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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: 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: 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).
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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: 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.
#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.”
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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.”
#MondayMatness: Goshen’s Flores puts it work to make one last state tournament run
By STEVE KRAH
A quiet leader continues to make noise for the Goshen High School wrestling program.
By scoring three first-period pins and earning a second straight Goshen Regional title GHS 106-pounder senior Fernando Flores heads to the Fort Wayne Semistate with a 2017-18 season record of 39-3.
At 145-26, “Nando” is No. 2 on Goshen’s all-time victory list.
Program No. 1 Andrew Yoder, who went 40-4 and placed fourth at the state meet as a senior in 1998, finished his prep mat career at 156-36.
“I like going out there and competing and having a good show for the fans,” says two-time Elkhart Sectional champion Flores when asked about his favorite part about wrestling. “I try to score as fast as I can.”
Fernando is one of Goshen’s captains. But his leadership style is not a vocal one.
“He’s a quiet kid,” says RedHawks head coach Jim Pickard. “But he leads by example. It’s his work ethic and what he produces.
“He does speak up when he needs to, but he’s really that example: ’Let’s do what Nando’s doing.’ You go and you work hard all the time.”
With its physicality, wrestling can be a grueling sport and pain is inevitable.
Flores pushes past it with plenty of support from his family, teammates and coaches.
Shawn Haley and Marquita Flores have four boys — Victor, Hector, Fernando and Ricky. Victor, a 152-pounder, was a Goshen senior in 2015, 126-pound Hector in 2016. Ricky, a 120-pounder, is younger than Fernando and was on the RedHawks team last season.
Fernando started his mat career as a sixth grader and chose wrestling over basketball when he got to high school. He was a semistate qualifier as a sophomore and a state qualifier as a junior.
Where has he improved most since last season?
“I’ve gotten better at getting off the bottom,” says Flores. “I’ve worked a lot on that. Last year, I had some trouble with it.
“I’ve also gotten more confident.”
That confidence has been helped by his coaches, including Jim Pickard and assistants Matt Katzer, Troy Pickard, Travis Pickard, Josh Abbs, Carl Creech, Gerardo Quiroz, Ben Schrock and Miguel Navarro, telling him that he could do well in the state tournament series if he performed to his capabilities.
“It was a whole experience for me,” says Flores of going to the State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I just want to go down there again.
What will it take to get back there?
“A lot of hard work and just putting in the time over the summer,” says Flores. “That’s a big difference for a lot of guys. Working over the summer, you get so much better coming into the next season.”
Some of Fernando’s favorite wrestlers are Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder and NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello — both at Ohio State University — and world and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs.
“I try to shoot a high crotch,” says Flores. “Tomasello is really good at those. I went to one of his camps. He showed us a whole bunch of set-ups and uses.”
Pickard has encouraged Flores to open up his offense in recent weeks.
“We don’t want to just do the same moves,” says Pickard, who is in his 25th season at Goshen. “Sooner or later, someone is going to shut down some of those moves. We’ve worked a little bit on some stuff he hasn’t done that much.
“You’ve got to have that second, third, fourth move.”
Pickard says moves must be practiced over and over again until they become muscle memory.
“We drill everyday and we drill multiple moves,” says Pickard. “We don’t just drill your favorite moves.
“You’ve got to be able to switch off. I tell kids all the time that by the time you think I should do this, it’s too late. You just have to do it.”
Pickard says Flores is beginning to get to the point where he can make the necessary on-the-fly changes.
“He’s getting there,” says Pickard. “It’s one-week-at-a-time, but I think he has what it takes to get where he wants to be in two weeks.
“He’s more committed than most. And he’s put in the time needed. He’s believing in himself. He’s focused and determined.”
While Flores has been a 106-pounder at state tournament time the past four seasons, he has competed at 113 and 120 this season.
Flores is still contemplating his future plans. He says he is considering college or joining the U.S. Air Force.
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#WrestlingWednesday: Slivka poised for another big run
By JEREMY HINES
Jordan Slivka may not be the fastest wrestler in the state, the most powerful or the most dynamic – but, he just might have the most heart.
“He’s probably the most mentally tough wrestler I’ve ever had,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “He loves the big matches. As coaches we ask ourselves who we want to have out there, down one going into the third period. I’d put Jordan Slivka in that spot over anyone.”
Slivka, a senior for the Irish, showed just how much ice is in his veins in the state tournament last season. The Irish needed a win in the worst way if they were going to have a shot at winning the team state title. Slivka just told them to relax, he was going to win.
That’s what he did. He claimed his first individual state championship by beating Yorktown’s Christian Hunt 1-0. That win also sealed Cathedral’s team state title.
“Winning state felt amazing,” Slivka said. “I envisioned it before I won it. I told myself in the locker room before my match that I knew it was going to come down to my match. I said I was going to win it, and I knew that’s what I was going to do.”
Slivka has made a career out of winning the close matches. In the state tournament Slivka is 16-3 in matches determined by three points or less.
“I come out in each of my matches with a game plan,” Slivka said. “I don’t try to rush things and I don’t try to force points. I have the mentality that nobody can take me down, nobody can escape me and nobody can ride me. I’m confident that I own people on the mat.”
This season Slivka has continued to shine in the close matches. Recently in a dual meet with Indianapolis Roncalli Slivka bumped up to 170 to face No. 5-ranked Elijan Mahan. In that match Slivka injured his ribs and had to take two injury time outs, but he didn’t want to quit. He eventually escaped with a 6-4 victory which helped lead the Irish to the team win as well.
“He just gutted that win out,” McGinley said. “He was in a lot of pain. You really see his mental toughness in matches like that. As the seasons go on you just see how many of those close matches he wins, and you know he’s the guy you want out there in those situations.”
Slivka also edged No. 7-ranked (160) Peyton Asbury and No. 5-ranked (160) Nathan Conley by 1-0 scores. He beat No. 3-ranked Brooks Davis 3-2 and No. 4 ranked Peyton Pruett 5-2. He did lose one close match this season, falling to Conley 3-2.
Slivka started out in the Shenandoah school district. He went to Shenandoah until his freshman year. His dad was one of the coaches who helped turned that program around. His father, John, is a former state champion in Georgia.
“My dad, in that Shenandoah room made sure we were all tough,” Slivka said. “One of the drills we had was we would get in our stance and dad would walk around a bunch and snap our necks down. We kept going long after we were tired. It taught me to be tough.”
Slivka’s older brother, Johnny, was also a solid wrestler for the Raiders. Jordan even has a game plan for wrestling his older brother.
“If we do takedowns, Johnny might beat me,” Jordan said. “But in a full match I have him now. He’s a little out of shape. The first and second period he might get me, but come the third, he’s mine.”
Slivka is ranked No. 2 at 160 pounds behind Portage senior Donnell Washington. The two wrestled earlier in the season with Washington claiming the 8-3 victory.
“I am 1 and 1 against him,” Slivka said. “He beat me this year and I beat him last year. I’ve taken losses before and have been able to come back from them. I hope this is no different.”
Slivka’s goal this season is to win another state title. He admits it will be very hard to top last year’s title – with the team state championship being on the line as well.
“I have no clue how you top that,” Slivka said. “Only thing I can think of is doing it again and scoring more points.”
Next year Slivka will wrestle for Ohio University.
“My plan is to be as good as I can be in college. It’s the next challenge.
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#MondayMatness: Bellmont, family tradition carries on with Ruble brothers
By STEVE KRAH
It’s an Indiana tradition unique to wrestling and two brothers from Bellmont High School will follow in the footsteps of so many Braves that came before them.
Qualifiers for the IHSAA State Finals will parade into Bankers Life Fieldhouse before first round of the tournament Friday, Feb. 15 and Jon and Isaac Ruble were be representing their family as well as their storied mat program.
“That’s pretty exciting, especially for their parents, Becky and Joe,” says Bellmont head coach and former state champion Paul Gunsett.
“They’ve done a lot for those two. They’ve traveled everywhere for these two to wrestle. They’ve earned it with all the time and effort they’ve put in.”
Jon Ruble is one of Bellmont’s captains and often leads the squad in during warm-ups at practice.
“He’s a leader in our program,” says Gunsett of the older Ruble boy.
“He’s been real reliable for me. He’s pretty special. He spends a lot of time with our younger kids. He spends more time with them than he probably needs to. He’s helped groom them and made them better.”
Freshmen Carter Thomas (120) and Dominic Litchfield (113) are Isaac aka Ike’s usual workout partner during practice.
Like many wrestling families in and around Decatur, Ind., there is a mat legacy. Joe Ruble is one of Bellmont’s many State Finals qualifiers, competing at Market Square Arena in 1991. The boys’ uncle Paul qualified for State and blew out his knee the week of the meet and was unable to compete.
Joe Ruble’s uncle Kent Buuck was a a standout Braves wrestler. His best friend was Bill Schultz (uncle to Becky Ruble). When Buuck died in a highway accident before his senior year, Schultz dedicated his training to Buuck and became the second state champion in Bellmont program history, winning the IHSAA heavyweight title in 1977.
The Braves’ first state winner was Phil Lengerich (138 pounds in 1969). Gunsett reigned at 135 in 1988. On 10 other occasions, a Bellmont wrestler has ascended to the top of the victory platform —Chris Mahlan (185 in 1979), Brent Faurote (98 in 1981), Paul Baker(130 in 1988), Tim Myers (119 in 1993 and 130 in 1994), Jason Baker (125 in 1996), T.J. Hays (152 in 1996), John Sheets (103 in 2000), Matt Irwin (135 in 2006) and Billy Baker (215 in 2009).
The Braves reigned as team state champions in 1987, 1988 and 1994 and were runners-up in 1979, 1999, 2006.
Jon Ruble (36-6) took an early 2-0 lead and made it stand in beating Rochester senior Drew Sailors in the Fort Wayne Semistate championship match.
“I got that two-point lead and I’ve been riding leg stuff all year so I put the legs in and tried to ride it out and possibly get turns,” says Ruble, who was a state qualifier at 145 in 2018. “(Winning the semistate) means a lot. There’s such a big difference between second place and first place. You’re setting yourself up for that state run.”
Both Ruble brothers —#DosRubles on social media — placed first at the Jay County Sectional and Jay County Regional. Isaac Ruble (36-6) placed second at semistate.
Sharing the season and the State Finals experience with his sibling is something the older Ruble brother does not take lightly.
“This is the only time we get to wrestle together,” says Jon Ruble.
“This means the world to me. “We talk about it all the time.”
What does Jon see in Isaac the athlete?
“He’s a competitive kid,” says Jon Ruble. “He always thinks he’s the best.”
With his family history, Jon Ruble was destined to be a wrestler.
“I had no other choice,” says Jon Ruble. “Being a part of Bellmont history means the world. They’ve had such a great program forever. To be a part of that tradition is amazing.”
The youngest Ruble brother has soaked up his learning opportunities in his first high school season.
“I learn things and try to get really good at the — like firemen’s carries,” says Isaac Ruble. “It really helps me out.
“There are certain things (Gunsett) gets on me about — like keeping my head up — and I fix them.”
Given the age and size difference, do the two brothers wrestle against each other?
“I can’t hang with him,” says Isaac. “He’s pretty good.”
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#WrestlingWednesday: Mullets and Mustaches, Oh My!
By JEREMY HINES
The Man. The Myth. The Mullet. The Mustache.
Outside of the famous Willie and Red’s smorgasbord (best fried chicken and prime rib in the area), senior wrestler Jake Combs is the biggest attraction in Hagerstown.
He’s popular because he’s a phenomenal three-sport athlete, because he has a mullet and mustache that would make Billy Ray Cyrus jealous and because he has become the first Tiger wrestler since 2003 to advance to the state finals.
“I can’t put it into words, honestly, what going to state means to me,” Combs said. “It’s something I’ve been dreaming about ever since I lost here last year. It just feels amazing.”
Combs had a huge contention of fans Saturday at the New Castle semistate. When he won his ticket round matchup against Frankfort senior Ezekial VanDeventer, it seemed as if the whole gym erupted in applause.
“Wrestling is unlike any sport in many ways but the family aspect that comes with it is truly humbling,” Hagerstown coach Anton Payne said. “I feel the entire TEC (Tri Eastern Conference), our sectional and regional teams were pulling for Jake today. The crowd from Hagerstown was huge but when Jake won there were hundreds, if not thousands of people screaming and jumping out of their seats.”
Combs doesn’t have the typical wrestling story of athletes that are going to the state finals. He didn’t wrestle as a young kid. He didn’t wrestle in middle school. He didn’t even wrestle as a freshman or sophomore, despite coach Payne practically begging him every year to give it a try.
Payne finally wore Combs down before his junior season.
“Jake started wrestling for the first time 15 short months ago,” Payne said. “I tried my best to get this young man out since junior high, but it wasn’t until his junior year, in November that he said he would try a practice to see if he likes it.”
Combs fell in love with wrestling. Early on it was evident that he was strong as an ox, but he didn’t have any technique to go along with that raw strength. As the season progressed, Combs continued to learn the sport and by tournament time, he was good enough to advance to semistate. That success created a hunger.
Combs started working as hard as he could to learn more about wrestling. He went to open gyms in the summer. He traveled to Carmel and other places looking to soak in as much knowledge as possible. It paid off.
“I told Jake that we would have to work hard,” Payne said. “I told him we would have to push through adversity. We would have to wrestle through pains. We would have to stay on the mat as much as possible in the off season. We would have to work on our explosiveness. We would have to gain more mat confidence and we would have to be 100 percent committed. Jake’s response was ‘let’s do it.’ “
This season Combs is 38-5 and was perhaps the surprise of the 182-pound class in the New Castle semistate. He knocked off Greenfield’s Scott Stanley by fall in the first period to advance to the ticket round. In the ticket round he dominated VanDeventer, pinning him 1:53.
But Combs wasn’t done yet. In the next round he had the task of taking on No. 14-ranked J.D. Farrell of Fishers. Combs won that match 3-1 to advance to the semistate championship.
Combs lost in the finals to Elwood’s No. 12-ranked Jalen Morgan 5-0.
To Combs, wrestling is fun. That’s part of the reason he grew his world-class mullet and mustache – which some accredit to his quick rise to success in the sport. Combs isn’t sure which one gives him these special powers, though.
“You know, I’m thinking it’s the mullet,” Combs said. “It’s newer. I’ve had the mustache for a while. But, you know what, it has matured a lot, so maybe it’s that, too. It might be both.”
In Hagerstown they have made fan support T-shirts for Combs. The shirts just have an outline of a mullet and a mustache. Combs loves them.
“Wrestling is such a serious sport and I’m just trying to bring a little flavor to it.”
Friday Combs will get to showcase that flavor at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in front of the state’s most die-hard wrestling fans. He will take on Oak Hill’s No. 16-ranked Bradley Rosman in the first round.
“Jake has accomplished what he said he would do last year after semistate,” Payne said. “But we are not satisfied yet.”
#MondayMatness: Portage heavyweight Dancy making up for lost mat time
By STEVE KRAH
Some are introduced to wrestling as toddlers and go on to enjoy plenty of success. Others come to the mat for the first time as teenagers and shine in the circle.
The second scenario describes Damari Dancy, a 17-year-old senior heavyweight at Portage High School.
After winning the Portage Sectional title Feb. 1, Dancy goes to the Feb. 8 Hobart Regional at 27-2 in just his second full season as a wrestler.
A basketball player as an eighth grader, Dancy went out for that sport his freshmen and sophomore years of high school (2016-17 and 2017-18) and was cut each time.
The second cut ushered in his introduction to a new way of life.
“I went across the hall to the wrestling room,” says Dancy. “They accepted me.”
A few weeks later, he was competing in his first-ever wrestling event — the junior varsity Duneland Athletic Conference tournament — and suffering a season-ending broken wrist.
“My mom didn’t want me to wrestle after that,” says Damari, the son of Rachel Hawkins and the fourth of eight children (five boys, three girls).
But that was not the end of wrestling for Dancy. He spent that winter watching his friends compete and practice. He was there at Lake Central for the Harvest Classic taking in all the quality competition.
“That’s when I fell in love with it,” says Dancy.
When he was healed, Dancy began training. He went to the freestyle/Greco-Roman state tournament and went a combined 0-4. He told his coaches he was not going to stop and began working on wrestling year-round.
As a Portage junior, Dancy took part in the Harvest Classic. There he faced Hobart junior Mark Mummey.
“I took him down the first time,” says Dancy. “Then he took me straight to my back and pinned me.”
Dancy used the moment to fuel the rest of his season. He placed third at the Portage Sectional and third at the Hobart Regional, using a double-leg takedown to best Mummey 4-2 in overtime in the consolation match. He then finished fourth at the East Chicago Semistate and qualified for the IHSAA State Finals at 220. He was 21-13 for the 2018-19 season after being pinned on Friday night by North Montgomery junior Drew Webster, who went on to place fifth.
That experience taught Dancy something.
“I can actually do it,” says Dancy. “I can actually compete with the good guys. It helped me build my confidence.”
“I’m not just some random guy. Guys have to practice everyday to watch out for me.”
Portage head coach Andrew Bradbury saw the change in Dancy.
“He was starting to believe he’s pretty good and holding himself to a high standard,” says Bradbury. “His technique is improving in all areas. He’s pretty technical, especially in the neutral position.”
At 6-foot-2, Dancy has been carrying about 245 while competing in the 285 division as a senior.
“I wrestle like a little guy,” says Dancy. “I go for ankle picks a lot. I go for a low single (leg takedown) and drive through. Once I’ve got the ankle, I don’t feel endangered. I’m really comfortable in that position.”
While many heavyweight matches are of the 1-0 and 2-1 variety and full of underhooks, that’s not Dancy’s preference.
“I feel more comfortable in high-scoring matches,” says Dancy. “I like to get at least two takedowns in the first period. If not, two takedowns in the second period.”
Bradbury looks at Dancy and does not see a normal heavyweight. For one thing, he is among the team leaders in takedowns.
“He’s more than capable of wrestling in that heavyweight style by pummeling in,” says Bradbury. “But he mostly uses a technical, shot-oriented style of wrestling.”
“It’s a lot easier for him to lower his level and get in his shots. He does a good job of picking and choosing his shots. He does get into clinches or ties.”
“Some of his best wrestling comes off his motion.”
Dancy won a Greco-Roman state title in the summer.
“It was positioning for me,” says Dancy. “I was creating positions with arm drags. I didn’t throw anybody.”
He placed third in both the IndianaMat Hoosier Preseason Open and Preseason Nationals in Iowa and has used his quickness and agility to enjoy success in his last high school season. He has drawn some attention from college wrestling programs and has bumped up to heavyweight with that in mind.
Damari lives with brother Dimonya Dancy and the two enjoy working on computers. Dancy would like to study computer since in college. Dancy has joined a program proud of its tradition and has become one of the team’s leaders, especially since so many talented wrestlers graduated after the 2018-19 season.
“We needed somebody to step up,” says Bradbury, who tapped Dancy and Ty Haskins (who was a state qualifier at 120 in 2019 and a sectional champion at that weight in 2020) for the task. “We need them to help lead this team to where we need to be.”
“We let Damari know we have high expectations and he needs to lead that. He took on the challenge.”
“We lot of first-year varsity wrestlers at the beginning of the year. It was rough (Portage placed fourth in the Duneland Athletic Conference meet and it’s three dual losses came to powerhouses Crown Point, Chesterton and Merrillville). We feel like we can do some good things in the state series.”
Leadership styles are not the same for Haskins and Dancy.
“Ty, he’s the vocal guy,” says Dancy. “I try to do it by example. I’m not that vocal.”
“Practices at the beginning of the year were so hard. They helped us build physical and mental strength. We know we can be good. We work everyday to get to that point.”
Dancy often finds working out with sophomore Cory Hill (who placed third at sectional at 220) or assistant Montell Pace.
“He goes all out and scrambles with low singles,” says Dancy of Pace. Assistants Kyle Keith and Mark Devyak tend to work more with the upper weights while Eric Keith and Jose Torres are with the smaller wrestlers.
Pace is a Merrillville High School graduate. The rest of the staff went to Portage.
Bradbury, a 1999 graduate, placed seventh in the state as a junior and was state runner-up as a senior — both at 119. He and 112-pounder Eric Keith were both members of the Indians’ state runners-up at the 1998 Team State Finals.
“Tradition, it’s extremely important,” says Bradbury, who came back to Portage as an assistant in 2018-19 after serving as head wrestling coach at Seminole Ridge in Palm Beach County, Fla., a school built in 2006. “We’ve always expected to compete at a high level and be one of the best teams in the state.”
#MondayMatness: Jay County’s Hare, Winner stepping back on Indiana high school wrestling’s big stage
By STEVE KRAH
“We have two from the Patriots of Jay County!”
Gaven Hare and Mason Winner are back for their second appearance in the IHSAA State Finals “Parade of Champions.”
Once the pre-meet pageantry is over at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis Friday night, it’s time to get down to business for 220-pound senior Hare and 160-pounder Winner.
There’s no more “just happy to be here.”
Hare was a state qualifier at 220 as a junior. Winner placed seventh at 145 as a freshman.
This year, Hare’s postseason path has included runner-up finishes at the sectional and regional tournaments — both held at Jay County — and a championship at the Fort Wayne Semistate.
“This year, I know not to go in there content,” says Hare, who is 38-7 for 2017-18 and 120-44 for his prep career. “I have to stay hungry. “I’ve already lost two title matches (at sectional and regional). I know how bad it feels to lose. I’m not trying to have that feeling anymore.”
It was Hare’s first semistate title and Winner’s second straight (the sophomore also won sectional and regional in 2018).
Other Jay County semistate champions include Glenn Glogas (1982), Greg Garringer (1982), Eric Lemaster (1987), Geoff Glogas (1987), Larry Brown (1988), Casey Kenney (2008 and 2009), Drake Meska (2011) and Eric Hemmelgarn (2013 and 2014).
When Hare earned his semistate title, he impressed a number of people in the Memorial Coliseum crowd.
“I was getting feedback on both sides of the coin,” says fourth-year Patriots head coach Eric Myers. “I had at least 10 people come up to me afterward and say that he was one of their favorite wrestlers to watch.”
It’s obvious to his coach by the smile on his face that Hare is enjoying the challenges of wrestling.
“He likes to compete and have a good time,” says Myers. “Gaven is great for the sport. He makes it exciting out there.” Myers, a former Adams Central wrestler and South Adams head coach, is a seventh grade teacher and he first encountered Hare as a junior high student. It was in that seventh grade year that Andy Schmidt recruited the young man to the mats.
“He was really raw at first,” says Myers. “But he had this athleticism and this innate sense to compete and to win.”
As a freshman, Hare set his sights high and he won a challenge match to take a sport in the varsity lineup.
“He’s always set goals,” says Myers. “ I’m going to be here by such and such time and usually he’s achieved those goals.”
Myers has watched Hare experience some ups and downs in his senior season. He took two losses and narrowly avoided a third at the Carroll Super Dual and suffered setbacks against South Adams senior Isaiah Baumgartner in the sectional final and Adams Central senior Chandler Schumm in the regional championship match.
Those only served to re-focus him.
“He’s been pushing himself just a little harder than he did before,” says Myers. “He was banged up going into state tournament series so he backed off and that showed in his results.”
At semistate, Hare edged Baumgartner 5-4 in the semifinals and pinned Central Noble junior Levi Leffers in 1:58 in the finals.
A three-sport athlete, Hare is also a two-way lineman in football and right-handed pitcher in baseball. He has worked as an umpire and would like to explore coaching, something he has discussed with his Jay County head coaches — Myers in wrestling, Tim Millspaugh in football and Lea Selvey in baseball.
When he’s not playing school sports, he is likely competing with friends or family in basketball, wiffleball, bowling or something else.
“I’m a sports fanatic,” says Hare.
Between all his other sports, Hare has found time to make it to off-season open rooms and works out in practice with assistant coaches like Bryce Baumgartner, who placed seventh at 182 as a Bellmont senior in 2017.
“These older guys give me a good pounding,” says Hare. “They show me more technique and the moves that will get me through the tough matches.”
Myers has two paid assistants in Jeff Heller and Bruce Wood and three volunteers in Baugmgartner, Jon Winner and Chad Chowning. Bellmont graduate Heller was a Myers assistant at South Adams and is also his brother-in-law. Wood and Chowning are Jay Country graduates. Jon Winner is a former Monroe Central wrestler and the father of Mason.
The son of Molly Robbins and Zack Hare and middle sibling between Destiny Hare and Corbin Hare, Portland resident Gaven says he would like to pursue one or more sports in college.
As self-described academic slacker his first few years of high school, Hare pulled a 4.0 and 3.8 in the first two grading periods this school year.
“I’m trying to catch up,” says Hare, who has drawn some interest from college wrestling programs and will wait to see what unfolds this spring on the baseball diamond.
Winner, who is 44-2 on the season and 83-6 for his career, has been around wrestling almost non-stop since he was a second grader. He has traveled extensively with the Indiana Outlaws and trained with the best at CIA and Pride centers and attended Jeff Jordan’s camps.
“He’s a year-round grinder,” says Myers of Winner. “He immerses himself in the sport and so does his family.”
Winner, who topped Fort Wayne Bishop Luers senior Chandler Woenker 3-0 in the semistate finals, is always looking to make himself better.
That’s why he started running cross country in sixth grade.
“It’s whether you want to push yourself or not,” says Winner. “They say that wrestling is 90 percent mental. It’s whether you want do to it or not. You have to push yourself — in running or wrestling.”
Winner has a way of pushing himself and his opponent.
“He’s an in-your-face wrestler that will keep coming at you,” says Myers. “He’s got a quality that is hard to implant in kids. He’ll keep going until he gets what he wants. He’s hard-nosed and mentally tough.
“He has the confidence to keep going after it.” Mason also draws inspiration from his family. Jon and Kimberly Winner have three children — Mason, Mitchell and Mallory. Mitchell is a
freshman and also runs cross country. Fifth grader Mallory competes with the Jay County Wrestling Club and also plays softball.
The Winners are Ridgeville area farmers and have about 50 head of Charolais cattle between their property and that of Bill and Sandra Winner — Jon’s parents.
Both of Mason’s paternal grandparents were too ill to attend semistate.
“I’m wrestling with so much more emotion,” says Mason. “My grandpa has Alzheimer’s (disease). He’s my hero.
“It would mean so much to me to win a state title for him.”
Two Patriots — Geoff Glogas (98) and David Ferguson (105) — reached the top of the State Finals podium in 1987.
Jay County’s state placers:
• Glenn Glogas (second at 112 in 1981; second at 119 in 1982).
• Greg Garringer (fifth at 155 in 1982).
• Kurt VanSkyock (third at 145 in 1984; third at 155 in 1985)
• Larry Wilson (fourth at 167 in 1985).
• Geoff Glogas (state champion at 98 in 1987; fifth at 103 in 1988).
• David Ferguson (state champion at 105 in 1987).
• Shawn Jordan (sixth at 152 in 1997).
• James Myers (seventh at 125 in 1997).
• James Brewster (seventh at 215 in 1999).
• Casey Kenney (second at 103 in 2008).
• Eric Hemmelgarn (third at 285 in 2012; fifth at 285 in 2013; fourth
at 285 in 2014).
• Kyle Garringer (sixth at 195 in 2013).
• Andy Kohler (sixth at 182 in 2016).
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#MondayMatness: From deaf slave to Warsaw wrestler, Linky has taken quite a journey
By STEVE KRAH
Real adversity meets opportunity.
That’s the story of Jacob Linky.
The wrestling room at Warsaw Community High School is filled with pulsing music and coaches barking instructions as more than three dozen Tigers get after it.
One wrestler — junior Linky — goes through the workout, rehearsing his moves with his workout partner, cranking out pull-ups and running laps around the room.
But without the sounds heard by the others.
Linky lives in a world that is mostly silent.
Without his cochlear implants, Linky can’t hear much of anything.
There was one incident where smoke alarms went off all over the house where Jacob now resides with Nrian and Brenda Linky. It was 3 a.m.
“Jacob slept through the alarm,” says Brian Linky, Jacob’s legal guardian. “I woke him in the morning.”
The young man was not born deaf.
Now 18, Jacob was about 5 and in native Africa — Lake Volta, Ghana, to be exact — when he lost his hearing at the hands of his father.
“We were slaves,” says Jacob, speaking of his early childhood through interpreter Rebecca Black. “We helped my dad in his fishing business.
“I didn’t used to be deaf. My dad hit by head a whole bunch. That’s how I became the way I am.”
His father demanded that young Jacob dive into very deep waters full of dangerous creatures.
“I felt a pop in my ears,” says Jacob. “I was a kid.”
His native language was Twi, but he didn’t hear much that after his hearing was gone.
Growing up the second oldest of seven children, Jacob has a brother who was born to another family, rejected and traded to his father.
It was a life that is difficult to imagine for those in the U.S.
“My mom didn’t do anything wrong,” says Jacob. “She fed me.”
Wanting the best for Jacob, his mother placed him in an orphanage. He eventually came to live in Warsaw when he was adopted by Andy and Dawn Marie Bass and began attending the fifth grade at Jefferson Elementary in Warsaw. He received hearing aids and then implants.
“I’m thankful the Basses adopted me and brought me here,” says Jacob.
“I now live with the Linky family.”
Following grade school, Jacob went on to Edgewood Middle School in Warsaw and was introduced to wrestling.
“I knew nothing (about the sport),” says Jacob. “I played around.”
Drive and athletic prowess allow Jacob to excel on the high school mat.
“At times his feisty side comes out because of that past,” says Warsaw head coach Kris Hueber. “He’s channeled it well and we’ve been able to harness well most of the time.
“He has days where he is cranky and fired up, You know that he’s drawing from stuff that no one else has.”
After missing his freshmen season, Jacob made an impact with the Tigers as a 145-pound sophomore, advancing to the East Chicago Semistate.
“This year, I’d like to go all the way to State,” says Jacob, who spent the summer pumping iron and continues to eat a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables and protein while packing more muscle on a 5-foot-7, 160-pound frame.
“(Jacob) fell in love with the weight room,” says Hueber. “There is not much on him that is not muscular. He’s one of those guys with his energy level he needs to be active. As an athlete, he is a remarkably gifted human being. He’s able to do things no one else in the room can do. Between strength, balance and agility, he is uniquely gifted.”
Ask Jacob what his best quality is as a wrestler and says speed. His quickness and and strength come into play in the practice room with larger practice partners — 170-pound Brandon Estepp, 182-pound junior Mario Cortes and 195-pound senior Brock Hueber.
“I don’t like to wrestle light persons,” says Jacob. “It makes me work hard to wrestle the big guys.”
Warsaw opened the 2019-20 season Saturday with the Warsaw Invitational and Jacob went 5-0 with four pins.
Sign language and lip-reading help him navigate life as a teenager and athlete. When Jacob wrestles, Black circles the mat to maintain eye contact and relay information to him.
“She always looks where my head is,” says Jacob. “She always gets sweaty.”
Who gets sweatier during a match? “Me,” says Jacob, thrusting a thumb at his chest. “I’m a harder worker.”
Black has been around Jacob since he was in eighth grade.
“I feel privileged to be involved in his life,” says Black. “He’s an amazing person. He just is.”
Hueber has come to appreciate that Jacob has the ability to be both competitive and light-hearted.
“He’s ornery still, but in a good way,” says Hueber. “He has not been able to out-grow being a kid. I love that.”
While Jacob’s background and circumstance are different than his Tiger mates, Hueber says he’s “just one of the guys.”
“(They) don’t treat him differently in any way,” says Hueber. “They love being around him because of his charisma and personality. He’s a really great teammate.”
Hueber says working with Jacob has helped others recognize their influence.
“They might be able to goof off for two minutes and snap right back,” says Hueber. “If (Jacob) misses one line of communication, there’s a lot that he’s got to recover from.”
This means that workout partners need to be focused and attentive as well — not just for themselves but to also help Jacob. Hueber notes that Jacob has to concentrate and keep focused on his interpreter in class (his current favorite class in English and he is looking forward to Building Trades in the future) and practice.
“There are probably times when he’s looking for a break,” says Hueber.
“He’s on and he’s full-wired all day. That’s taxing mentally for sure.”
Brian Linky works in payment processing at PayProTec in Warsaw and Brenda Linky is the special needs coordinator for Warsaw Community Schools. The Linkys have two sons who played basketball at Warsaw — Zack (now 28 and living in Calfiornia) and Ben (now 22 and attending Indiana University).
Taking in Jacob means they have a teenager in the house again.
“He’s been nothing but polite,” says Brian Linky. “He’s hard-working around the house (mowing the lawn, making his bed, walking the dog and cooking his own meals). He has friends over. He’s very happy.”
As for the future, Jacob is considering joining the football team next year (he has never played the sport). He turns 19 in May.
A brother, Christian, lives in Virginia and communicates with Jacob and family in Africa through text.
“We’re going to save up so we can visit our parents in Africa,” says Jacob.
Right now, he is doing life as an Indiana teenager and wrestling is a big part of it.
Real adversity meets opportunity.
#MondayMatness: Mishawaka’s LaPlace, Walker keep on making each other better wrestlers
By STEVE KRAH
A friendship formed at a junior high football practice has led to a pair of successful high school wrestlers.
Jacob LaPlace met Joseph Walker when both were gridders at Mishawaka’s John Young Middle School.
LaPlace, who had been wrestling since age 4, saw mat potential in Walker.
“You’re really athletic, you’ve got to come out for wrestling,” says LaPlace of his invitation to Walker, who was already around 160 pounds. “Since then, we’ve been training together.”
Now in their fourth season as Mishawaka High School teammates, Walker is competing at 182 and LaPlace at 195. LaPlace is 16-0 so far in 2019-20 and 125-22 for his career. Walker is 6-0 and 75-25.
LaPlace placed fourth at the IHSAA State Finals at 138 on 2017 and was a state qualifier at both 145 in 2018 and 182 in 2019.
After being a state qualifier at 152 in 2018, Walker placed sixth at State at 170 in 2019.
Going against Walker everyday in the practice room makes LaPlace better.
Third-year Mishawaka head coach Steve Sandefer has watched iron sharpen iron with LaPlace and Walker.
“They’ve drilled and wrestled live with each other their entire high school careers,” says Sandefer. “The other person is the reason they are as good as they are now.”
“They wouldn’t be where they’re at without each other.”
LaPlace agrees with that sentiment.
“He gives me quick and agile,” says LaPlace of Walker. “He’s got a real explosive double (leg takedown). His strength and defense is really good and that helps my offense.”
“I help him because I’m bigger than him.”
Walker credits LaPlace with getting him started in the sport and is grateful to his first head coach and his current one.
“Jacob’s always been my partner since seventh grade,” says Walker. “I have the speed so I give him different looks. He keeps good position and gives me looks.”
“Adam Sandefur was my first coach and he’s always been on me, directing me. Steve (Sandefer) has also pushed me to become greater.”
Walker, a University of Michigan commit, credits his faith for his success.
“God’s my source of energy and power,” says Walker. Sandefer uses adjectives like hard-nosed, hard-working and super-athletic to describe Walker. He knows that he is also meticulous in his approach to wrestling and its technique, position and adjustments.
“He really takes the time to learn the finer details of wrestling,” says Sandefer of Walker. “He is very detail-oriented. That’s going to benefit him not just on the mat but off the mat.”
Says Walker, “I want to make sure everything is done right so I don’t do a wrongful move and don’t drill it wrong. I want to make sure it’s precise.”
While he has the physical tools, Walker is also a technician.
“Athleticism does help a lot, but I’m making sure my technique is down,” says Walker. “That’s a big factor.”
“With the bigger guys, strength is going to help a lot. But technique is the main source. I have to make sure my technique’s sharp.”
Most days, there’s a Hall of Famer in the room.
“Having Al Smith in there is a big help,” says Walker. “That’s another set of eyes watching us to make sure we’re making moves correctly.”
Walker says he likes to keep his bucket of moves open.
“If one thing doesn’t work, I can hit another thing,” says Walker.
“But all those moves, I have to make sure I sharpen them in the practice room each and every day.”
“A lot of wrestlers have one good move and it’s very hard for people to stop. That’s their move. It’s what they drill. It’s what they do. It’s their bread and butter.”
Walker chose Michigan for college because of the academic and athletic connections.
He plans to study anesthesiology while grappling for the Wolverines.
“(Anesthesiology) fascinates me,” says Walker. “You have to make sure you have the right dosage and all the math behind it and the science. Grades and school comes first. School is very heavy in my life.”
“The wrestling is very heavy in freestyle. They’re going past folkstyle. There’s a lot of international wrestling. That’s what I want to do.”
“I want excel in the sport and be the best I can be.”
Joseph is the son of William and Rhonda Walker has eight siblings, including Salome Walker (on the women’s wrestling team at McKendree University) and Queen Walker (on the women’s track and field team at Bethel University).
LaPlace, the son of Lester and Rae and younger brother of Mariah and an Indiana Tech commit who plans to study business administration, explains his mat style.
“I rely on my defense a lot,” says LaPlace. “I only have a few offensive shots, but I’m really confident in those shots.”
“I’ve always been a defensive-type wrestler. Most of my offense comes outside of a tie.”
LaPlace says he was more offensive as a freshman and sophomore when he competed at 138 and 145.
“Moving up, I figured out that you’ve got to slow down,” says LaPlace.
“You’ve got to wear out the bigger guys before you can start to get on your offense.”
As he grew and got older, LaPlace decided not to cut as much weight.
“I wanted to wrestle what I weigh (as a junior),” says LaPlace. “The same thing this year. I’m walking around at about 188.”
“I feel comfortable wrestling 195 at about 188 or 189. I might not look it, but I’m pretty strong in wrestling positions. I’m confident in my strength.”
Sandefer, who won state titles for Mishawaka at 140 in 2008 and 2009, has become a believer in wrestling at a comfortable weight rather than cutting all the time.
“That’s a mistake a lot of kids make,” says Sandefer. “They come into the wrestling room and think about how much weight do I have to lose rather than getting better”
“We’ve gotten away from pushing kids to cut too much weight.”
Sandefer looks at LaPlace and sees wider shoulders and thicker legs.
“That’s exactly what he needed — not just for our season but going forward in life,” says Sandefer. “It’s really given him an opportunity to focus more on his wrestling more than cutting weight.”
LaPlace, Walker and the rest of the Cavemen are gearing up for the 32-team Al Smith Classic, which is Friday and Saturday, Dec. 27-28.
“The Al Smith is a real eye opener and we train really hard for it,” says LaPlace. “We’re excited for it. We’re going to have a really good run this year as a team.”
Many coaches over the years have described the Mishawaka event as a “meat grinder.”
“That’s exactly what it is,” says LaPlace. “It shows you just what State’s like. You’ve got to make weight two days in a row. There’s really tough competition.
“It’s a tough tournament. It’s fun.”
Mishawaka is coming off of the Henry Wilk Classic at Penn Dec. 21.
After the Al Smith Classic, the Cavemen will take part in the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Class 3A State Duals in Fort Wayne Jan. 4.
Other meets on the horizon are the Northern Indiana Conference Championships at Mishawaka Jan. 18, Mishawaka Sectional Feb. 1, Penn Regional Feb. 8, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 15 and IHSAA State Finals in Indianapolis Feb. 21-22.
It will take mental toughness for the Cavemen to get through the season and Sandefer emphasizes that on a daily basis.
“Today in our society there’s a lot of people who find excuses for their failures and easy ways out with no responsibility or accountability,” says Sandefer. “Be responsible for yourself. If you’re losing matches what are you not doing in the wrestling room? Are you playing around too much? Hold yourself accountable.”
“(It’s about) being mentally tough to push through these tough times. If we’re in a tough practice, everybody else is going through it. It’s not just you. Lift your teammates up. It’s much easier to get through it together.”
As a wrestler, Sandefer put in plenty of time away from practice, putting in miles on the treadmill and stationary bike. That extra work had a carry-over effect.
“It makes it that much tougher to give up,” says Sandefer. “When you’re putting in that kind of quality time and work in the wrestling room, when you step on the mat, you say, ‘I did not put in all this time and all this effort to come out here and lose or just give up in the middle of a match.’”
Sandefer has watched Mishawaka numbers grow from less than 30 to about 45 in his three seasons in charge. The Mishawaka Wrestling Club has more than 60 members.
“We have all the right people in the right places,” says Sandefer. “I couldn’t be doing this without my club coaches, assistant coaches, my family and the group of parents we have who are supportive of Mishawaka wrestling.
“They help us get a lot accomplished. They get everybody pumped up and fired up.”
That includes Jacob LaPlace and Joseph Walker.
#MondayMatness: Current Adams Central team keeping up BAGUBAs tradition
By STEVE KRAH
When you grow up in the Adams Central Community Schools district and are inclined toward the wrestling mat, you begin dreaming about grappling for Adams Central Junior-Senior High School.
AC calls its athletic teams the Flying Jets. The wrestling team also goes by the acronym adopted by original head coach Barry Humble (1970-71 to 1990-91) — BAGUBA (Brutally Aggressive Guys Uninhibited By Adversity).
“It just means when you step on the mat, you have have a mindset of toughness, hard-nosed, gritty, tough wrestler,” says fifth-year Adams Central head coach Tony Currie. “You’re not going to back down and you’re not going to quit.”
AC wrestlers are taught to be mentally as well as physically strong. “Wrestling’s a tough sport,” says Currie. “It rarely goes just like you want it. You have to have that strong mind.
“We ask them to control the controllable — focus on you and what you can control.”
Senior 132-pounder Logan Mosser, a state qualifier at 120 in 2018, explains it.
“You have to stay focused on your goals and fight through it,” says Mosser, whose brother Anthony wrestled for AC and graduated in 2017 as a two-time state qualifier (113 in 2015 and 132 in 2017). “Remember why you’re there.”
Currie competed at the IHSAA State Finals his last three seasons wearing a singlet for the BAGUBAs — qualifier at 140 pounds in 1993, second at 145 in 1994 and third at 151 in 1995.
Since Jack Bersch in 1977, AC has produced 78 state qualifiers through 2018. The Jets have had at least one state qualifier every season except one. Troy Roe was a state champion at 105 in 1985. Besides Currie, Lynn Fletcher (112 in 1980), Ray Ashley (119 in 1984), Mark Griffiths (125 in 1990) and Andy Bertsch (135 in 1996) have been state runners-up. Adams Central has qualified for every Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals and won the 2018-19 Class 1A title in Fort Wayne, besting Prairie Heights 35-32 in the finals.
“It was a total team effort,” says Currie of AC’s third IHSWCA State Duals championship (the Jets also reigned in 2013 and 2015). “At the 1A level, every roster has three or four top-end guys. But it’s the depth. If you can run out a solid kid at every weight class, you can do well.”
Eighteen BAGUBAs competed for Adams Central and helped the team win four duals. Logan Mosser went 4-0 at 132, senior Jashawn Berlanga 3-0 at 220 and 1-0 at 285 and junior Paul Faurote 2-0 at 160 and 2-0 at 170. Fourteen others won at least one match.
Why have the Jets enjoyed success?
“A big part of that would be our coaches,” says Mosser. “All have good knowledge to spread around.”
Currie is assisted by Bobby Perry, Doug Linthicum and Doug Schultz. Volunteers include Hunter Bates, Aden Feasel, Brian Jordan and Zeke Schultz.
“(Currie) preaches hard about working hard in the practice room,” says Mosser. “It’s paying off on the mat.”
Parker Bates (170) credits experience for helping with this season’s accomplishments.
“We get really good senior leadership,” says Bates, one of 11 members of the Class of 2019 and the younger brother of 2016 graduate Hunter Bates (who placed eighth in the state at 152 as a senior and grappled two seasons at Wabash College). “They’ve grown up through the (Jet Wrestling Club, which currently includes about 75 pre-kindergarten through fifth grade).
“They’ve seen upperclassmen succeed and that’s what they want to do. They don’t want to be the ones to let the town and community down. We wrestle as much for our fans and hometown as we do for our team. Our fans travel really well. It helps us a lot. It picks up the intensity and gets us more hyped-up for matches.”
Adams Central edged Jay County to win Allen County Athletic Conference tournament title. Weight class champions for the BAGUBAs were Mosser (33-1) at 132, senior Logan Macklin (20-3) at 145, Bates (26-1) at 170 and Berlanga (30-3) at 220.
AC’s IHSAA state tournament series path includes the Jan. 26 Jay County Sectional, Feb. 2 Jay County Regional and Feb. 9 Fort Wayne Semistate prior to the Feb. 15-16 State Finals.
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#WrestlingWednesday: Eldred ready for last run at state
By JEREMY HINES
A little brotherly love has fueled Westfield’s Carson Eldred to wrestling greatness.
Eldred set a goal his freshman year to beat his older brother Evan’s school record for pins and career wins.
“I asked Carson his freshman year what his career goals were going to be,” Westfield coach Phil Smith said. “We knew he was going to be pretty special. He said he wanted to beat his brother, Evan’s career pin record and wins record.”
Carson broke the pins record at his school during the Mooresville tournament this season. He’s five wins away from the career wins record.
“I told him after the tournament that he broke the record,” Smith said. He was like ‘uh, that’s cool.’ “
His reaction points to the type of person, and wrestler Eldred is. He doesn’t get emotional during the highs, or the lows.
“He can keep a stone face no matter what,” Smith said. “You don’t know what he’s going to do out on the mat. Every time he wrestles, he wants to prove something. He always wants bonus points and falls. He doesn’t get too up or too down.”
Eldred seeks perfection in everything he does. His grade point average is 4.15. He hasn’t missed a day of school in four years. He has never missed a wrestling practice.
“He’s honestly the best wrestler I’ve coached,” Smith said. “He’s the most gifted wrestler I’ve had, without a doubt. He absolutely hates to lose. In everything we do he hates losing. It doesn’t matter if it’s sprints, drills, wrestling the coaches or anything else. He will do whatever it takes to win at any cost.”
Currently Eldred is ranked No. 4 at 120 pounds. He is a sectional and regional champion and will take on Southport’s Khua Thang in the first round of the New Castle semistate on Saturday. He is 36-1 on the season with his lone loss coming at the hands of Cathedral’s No. 1-ranked Zeke Seltzer.
Part of the reason behind Eldred’s success is his early training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. His father owns a Jiu Jitsu training facility and he learned from a young age some of the keys of the sport.
“Jiu-Jitsu helps with my movement in wrestling,” Carson said. “I haven’t done it much in a while, but when I was younger, I trained a lot with my family. It really helps you when you’re in uncomfortable positions. You don’t panic and you can find a way out of them.”
Carson is most comfortable in scrambles. His unorthodox style makes him dangerous in any position.
“He can ride anyone on top,” Smith said. “He scores a lot of his points from the top position. He’s a talented mat wrestler. He finds points from the bottom position as well and has some crazy reversals. He’s really refined his craft to be a great wrestler from any position.”
After the high school season is over Eldred will likely not wrestle competitively again. He will attend Purdue University where he is a direct admit to the engineering program.
“It’s going to be a little tough,” he said. “I’ve been wrestling since I was in kindergarten. It’s been a big part of my life. It will be a hard adjustment not interacting with teammates or getting a chance to wrestle in front of fans again and have people cheering for you. It will be different. But I’m excited to focus on my schooling as well.”
For now though, the focus is on getting to that state championship match.
“I’m just following in my brothers’ footsteps,” Eldred said. “They both (Dillon and Evan) made it to state. I want to outdo them.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Bellemy looking to make an impact in the Hoosier State
By JEREMY HINES
LeVon Bellemy isn’t running – he’s surviving.
He’s surviving a life growing up in one of the most dangerous parts of the country, Davenport, Iowa – part of the notorious Quad City area. He’s surviving a life where his family either ends up in prison or shot – and sometimes both. He’s surviving, because that’s what he does.
He’s not running, he’s fighting. He’s fighting to show a person can overcome circumstance. He’s fighting to show there is hope. Sometimes the greatest warriors are the ones that can travel the more difficult road and escape their demons. That’s what Bellemy is doing – and that’s how he ended up in Ellettsville, population 6,677.
When asked what he is trying to overcome, Bellemy says simply “everything.”
Bellemy’s story is a unique one. His athletic ability has saved him time and time again back in Davenport, as has the guidance of family, particularly his uncle Clyde Mayfield. Uncle Clyde gave LeVona job in his health food store – and he made sure LeVon knew the value of hard work and discipline. Under Clyde’s direction, Bellemy excelled in school and athletics.
In Davenport, with a crime rate 116 percent higher than the national average, hard work and discipline wasn’t quite enough. When LeVon's brother was shot in May, something had to change. That’s when his cousin, Pauli Escebedo stepped in and offered Bellemy an escape. LeVon moved to Ellettsville to live with Pauli and her husband, Indiana wrestling coach Angel Escebedo.
“They have been great to me,” Bellemy said. “Angel is a good guy who is trying to better me. He lets me know what I’m doing wrong and right.”
When Bellemy moved to Indiana, sports were an afterthought.
“I was focused on getting out of there and finding something better,” he said. “Things got hectic at home, and very bad for me there. I wasn’t worried about football or wrestling. I was worried about getting out.”
Bellemy has made an immediate impact on Edgewood High School. As a star running back he rushed for over 1,700 yards and scored 27 touchdowns this season. Edgewood improved from 3-7 last year and 1-9 the year before that to finish with a record of 8-4 in 2018.
“I can’t think of a more opposite place for LeVon to land,” Edgewood wrestling coach Greg Ratliff said. “He’s going from Davenport to Ellettsville. It is a small town. Everyone knows everyone else. The second LeVon got here the rumors started swirling about who he was. Everyone wanted to meet the new guy.
“Both the wrestling and the football team got to know him quickly and made him feel at home. We let him know that here, he is family. He has fit in extremely quickly.”
Football is Bellemy’s first love. He’s getting Division I college looks and plans to play at the next level. But, Bellemy is also a gifted wrestler.
Bellemy wrestled as a freshman in Iowa, but then decided to try his hand at basketball as a sophomore.
“I hated basketball,” he said. “I knew I had to go back to wrestling. Wrestling is football without the ball. It helps you so much with football, as far as mentally and physically. Mentally you are the toughest kid on the block if you wrestle. Wrestling gets your mind right. It teaches you not to give up. Physically, with the double leg and the driving through people, it helps you tackle and run over people.”
Bellemy returned to the mat for his junior season. He ended up placing seventh in Iowa’s biggest class in the state tournament.
“My goal in Indiana is to win state,” Bellemy said. “That’s my only goal in wrestling. I’ve been doing my research. I’ve been studying the competition.”
Ratliff can see that happening.
“He is a pure dynamite athlete, honestly,” Ratliff said. “I got to see a little bit of him wrestling this summer. Sometimes I was thinking, man, this kid is wrestling against LeVon well, but then I would look at the scoreboard and see LeVon would be up 10 points or more. He’s explosive. I’m yelling for him to just get an escape before a period ends, and before you know it he’s getting a reversal and nearfall points.”
Daily life in Ellettsville is a lot different than what Bellemy was used to in Davenport.
“The thing to do here is to sit in the IGA grocery store parking lot and talk,” he said. “That’s really the main thing we do. We sit in that parking lot for hours and talk. In the summer we will go swimming, but other than that – that’s all we do.
“Ellettsville is a small town. There is a big difference with the people and how they act. It’s a whole new atmosphere. There are no negatives around here.”
But, for as much as LeVon needed Edgewood, Edgewood has needed LeVon.
“He gets along with everyone here,” Ratliff said. “He can talk to anyone. He talks to the athletes, the band students and those not involved with anything. He is a positive influence on everyone he comes in contact with. He’s a hard worker and others see that. They see how he can overcome anything and be a success. That motivates everyone.”
LeVon didn’t run away from Davenport because he feared the fight. In fact, his family talked him into leaving because they knew that’s exactly what he would want to do – fight for his family. His family told him that to win the fight, he had to get away.
“I feel like I have to succeed,” Bellemy said. “I know the situation my family at home is still in. My only way out is through school and sports. It drives me every single day. I have nothing to do but find the best way to provide for my family and fight for them.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Eiteljorge is kinda cool
By JEREMY HINES
There’s cool, and then there’s Jack Eiteljorge cool.
The Carmel senior wrestler may even be too cool.
“Jack’s the guy I want to do my heart surgery because he’s as cool as a cucumber,” Greyhound coach Ed Pendoski said. “He doesn’t get rattled by anything. But, that’s one of the things we are trying to work on this year. I want him having emotion. We’ve talked to him about how sometimes you have to have emotion, whether it be positive or negative.”
Just how cool is Eiteljorge?
“He’s so cool that you could sit him down and tell him that someone just walked into his house and killed his dog, Bacon. His reply would be, ‘Oh, OK.’,” Pendoski said. “You could tell him that Taylor Swift is in the hot tub and wants to make out with him, and he’d say ‘Oh, OK’.”
Eiteljorge is currently ranked No. 2 in the state at 160 pounds. He is a three times sectional and regional champion, but he has never punched his ticket to state. Pendoski thinks opening up and getting a little emotional may be the edge that Eiteljorge needs to finally get to state - and possibly win.
“Going into this year, after the Super 32, we had just had two pretty bad losses,” Pendoski said. “We really started dialing in on our mental part. He’s done a good job reacting to that. The phrase we use a lot is that mental toughness is the ability to manage the thoughts in your head. We went back to that simple platform. We talked to him about getting excited. We said let’s get angry. Let’s be happy. Show something.”
The plan has worked. Eiteljorge is 33-2. He has pinned or tech falled all of his opponents in the state tournament except for one, and that match he won 18-8.
“I’ve been trying to show emotion,” Eiteljorge said. “Coach wants me to, and he has a lot of muscle so I listen to him. He feels that sometimes I’m like a robot on the mat. He wants me to just start having fun.
I’ve really been working on that part. It’s a big change from past years. Making myself be less methodical is the key. I have to go out there and make the matches fun.”
Eiteljorge isn’t one of the kids that found immediate success in the sport of wrestling. When he was young and just started going to CIA, Pendoski’s wrestling academy, he was the guy getting beat up on.
“Jack was in a group with some very, very good wrestlers,” Pendoski said. “He was the beginner. The partners he was with had been around for years and were winning championships. I think Jack went two or three months before he even scored a point. But, he was the guy that would stick around after practice and do pull-ups or pushups.”
Eventually he won his first club level state tournament. Pendoski says that was a turning point for him.
“That’s the day I knew this little ankle-biter would be OK one day,” Pendoski said. “It was nice to see a guy that started from the beginning, worked his tail off and then started to see the results.”
Eiteljorge lost in the first round of semistate his freshman year. As a sophomore and a junior he lost in the ticket round.
“This year my goal is to win state,” Eiteljorge said. “My goal is not just to get to state. But, I still know there will be a pressure on me to get past the ticket round. If I win that match, I’ll certainly feel a weight has been lifted.”
Eiteljorge isn’t one to talk about personal successes, he’s too cool to brag. But, he’s more than willing to gush about his teammates.
“I have really good teammates,” he said. “They are awesome. I love hanging out with them. Carmel’s team chemistry is what helps us be a top program. We are always improving. We have a casual, playful environment. We have fun. But when it’s time to get serious we focus and get the job done.”
Next season Eiteljorge will wrestle for the University of Indianapolis.
“The University of Indianapolis is going to be real happy with the product they are getting with Jack,” Pendoski said.
#WrestlingWednesday: Avon's Band of Brothers leading the way
By JEREMY HINES
The Avon wrestling team knows exactly where to look for inspiration as the season winds down and the state tournament draws near. The Orioles look to their own past.
Avon has learned first hand how wild and unpredictable the tournament can be. Wrestlers on the team have proven that it doesn’t matter if you win sectional, or regional. It doesn’t matter if you take some losses during the regular season. What matters most is surviving and advancing.
Avon senior Asa Garcia has epitomized that philosophy in his stellar career.
As a freshman Garcia lost to Ty Mills of rival Brownsburg in the sectional championship. Mills went on to beat him again in the regional, and then handed him a 5-0 loss in the semistate final. At state, however, Garcia was the one standing at the end. Mills lost to Warren Central’s Keyuan Murphy 9-2 in the semifinal round. Garcia pinned Murphy in the state championship to claim his first title.
Garcia had a fantastic sophomore year - winning sectional, regional and semistate, but he fell just short of his goal of back-to-back state titles, losing to eventual champion Alex Viduya in the state semifinal round. Garcia finished third that season.
As a junior Garcia again lost to Mills in sectional (2-0) and regional (5-1). In the semistate Columbus East’s Cayden Rooks handed Mills a semifinal defeat (1-0) and then dealt Garcia a loss in the semistate championship (3-1). But, like his freshman year, Garcia learned from his losses.
In the state finals Garcia ran through an absolute gauntlet of wrestling phenoms. He took out Beech Grove’s Ethan Smiley. He then faced Mills, who had dealt him so many previous losses. This time Garcia came out victorious 8-1.
In the championship, Garcia would once again take on Rooks - who had just beat him the week before. This time Garcia won the match 3-2 to claim his second title.
“Asa is really the heart and soul of our team,” Avon coach Zach Errett said. “As he goes, so does the team. He’s not afraid of losing. That’s really a quality that a lot of our guys have. You have to learn from your losses, and Asa has really shown he can do that.”
This year Avon has seven state-ranked wrestlers in the lineup. Garcia is No. 1 at 132 pounds this season and senior teammate Carson Brewer is ranked No. 1 at 182 pounds.
Asa’s younger brother, Blaze, a freshman, is currently ranked No. 12 at 106 for the Orioles. Sophomore Tyler Conley is ranked No. 10 at 120 and his older brother Nathan Conley (12) is ranked No. 4 at 152.
Junior Raymond Rioux is currently ranked No. 7 at 126. Sophomore Jaden Reynolds rounds out the ranked wrestlers for Avon, at No. 10 in he 138 pound weight class.
“Asa, Nathan and Carson really lead the way for us,” Errett said. “They are great leaders and they work hard. That shows the other kids what’s expected and what needs to be done in order to have success.”
Avon has three sets of brothers on the team in the Garcias, the Conleys and Jaden and Trae Reynolds. Trae, a senior, is injured and will miss the remainder of the season.
“Trae had been ranked for most of the year,” Errett said. “Then at team state he dislocated his elbow and is out for the year. I feel terrible for him. The type of kid he is, he will probably be first team academic all-state. He had either the highest or the second highest GPA in all of the juniors and seniors last year. He’s a phenomenal young man. He’s a hard worker. His senior year ended in the wrong way, but he still comes in the room and helps coach. He’s trying to help his teammates anyway he can. He’s been an awesome kid.”
For the last few years Avon has finished just behind Brownsburg in sectional and regional standings. The Orioles are hoping this year they can pull off the upset.
“Our goal is to win the IHSAA state title,” Errett said. “We know in order to do that we have to have a lot of things go right for us. In this sport, that’s unpredictable. But, we really feel we have a chance if everyone is wrestling their best.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Hall is back for more as a sophomore
By JEREMY HINES
In a town named after the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora, a new wrestling star is rising in the south east corner of Indiana.
South Dearborn sophomore Bryer Hall was a relative unknown last season. He put together a successful freshman season, and by the end of the year had worked his way up to No. 16 in the state rankings at 126 pounds. When the state tournament rolled around, people started to take notice of the newcomer.
Hall rolled through his sectional as a freshman, winning every match by pin. He was just as dominant in the Richmond regional. He won his first round with a pin in just over a minute. In the second round he took on ranked senior Trevor Ragle (47-4) and pinned him in just 1:09. Then, in the final he went up against another talented wrestler in Centerville freshman Gabe Phillips, who is currently undefeated on the year and ranked No. 5 at 138. Just a little over two minutes into the match Hall injured Phillips shoulder, and Phillips was unable to go on. That injury ended the season for Phillips.
Then, to start out the semistate, Hall injured another wrestler with almost the same move. It wasn’t anything intentional, but the injuries rattled Hall.
“I didn’t want to hurt anyone,” Hall said. “It was upsetting that I ruined someone’s season and they could have went pretty far in the tournament. I thought it would be tough to go back and use the move because I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. But once I started wrestling again, instincts just took over and I had to get that thought out of my mind.”
Hall won his ticket round semistate match 16-8 and then secured his biggest victory of his young career. He defeated former state champion Alec Viduya 11-5 to advance to the semistate championship.
“We were hopeful that Bryer could get to state as a freshman,” South Deaerborn coach George Gardner said. “But we thought it might be a long shot when he had to go up against returning state champion Alec Viduya. But Bryer really took it to him in that match and handled that match much better than I thought he would.”
Hall didn’t have enough in the tank to defeat Ethan Smiley in the final, who cruised to an 11-2 victory.
Hall ended up placing sixth in state. He had wins over Kyle Lawson and Brycen Denny, but lost big to Cayden Rooks (tech fall) and Christian Meija (17-5).
This season Hall is hoping to not have those big letdowns.
“He ran out of gas in the semistate,” Gardner said. “Hopefully that won’t happen again.
This year Hall is undefeated. He has stepped on the mat 33 times and each time had his hand raised in victory. He has moved up three weight classes and is currently ranked No. 2 at 145 pounds.
“It felt pretty good to get noticed in the rankings for my hard work,” Hall said.
Hall’s style of wrestling is difficult for others to scout. He calls himself a funky wrestler.
“I am hard to figure out,” Hall said. “I’m just naturally funky. I move where my hips feel they should go.”
That funkiness is especially helpful in scramble situations.
“Bryer is a tremendous scrambler,” Gardner said. “He doesn’t have a signature takedown. He just makes things happen. He’s really hard to scout because he doesn’t do the same thing very often.”
Hall could potentially see Warren Central’s Antwaun Graves in the New Castle semistate semifinal. If so, that is a match that could be particularly interesting. Hall won the regular season battle 4-3.
“Anything can happen Saturday,” Gardner said. “He has to go out and wrestle his best each match.”
Hall said his biggest wrestling accomplishment so far was placing fourth at Fargo over the summer at 138 pounds. He is hoping to top that with a state title this year.
“My goal is to go undefeated and win state,” Hall said. “Last year I was nervous. This year I’m coming in a lot more confident.”
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#MondayMatness: Harrison’s Poindexter makes wrestling his 'thing’ and excels at it
By STEVE KRAH
A.J. Poindexter has experienced moments of motivation during his wrestling career.
His first season at Harrison High School in West Lafayette ended with Poindexter — then a 138-pound sophomore – placing sixth at the 2018 Lafayette Jeff Sectional.
After that, he really dedicated himself to the sport and qualified for the 2019 State Finals in the 138 bracket as a junior.
A 1-0 loss to Mt. Vernon (Fortville) junior Chris Wilkerson (who wound up seventh) in the Friday night match ended his second prep campaign and fueled his desire to excel in his senior year and beyond.
“I can’t let the big stage change the way I wrestle,” says Poindexter, referring to the lesson he learned last February at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. “I took a lot of shots. But I didn’t get to my finishes quickly.“
“When you get on the bottom in the third period, you’ve got to get away. There’s no excuse for (not escaping).”
A major point of emphasis in Poindexter’s training since then has been in the bottom position when the opponent puts in his legs.
Poindexter was born in California, moved to Virginia around age 1 and then Connecticut. His father, Anthony Poindexter, was in the National Football League with the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns and then became a coach, serving at the University of Virginia and University of Connecticut prior to becoming co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Purdue University.
Anthony and Kimberly Poindexter have three children — Morocca, Anthony Jr. and Chloe.
Morocca (20) is a 400/800 runner on the women’s track and field team at UConn.
A.J., who turns 18 on Jan. 14, says eighth grader Chloe (13) placed seventh in the junior state cross country meet last fall and was second in the 800 and fourth in the 400 as a seventh grader in the junior high state track meet last spring.
A.J. went out for wrestling as an eighth grader in Connecticut at the insistence of his coach for lacrosse, a sport he began playing in kindergarten. He grappled as a short 120-pounder as a freshmen then moved to Indiana when his father was hired at Purdue.
By growing and hitting the weight room, Poindexter has added length and strength to his frame and is now a shade over 5-foot-9 — taller than many in his weight division, which is now 145.
“I’m deceptively strong,” says Poindexter, who is a senior.
The younger Poindexter played football as a Harrison sophomore then opted to focus on wrestling.
“It’s kind of my thing,” says Poindexter of wrestling. “You can’t blame your teammates or the ref. It’s all on you.“
“If you want to be good, you have to put int he work.”
Third-year Harrison head coach Johnny Henry says that what makes Poindexter special is his dedication and his athleticism.
“Practice room through competition, he’s put in hard work,” says Henry of Poindexter. “He is fully-committed. He has speed. He is just very quick on his feet.“
“His technique has improved so much over the last two years.”
Poindexter says Harrison coaches have told him to use his quickness and athleticism to his advantage.
“Wrestle like an athlete instead of robotic,” says Poindexter of the advice. While he considers his double-leg takedown to be his “bread and butter” move, Poindexter has been working to make his offense more diverse.“
“I watch tons of wrestling on YouTube and TV,” says Poindexter. “I’m trying to pick moves. Wrestling freestyle and Greco-Roman in the spring has added more upper body (moves) in my arsenal.”
To get different looks against different body types, Poindexter works out with various teammates in the Harrison practice room. Some of his steady drill partners are Tristen Hood (152), Matthew Baylay (138) and Sam Hein (120).
Poindexter has honed his skills by attending camps, clinics and tournaments and attending workouts led by Henry at Harrison as well as Chad Red of the Red Cobra Wrestling Academy in Indianapolis.
“He really cares about his guys,” says Poindexter of Red.
Poindexter is also thankful to the knowledge and encouragement provided by former Harrison assistant (and ex-Purdue University head coach) Scott Hinkel.
“How bad do you want to be good at this?,” says Poindexter, echoing the question Hinkel asked him.
Poindexter has committed to continue his wrestling and academic careers at George Mason University, an NCAA Division I program in Fairfax County, Va.
By going 5-2 at the Virginia Beach Junior Nationals, Poindexter caught the attention of Patriots coaches. He was invited for a campus visit and later committed.
George Mason assistant Camden Eppert wrestled for Hinkel at Purdue.
“It’s the place for me in terms of culture and coaches,” says Poindexter. “I want to try to be a D-I All-American.”
Poindexter enjoyed taking Journalism at Harrison last year and his current favorite class is Intro to Communications, where he has learned video editing and recently posted a commercial parody of the Nike “Dream Crazy” ad using Raiders wrestlers. It can be viewed on his Twitter page at @AJ_Poindexter.
With the help of Poindexter (28-0), Harrison is 21-2 in dual meets and won the 32-team Spartan Classic at Connersville.
Prior to the IHSAA tournament series (Lafayette Jeff Sectional Feb. 1, Logansport Regional Feb. 8, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 15 and State Finals Feb. 21-22), the Raiders’ Varsity “A” team has a dual meet at Tipton Jan. 15, a home dual against Rensselaer Central Jan. 23 and North Central Conference meet at Richmond Jan. 25.
Henry promotes closeness with his Raiders and Poindexter embraces that model.
“A.J.’s very enthusiastic,” says Henry. “He can pump up the team. Practice is very team-oriented. We stick together as a family. It helps us stay mentally tough and focused as a team.“
“We build each other up when one person’s down. There’s times when the season feels long.”
To break up the monotony, the team sometimes plays games — like ultimate frisbee with a football.
“It gives our minds a break,” says Henry. “It’s a workout but they have fun with it. It’s team bonding for them.”
Henry was a Harrison for four seasons before becoming head coach. Before that, the former University of Indianapolis wrestler spent one year as an assistant at his alma mater — Benton Central. He is a full-time trainer at Miracles Fitness in West Lafayette.
The Raiders have about 50 athletes in the program and 13 coaches — Henry plus assistants Bill Bailey, John Campagna, Kevin Elliott, Donnie Fahler, Aaron Hawkins, Michael Kern, Dustin Kult, Chris Maxwell, Jonathan Mongold, Walt Prochno, Aaron Quakenbush and Dennis Synesael.
#WrestlingWednesday: The Floyds Knobs three amigos
By JEREMY HINES
In a town that literally gets its name for being tough and rugged, the Three Amigos personify what Floyds Knobs is all about.
Floyd Central High School, located in Floyds Knobs, is the home of wrestlers Gavinn Alstott, J. Conway and Jonathan Kervin. The trio is known around town as the Three Amigos, primarily for their success on the wrestling mat. They are tough wrestlers that like to grind out wins and be physical. One wouldn’t expect anything less from a Floyds Knobs resident.
Floyds Knobs is named after the Knobstone Escarpment located there (and Colonel Davis Floyd). The Knobstone is the most rugged terrain in Indiana. It has steep hills which are commonly referred to as knobs.
As for the Three Amigos – all three qualified for state last season. Alstott finished fourth and Kervin sixth. This year, all three are ranked in the top 10 in their weight classes.
“The Three Amigos is a term we coined last year and started calling them that,” Floyd Central coach Brandon Sisson said. “I don’t think they mind it. They all three work together and have pushed each other to get better.”
Kervin is the only senior in the trio. He is currently ranked No. 2 at 152 pounds. Last season Kervin finished with a 39-4 record. He won sectional and regional and eventually finished sixth at state in the 145-pound class.
“Jonathan is a really tough wrestler,” Sisson said. “He wrestles hard for all six minutes. He works really closely with is uncle, former two-time state champion Cooper Samuels. Those two have worked together for the past five years and it has really benefited Jonathan.”
Kervin’s goal this season is to win a state title.
“My style is sort of dynamic,” Kervin said. “I like to be a little deranged. I use my length. Last year I felt like I wrestled poorly at state. I didn’t do my normal workout to get ready. I want to get back and show what I can really do.”
Alstott, a junior, finished 42-4 last season. He was a sectional and regional champ and ended up third in the Evansville semistate and would later place fourth at state.
“Gavinn is a grinder,” Sisson said. “He gets out there, gets in your face and pushes the pace non-stop. He’s very business-like on the mat and in the practice room. I’m not ever going to have to see if he’s just messing around. When it’s time to work, it’s time to work. No matter what he does, he puts his head down and goes to work.”
Alstott’s uncle, Craig Alstott, was Floyd Central’s first ever four-time state qualifier. Craig never placed at the state meet, however.
“I think Gavinn got the monkey off his back a little by placing last year,” Sisson said. “But he has his sights set significantly higher this year.”
Off the mat, Gavinn is an excellent student and has been a team leader since his freshman season.
“He’s a really good kid,” Sisson said. “He gets good grades and is good to the other kids. Even as a freshman I thought of him as a team leader. He’s just a phenomenal kid.”
Conway is the quietest in the group. He had a not-so-quiet season last year, however. Conway went 23-4 on the year and claimed a sectional and a regional title. He finished runner-up in semistate but lost on Friday night at the state tournament.
“He’s a really, really quiet kid,” Sisson said. “I don’t think I heard him say anything at all his freshman year. Now as a sophomore he’s coming out of his shell a little bit. On the mat he’s more open. He is already at 130 takedowns in just 18 matches this season. He’s full throttle. You let him go, and he goes.”
Sisson is pleased with his team this season and hopes the Three Amigos will help lead them to great things.
“There are years where you have a lot of talent, but also a lot of drama,” Sisson said. “Then there are years where you don’t have any drama, but you don’t really have any talent either. This year, I really feel like we have a lot of talent and no drama. I’m lucky this year.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Hadley is first from Lapel to wrestle at state
By JEREMY HINES
In middle school Harrison Hadley weighed 60 pounds but had to wrestle in the 75 pound weight class because that was the smallest class available. Today, he’s the big man on campus at Lapel High School.
Hadley, a junior 106-pounder for the Bulldogs, became the school’s first wrestler to ever reach the state finals when he defeated South Dearborn’s Eli Otto 13-5 in the ticket round of the New Castle semistate.
“I definitely feel like I’m the big man on campus right now,” Hadley said. “The elementary school made this big banner for me and everyone signed it. People are going up to me in the halls and around town telling me congratulations and wishing me luck. The school recognized me for advancing. It’s pretty cool right now.”
Lapel has been a school since before the 1870s. At first Lapel was a one-room school house, but over time the location has changed and school buildings have come and gone. The school’s history is one of the oldest in the state. To be the very first athlete to accomplish going to state is something first-year coach Jake Stilwell doesn’t believe has fully sunk in for Hadley yet.
“This is huge for Lapel wrestling,” Stilwell said. “There have only been five semistate qualifiers in school history. For our program, this is absolutely huge. The younger kids see that state isn’t something impossible now. They see it can be done.
“It’s never occurred here before and most people didn’t think it could happen. Now they see Harrison has done it, and it gives them hope. I don’t even know if Harrison has grasped what has happened. It will take a little time for this to all settle in.”
After Hadley won the ticket-round match he immediately wanted to watch film on the match to see what he could have done differently. That’s what he does every match, win or lose.
“I like to see what type of positions I exposed myself to,” Hadley said. “I look at how I could have improved. I look for things that will take me to the next level. I always critique myself, even if I tech fall or pin a kid.”
Stilwell wanted Hadley to take a moment to take in the importance of what he had accomplished at semistate.
“He was very excited when he won,” Stilwell said. “But when he came off the mat he likes to dive right into what just happened and look for ways to improve. We had to stop him and remind him about what he just accomplished. He was excited, but wasn’t showing that emotion. He was still just trying to think of what he could have done differently.”
According to Harrison, the person most excited after the ticket round was his mom, Sonya.
“She was crying and everything,” Hadley said. “She was telling me how proud she was of me. I’ve never really seen her like that. It was a great moment.”
Hadley enters the state tournament with a record of 39 wins and only three losses. Two of those losses came last week at semistate. Hadley fell to Perry Meridian’s Alex Cottey in the semifinal round, then lost to Warren Central’s David Pierson in the consolation match.
Hadley, who likes to race 600cc mini sprint cars in his free time, has wrestled 106 pounds his entire high school career. As a freshman he came into the season weighing just 99 pounds. He’s put on about five pounds per year, but is easily able to get down to weight for the wrestling season.
Hadley is hoping his victory could help the team. He says it’s great to go to state, but it would be much sweeter going there with teammates also competing.
“I see some schools take nine or 10 guys to state,” Hadley said. “I think that would be awesome. Just seeing Cathedral’s team and how well they did at semistate and the bond those guys have, it’s fun to watch.
“Our program has struggled. We have never been that strong. But, if we can start advancing more kids it will really help build things up.”
Last year Lapel had just eight wrestlers. This year there are 17 on the Bulldog roster.
“Lapel is a school that has some good athletes,” Stilwell said. “The challenge is to get those kids to go out for wrestling. I really think Harrison’s success is going to help with that.”
Hadley will take on Brownsburg freshman Kysen Montgomery (38-7) in the Friday night match.
“For me, wrestling is an escape from everything,” Hadley said. “It’s something that helps me focus on my goals. It helps me in life situations and helps build my character. Right now my major goal is to be able to wrestle in college.”