By STEVE KRAH
Embracing the group component with many eyes on personal achievement, Wawasee High School wrestlers are having another win-filled season.
The Warriors head into the week of Dec. 19 at 12-4 in varsity duals (including 4-0 against Northern Lakes Conference goes). Senior 170-pounder Gavin Malone is unbeaten so far in 2022-23. Seniors Hunter Miller (152) and Logan Stuckman (138) have one loss apiece and junior Kaleb Salazar (106) has two setbacks.
Asked to name his best qualities as a wrestler, Malone says “being dedicated and hard work. I’m trying to be the best leader I can be.”
Depending on the situation, Malone leads either by example or vocally.
At 18, he’s been grappling since 3.
“There’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” says Malone. “Since I joined the Viper Wrestling Club I’ve developed a lot of moves that I can use in a match.”
The Wawasee Wrestling Club has about 80 members and about 20 of them with the advanced/competition-ready Vipers.
Malone is driven by the advice of several coaches — present and past.
Middle school coach Kevin Taylor, who was Wawasee’s head coach for six seasons, talks about hard work and dedication.
Former assistant Jesse Espinoza said “jam, jam, jam” — the idea of being tough on top and being the hammer rather than the nail.
From Bumgardner, Malone heed the call to keeping pushing and focusing and staying in good position.
From Garrett Stuckman, it’s “keep fighting and always be moving.”
Malone says the team’s main focus at the beginning of the season is the State Duals.
“Wrestling is an individual sport with a team part,” says Malone. “At the end we strive for our goals. I hope everybody’s goal is to be a state champion.”
Gavin’s primary workout partner is senior Cameron Zimmerman (182) though he also drills with Miller or junior Donovan Blair (195).
“If I can use by strength with the technique it will get me a lot further,” says Malone.
After high school, he hopes to wrestle in college and study Criminal Justice.
Miller, 17, has been wrestling since he was 3.
“I have a lot of tricks in my bag, but I focus on two or three good moves in each position,” says Miller, who counts Malone and Stuckman as practice partners. (Logan is) quick and he holds pretty good position like me.
“It makes us able to capitalize on mistakes.”
He sees himself and Malone as by-example leaders and Stuckman and Zimmerman as vocal leaders.
Hunter also likes the individual part of the sport.
“My goal is to be a state champ,” says Miller. “You don’t have anybody holding you back.
“You’ve got to get it done for yourself.”
After high school, Miller plans to study engineering in college at either Purdue University or Trine University. He says scholarship opportunities and which school he chooses will have a bearing on whether he wrestles at the next level.
Stuckman says he prefers to push the pace and “jam, jam, jam.”
“It’s go, go, go,” says Stuckman, who at 17 has been wrestling for 12 years. “What makes our team stand out is we’re all good at something.
“You have to respect us.”
After high school, Logan says he expects to work in the family business — Stuckman’s Sanitiation.
What makes this team of 42 (35 boys and seven girls) what it is?
“It’s a collection of great human beings,” says Bumgardner. “It’s the way they care about each other and love each other.
“They are extremely coachable. It’s been a lot of fun working with this group so far.”
Bumgardner and his assistants (Jamie Salazar, Braxton Alexander, Mike Deak, Isiah Faurote, Hal Heagy, Hunter Reed, Miguel Rodriguez, Shawn Senter, Garrett Stuckman, Raymon Torres and Dillon Whitacre) have grapplers competing really hard but in a relaxed environment.
“It’s painted on our (practice room) wall — Warrior Tough. It’s a mindset,” says Bumgardner. “We try to do everything to the best of your ability.”
Another motto: “Score points and have fun.”
“We’re not focused on pressure,” says Bumgardner. “There’s a lot going on in the world today and we need to focus on being great human beings rather than letting wrestling athletics consume our identities.”
Braxton Alexander (Class of 2019) is tied atop the career wins list with Kevin Carr (Class of 1999) at 166.
Wawasee is scheduled to host NLC opponent Concord Wednesday, Dec. 21 then gear up for the 32-team Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 29-30.
The Warriors make their sixth straight appearances at the IHSWCA Class 2A State Duals Jan. 7. The competition will be held at Jay County.
In the past, the program has placed first in 2018, second in 2019, qualified in both 2020 and 2021 and came in fourth in 2022.
Wawasee hosts the NLC meet (with Concord, Goshen, Mishawaka, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth and Warsaw) Jan. 14.
The IHSAA state tournament series takes the Warriors to the Plymouth Sectional (with Bremen, Culver Academies, Culver Community, LaVille, Plymouth, Tippecanoe Valley, Triton and Warsaw) Jan. 28, Penn Regional Feb. 4, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 11 and IHSAA State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Frank Bumgardner is in his eighth season as Wawasee head coach.
He says the Warriors schedule allows for emphasizing team at the beginning and individuals at the end.
“There are situational awareness things we do,” says Bumgardner of the approach in dual meets where team points are so precious.
He welcomes the challenge of the State Duals where Wawasee wrestlers will “face hammers all day long.”
A graduate of Whitko Junior/Senior High School (2007), Bumgardner was head coach at his alma mater before coming to Wawasee.
Bumgardner earned an Education degree Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and was teacher. He is now leading training and development at Viewrail, a Goshen-based company which designs, manufactures and installs custom stairs and railing.