By STEVE KRAH
Rochester was enjoying a super wrestling season going into the second and third stages of the 2022 IHSAA state tournament series.
The Clint Gard-coached Zebras placed second to Tell City (losing 36-33 in the championship match) in the Class 1A Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals (Rochester were 2A State Duals qualifiers in 2015 and 2019) and won the sixth team championship at the Three Rivers Conference meet (2000, 2002, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2022).
Rochester reigned at the Peru Sectional, running the program's all-time sectional title total to 12.
Then came the Zebras’ first regional crown, won at Maconaquah.
After that, Rochester (enrolled around 510) finished on top at the Fort Wayne Semistate.
The Zebras edged out Adams Central 82.5 to 80 and clinched the title with a win in the 285-pound championship bout by senior Marshall Fishback.
“I would have loved to have just loved it without the theatrics at the end,” said Gard, who has been coaching wrestling at Rochester for 26 years. “But we’ll take it any way we can get it.
“These don’t come along very often with schools of our size. It’s taken years to build this. A lot of the kids you’re seeing are kids that wrestled for us in our youth club. It takes a lot to get to this point.”
Gard, who counts Derrick Holloway, Bryce Roberts, Damic Beck and Tristan Wilson among his assistant coaches, notes that the last three Fort Wayne Semistate champions — Western in 2020, Oak Hill in 2021 and Rochester in 2022 — have come out of the Peru Sectional.
“That’s big for our area of the state,” says Gard. “It’s big for our sectional. It’s big for our regional. It’s big for our conference.
“It’s a pretty awesome experience. It’s kids have worked really hard to get there. It was a team effort.”
The Zebras brought eight semistate qualifiers to Memorial Coliseum Saturday, Feb. 12 and four walked out as State Finals qualifiers. There was champion Fishback (41-1 at 285) plus three runners-up — freshman Wyatt Davis (27-4 at 113) and sophomores Alex Deming (41-2 at 195) and Brady Beck (40-2 at 220).
Juniors Ethan Holloway (39-1 at 120), Aaron Swango (33-8 at 126) and Greyson Gard (33-8 at 152) lost in the second aka “ticket” round and senior Kaleb Shaffer (19-12 at 182) was beaten in the first round.
Holloway, Swango, Deming, Beck, Fishback all won TRC, sectional and regional championships. Davis and Gard also placed first at conference and sectional.
Gard has carried a roster of 32 boys and five girls this season.
“We focus on specific things that we like to do as a team,” says Gard of his practices. “Two or three days a week we’ll try to do a game. We do a lot of dodgeball and try to keep things light.”
There’s around 40 wrestlers in Rochester’s middle school program and 60 to 70 at the elementary school level.
Wrestling has long been a big deal at the school that had been a regional site when the IHSAA sent the Zebras toward the Merrillville or East Chicago Semistate (prior to 2017-18).
“We like to put (wrestling) at the forefront in our community,” says Gard, a physical education and strength coach at Rochester after 23 years of teaching math.
Gard is a 1991 of Richmond High School, where he was a state qualifier as a senior. He went on to grapple for head coach Tom Jarman and assistant Rick Troxel at what is now Manchester University.
Historically, Cory Fornal (Class of 2006) is Rochester’s all-time victory leader with 154. He was a state runner-up at 140 as a senior.
No. 2 on the victory list — Damon Hummel (Class of 1994) went to the State Finals four times (qualifier at 189 in 1991, second at 189 in 1992, second at heavyweight in 1993 and third at heavyweight in 1994).
By STEVE KRAH