned state placement in 2020. Besides Seltzer and Rodgers, senior Holden Parsons (285 pounds) was a champion, senior Bailey (138) a runner-up and senior Tyler Wagner (170) a fourth placer.
“For me it was my faith,” said Parsons. “God got me through it and made sure I wasn’t nervous and everything. My coaches were there for me in my corner. They knew what we needed to do. hey knew how to keep me calm.”
Parsons talked about the team approach to the season.
“We keep a constant pace,” said Parsons. “As it goes along, we start picking it up. During the postseason, we taper on and off. That just keeps our gas tanks up and our lungs burning so we’re ready to go 100 percent when it comes time to put the pedal to the metal.”
“Everybody knew we had to get bonus points to keep up with Crown Point. They are a great team. They had great wrestlers. They are phenomenally-coached.”
Senior Jacob Huffman (195), junior Johnny Parker (182) and sophomore Evan Dickey (106) competed Friday night but did not advance to Saturday.
It was an extra-big weekend for the Seltzer family. Not only were there the team and individual championships, assistant Brian Seltzer (Zeke’s father) was inducted into the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame the day after the State Finals.
When the Irish reigned over the IHSAA in 2019, seniors Jordan Slivka (first at 160), Alex Mosconi (second at 145) and Lukasz Walendzak (eighth at 126) were there along with Rodgers and Seltzer. At the 2018 State Finals, Cathedral was represented by junior Slivka (first at 145), sophomore Rodgers (second at 152), senior Zach Melloh (second at 138), junior Alex Mosconi (second at 132), sophomore Bailey (third at 106), junior Walendzak (fourth at 120), senior Jacob Obst (seventh at 285)senior Jacob Obst (seventh at 285) and qualifiers senior Anthony Mosconi (160), sophomore Caleb Oliver (113) and freshman Andrew Wilson (126).
#MondayMatness: Crown Point’s Mendez runs table as a freshman
By STEVE KRAH
Jesse Mendez had a “blast” in punctuating his freshmen wrestling season at Crown Point High School with a 2019 IHSAA title.
The 126-pounder started off his finals match with a “blast double” takedown and went on to a 6-0 win against Avon junior Raymond Rioux to cap a 42-0 season.
Mendez reigned in a stacked weight division. He pinned Western freshman Hayden Shepherd in 1:02 Friday and Mt. Vernon (Fortville) senior Chase Wilkerson in 3:58 in the quarterfinals before earning a 13-4 major decision against Jimtown senior Hunter Watts in the semifinals.
“He’s a tough wrestler and a tough opponent to get by,” said Mendez of Watts, who was a champion at 120 in 2018, runner-up at 113 in 2017 and sixth at 106 in 2016.
Rioux, who had placed third at 120 in 2018 and sixth at 106 in 2017, beat Yorktown senior Brayden Curtis 3-1 in the semifinals. Curtis was a champion at 113 in 2018 and at 106 in 2017 after finishing seventh at 106 in 2016.
And yet Mendez was dominant. How did that happen?
“I work hard in the (practice) room,” said Mendez. “My coaches and I are always trying to get to my attacks more often. I just trust in what they’ve been teaching me and it’s been working.”
Bulldogs coach Branden Lorek has been impressed with the ability and work ethic of Mendez.
“He’s got all the attributes — he’s fast, strong, physical, smart,” says Lorek. “He listens very well. He’s very coachable and a student of the sport.
“He’s the first guy in the room and the last guy to leave. For a freshman, he’s not afraid to speak up and pick guys up. He’s a welcome
While there plenty of eyes on him at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and on television, Mendez was not intimidated.
“I’ve been wrestling in big tournaments my whole life,” said Mendez, 15. “I’ve been in tight situations in front of big crowds.
“I think I thrive off of it.”
Mendez is confident in his abilities.
“If I wrestle my match I can beat anybody,” said Mendez. “If I get my attacks going, there’s nobody who can stop me.
“I think I can really open kids up a lot. I’m really good at moving my feet and my hands.”
As his head coach puts it, Mendez wants to “be the hero.”
“He wants to go out and get bonus points and do whatever he can for the team,” said Lorek. “If we bump him up a weight class, he has no problem doing that. If we need him to wrestle for a major, he’ll get the job done.”
Around 7 or 8, Mendez put aside his other sports and focused on the mat. He hooked up with the Region Wrestling Academy.
“Those coaches are great,” said Mendez, who grew up in the Lake Central district before moving to Crown Point in middle school. Hector and Monica Mendez have three children — Payton, Jesse and Lyla.
“My family’s really important to me,” said Jesse. “They sacrifice a lot for me.”
There won’t be much time spent basking in his state title for Mendez. After a brief break, he’s going to start working again to get ready for meets like the FloNationals, Iowa Folkstyle Nationals, World Team Trials, Super 32, Fargo and Who’s No. 1?.
In other words, the wrestling world will be hearing more from Jesse Mendez.
#MondayMatness: Wrestling a Hard Sell for the Davis Brothers
By STEVE KRAH
It took a little convincing to get brothers Bo, Blake and Beck Davis to see that wrestling is for them.
But once they committed to the mat sport, success followed and Garrett has been the beneficiary.
Bo Davis represented the Garrett High School Railroaders twice at the IHSAA State Finals, qualifying as a junior in 2014 and placing third in 2015 â€” both times at 195 pounds. He became a collegiate wrestler at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne.
Blake Davis (220) was a State Finals qualifier as a junior in 2015 just won Carroll Sectional and Carroll Regional titles as a senior in 2016. He will be a No. 1 in the Fort Wayne Semistate at Memorial Coliseum.
Beck Davis, who was at 182 as a freshman in 2015, has won at the sectional and regional stages as a sophomore at 195 in 2016. He, too, will be a top seed at semistate .
Bo, Blake and Beck are part of a family athletic legacy that includes father Chad Davis and mother Lisa (Leichty) Davis (a pair of 1990 Garrett graduates) and grandfather Steve Dembickie (GHS Class of 1971).
In a family where they take their sports and their academics seriously (Bo, Blake and Beck have all excelled in football for Garrett and Blake and Beck are ranked in the top five of their respective classes), it took some serious coaxing to become wrestlers.
â€œIn our school wrestling was the weird thing to do,â€ Bo Davis said after being recruited to wrestling in sixth grade following a less-than-satisfying basketball experience. â€œI was forced into it, but I loved it.â€
Blake Davis soon followed his older brother into wrestling. But, at first, there was resistance.
â€œAll of us thought wrestling was a joke,â€ Blake Davis said, speaking for himself and both his brothers. We didnâ€™t take it seriously. Bo went out and we made fun of him.â€
But something clicked for Bo and Blake. They began to really enjoy wrestling and the all work it takes to do well.
It took a little more work coaxing Beck to join them.
â€œWe offered him $250 to come to one practice,â€ Bo Davis said.
â€œI was probably the most stubborn at the start,â€ Beck said. â€œI thought it was weird.â€
It was Garrett coach Nick Kraus, who had Beck in a weight training class, that persuaded him to became a wrestler.
Kraus, in his fifth season with the program and third as head coach, watched the oldest Davis brother grind to make himself into a decorated wrestler.
â€œBo is very coachable and he hated to lose,â€ Kraus said. â€œHe was very, very persistent.â€
After not placing at Mishawakaâ€™s Al Smith Classic as a senior, Bo bared down week by week and it paid off during the IHSAA state tournament series.
â€œHeâ€™s a strong kid with an athletic build who got very good at a couple things he did consistently,â€ Kraus said. â€œIâ€™ve never coached anybody who worked as hard as Bo Davis.â€
That kind of drive in the classroom turned Davis into Garrettâ€™s 2015 valedictorian and he is now studying biomedical engineering at Indiana Tech. Blake and Beck are ranked in the top five of their classes at Garrett.
A mean streak has also served Blake well.
â€œBlake is the meanest of the brothers,â€ Kraus said. â€œHe imposes his will on people. Heâ€™s almost a bully on the wrestling mat.â€
Lisa (Liechty) Davis, a standout athlete during her time at Garrett (she is a 1990 GHS graduate) and the boysâ€™ mother, has witnessed the rage.
â€œBlake is mean,â€ Lisa Davis said. â€œIf Bo was beating them when they were wrestling, they might throw a punch or two. Five minutes later, they are each othersâ€™ best friend.â€
Blake does not shy away from the mean label.
â€œI guess since I was little I had anger problems,â€ Blake Davis said. â€œIâ€™ve gotten better over the years of channeling it. If you are a competitive person, you donâ€™t want to lose. If you live with them, youâ€™re going to hear about it.â€
Kraus appreciates the hate-to-lose attitude.
â€œThatâ€™s not a bad thing in wrestling and itâ€™s trickled down throughout the team,â€ Kraus said. â€œAll the kids are getting that chip on their shoulder.â€
Superior conditioning has been Blakeâ€™s calling card.
â€œI know Iâ€™m not the most talented wrestler, but I can outwork them,â€ Blake Davis said. â€œI prefer to pin the guy as quickly as possible, but I can go six minutes.â€
After an injury-filled football season, Blake just reached the wrestling shape of his junior season in recent weeks.
Using his competitive nature, Blake has avenged early losses or beaten opponents even more convincingly in rematches.
â€œ(Blake) does have finesse,â€ Kraus said. â€œBut for the most part, itâ€™s a physical brute style of wrestling.â€
Even at 220, itâ€™s not all bulldozer with Blake.
â€œHeâ€™s pretty slick,â€ Bo Davis said of Blake. â€œHeâ€™s athletic for somebody that size. He can pull off some lighter-guy moves that stop people in their tracks sometimes.â€
Kraus said Beck has the potential to be the best wrestling Davis brother.
â€œHeâ€™s had his brothers to work with all the time,â€ Kraus said. â€œHe didnâ€™t want to do it at first. Once he started to do it, he was all in. Now he doesnâ€™t miss summer sessions, camps or weight room workouts. There are high expectations with his brothersâ€™ accomplishments, but he doesnâ€™t let it get to him.â€
Following coaching advice, Beck tries to keep moving on the mat and believe in himself.
â€œIâ€™ve been working on (constant motion),â€ Beck Davis said. â€œAnd to keep having fun and stay confident.
â€œIâ€™m not really technical sound, but I have a decent gas tank and I like to shoot.â€
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#WrestlingWednesday: Jennings County getting a major upgrade
By JEREMY HINES
Howard Jones is, without a doubt, the face of Jennings County wrestling. Jones has coached the Panthers for over four decades (41 years to be exact). And during those 41 years he’s always had to do things the hard way. That’s all about to change.
Jennings County has started the construction of a one-of-a-kind wrestling facility. Jones believes this might be the only dedicated wrestling venue for a high school in the Midwest, and possibly even the entire country.
The new, five-million-dollar venue will feature seating for over 800 fans. It will have four full-size mats down with the ability to remove some seating and go up to six full size mats. The 24,000 square feet venue will also have two locker rooms and a coaches’ office.
“We expect this to make our wrestlers feel like first-class athletes,” Jennings County Athletic Director Cory Stevens said. “They are going to have a facility that no other wrestlers in the region or in the state will have. We hope this attracts others to use it as well, for camps and things of that nature.”
For Jones, this is a dream come true. His wrestlers have practiced in a balcony overlooking the basketball gymnasium. The school has two balconies on each side of the gym, and the wrestling team was often so large that it had to split the team up and use both sides.
“I was lucky enough to have real good assistant coaches over the years,” Jones said. “I would go on one side and the assistants would go on the other. Sometimes we would divide by weight class. Sometimes we would divide by varsity and junior varsity.”
The wrestlers would also have to move the 800-pound mats that were stored in various places throughout the school down to the gym floor for invitationals or dual meets.
“Needless to say, it was an inconvenience, at the minimum,” Jones said. “We didn’t get the lighter mats until about four years ago. We always had to end practice early if there was a girls or a boys basketball game.”
Jones didn’t much believe that the program was getting its own venue when he was first told about it. He had heard similar talk before. One time the school was going to build a 4.7-million-dollar facility that would house three basketball courts, a weight room, a track and a wrestling room. Ultimately that got voted down by the community.
This time around school superintendent Teresa Brown told Jones that it was going to happen.
“One day she told me ‘Coach Jones, we’re going to get you that wrestling room.’,” Jones said. “I didn’t believe her. That was about three years ago. Then, at the first of the year, she steps into the gym and said to me ‘Don’t you doubt me coach Jones, don’t you doubt me’.”
Jones has had a hand in the design of the facility. He has looked at places like Purdue for inspiration and has tried to emulate what he knows works.
“It’s been a very emotional time for me,” Jones said. “I have thought our kids deserved something better, but maybe not this elaborate, for years. I questioned why it was going to be so good. The principal at the time said ‘Howard, why can’t we have the best for our kids?’ That made sense to me. I think this state-of-the-art facility will be what’s best for our kids.”
For Jones, the principal’s statement got him thinking.
“I’m pretty conservative with things,” Jones said. “When he said that to me, I started thinking differently. I started thinking why not. The school wants to be greedy for the kids and it really shows.”
The wrestling facility isn’t the only thing to get a major upgrade at the school. The baseball and softball fields got a multi-million-dollar upgrade. The weight room doubled in size. The football field got new turf. The tennis courts are getting a facelift. But, the largest change, is the wrestling renovation.
According to Stevens, this might not have ever happened if it weren’t for the influence Jones has had on the students and the community through wrestling.
“They say it has a lot to do with me, but it’s really for the kids,” Jones said. “The kids deserved better and we’re getting there. The educators care for the kids. But since this announcement I’ve had hundreds of people call or contact me about how much wrestling has done for them. That was done without this kind of facility. It’s not that we create champion wrestlers. It’s important that we realize we’re creating champion kids.”
This has been an emotional journey for Jones. Former wrestlers are working on the building of the new facility and even the companies that put in the bids for the construction were ran by some of Jones’ former wrestlers.
“Each of our six elementary schools have former wrestlers of mine that are coaching,” Jones said. “All but one of my assistants were coached by me. The middle school – all but one of the coaches was coached by me. It makes me very proud. One of the things that probably puts things in perspective for me the most is that I had a principal at one of the elementary schools come up to me and said ‘Howard, I’m tired of going to principal meetings and hearing about your wrestling program.’ But wrestling is a fraternity, not just within the school, but it creates a strong bond for life.”
Stevens hopes to see other schools build similar facilities for their programs in the future.
“We hope this inspires other schools to do something similar,” Stevens said. “Everyone is going to benefit from this – not just the high school, but the younger kids as well. Wrestling is a sport that does great things for kids. The more we can inspire other kids, the better. I was not a wrestler, but I see the value the sport offers for kids today.”
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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 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: 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.
#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.
#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€
#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: 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€
#WrestlingWednesday: Fulks ready for his first trip to Bankers Life
By JEREMY HINES
Last Saturday when Jordan Fulks pinned Terre Haute South Vigo’s Moses Hamm in the ticket round of the Evansville semistate, he did something that hasn’t been done by a Boonville wrestler in 13 years. He advanced to the state tournament.
“The last guy to make it to state from our school was Sam Derosett,” Fulks said. “He coached me when I was in middle school.”
Fulks, a junior, is currently ranked No. 5 at 152 pounds. He is 43-1 on the year with his lone loss coming in the semistate championship to No. 4-ranked Logan Boe.
“Jordan is scrappy wrestler,” Boonville co-coach Dustin Wilke said. “He’s a good wrestler on his feet. He moves his hands and feet very well. He has a lot of pins and racks up a lot of points.”
Last season Fulks finished the year with a 36-2 mark. He lost in the first round of semistate.
“I had a knee injury last year that really set me back a few months,” Fulks said. “It became a motivation thing, I guess. I advanced to semistate with a knee injury and that really inspired me because I knew if I could make it that far, hurt, then when I got better I could go even further.”
Fulks is a year-around wrestler. It’s the only sport he participates in.
“He’s got a real drive to be successful in wrestling,” Wilke said. “I’ve known him for several years. He was in our youth feeder program. He was on our travel team. I helped coach him in middle school. When he was getting a little older, I asked him what he wants to be – and he said a state champion. He asked what he needs to do to make that happen. He’s always looking for insight and he’s always trying to improve.”
Fulks believes his best attribute in wrestling is his confidence.
“I’m a confident wrestler,” he said. “I go out there and I’m confident in my moves and that I can hit them. I never go out thinking I can win every match, but I think I am going to wrestle my match, every time.”
Friday night Fulks will go up against Huntington North’s No. 12-ranked Cody McCune (36-2). Both wrestlers are looking to place for the first time at state. McCune advanced last year, but did not place.
#WrestlingWednesday Feature: Prairie Heights Resurgence Orchestrated by a Basketball Player
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Four years ago Prairie Heights High School needed a wrestling coach. Applicants werenâ€™t exactly lining up at the door to take over a program that had fallen on hard times.
So the schoolâ€™s athletic director approached an unlikely candidate â€” a former basketball player named Brett Smith.
Smith, who teaches at the school districtâ€™s middle school, had no wrestling experience. He was related to the former wrestling coach, and had helped kids with lifting weights and staying in shape in the offseason. That was the extent of his wrestling knowledge.
He didnâ€™t shy away from the challenge. Smith told the athletic director he would take the job, but he needed to be able to hire the best assistant coaches he could find.
Smith called brothers John and Mike Levitz, two of Prairie Heights greatest former wrestlers. John had set nearly all of the Pantherâ€™s wrestling records, until Mike came along and broke them. Smith remembers watching the Levitz brothers wrestle in high school. He knew they were the right people for the job.
There was one more piece to the puzzle Smith was trying to assemble, and the Levitz brothers knew exactly what that was. They called their old high school coach Lee Fry and talked him out of retirement to join in their campaign.
The first year together the Panthers finished the season with a miserable 12-17 record. The next year they had raised their mark to .500 at 16-16. Last year the team posted a winning record at 17-12.
This year the Panthers are 21-2 and are the top-seeded Class A team going in to this weekendâ€™s team state tournament.
It hasnâ€™t been an easy road, by any means, but the kids have bought into the coachesâ€™ system.
â€œI think one of the main things that has helped us is that we do everything the wrestlers do,â€ Smith said. â€œWe do the same lifting and running. The kids see us busting our butts with them, and that pushes them to do the same. They work hard because they can see us working hard for them.â€
Mike and John started coaching kids in their basement several years ago. They had purchased old wrestling mats from a barn nearby. It took hours to clean the mats enough to get them in usable shape. They put them in Johnâ€™s basement and started working with kids. At first it was just Johnâ€™s sons Doug (junior, 145 lbs) and Jed (freshman, 160 lbs). But soon the workouts in their basement grew to over 20 kids.
â€œWrestling is just about life for our family,â€ John said. â€œMy brothers and I, we lived wrestling. When Mike graduated, we were lost. Our parents were lost. We needed wrestling back in our lives.â€
Now wrestling is once again a large part of the Levitzâ€™s daily routine. Johnâ€™s sons both wrestle, as does Mikeâ€™s sons Isiah, Sam and Matt. Mikeâ€™s sons are not in high school yet, but they are all dedicated to the sport.
â€œWrestling has taught me so much for life,â€ Mike said. â€œIt taught hard work and dedication. Wrestling is a family thing. Everyone in the sport is tight.â€
Prairie Heights is a small farming community. Thatâ€™s a key to the wrestling success as well, according to Smith.
â€œWeâ€™re just a small farm town,â€ Smith said. â€œBut all the kids have grown up to be hard workers because of that. We know the kids work hard, and we know their parents work hard. And work ethic in the wrestling room has been what has led us to the success weâ€™re having.â€
The Panthers have goals this year of winning the Northeast Corner Conference, winning team state, and sending at least one wrestler to Bankerâ€™s Life Fieldhouse for the wrestling state finals. In their four years of coaching together, they have not had a wrestler go to state yet.
â€œWe have the potential to change that this year,â€ John said. â€œIâ€™d love to see us get more than one there this year.â€
A former basketball player, a retired coach and a couple of brothers who hadnâ€™t coached high school wrestling before isnâ€™t the typical recipe for success on the mats. But it works for Prairie Heights. The team wouldnâ€™t want it any other way.
#WrestlingWednesday Feature: Wabash Wrestling has Lefever Fever
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
To say Wabash Collegeâ€™s wrestling program is like a family might be an understatement.
Wabash has five wrestlers who have qualified for this weekendâ€™s Division III Nationals, three of which are brothers.
The Little Giantâ€™s are hoping those brothers can catapult the team to their best ever finish in the National Championship.
â€œLast year we finished ninth as a team, which was our best finish ever,â€ Wabash assistant coach Danny Irwin said. â€œWithout a doubt we feel like we should do much better this year, just based on our seeds. All five guys are capable of getting on top of the podium.â€
Wabash is led by the Lefever brothers, who wrestled for Fort Wayne Carroll in high school. Twins Reece and Conner are seniors. Reece is the No. 2 seed at 157 pounds. Conner is the top seed at 174 pounds and younger brother Riley, a sophomore, is a returning champion who is the No. 1 seed at 184 pounds.
Wabash freshman Devin Broukal and junior Ethan Farmer, both from Bloomington South High School, have also qualified for Nationals, but are unseeded.
Riley won Nationals last season. Wrestling didnâ€™t always come easy to the youngest Lefever brother, however. In high school he finished his freshman season with a dismal 11-18 record. He improved by his sophomore year, finishing 26-15. As a junior things really started to click. Riley was 38-3 his junior year, wrestling at 160 pounds.
In his senior season Riley finished 46-1 and was a state runner up.
â€œI didnâ€™t really start to enjoy wrestling until my freshman year,â€ Riley said. â€œThatâ€™s when I found my love for the sport. I started wrestling all year around with my brothers. Because of that, I really started to improve pretty quickly.â€
The Lefevers are each othersâ€™ biggest supporters, but they are also highly competitive with one another â€“ especially Conner and Reece.
â€œWith Riley being the little, big brother (heâ€™s younger, but physically bigger) he doesnâ€™t get into it as much as Reece and Conner do,â€ Irwin said. â€œI think those two would just assume kill each other then let the other guy win. We have to break them up all the time for the good of the team."
â€œBut as much as they fight, I donâ€™t think anyone could be as supportive to each other as they are.â€
Conner admits that Riley is the toughest of the three right now, mainly because of his size.
â€œRiley would beat the crap out of us,â€ he said. â€œHe throws us around like rag dolls. We have had a lot of time to throw him around like that, until he got in college. We donâ€™t like it, but it is what it is.â€
All three brothers credit their parents, Kent and Nancy, for pushing them to get better in the sport.
â€œI know the way we were raised has had a big impact on how we wrestle,â€ Reece said. â€œMy parents sent us to camps. They were always willing to spend the time and money it took to get us to tournaments and camps. They always made sure they gave us every opportunity in wrestling.â€
Even now, Kent and Nancy do not miss any matches. They travel all across the country to see their three boys compete.
All three are hoping to take home a National Championship. They know that if they do, Wabash will place higher than it ever has before.
â€œThey all three can win,â€ Irwin said. â€œAnd hopefully get us some bonus points in the mix. If they do that, that will put us in contention for a National title.â€
Wabash finished the season with a 12-2 mark and was fourth at the National Duals.
â€œWe all love this school,â€ Reece said. â€œThe team camaraderie is very good. We are all close friends and we all want our team to succeed. We are definitely a family at Wabash.â€
#WrestlingWednesday: Ethan Smiley has plenty to smile about
By JEREMY HINES
Beech Groveâ€™s Ethan Smiley isnâ€™t big on talking about himself. After repeated questions for this article about his wrestling and other accomplishments, Smiley barely mustered a word. But, when the questions turned to his teammates or his family, he was much more talkative.
â€œEthan is very quiet,â€ Hornet coach Matt Irwin said. â€œHe isnâ€™t the first person you notice in the room. Heâ€™d be the last person youâ€™d notice. He is humble and itâ€™s hard to get him to brag on himself. Thatâ€™s how he was raised. He knows how to act and how to carry himself in a good manner.â€
Even though he wonâ€™t do it, Smiley has plenty to brag about on the mat and in the classroom. The Beech Grove junior is currently ranked No. 8 at 132 pounds. He has qualified for state both of his previous seasons. Last year he earned a spot on the podium with an 8th-place finish at 120 pounds.
Off the mat, Smiley is ranked No. 1 in his class.
â€œHe has a GPA of over 4.2,â€ Irwin said. â€œEverything he does, he does it with all his effort. He takes everything seriously. He is an extremely hard worker with a no nonsense approach. He wants to get in, get out and get things accomplished.â€
Ethan would like to place higher at the state level this year than he did last year. It is equally important to him to get a teammate to state this year as well.
â€œMy goal is just to be grateful for the opportunity to wrestle and be with my teammates,â€ Smiley said. â€œWe are better than we have been the last few years. I really want to bring some teammates to state this year. We have some decent guys that have a chance. Bailey Moore, our 138 pounder, could have a very good season. He is one of my practice partners.â€
Ethanâ€™s older brother, Evan, was a two-time state qualifier for the Hornets. He finished fourth at 145 pounds his senior season.
â€œI started wrestling when I was four,â€ Ethan said. â€œMy brother was wrestling and I wanted to do it too. He still drills with me when he gets a chance.â€
Currently Evan is wrestling at 141 pounds for the University of Indianapolis.
â€œI think Ethan has really taken a lot from Evanâ€™s work ethic,â€ Irwin said. â€œTheir styles arenâ€™t similar, except that they are both very heavy handed. But they are very big on hard work and not cutting corners.â€
Coach Irwin believes Ethan has the ability to contend for a state title on the mat. Irwin said that Ethan has put a lot of work in during the offseason. He has gotten stronger, really worked with his nutrition and has done all of the right things to put himself in a good position to make a run.
Last season Ethan wrestled Dylan Culp four times during the state tournament. He lost in the sectional final to Culp 6-0, but then turned it around and beat Culp 4-2 in the regional final. Culp won the semistate championship match 4-2. The two met one more time, in the 7th and 8th place match in the state finals. Culp won that battle 5-4.
â€œI think my biggest win last year was at regionals when I finally beat Dylan Culp,â€ Ethan said. â€œThat was my most satisfying win. He had beaten me numerous times before, but that was the first time I finally beat him.â€
Ethan would like to wrestle in college, but he hasnâ€™t put much thought into that. Heâ€™s hoping to go to Purdue and study plant science.
â€œIâ€™m really into botany and plant science,â€ Ethan said. â€œIâ€™ve been fortunate to work with a Purdue professor and do science research. Iâ€™d like to work in agriculture and get a degree in plant science. Thatâ€™s what I work toward.â€
Wrestling is Ethanâ€™s only high school sport. When he was younger he tried his hand at baseball and golf, but didnâ€™t pursue those sports in high school. He usually shoots in the 90s in golf, he said.
Ethan also plays guitar a little and loves comic books, especially batman.
Ethan is very family oriented. He enjoys hanging out with his brother, or his parents Phil and Christa. He also enjoys playing with his dog.
â€œOverall, Ethan is pretty serious, but he can be a goofball at times,â€ Irwin said. â€œHe cares about other people and he wants his teammates to be successful. That is extremely important to him.â€
#WrestlingWednesday Feature: Merrillville's Purple Hulk
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Merrillville heavyweight Shawn Streck wants the record set straight. He does not eat 106 pounders for breakfast.
The undefeated big man, who pinned his way through the state tournament, has taken on almost a Chuck Norris type mystique among Merrillville fans.
It is rumored Streck is the reason Waldo is hiding. Some think he can cut a knife with butter. Others claim that a bullet proof vest wears Shawn Streck for protection.
â€œI hear a lot of them,â€ Streck joked. â€œIâ€™m pretty sure none of them are true. Especially the one about eating 106 pounders. I hear that one a lot.â€
In reality, Streck is a dominating force in the heavyweight ranks. He combines an uncanny amount of athleticism for a big guy, with strength and solid wrestling technique. He finished the 2015 campaign with a perfect 50-0 record.
Streck pinned Dax Hiestand in the Friday night round of state. On Saturday he pinned Franklin Communityâ€™s Quinn York and then Plainfieldâ€™s Bryce Biddle. That set the stage for a showdown with No. 3-ranked Nathan Trawick of Richmond. Trawick is a mammoth heavyweight who can bench press over 400 pounds. That didnâ€™t matter to Streck who put the Richmond senior on his back in the third period and didnâ€™t let him up until the referee slapped the mat for the final time in the 2015 season.
â€œI knew how strong he was,â€ Streck said. â€œI knew I needed to go out there, push the pace and just wear him down. Thatâ€™s what I did.â€
Streck, just a junior, was ranked No. 1 all season long. He said it did not bother him that everyone was gunning for him this season. He did not feel the pressure because he tries to block that out of his mind.
The only real time he got nervous during the state finals was when his good friend and teammate Jacob Covaciu was wrestling for the 145 pound championship.
â€œI was way more nervous for Jacobâ€™s match than I was my own,â€ Streck said. â€œHe is one of my best friends. When he won, I knew I had to win too.â€
Covaciu won his title by reversing a semistate loss to Portageâ€™s Steven Lawrence.
â€œIt has been pretty much indescribable since I won,â€ Covaciu said. â€œMy phone has been blowing up with people congratulating me. Everyone is so supportive. State was so exciting. I got to wrestle so many very tough guys and I was able to come out on top.â€
Covaciu remembers vividly a conversation he and Streck had in a middle school wrestling camp about winning state in high school.
â€œWe have always talked about one day winning a title together,â€ Covaciu said. â€œWhen we were at a wrestling camp in middle school and we sat up late talking about how we both wanted to win a title together. That was our dream. After I won it, then I got to sit there and watch Shawn win â€“ that was crazy.â€
Like Streck, Covaciu was ranked No. 1 all season. He is also a junior.
Streck is getting college offers from schools from around the country, for both football and wrestling.
â€œI am not sure where I am going to go and what Iâ€™m going to do yet,â€ Streck said. â€œI really like Minnesota, Missouri and Purdue for wrestling. I like Michigan State, Notre Dame and Purdue for football. Right now itâ€™s all up in the air.
â€œItâ€™s pretty sweet to be getting attention from all of these schools. But itâ€™s also very stressful. Itâ€™s a big life decision and I donâ€™t want to make the wrong choice.â€
Both wrestlers are hoping to return next year and be as dominant as they finished this season.
As far as Streckâ€™s legend status at Merrillville, Covaciu says some of the things he hears is a little extreme. But he has seen first-hand things that Streck can do that most canâ€™t.
â€œSome of the things he does, lifting-wise is insane,â€ Covaciu said. â€œHe can lift anything. Heâ€™s always breaking stuff like a big giant. Donâ€™t give him something valuable because heâ€™ll probably break it. Heâ€™s also constantly chewing on things and ripping things apart. Everyone keeps things away from Shawn so he doesnâ€™t accidentally damage it.â€
#WrestlingWednesday: Viduya Brings Glory Back to Roncalli
By JEREMY HINES
Roncalli freshman Alec Viduya knew what it would take to become a wrestling state champion. Thereâ€™s hard work, dedication and all that jazz â€“ but most importantly, he needed a perm.
â€œAlec decided it was time to bring the perm back before the sectional this year,â€ Roncalli coach Wade McClurg said. â€œHe was 15-0 in the state series with the perm, so the secret is in the hair.â€
Viduya won the 113 pound weight class, beating Jimtownâ€™s No. 6-ranked Hunter Watt 7-4 in the finale.
â€œHe earned the nickname Goku (Dragonball Z reference) last summer,â€ McClurg said. â€œGoku is known for his work ethic and constantly striving to be the greatest warrior to protect the universe. Alec has crazy hair like Goku and he is always striving to be the best wrestler to protect the Southside Rebellion.â€
Viduya become Roncalliâ€™s fourth state champion, and the first in 32 years since Chris Maxwell won in 1985. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his former coach Lance Ellis and become a four-time champion.
â€œHe was my coach for a long time, and Iâ€™d love to follow what he did,â€ Viduya said.
Viduya certainly doesnâ€™t lack confidence. The freshman tried not one, but two standing cradles in the finals match.
â€œI know what Iâ€™m capable of,â€ Viduya said. â€œI knew that if I could lock that up I was getting back points.â€
Coach McClurg learned from his mentor, Carmel coach Ed Pendoski, that communication is the key to having a successful program. So McClurg held a meeting with Alec and his family at their kitchen table in July and discussed Alecâ€™s goals.
â€œWithout hesitation he told me that he wanted to be a state champion as a freshman like his mentor Lance Ellis,â€ McClurg said. â€œThat dialogue began when he was a youth wrestler and continued into the kitchen table conversation in July, and itâ€™s still communicated on a daily basis.â€
Viduya dismantled several ranked opponents during his tournament run. He beat Warren Centralâ€™s No. 3-ranked Skylour Turner in the New Castle semistate final 15-4. He then beat #17 Kane Egli, No. 8 Jose Diaz and No. 1-ranked, returning state champion Asa Garcia leading up to the final match.
â€œMy Friday night match was one of the hardest because I had to make weight and maintain my weight,â€ Viduya said. â€œI was pretty tired. On Monday I was 122 pounds.â€
As is the case with almost every state champion, Viduya strives for excellence in practice.
â€œIâ€™ve had the privilege to have coached Alec since he was 8 years old,â€ McClurg said. â€œAlec has always taken his training very seriously and is passionate about wrestling. He is motivated by his absolute hatred of losing and has been that way since he was very young. Thatâ€™s just how he is programmed. Alec is the ultimate competitor. He is confident in his abilities and he stays mentally strong in tough situations.â€
To many, Viduya seems very straight-laced and serious at all times. He is hyper-focused during tournaments and dual meets. But coach McClurg says heâ€™s not always that way.
â€œThere is a misconception with some people who are not real familiar with Alec,â€ McClurg said. â€œBecause they think he never smiles or talks. The people that really know Alec and see him every day in the hallways at Roncalli know that is certainly not the case. If I had to describe Alec in one word it would be â€˜cool.â€™ Alec is one cool customer.â€
This summer Viduya plans to wrestle at Fargo in freestyle. His work to stay on the top of the championship ladder in high school is far from over. But, he feels that as long as he puts in the work, and keeps the perm, he should be ready.
#WrestlingWednesday Feature: Expecting to Win Put Ellis on Top
Brought to you by EI Sports
By JEREMY HINES
Expect to win. That was the mind set 30 years ago for one small, but mighty Indiana wrestler named Lance Ellis.
Now, three decades later, Ellis is an Indiana legend with perhaps the greatest high school wrestling resume the state has ever witnessed.
Ellisâ€™ numbers are staggering. He wrestled 177 high school matches for Cathedral High School. He won every single one of them. He was the first of only two Indiana wrestlers to win four state titles. Of those 177 victories, he put his opponent flat on his back 151 times for the pin.
But how did Ellis get so good? What separated him from the field during the late 80s when he was the most dominating force in the sport?
â€œMy greatest attribute was my mental toughness,â€ Ellis said. â€œI have to give credit to my coach, Lance Rhoades, and the fact that we were on a good team. But we expected to win every match â€“ and we were in a whole lot of big matches. Every time we went out to wrestle we just absolutely expected to win.â€
Ellisâ€™s first state championship came in 1986. Mentally, he says that freshman season was his most difficult one.
â€œThat was a really tough year,â€ Ellis said. â€œJust because I was a freshman and I was cutting quite a bit of weight. But in the end, it was worth it.â€
When Ellis reached the state championship that year, standing across the mat from him was Chestertonâ€™s Scott Schultz, a junior he knew very little about.
â€œBack then there was no social media,â€ Ellis said. â€œYou canâ€™t watch matches of guys and know their whole history. But I went out expecting to win. He was a very strong kid. I put him on his back but couldnâ€™t hold him down. I think I put him in a head lock in the first two seconds of the match, but he rolled out of it.â€
Schultz was one of only a few opponents Ellis didnâ€™t pin. But that doesnâ€™t mean he didnâ€™t dominate. Ellis won the state championship his freshman year by technical fall.
â€œI didnâ€™t know much about him going in to the final,â€ Schultz said. â€œHe was a freshman. But I was astonished at how well he knew my style. I was a powerful wrestler and I used that to control my opponents and won by many falls. He used that against me most effectively and basically controlled me the entire match and scored repeatedly, taking me off my feet several times.â€
Schultz was a runner-up the next season as well, losing 16-10 in the finals at 105 pounds to Jay Countyâ€™s David Ferguson.
Ellis comes from a wrestling family. His dad, Bob, was a two-time state placer. His older brother, Scott, was a state champion for Warren Central.
â€œI just followed them around from tournament to tournament,â€ Ellis said. â€œMy dad coached me. It was just the way we grew up. We were a wrestling family.â€
One big advantage, Ellis feels, was that he grew up in the Catholic Youth Organization.
â€œThere are so many good kids wrestling today,â€ Ellis said. â€œThere are so many clubs and year around wrestling. I was doing year around wrestling when nobody else was. A lot of that is because I came up through the CYO where we wrestled folkstyle from kindergarten through eighth grade. The only opportunities you really had at that time were freestyle.â€
Ellisâ€™ biggest test in a state championship match came his sophomore year. He was going up against Bellmont junior John Faurote in the 112 pound weight class.
â€œMy sophomore year was my closest final,â€ Ellis said. â€œI won 3-2. I gave up an escape point and I gave up a point on cautions. I was kind of nervous on that one. Whenever we had a restart, I had to focus on where my hands and feet were so I didnâ€™t give up another caution point. I felt like I was in control of the match, but I only had a one point lead.â€
In his junior season Ellis needed to do more than just win the state championship. He needed to pin Merrilvilleâ€™s Mark Rosenbalm.
â€œMy junior year it got very interesting,â€ Ellis said. â€œWe were in a really close team race with Bellmont. Coach told me I had to pin the kid. Thatâ€™s a lot of pressure in the state finals. We were within a couple of points of Bellmont. I won by a major decision (12-4), so it was bitter sweet. We got second that year, but it actually came down to another match later in the day.â€
As a senior Ellis was quickly taken down by Rushvilleâ€™s Scott Wilson. Ellis was able to stand up, throw Wilson and pin him in 1:15. He ended his high school career with a pin in the state championship.
â€œI remember the feeling when my hand was raised,â€ Ellis said. â€œIt was relief and excitement. It was a great way to end it. Everyone I knew was there to see it. I had about 100 people there to watch me.â€
Ellis said he never really felt pressure as the wins piled up and the momentum of having a perfect career started to roll. He said he approached his final matches the same way he did that freshman year, with an expectation that he was going to win.
Ellis is now the coach of Indianapolis Roncalli. This is his 11th season as the head coach and his 20th overall as a coach in some capacity in Indiana
â€œI love coaching,â€ Ellis said. â€œItâ€™s an absolute blast. Iâ€™ve got to coach my own sons (Brennan graduated in 2012 and Nick is a senior this season). I hopefully have had a positive impact on a lot of other kids, too.â€
Ellis said his greatest moments as a coach arenâ€™t always from having the standout wrestlers. He enjoys seeing kids improve and overcome obstacles.
â€œOne of the wrestlers that really stick out to me is a kid named Tony Bell,â€ Ellis said. â€œHe started out as a freshman and had a lot of health issues. But he worked his butt off. He was always around. He was a great leader. As a senior he qualified for the state tournament and that was probably one of the greatest moments I have had as a coach.â€
When asked if Ellis had any advice for New Palestine senior Chad Red, who is undefeated in his career with three state titles already under his belt, Ellis said that Red doesnâ€™t need advice.
â€œChad already knows what he is doing,â€ Ellis said. â€œHeâ€™s already beat all the kids over and over. Heâ€™s the best wrestler Iâ€™ve seen in my 20 years, no doubt. Jason Tsirtsis, Alex Tsirtsis and Angel Escebedo were very good, but right now, Chad Red, with everything he has done, is amazing.â€
Ellis says todayâ€™s wrestlers have a lot more technique than when he wrestled. They have more opportunities to wrestle year around and to see great competition. But some of the intangibles that he had when he wrestled, is what he thinks kids today need to succeed.
â€œWhen they are in the practice room, they need to go 100 percent the whole time,â€ Ellis said. â€œThey need to focus on doing everything right. They canâ€™t take breaks. They canâ€™t go half way.
â€œWrestling is such a tough sport. Itâ€™s so demanding. Especially in the practice room. You have to live on the mat and get as much time as you can. And I canâ€™t stress enough how important it is to drill hard, and drill correctly.â€
Ellis isnâ€™t sure when he will step down as a head coach, but he plans to always be around the sport. Thirty years after dominating opponents on the mat, he isnâ€™t slowing down yet.
#WrestlingWednesday: North Posey goes from life support to Team State
By JEREMY HINES
Four years ago North Posey wrestling was on life support and the school was considering pulling the plug. Now, with a new coach and a new attitude, the Vikings are about to compete for a team state title.
North Posey had just four wrestlers five years ago. The community had grown accustomed to North Posey being a losing team, and the school was starting to question whether it was even worthwhile to keep the program alive.
Then a former Mater Dei wrestler named Cody Moll stepped in and brought new life to the program. Now, in his fourth season at the helm of the Vikings, Moll has North Posey wrestling on the upswing.
“The year before I got there, there were four wrestlers at the school,” Moll said. “During my interview they said that if I wasn’t hired, they were going to shut down the program.”
Moll was asked what his goal for the team was.
“I said I wanted to be better than we were the last year,” Moll said.
In his first year Moll finished the year with 10 wrestlers, and 10 total victories. It wasn’t a good year, but it was a much improved season. One of the freshmen that year was Levi Miller, who qualified for the state tournament.
“Levi came in and everyone knew he was supposed to be good,” Moll said. “But people saying you are good only gets you so far. He came in and proved it. We made him our captain as a freshman. We saw the drive he had and how hard he works.”
One of the most difficult moments that first year, for Moll, was losing to Evansville Memorial 81-0. He had never experienced that side of a dominating performance before.
“That was tough,” Moll said. “That was the first time I had ever been shut out on any team I was ever at. We won a lot at Mater Dei. I didn’t know what losing was like. But, this year we beat Memorial 46-21. It’s pretty amazing what we’ve been doing.”
The Vikings won 21 matches in Moll’s second season, with 15 wrestlers. Last year the team won 23 matches and had 18 wrestlers. This year there are 25 kids on the wrestling team at the school of just under 500 students.
“We talked about how we wanted to approach the team,” Moll said. “We knew we could make things fun and relatively easy and as a result get really good numbers. Or, we could treat every kid like they had state championship ability and go as hard as we could and really build good wrestlers. We chose the second option.”
The North Posey practices are hard. They practice nearly three hours a day which includes a mix of running, drilling and live wrestling. The room is always hot and the coaches are always intense.
“When Coach Moll came in, people were just used to laying down and getting beat,” Miller said. “I was very excited when he was hired. He told us early on that if we were just going to lay down for people, he didn’t want us on the team. That’s not his style. He doesn’t want you in the program unless you’re willing to work hard. This isn’t the old North Posey. Before the wrestlers were just about themselves, too. Now it’s all about the team.”
Moll said changing the culture at North Posey was the biggest key to its recent success. He and assistant coach Sam Goebel (wrestled at Mater Dei and is legendary coach Mike Goebel's nephew), knew they had to change the culture before they’d ever have success.
“Losing almost became OK,” Moll said. “We were in Mater Dei’s sectionals, in every sport. The culture just became that losing was the norm. But we came in and said we’re not going to just give up. We’re going to fight and battle. If we lose, we learn from it and do better the next time.
“Many of our early losses was because we didn’t think we could win. The first couple of years kids were beat before the match because the singlet the opponents were wearing. We’re getting past that now. You have to look in the mirror and understand you’re working harder than these other schools. We are not pushovers. That environment is gone.”
The Vikings placed fifth at team state last season, a finish they were not pleased with. With a deeper, more experienced team this year they are hoping to fare better.
“We are going up there to win,” Moll said. “We wouldn’t go up for any other reason. We believe we belong and we believe we can compete with anyone.”
Miller has that same mentality when talking about his goals. He said he won’t be satisfied with anything less than a state championship, individually. The coaches have instilled that drive in all of its wrestlers.
North Posey will open pool play at team state against Frankton.
#MondayMatness: It’s a family wrestling affair at Northridge for Grabers, Evelers and Hooleys
By STEVE KRAH
Cousins Conner Graber and Owen Eveler were born into a wrestling family.
Every time the Northridge High School seniors step on the mat, they have a small army of relatives clad in green and gold enthusiastically cheering them on.
“It’s a huge factor,” says Owen of the family appreciation for the sport. “It’s been bred in us since we were young.
“You can definitely pick out the Northridge crowd.”
Such is also the case for sophomore Oliver Eveler, junior Adam Hooley and freshman Logan Hooley. They also part of the second generation in a clan that loves its wrestling.
“They are the loudest fans,” says Northridge head coach Eric Highley. “But they’re not malicious or inappropriate. They’re always encouraging. They’re a great family.”
In the Raider rooting section, there’s first-generation mat mavens Scott Graber (NHS Class of 1982) and his brothers Jeff (NHS Class of 1984) and Ted (Class of 1986) and sister Tonya (Graber) Eveler (NHS Class of 1988).
Tonya is married to Mark Eveler (Goshen Class of ’85) and they are parents to Owen, Oliver and seventh-grade grappler Sydney.
Scott, Jeff and Ted were all semistate qualifiers as Raiders. Pull out the 1982 Shield yearbook, turn to page 56 and there’s a photo of Scott Graber pinning an opponent.
Jared Graber (NHS Class of 2007) and Drew Graber (NHS of 2009) are Scott’s sons. Drew was a three-time State Finals qualifier and finished second twice (171 in 2008 and 182 in 2009) while winning 117 career matches. He is now Northridge assistant coach.
Ted and Rolonda (Hooley) Graber (NHS Class of 1989) are parents to Conner. Rolonda’s brothers Brad Hooley (NHS Class of 1982) and Allen Hooley (NHS Class of 1985) were also wrestlers.
Adam Hooley is the son of Brad and Logan the offspring of Allen.
“It helps me to compete, trying to be one of the best in my family,” says Adam Hooley, who remembers watching cousin Drew Graber’s drive on video. “We talk about future matches and previous matches (at family gatherings) and how we can get better.”
Logan Hooley has soaked up a lot of knowledge from his cousins.
“I’ve learned a lot by watching them,” says Logan, who began wrestling as a seventh grader. “It helped me understand it more.”
Oliver Eveler has also felt the love.
“It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, at the end of the day you always have your family behind you,” says Oliver.
At those family outings, there’s plenty of friendly smack talk, especially among the second generation.
And at some point, it becomes more than talk.
“There always seems to be a wrestling match until something gets broken and then we’ve got to shut it down,” says Ted Graber, who has a wrestling mat in his basement as does Mark Eveler.
Heading into the Elkhart Sectional, 182-pounder Conner Graber is 34-1 on the 2017-18 season and 132-21 for his career. Only Steve Zimmerman (NHS Class of 1995) with 138 and Ross Powell (NHS Class of 1997) with 133 rank ahead of him on Northridge’s all-time wrestling victory list.
Conner won a single-season school record 44 matches and placed seventh at the IHSAA State Finals at 182 in 2016-17.
Conner Graber’s secret sauce?
“It’s just a good work ethic,” says Conner, the 2018 Northern Lakes Conference champion at 182. “Weightlifting is a big part of it and working all my moves in practice and building up my endurance.”
In matches, Conner heeds his coach’s advice to have a plan, be fast and work the angles. He grappled at 160 as a freshman, moved to 182 as a sophomore and has been in that class ever since, though he has bumped up to 195 a few times this season to see better competition.
Drew Graber came back to the program knowing he would get a chance to help his cousins and that includes Conner Graber.
“Every year he’s had more drive to open and wants to learn more and get better,” says Drew of Conner. “With success came some confidence and some open-mindedness with some moves. This year, he’s a completely different wrestler than last year. He’s scoring more points.
“Seniors are often very set in their ways. But Conner has been very flexible with technique and trying stuff.
“As a coaching staff, we model that continued growth with all of our wrestlers.”
Two of his notable victories were 4-2 decisions against New Haven senior Jonyvan Johnson and Indiana Creek senior Grant Goforth. His lone loss is a 5-4 decision against Wabash senior Noah Cressell.
Owen Eveler (145) goes into the sectional at 33-4 this season and 116-29 in his career.
“I’ve improved my mat skills this season — top and bottom,” says Owen, who placed third in the NLC at 145. “My neutral’s always been there.”
Ted Graber credits Mark Eveler for getting the Raider Wrestling Club going about a decade ago.
“He’s been very instrumental,” says Ted of Mark. “He has touch a lot of lives.”
Conner Graber has seen the fruits of the Raider Wrestling Club’s labor.
“That helped a ton,” says Conner. “We expanded on everything we had already talked about and done in a limited capacity at Fairfield.”
When Conner Graber and Owen Eveler were kindergartners and before Northridge had its own club, they went to Fairfield High School to participate in the Talon Wrestling Club run by Dan Glogouski and Jesse Espinoza.
Ron Kratzer was head coach for the Raiders from 1975-88 and coached Scott, Jeff and Ted Graber. Kratzer was followed by Tom Fudge, Mark Hofer, Mike Wickersham, Scott Giddens, Joe Solis and Shawn Puckett.
Since 2013, Highley has headed the program. His current assistants beside Drew Graber are Puckett, Jeff Howe and Mike Price.
“Northridge is blessed in many ways with their coaching,” says Ted Graber. “The parents are very appreciative.”
Highley is grateful for the support shown not only by the Grabers, Evelers and Hooleys, but all the dads and moms.
“We’ve got all these parents that have been involved with it for a long time. They understand what’s going on. They understand the sacrifices their sons have to make.”
There is a big banner in the Northridge practice room that reads: You Get What You Earn.
“If they are willing to go in and put in all that sacrifice, all that time and all that hard work, then they are earning their chance to achieve what they want to achieve,” says Highley. “They are going to see the results.
“If you want to be lazy, that’s fine. But you’re probably not going to go as far as you want to go.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Bethel looking for more big wins in 2017
By JEREMY HINES
Joe Lee won state last year, but didnâ€™t win sectional. Brayton Lee has lost just one match in his Indiana High School career. The common denominator in both stories is a guy named Austin Bethel.
Bethel pinned Joe Lee in the sectional final last season. The year before, he shocked most around the state by pinning Brayton Lee in the final 15 seconds of the ticket round match at the Evansville semistate.
â€œA lot of people didnâ€™t think I had much of a chance in either match,â€ Bethel said. â€œBut I told myself that Iâ€™m not wrestling the name â€“ Iâ€™m wrestling the person. I knew I needed to go out and do what I do best, which is scramble and look for five point moves. Both times I ended up with huge pins. Itâ€™s one of the best feelings in the world, looking up and seeing the surprise on everyoneâ€™s face.â€
Bethel, a senior at Mt. Vernon in Posey County, is a big-move wrestler. He has found himself down in several matches throughout his career, but in many of those matches, heâ€™s scrambled his way to the pin.
â€œWith Austinâ€™s style, possibilities are endless,â€ Mt. Vernon coach Tim Alcorn said. â€œHe has big moves and finishing moves. There is nobody he doesnâ€™t think he can beat. Catching Joe and Brayton were once in a lifetime things. But Austin could be one of the most, if not the most electrifying wrestler in the state.â€
Bethelâ€™s career has been a curious one. Heâ€™s pinned two of the stateâ€™s premier wrestlers. Heâ€™s qualified for state three times. Yet, he has never made it past the Friday night match at Bankerâ€™s Life Fieldhouse.
â€œItâ€™s such a depressing feeling,â€ Bethel said. â€œIâ€™ve been so nervous and Iâ€™ve wrestled safe. That gets me in trouble. Iâ€™m not that way normally. Iâ€™m a risk taker. For me, Iâ€™ve put imaginary pressure on myself that really wasnâ€™t there. This year is my year to relax and put on a show. Thatâ€™s what I want to do.â€
Coach Alcorn agrees that Bethelâ€™s cautious approach to the Friday night matches at state has been his biggest mistakes.
â€œSometimes heâ€™s too smart for his own good,â€ Alcorn said. â€œHeâ€™s very aware of his opponentâ€™s strengths and weaknesses. If I could ever get him to just close his eyes and wrestle great things will happen. He has to welcome the opportunity, not fear it. He needs to let the chips fall as they may and leave everything out on the mat.â€
Currently Bethel is the No. 6-ranked 152 pounder in the state. He has a 3.985 grade point average.
â€œAustin is hands down one of the best kids Iâ€™ve ever coached on and off the mat,â€ Alcorn said. â€œHeâ€™s the most well-rounded kid this program has ever seen. If he makes state again, he will be the most decorated wrestler in our programâ€™s history. He is a four-year letter winner in soccer and a two-year letter winner in football. He helps out the elementary program. He helps officiating. He helps working the clocks. He is a â€˜what can I do coachâ€™ kind of kid. Heâ€™ll do whatever it takes to help the team.â€
Bethel started wrestling when he was five years old. But he didnâ€™t develop a true passion for the sport until his parents went through a divorce.
â€œI needed an outlet,â€ Bethel said. â€œI needed something to turn to. I needed to release some aggression. Thatâ€™s when I started to pick up wrestling a lot more. I started traveling with the sport more and I met some truly amazing people along the way that took me in and helped me to improve. Wrestling became a big part of who I was.â€
In addition to having big-move capabilities, Bethel is also excellent at analyzing opponents. He knows their tendencies. He prides himself on research.
â€œHeâ€™s the greatest student of the sport Iâ€™ve ever coached,â€ Alcorn said. â€œHe watches more film than anyone I know. He watches film to a fault. He over analyzes. When he graduates from college, heâ€™ll end up being one of the best coaches in wrestling.â€
Bethel epitomizes the blue-collar approach to life, and wresting. He works for everything he has, and everything he has accomplished. He has only received one grade in school lower than an A, and that was a B plus he took in a college-level match class. Math, he says, is by far his least favorite subject.
His dedication to hard work has been infectious to the team. Mt. Vernon has 11 seniors, filling the biggest 11 weights in the lineup. Bethel works with the other seniors, as well as the younger wrestlers â€“ trying to make everyone on the team better.
â€œHeâ€™s the backbone to our wrestling family,â€ Alcorn said. â€œThere is no question about it.â€
Family is enormously important to Bethel. If he wrestles in college, he wants to be in a program that provides a family atmosphere and a team-first mentality.
â€œAustin is a kid that is a Lilly scholarship finalist,â€ Alcorn said. â€œHe comes from a single-parent household. He has come from having nothing, but his mother and his sisters have made something of that and never used it as an excuse. He values every single thing he has. He and his family have had to fight and claw, tooth and nail for everything. Heâ€™s the most successful, but the most humble kid Iâ€™ve ever known.â€
As much as Austin has been through, on and off the mat, the one thing he still wants to accomplish is to place in state. To do that, he feels he needs to follow his own advice.
â€œYou have to enjoy yourself,â€ Bethel said. â€œThatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve struggled with early on. I put too much pressure on myself. I have worried too much. You have to slow everything down and just enjoy it and not be hard on yourself. In wrestling, anything can happen and anyone can come out on top. The hardest opponent youâ€™ll ever face is the guy standing in front of you in the mirror.â€
Bethel has proven he can beat the stateâ€™s elite wrestlers. Heâ€™s never out of a match. And, if he gets back to state, he plans on putting on a show and wrestling his style. Caution will not be an option.
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#WrestlingWednesday: Dickens and Lee are looking for gold
By JEREMY HINES
Matt Lee and Eli Dickens are practice partners in the Evansville Mater Dei wrestling room. They are good friends, they are both juniors and they are both ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes. The similarities don’t end there.
The two are soft spoken and humble. They have extremely similar voices, so much so that it’s hard to differentiate them if talking on the phone. They both have a 3.9 grade point average.
“On the wrestling mat they both like to push the pace,” Wildcat head coach Greg Schaefer said. “They are both students of the sport and they love fine tuning techniques. They are both competitive. They don’t like giving up anything. They just push each other and the other guys in the room.”
In fact, the two are so similar that coach Schaefer has a hard time finding any differences.
“I don’t really know how they are different,” Schaefer said. “There isn’t a lot of differences that I know of. There are a lot more similarities than differences.”
Lee also struggled to think of a difference.
“We are pretty similar,” Lee said. “We are really good friends and practice partners and our styles are similar.”
Dickens was the only one that could offer up some differences between the two.
“I guess the main thing that separates us is our setups,” Dickens said. “He is more of a high crotch guy and I’m more of a getting ankles and sweep singles kind of guy.”
Lee, who is the younger brother of Indiana legends Joe Lee and Nick Lee, is currently 30-0 on the season and holds the top ranking in the 145-pound class. He finished seventh the last two years in a row and is hoping to climb the ladder more this year.
“It was a good feeling to place at state,” Lee said. “But you can’t be truly satisfied unless you get first. It’s always good to be at the top. I was happy to place, but I wanted more. I was hungry for more. That pushed into this year and drives me.”
Being the younger brother of Nick (won state in 2015, now wrestles for Penn State) and Joe (won state in 2016 and 2017) hasn’t put a lot of pressure on Matt.
“People always talk about the pressure of being their younger brother,” Matt said. “I don’t feel that pressure. I talk to them and they give me advice. They help me as much as I allow them to. I keep them as a source of information. I don’t pry them to learn everything they know, but if I need help I can always go to them.”
Matt said watching Nick wrestle for Penn State makes him nervous.
“I’ve heard how it’s hard on parents to watch their kids wrestle sometime and watching Nick wrestle I know what they are going through now,” Matt said. “I didn’t understand that before. I get more nervous for Nick’s matches than I do for any of my own.”
Dickens has not placed in state so far, but he did qualify last year. This season he defeated former No. 1 ranked Elliott Rodgers 4-3 and that catapulted him to the top spot in the 152-pound weight class.
“It was pretty amazing to see that I was ranked No. 1,” Dickens said. “I try not to think of it too much, but it was exciting. It gave me more confidence and belief in my ability. I knew that I could beat anyone, but that just solidified that idea in my head.”
One big key for Dickens is that he doesn’t have to worry about his weight like he did last season. He feels that has helped him to be stronger and not focus so much on the weight aspect of the sport.
“I had a huge growth spurt last year where my body wanted to grow mid-season,” Dickens said. “This year I’m wrestling up three weight classes and I feel so much healthier.”
Matt is currently 30-0 on the season and Eli is 31-2, with both of his losses coming to out of state wrestlers.
Both Matt and Eli are hoping to wrestle in college, but neither have decided where they want to go.
Matt enjoys watching television, playing games and watching movies on weekends when he’s not wrestling.
“I’m a pretty average kid,” he said. “Probably my favorite thing to do is eat, but you can’t do a lot of that during the season. I just like to try to find fun in the small things. I’m just normal and I like hanging out with my friends.”
Eli enjoys going to his Bible study on Wednesday’s with his youth group.
“I feel that it really builds me spiritually and gets my mindset right,” he said. “I focus on God and the bigger picture.”
The two will compete Saturday in the Evansville North regional.
“I don’t want to sound boring,” Schaefer said. “But they are both just awesome kids that work really hard. I hope they are able to accomplish their goals.”
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#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.”
#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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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