By STEVE KRAH
Sometimes a change of venue is the best thing for a person.
Mikey Robles placed fifth at the Michigan High School Athletic Association State Finals as a Niles High School 103-pound freshman in 2020.
He qualified for the regional stage as a sophomore then had to quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic and saw his season end. His grades began to slip, making him academically ineligible. There were other distractions in his life that caused him to look for a new school.
“It was so I could better my life and move away from all the drama and stuff,” says Robles of his decision to change schools.
The oldest of eight children (four boys and four girls), Robles came to Indiana and Kim Wagley (the grandmother of his girlfriend) became his legal guardian until he turned 18.
“(Wagley) treats him like a son,” says Steven Sandefer, head coach at Mishawaka High School where Robles enrolled after Niles. “She’ll do anything for him. She’s a sweet lady.
“She’s working with us to keep him motivated and on-track and making good decisions. He’s come a long way in the last two years.”
Sandefer, who is in his ninth year as a wrestling coach and sixth leading the Cavemen program, knows what it takes to be successful inside the circle.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” says Sandefer. “You have to have discipline. I say this to my guys weekly: In wrestling and in life you’re going to have to do things you don’t want to do things are not always going to be easy if you want to get where you want to go.
“It reinforces a lot of those bigger life lessons.”
That message has reached Robles.
“Wrestling has helped me be a better person in life,” says Robles. “Since it does come with discipline you show people a lot more respect and it also helps you stay out of trouble.”
Robles was with the Cavemen in 2021-22 but ineligible to compete.
“My grades have gotten back up to where they are pretty good,” says Robles, who counts History as his favorite subject and sees a future as an electrical engineer.
With then-Niles wrestling head coach Todd Hesson bringing his Vikings to Penn’s Henry Wilk Classic, Robles had competed against Mishawaka in the past.
Before joining the team, Mikey was familiar with Cavemen grapplers Christian Chavez, Chris Peacock, Courtney Rider, Gunnar Sandefur and Isaac Valdez.
The 2022-23 season — Robles’ senior campaign — opens with him No. 12 in the Indiana Mat preseason rankings at 138 pounds for a team that is No. 2 in Class 3A.
“When I’m on the mat I just like to get physical,” says Robles, who is 18 now and got started in the sport at 5. “I just love to wrestle. This is my senior year. I want to go as far as I can and leave everything on the mat.”
Sandefer says he saw “flashes of greatness” from Robles last winter and during the off-season, but is not sure he was yet fully in grappling shape.
“He has a lot of room to grow in his wrestling,” says Sandefer.
Many wrestlers progress from the end of one high school season to another.
“When the season gets here you can see the improvements the kids made in the off-season,” says Sandefer. “They get to showcase their talents.
“That’s the real rewarding part.”
Robles’ regular workout partners are 113-pound senior Peacock and 145-pound junior Brabender and — occasionally — 132-pound junior Zar Walker. The coaches he works with most are Sandefer and assistant Fabian Chavez.
“We don’t screw around,” says Robles of their practice room mentality. “We go in their and try to get better.”
The wrestlers teach each other moves and talk about making them more effective.
“Staying in shape and packing on muscle is good,” says Robles, who stands 5-foot-7 1/2. “But it’s really not how strong you are to go out there and win a match.
“I believe technique beats strength any day of the week.”
Four state qualifiers return for Mishawaka — Walker (who placed sixth at 132 in 2021-22 and is ranked No. 2 at 132 in the preseason), seniors Chavez (No. 4 at 195) and Valdez (No. 8 at 170) and Brabender (No. 6 at 145). There’s also senior Xavier Chavez (No. 6 at 106).
They are are part of a large squad of 47 (45 boys and two girls).
“That’s about 10 more than usual,” says Sandefer. “My first year I had 30 kids so it’s come up.
“All 47 kids have shown they’re committed.”
A physical education teacher at Mishawaka, Sandefer leads athletes and others through weight training classes. Most wrestlers are in these classes, learning power movements like the bench press and squat.
“We do pull movements,” says Sandefer. “If you’re on a guy’s leg you want to be able to pull him in.
“We also need that leg strength.”
Practices at Mishawaka began Nov. 1. The first boys meet is slated for Tuesday, Nov. 29 at Northern Lakes Conference foe Warsaw.
Among the other competitions for the Cavemen are the Chris Traicoff Memorial Invitational at Calumet New Tech Dec. 10, a dual against crosstown rival Penn Dec. 21 at Mishawaka (Alumni Night), the 32-team Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 29-30, the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association 3A State Duals Jan. 7 at Franklin Community, the NLC Championships Jan. 14 at Wawasee, Mishawaka Sectional Jan. 28, Penn Regional Feb. 4, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 11 and IHSAA State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
It’s not all about wrestling for Robles. He played football at Niles as a sophomore and Mishawaka as a senior. He was a middle linebacker for the 10-2 Cavemen in 2022. A shortstop/left fielder in baseball, he intends to try out for that sport in the spring. He stepped away from the diamond after eighth grade to focus on wrestling.
There are no comments to display.