By STEVE KRAH
Bill Flatt does not try to fit a square peg in a round hole.
The 17th-year head wrestling coach at South Bend Riley High School knows that each athlete is different.
Flatt gets his Wildcats to play to their strengths and it has paid off with plenty of mat success.
â€œI donâ€™t try to put them into a mold,â€ Flatt said. â€œItâ€™s not â€˜hereâ€™s how I want all of you to wrestle.â€™ I emphasize their individuality.â€
Flatt encourages his wrestlers to find what style best suits them and go with that. He will be there to help them refine it.
The veteran coach and is a former Mishawaka High School (Class of 1979) and Columbia University (Chicago) grappler. As an MHS junior, Flatt went 22-1 for Hall of Fame coach Al Smith. Flattâ€™s only loss came in the semistate semifinals to the defending state champion.
After college, Flatt was an assistant to Smith for one season before taking over the Riley program.
With all his time on and around the mat, Flatt knows that some wrestlers are better on their feet and others excel on top.
â€œThe guys who are good riders and pinners, when they are on bottom, I donâ€™t want them getting to their feet and getting escapes,â€ Flatt said. â€œI want them to get the reversals to get into their best position and score from there.
â€œIâ€™m always looking to get them to their best positions, whichever that is. It may be a match-to-match situation.â€
With seniors Austen Laughlin (40-2 at 145 pounds) and Kassius Breathitt (38-4 at 152) and junior Tristan Goering (33-2 at 170) winning weight-class titles and senior RZ Teague (27-15 at 160) finishing fourth, again bolstered Riley as the Wildcats [laced third at the Mishawaka Sectional. Next up is the Rochester Regional.
â€œThe middle of our lineup has really set the tempo for the team,â€ Flatt said. That tempo helped the Cats go 17-8 in 2015-16 duals and is leading to wins in the postseason.
â€œWe want to just keep that momentum going,â€ Flatt said. â€œGet the points you need and get off the mat. This time of the year, itâ€™s nothing but the W. Keep going to the right on that bracket. Go to the left and you lose another match and youâ€™re done. So we want to keep going toward that championship bout.â€
Goering placed fourth at 160 at the 2015 IHSAA State Finals. Laughlin is a two-time State Finals qualifier and a 46-match winner in 2014-15.
â€œTristanâ€™s run in the semistate and state finals last year was tremendous,â€ Flatt said. â€œFor Austen, itâ€™s all about confidence. Heâ€™s wrestled so much, thereâ€™s always another trick in his bag, one more thing he can do. He breaks people and just gets them to submit.â€
Ultra-competitors Laughlin, Breathitt, Teague and Goering are regular sparring partners during intense Riley workouts.
â€œWe hate losing,â€ Laughlin said. â€œThatâ€™s what motivates us to get better. It definitely gets heated in (the practice room).â€
When Breathitt looks at Laughlin, Teague and Goering, he sees driven athletes.
â€œTheyâ€™re determined,â€ Breathittt said. â€œThey want to go places. They love the sport.â€
â€œWe all work hard in here and push each other to be better,â€ Teague said.
Goering said itâ€™s a matter of iron sharpening iron.
â€œAusten is one of the best on our team technically,â€ Goering said. â€œKassius stays in really good position. RZ is a combination of the two. Heâ€™s real-rounded overall. My strengths are my athleticism, my explosiveness. Iâ€™ve been told Iâ€™m hard-nosed. Iâ€™m not the most skilled, but I go out there real hard and that tends to break guys down.â€
One bit of advice from Flatt that sticks with Goering is focusing on each period instead of the whole six-minute match.
â€œIf you win two minutes at a time, you will win the match,â€ Goering said.
The junior also serves notice about the 2016-17 Wildcats and sees Riley having a good shot at ending Pennâ€™s stranglehold on the top spots in the sectional and Northern Indiana Conference.
â€œWeâ€™ll be better next year than we are this year,â€ Goering said.
Laughlin said it is his ability to adapt to many styles and to go against teammates in practice that know how to scramble to helps him win close matches.
While Breathitt is strong as a bottom wrestler, itâ€™s also what he has between the ears that helps him be successful.
â€œItâ€™s that mental toughness and staying strong throughout the match no matter what happens,â€ Breathitt said. â€œYouâ€™ve got to believe in yourself. Youâ€™ve got to think that you can do it.
â€œIâ€™m pretty decent on my feet, but nobody can hold me down. Iâ€™m not staying on the mat. A sit-out hip-heist is kind of my go-to thing. I keep running those. I also have moves like Granbys and such.â€
Having drilled so much, Breathitt has confidence in his best set of moves.
â€œI keep running it until they stop it,â€ Breathitt said. â€œI donâ€™t like to change it up for other people. I like to keep doing what Iâ€™ve trained to do.â€
Itâ€™s a pretty smart group, too. Flatt said Breathitt, Teague and Goering are on the their way to academic all-state honors.
Many Riley wrestlers compete throughout the year as a part of the South Bend Wrestling Club, which holds most workouts at Riley and South Bend Joseph.
The current pack of Wildcats are continuing a strong tradition of South Bendâ€™s South Side. From 1960-15, Riley racked up 53 indivudal State Finals.
Jon Galloway (1964-65-66) was a three-time state champion for the Cats. Larry Katz (1963), Matt Wills (1991), Matt Nowak (1995) and George Malone (2007) also took state titles.
â€œWe just keep producing,â€ Flatt said. â€œWe bring kids in, give them the idea they can be successful and try to put their name on (Riley Wrestling Wall of Fame) list.â€