By STEVE KRAH
Elkhart’s two high school wrestling programs — Central and Memorial — have been well-represented on the statewide stage over the years.
The Blue Blazers and Crimson Chargers have produced plenty of sectional, regional and semistate winners and state placers. Dave Riggle (98 pounds in 1973) and Barry Hart (119 in 1983) won state championships in a Central singlet.
Dan Kratzer (145 in 1973), Aaron Moss (135 in 1993), Nick Iannarelli (103 in 1999), Sean Drury (103 in 2003), Chris Miller (112 in 2004), Nick Corpe (171 in 2005) and Steve Stahl (189 in 2008) reigned over Indiana on behalf of Memorial. There were also state runners-up finishes for Chargers Frank Cockerham (heavyweight in 1981), Brent Lehman (119 in 1988), Sean Drury (103 in 2003), Ryan Stahl (140 in 2009), Zack Corpe (152 in 2010) and Christian Mejia (113 in 2016).
With the two becoming one known as the Elkhart High School Lions in 2020-21, Central and Memorial are in their final postseason push.
With their performances Saturday, Feb. 8 at the Goshen Regional, six — Central’s Eric Garcia (first at 126), Peyton Anderson (second at 170), Sea Davis (first at 220) and Jacob Sommer (third 285) and Memorial’s Kamden Goering (third at 160) and Clayton Lundy (first at 170) — have advanced to the Feb. 15 Fort Wayne Semistate at Memorial Coliseum. The top four placers in each weight division there will move on to the first round of the IHSAA State Finals Feb. 21 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“It’s very exciting,” says senior Garcia, who is 30-8 in 2019-20. “This is the best thing to happen to me throughout this whole six-year journey in wrestling (including junior high). It’s a big part of my life.”
What got Garcia his 8-6 victory against Northridge sophomore Jasper Graber in the regional finals?
“I’ve been praying for it, really,” says Garcia, who topped Graber 12-7 in the Elkhart Sectional championship. “It’s all in God’s hands. Not mine.”
Garcia says finishing his moves on the opponent’s legs has been key to his recent success.
“I used to have trouble,” says Garcia. “I would get the leg and stop right there. I wouldn’t go through.”
Garcia has reflected on the last season of Elkhart Central wrestling.
“I’ve thought about that a lot,” says Garcia. “It’s the community. It brings us all together. We all become as one.”
“It’s the last year. I know I have to put in a lot of effort to go through senior year.”
While Central and Memorial have not officially come together yet, Garcia says the idea of a unified Elkhart is happened.
“It’s already there,” says Garcia. “It’s just one big community.”
“Wrestling always brings people closer. You really get to meet a lot of good people. Even with the two schools going head-to-head, you still become close to those people.”
Davis (33-5) earned an 11-1 major decision against Northridge senior Omar Khaoucha in the regional final a week after beating him 6-4 for an Elkhart Sectional title.
“I controlled the tempo of the match really well,” says senior Davis.
“I controlled him when I was on-top and controlled the pace when we were both neutral.”
“That’s what I try to do well in most of the matches I wrestle. In my losses this season, I haven’t controlled that at all and I’ve been in bad positions.”
Davis has thought more about his final high school season than the last one for Central wrestling.
“I want to make my coaches proud,” says Davis.
He has enjoyed the rivalry with Memorial over the years and trying to be the program that owns the city title.
What does Davis think a unified Elkhart Lions will look like?
“For one thing, there will be a lot more people on the team,” says Davis. “There will be a lot more talent on the team and we’ll go to further heights.”
Anderson (25-9) was a regional runner-up, losing 8-4 to Lundy in the finals (Lundy won 11-3 when the two met for a sectional championship).
“I worked hard all week,” says senior Anderson of what it took to advance to semistate. “I’ve been putting in lots of effort.”
Each wrestler gets ready for a match in his own way. For Anderson, he sees his warm-up as very important.
“I have to be in the right mindset,” says Anderson. “I walk around by myself and don’t think of anything.”
“I don’t think about it. I just try to go do what I know.”
Anderson is pleased to still be representing Central on the mat. He also looks to the future, though he won’t be involved as an student-athlete.
“It’s nice to go as far as a I can for the school as a whole,” says Anderson. “It’s going to be interesting how it pans out next year with the teams.”
What’s his relationship to the grapplers on Elkhart’s west side?
“I love them,” says Anderson. “We wrestling with them at RTC’s all the time. They’re good guys. It’s fun.
“I’ll be back for (the Lions).”
Sommer (29-10) assessed his regional performance.
“I wrestled hard and I had a hard hand fight,” says junior Sommer. “I just stayed in front of my opponents and had better conditioning.”
As a heavyweight, Sommer has the distinction of being the last Elkhart Central wrestler to win an Elkhart Sectional title.
He is focused on the current season and will worry about the Elkhart Lions when the time comes.
“We’ll figure out what happens next year with everything,” says Sommer. “I wrestled in the off-season with a lot of (Memorial’s) kids. It’s not going to be too different.”
Goering (29-5) has his take on why he’s in the semistate and aiming even higher.
“I just pulled the trigger,” says Goering. “I believe in myself.”
“I’ve just been following through (in matches) with what I’ve been doing in practice. I’ve been continuing to gas my tank up.”
“I give all glory to God. Through Him, I can do all things.”
As for the last season of Elkhart Memorial wrestling, Goering has enjoyed the experience.
“It’s exciting. It’s kind of surreal,” says Goering. “It’s cool to be a part of. Other than that, it is what it is.”
Lundy (36-5) goes to the semistate after winning his second regional crown (he reigned at 160 in 2019).
What pulled him through in his most-recent championship?
“Just the determination that comes with the sport in general,” says junior Lundy. “It’s always my drive to keep myself high-spirited and keep my mentality strong during matches.”
“(Wrestling) consumes me. The competition is unlike anything else. I just have to keep my confidence up and know I have what it takes. I’ve put in the work to get here. I can’t let any lapses happen and just come out strong and keep it that way for the whole tournament.”
Lundy has looked at the last go-round for Memorial wrestling.
“It has a special meaning to it,” says Lundy. “I’m the last Elkhart Memorial sectional champion and the last Elkhart Memorial regional champ. I’m hoping to keep that rolling.”
Lundy says the Charger-Blazer rivalry remains until the end of this season and then it becomes about the Lions.
“Right now, it’s a matter of trying to beat each other and keep the big rivalry going,” says Lundy. “Next year, we’re going to be helping each to push into the state series.”
Zach Whickcar (Elkhart Central Class of 2006) and Brian Weaver (Elkhart Memorial Class of 1996) are the head coaches of the city’s two programs.
They both took a look at the present and the future.
“(Garcia, Anderson, Davis and Sommer) have a common characteristic in that they all work really hard,” says Whickcar, who is in his eighth season as Blazers head coach. “They’re focused. They’re dialed-in. They love to wrestle. When you practice and it’s fun and not work, that goes a long way.”
Central wrestling is winding up and Whickcar is soaking it up.
“I haven’t thought about the last ride per se, but it’s bittersweet,” says Whickcar. “There are a lot of challenges ahead of us. I’m just living in the moment, hanging out with these guys and enjoying what little time we have left.”
“I’m glad we ended with this group.”
Whickcar says he plans to apply to be the head coach for Elkhart High School wrestling. He notes that the two middle school teams have more than 60 wrestlers and there are quality returners expected at the high school level.
“Every senior is going to have a tall task,” says Whickcar of the first Elkhart Lions team. “We want to do it right. We want to create at culture. We’ve got to be in it together. We’re a family. We’re going to get better.”
“Whoever leads the program, it will be in good hands with the kids we have coming back. I love Elkhart athletics. Anything I can do to help keep that moving in the right direction, I’ll do it. It’s not about me, it’s about (athletes).”
Including assistant and head coaching duties, Weaver is in his 21st season of coaching wrestling at Memorial.
“This season has been a little rough,” says Weaver, who placed seventh at 130 pounds at the 1996 IHSAA State Finals. “We were down to 13 guys with only seven guys on our varsity roster, forfeiting 42 points (in dual meets).”
“Our main focus was the state tournament. For dual meets, we had to take those 42 points out of the equation. We’d go out and wrestle our matches and see where we’re at head-to-head.”
Weaver talked about Goering and Lundy.
“Kamden and Clayton are different kids,” says Weaver. “They both have a certain work ethic. They push each other when they wrestle with each other. The biggest thing is they have to believe in themselves to get to where they want to go.
“We just have to keep reaching our goals.”
Weaver says not yet decided if he will apply to be head coach of the Elkhart Lions.
“I’ve enjoyed the ride,” says Weaver. “It gets emotional when you think about it.”
Weaver and Whickcar are long-time friends.
“Zach and I get along extremely well,” says Weaver. “Our programs are very similar to each other. In the off-season,we work together and do tournaments together.
“Whatever happens to Elkhart wrestling, it’s going to be for the best if I’m the head coach or not or if Zach gets it. I’d like to have him on my staff if I get it. I believe he would feel the same way if he gets it.”
Weaver notes that rosters have shrunk in Elkhart sports at the middle school and high school levels. If students are taking seven classes, they must be passing six.
“It’s kind of hard to get your participation numbers up if you can’t get it done in the classroom,” says Weaver. “That’s been our biggest struggle: getting the kids to accomplish what they need to in the classroom so they can do the athletics.”