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#MondayMatness: Getting better all the time drives Norwell 220-pounder Gray
By STEVE KRAH
Each time Cale Gray steps on a wrestling mat he wants to be better than the last.
The Norwell High School senior wants constant feedback.
The 220-pound Gray stays after workouts to consult with Knights head coach John Johnson, going over moves and studying film.
“He tries to be a student of the sport,” says Johnson, who has coached Gray since the sixth grade. “After every match he wants to breakdown how he wrestled. I don’t find a lot of guys like that.
“He really tries to improve technically all the time.”
With four pins in as many matches, Gray (18-0 so far in 2019-20) helped Norwell place fifth in Class 2A at the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Duals in Fort Wayne.
The Knights went 3-1, losing 44-32 to Western then beating West Vigo 51-21, Wawasee 46-27 and Oak Hill 36-33.
Asked his best quality as an athlete and Gray replies that is his willingness to take instruction.
“It’s my ability to listen to my coaches and take in information that they give me,” says Gray. “It’s constructive criticism. I take it into account.
“Coach Johnson always critiques me on my feet and he wants me to be more heavy-handed. I’m pretty light with my hands. I don’t use them enough. Whenever he critiques me, I’ll ask him to work with me after practice.”
Gray grappled at 170 as freshman, 182 as a sophomore and 195 as a junior.
“I’d like to think I was a bit under the radar,” says Gray. “No one knew my name.”
That started to change when he placed second at the Jay County Sectional and Jay County Regional and third at the Fort Wayne Semistate, avenging sectional and regional championship losses to Jay County’s Chandler Chapman.
Gray then placed sixth in his first appearance at the IHSAA State Finals in Indianapolis and finished the 2018-19 season at 31-7.
“Last year I was definitely predictable,” says Gray. “I had a good set-up and it got me pretty far on my feet. But when I got to the semistate and state that didn’t really work.
“I was kind of a one trick pony.”
This season, Gray has been helping Johnson to diversify his attack from his feet.
“We’ve worked this year on being able to attack both the trail leg and the lead leg,” says Johnson. “He’s a big, strong guy and super athletic for his size. He can do multiple things. It’s just doing them.”
“I’ve seen him hit probably three of four (Granby Rolls) already this year and you just don’t typically see a lot of big boys doing that.”
Gray is fond of an expression that sums up his approach.
“I like to be a jack of all trades and master of none, but it’s better than being a master of only one,” says Gray. “If I have only one thing to go to and it doesn’t work, I don’t have much to go off of.”
“I try embrace every aspect of wrestling except legs. I try to pick up things and know what to do in match situations.”
Gray long ago fell in love with weight training and even worked out with a strength coach in Colorado last summer.
That continued when he got back to Indiana and before his final season of high school football (he was an all-Northeast Eight Conference defensive end for the second straight year and also played fullback).
“When I was on my own time, I’d lift every day of the week I could and I’d eat like five to seven meals a day to get bulking,” says Gray.
“When football started coming around, I didn’t have as much time to eat those meals or lift. We only lifted three times a week and I’d have time to eat three of four meals a day.”
Gray, who also did some folkstyle wrestling in the off-season, got up to 235 pounds but was unable to pack on more weight and it was decided he would wrestle at 220 for Norwell instead of 285.
As Gray has gone up in weight, he has noticed a difference in styles.
“220’s do a lot more power ties and slide-bys and they move around for a snap single,” says Gray. “Hand-fighting is something I need to get better at.”
Gray hopes to wrestle in college and study exercise science and kinesiology. He has gotten attention from smaller collegiate programs.
“I only placed sixth last year (at the State Finals),” says Gray. “My goal is to become a state champion.
“Hopefully, those D-I’s will take notice at that point.”
Cale is supported by his family. He is the son of Mike and Tracy Gray and Chris and Danny Droke. His has and older brother (Dylan) and a twin sister (Cassidy).
Before the IHSAA state tournament series (sectional Feb. 1, regional Feb. 8, semistate Feb. 15 and State Finals Feb. 21-22), the Knights has a home dual against Leo Jan. 14, the Garrett Invitational Jan. 18, a road dual against South Adams Jan. 22 and the Northeast Eight Tournament at New Haven Jan. 25.
Johnson, who is in his fourth season leading the high school program, has watched Gray come a long way.
“Cale was a very average middle school wrestler,” says Johnson. “Even as a freshman, he was OK.”
Like with many successful wrestlers, something clicked and Gray became really committed to mat game.
“Once they start to buy in, there’s no ceiling for them,” says Johnson of the mentality he shares with his athletes. “At the end of the day it takes sacrifice.
“I don’t care if it’s your weight and staying after practice to watch because this is what’s going to make you stand out.”
The coach says shortcuts won’t help you get there.
“Make them beat you because they’re a better wrestler, not because you cheated yourself,” says Johnson.
For those dedicated like Gray, Johnson says wrestling is with them all the time.
“It really becomes a lifestyle that you have to buy into — some kids do it well and some really battle with it,” says Johnson. “That’s why wrestling is really the best preparation for just being an adult.
“I always make it about more than wrestling because it really is. I want to teach them about real life. Get to practice on time. Little things like that.”
Wrestlers who are late for practice at Norwell know they have running and/or suicides in front of them.
“If you’re going to commit to something, let’s do it well and be reliable,” says Johnson. “I want to make these young men ready to hit the adult world and be responsible and productive.”
#MondayMatness: Schammert, Padilla brothers part of Hobart wrestling culture
Hobart High School head wrestling coach Jason Cook talks about these four markers along the “Brick Road.”
Cook says the culture of Brickies wrestling is built on overcoming obstacles.
“You don’t get better until you have to overcome challenges,” says Cook. “I’m not going to wait for things to knock me down. I’m going to look for challenges. In life, it takes a lot longer. You can’t do it on a wrestling mat.”
Cook admits that he’s not a patient man and wants to see constant improvement.
“I’m a teacher and a coach and I get to watch people improve all the time,” says Cook, who teaches English and is his second season of guiding Hobart’s wrestling program.
Four Brickies who are working to overcome adversity and excel are brothers Nathan and Trevor Schammert and Cristian and Ruben Padilla. All four competed Dec. 27-28 in the 42nd annual Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka. Sophomore Trevor Schammert (113 pounds) came in second in his weight class and improved to 20-1 on the 2019 season. Sophomore Ruben Padilla (11-4) placed seventh at 120. Senior Nathan Schammert (17-5) came in eighth at 126. Junior Cristian Padilla grappled on Day 1 at 132. The Brickies placed seventh in the 32-team event.
Cook, who is in his second season leading the Brickies, sees similarities in the brothers. But they are really four distinctive personalities with their own mat approaches.
The coach describes Nathan Schammert — the oldest son of Mike and Darcy Schammert — as “a kid who’s going to find his own way to win matches.”
“He’s definitely got the funk,” says Cook of Nathan. “I don’t think anybody’s looking forward to him as a matchup.
“When Option A doesn’t work, he’s got about 15 other things he can do.”
Cook notes that he was one of the smaller wrestlers on the mat as a senior and has steadily grown as he career has progressed.
“Now that he’s the athlete he is, he can hit some explosiveness things,” says Cook of Nathan.
Nathan says its work ethic and all the time spent since he was just beginning school and competing with the Hobart Wrestling Club that has helped get him to where he is now.
Mike Schammert is a former Brickies wrestler and he gives his sons mat advice.
“He tells us to be ourselves on and off the mat,” says Nathan Schammert. “I just go out there and let it fly. I don’t hold back.”
About the time Nathan hit junior high, he started developing his funkiness. He has his favorites, but not really a go-to move.
“People really don’t expect me to do the things I do,” says Nathan Schammert. “I just go out there and do what feels right. If I feel something, I hit it right away. I don’t wait, I just go.”
“I just used to to my advantage.”
Nathan Schammert enjoys showing the way to teammates — freshman and cousin Devin Wible (120) among them.
“I definitely consider myself a leader,” says Nathan. “I just try to set a really good example and be the best role model I can in the (practice) room. I want the younger ones to learn from me — my mistakes and my strengths.”
Hobart went 11-3 and advanced to the IHSAA Class 4A northern semistate in football. Seven defensive starters — safety Nathan Schammert, deep back Hayden Homoky, lineman Alex Pickett and linebackers Bobby Babcock, Mark Mummey, Cameron Smith and Tyler Turley — are on the Brickies wrestling team this winter.
“That defense was something to watch,” says Cook. “It was amazing.”
Nathan Schammert makes the correlation between the mat and the gridiron.
“Wrestling helps me in football,” says Nathan. “I have to make (football) plays on the fly, too. A double-legged a lot of guys (on tackles).”
Cook says Trevor Schammert is especially good at working his way out of difficult situations.
“He sure is solid with his positioning,” says Cook of Trevor. “He hasn’t made a mistake in any position this year.
“He is going to make you fight your way through every position.”
Trevor says his style is not as funky as his older brother.
“I’m more technical,” says Trevor. “I’m more of a chain wrestler. I hit move after move and don’t stop. At practice, all I focus on is repetition. Building that muscle memory for when I need it."
“I’m good at a certain set (of moves) and hit those really good.”
Trevor Schammert does not believe in taking days off.
“I’m always pushing myself to the wall,” says Trevor. “I look at my goals every year and how far I want to make it in the state run and be a state placer.
“I’m never satisfied with anything. I always want to improve and get better with everything.”
Both Schammerts were in the varsity lineup for the Brickies boys golf team last spring with Nathan averaging 84 for 18 holes and playing as the No. 1 player on a squad that played its home matches at River Pointe Country Club in Hobart.
“There’s no strong connection (between wrestling and golf), but there is the mental aspect,” says Nathan. “(Golf) can break you sometimes.”
Cook has had Cristian Padilla in class for two years and coached him in wrestling.
“He’s super thoughtful and super quiet,” says Cook of Cristian. “At least when I’m around him. He’s not a real vocal guy. He leads by example.
“Everything he’s doing is with intention.”
Cristian says he enjoys the challenge of wrestling and getting better with each match and workout.
“I get support from coaches (Cook, Zack Johansen, Brian Wesley and Steve Balash) and my dad (Al Padilla),” says Cristian. “My coaches know I don’t make many mistakes. I’m setting coach with each practice so I I can improve since the last time I competed.
“We’re always working out away from the school with dad.”
Cristian and Ruben’s mother is Michelle Ramos. Older siblings are two older brothers - Al Padilla (who wrestled for Merrillville High school), J.P. Padilla (who played soccer at Merrillville) and Yazi Padilla (who played volleyball at Hobart). The youngest Padillas are twins Bella (who competes with the Merrillville wrestling Club) and Julian.
Cook says the biggest difference in Cristian and Ruben is that Ruben will stir the pot a little bit.
“(Ruben’s) a little bit of an instigator,” says Cook. “Ruben will say stuff to his drill partner. Cristian is silently working all the time. Ruben Padilla describes his approach.
“I like to push people when I wrestle them,” says Ruben. “I push the pace."
“I use my quickness to my advantage. A lot of guys I face are stronger than me.”
At the same time, he is grounded.
“I stay humble,” says Ruben. “I respect all of my opponents. These are things that wrestling taught me.”
The Padilla brothers also play baseball. They split time between junior varsity and varsity last spring — Cristian as an outfielder and right-handed pitcher and Cristian as a middle infielder. In the summer, Cristian played travel ball with Highland while Cristian was with the Schererville Shockers.
“(Baseball) helps with working as a team,” says Cristian. “Like with our dual meets.”
Ruben takes lessons learned on the mat and applies them on the diamond.
“Wrestling helps me be better at baseball,” says Ruben. “It’s things like toughness and being humble.”
Cook is a 2002 graduate of Valparaiso High School. His senior year was the last year as Vikings head coach for his father and Indiana Wrestling Hall of Famer John Cook, who amassed a dual-meet mark of 361-112 from 1977-2002 with 35 state qualifiers.
Jason Cook, who went on to wrestle at Purdue University, said he benefited in high school from having his father serving as director of the High School Division of National Wrestling Coaches Association (which he did from 2002-2010) because he was among the first wrestlers to be introduced each year to new rules changes.
The younger Cook was familiar with Hobart wrestling from a young age because he often went against those kids at club meets. Later, he saw them in Duneland Athletic Conference meets.
While the Brickies are no longer in the DAC (they are now Northwest Crossroads Conference members), the schedule still includes all but Michigan City from the Duneland. Hobart sees Lake County rival Crown Point in a dual meet on Friday, Jan. 7. The Brickies faced Merrillville in the Pirates’ Tom Cameron Invitational and saw Chesterton, Lake Central and Valparaiso in the Hobart Super Duals, Portage in Lake Central’s Harvest Classic and LaPorte at Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic.
“It’s a stepping stone to the second half of the season,” says Cook of the Al Smith Classic. “Holes in your game will be exposed and it will be really obvious what we need to work on or you can get a big confidence boost if we see what works.”
The Lake County tournament is Jan. 11 at Hanover Central. The Northwest Crossroads tournament is Jan. 18 at Lowell.
The IHSAA tournament series for Hobart includes the Portage Sectional Feb. 1, Hobart Regional Feb. 8, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 15 and State Finals Feb. 21-22 in Indianapolis.
#WrestlingWednesday: The Floyds Knobs three amigos
By JEREMY HINES
In a town that literally gets its name for being tough and rugged, the Three Amigos personify what Floyds Knobs is all about.
Floyd Central High School, located in Floyds Knobs, is the home of wrestlers Gavinn Alstott, J. Conway and Jonathan Kervin. The trio is known around town as the Three Amigos, primarily for their success on the wrestling mat. They are tough wrestlers that like to grind out wins and be physical. One wouldn’t expect anything less from a Floyds Knobs resident.
Floyds Knobs is named after the Knobstone Escarpment located there (and Colonel Davis Floyd). The Knobstone is the most rugged terrain in Indiana. It has steep hills which are commonly referred to as knobs.
As for the Three Amigos – all three qualified for state last season. Alstott finished fourth and Kervin sixth. This year, all three are ranked in the top 10 in their weight classes.
“The Three Amigos is a term we coined last year and started calling them that,” Floyd Central coach Brandon Sisson said. “I don’t think they mind it. They all three work together and have pushed each other to get better.”
Kervin is the only senior in the trio. He is currently ranked No. 2 at 152 pounds. Last season Kervin finished with a 39-4 record. He won sectional and regional and eventually finished sixth at state in the 145-pound class.
“Jonathan is a really tough wrestler,” Sisson said. “He wrestles hard for all six minutes. He works really closely with is uncle, former two-time state champion Cooper Samuels. Those two have worked together for the past five years and it has really benefited Jonathan.”
Kervin’s goal this season is to win a state title.
“My style is sort of dynamic,” Kervin said. “I like to be a little deranged. I use my length. Last year I felt like I wrestled poorly at state. I didn’t do my normal workout to get ready. I want to get back and show what I can really do.”
Alstott, a junior, finished 42-4 last season. He was a sectional and regional champ and ended up third in the Evansville semistate and would later place fourth at state.
“Gavinn is a grinder,” Sisson said. “He gets out there, gets in your face and pushes the pace non-stop. He’s very business-like on the mat and in the practice room. I’m not ever going to have to see if he’s just messing around. When it’s time to work, it’s time to work. No matter what he does, he puts his head down and goes to work.”
Alstott’s uncle, Craig Alstott, was Floyd Central’s first ever four-time state qualifier. Craig never placed at the state meet, however.
“I think Gavinn got the monkey off his back a little by placing last year,” Sisson said. “But he has his sights set significantly higher this year.”
Off the mat, Gavinn is an excellent student and has been a team leader since his freshman season.
“He’s a really good kid,” Sisson said. “He gets good grades and is good to the other kids. Even as a freshman I thought of him as a team leader. He’s just a phenomenal kid.”
Conway is the quietest in the group. He had a not-so-quiet season last year, however. Conway went 23-4 on the year and claimed a sectional and a regional title. He finished runner-up in semistate but lost on Friday night at the state tournament.
“He’s a really, really quiet kid,” Sisson said. “I don’t think I heard him say anything at all his freshman year. Now as a sophomore he’s coming out of his shell a little bit. On the mat he’s more open. He is already at 130 takedowns in just 18 matches this season. He’s full throttle. You let him go, and he goes.”
Sisson is pleased with his team this season and hopes the Three Amigos will help lead them to great things.
“There are years where you have a lot of talent, but also a lot of drama,” Sisson said. “Then there are years where you don’t have any drama, but you don’t really have any talent either. This year, I really feel like we have a lot of talent and no drama. I’m lucky this year.”
#MondayMatness: Mishawaka’s LaPlace, Walker keep on making each other better wrestlers
By STEVE KRAH
A friendship formed at a junior high football practice has led to a pair of successful high school wrestlers.
Jacob LaPlace met Joseph Walker when both were gridders at Mishawaka’s John Young Middle School.
LaPlace, who had been wrestling since age 4, saw mat potential in Walker.
“You’re really athletic, you’ve got to come out for wrestling,” says LaPlace of his invitation to Walker, who was already around 160 pounds. “Since then, we’ve been training together.”
Now in their fourth season as Mishawaka High School teammates, Walker is competing at 182 and LaPlace at 195. LaPlace is 16-0 so far in 2019-20 and 125-22 for his career. Walker is 6-0 and 75-25.
LaPlace placed fourth at the IHSAA State Finals at 138 on 2017 and was a state qualifier at both 145 in 2018 and 182 in 2019.
After being a state qualifier at 152 in 2018, Walker placed sixth at State at 170 in 2019.
Going against Walker everyday in the practice room makes LaPlace better.
Third-year Mishawaka head coach Steve Sandefer has watched iron sharpen iron with LaPlace and Walker.
“They’ve drilled and wrestled live with each other their entire high school careers,” says Sandefer. “The other person is the reason they are as good as they are now.”
“They wouldn’t be where they’re at without each other.”
LaPlace agrees with that sentiment.
“He gives me quick and agile,” says LaPlace of Walker. “He’s got a real explosive double (leg takedown). His strength and defense is really good and that helps my offense.”
“I help him because I’m bigger than him.”
Walker credits LaPlace with getting him started in the sport and is grateful to his first head coach and his current one.
“Jacob’s always been my partner since seventh grade,” says Walker. “I have the speed so I give him different looks. He keeps good position and gives me looks.”
“Adam Sandefur was my first coach and he’s always been on me, directing me. Steve (Sandefer) has also pushed me to become greater.”
Walker, a University of Michigan commit, credits his faith for his success.
“God’s my source of energy and power,” says Walker. Sandefer uses adjectives like hard-nosed, hard-working and super-athletic to describe Walker. He knows that he is also meticulous in his approach to wrestling and its technique, position and adjustments.
“He really takes the time to learn the finer details of wrestling,” says Sandefer of Walker. “He is very detail-oriented. That’s going to benefit him not just on the mat but off the mat.”
Says Walker, “I want to make sure everything is done right so I don’t do a wrongful move and don’t drill it wrong. I want to make sure it’s precise.”
While he has the physical tools, Walker is also a technician.
“Athleticism does help a lot, but I’m making sure my technique is down,” says Walker. “That’s a big factor.”
“With the bigger guys, strength is going to help a lot. But technique is the main source. I have to make sure my technique’s sharp.”
Most days, there’s a Hall of Famer in the room.
“Having Al Smith in there is a big help,” says Walker. “That’s another set of eyes watching us to make sure we’re making moves correctly.”
Walker says he likes to keep his bucket of moves open.
“If one thing doesn’t work, I can hit another thing,” says Walker.
“But all those moves, I have to make sure I sharpen them in the practice room each and every day.”
“A lot of wrestlers have one good move and it’s very hard for people to stop. That’s their move. It’s what they drill. It’s what they do. It’s their bread and butter.”
Walker chose Michigan for college because of the academic and athletic connections.
He plans to study anesthesiology while grappling for the Wolverines.
“(Anesthesiology) fascinates me,” says Walker. “You have to make sure you have the right dosage and all the math behind it and the science. Grades and school comes first. School is very heavy in my life.”
“The wrestling is very heavy in freestyle. They’re going past folkstyle. There’s a lot of international wrestling. That’s what I want to do.”
“I want excel in the sport and be the best I can be.”
Joseph is the son of William and Rhonda Walker has eight siblings, including Salome Walker (on the women’s wrestling team at McKendree University) and Queen Walker (on the women’s track and field team at Bethel University).
LaPlace, the son of Lester and Rae and younger brother of Mariah and an Indiana Tech commit who plans to study business administration, explains his mat style.
“I rely on my defense a lot,” says LaPlace. “I only have a few offensive shots, but I’m really confident in those shots.”
“I’ve always been a defensive-type wrestler. Most of my offense comes outside of a tie.”
LaPlace says he was more offensive as a freshman and sophomore when he competed at 138 and 145.
“Moving up, I figured out that you’ve got to slow down,” says LaPlace.
“You’ve got to wear out the bigger guys before you can start to get on your offense.”
As he grew and got older, LaPlace decided not to cut as much weight.
“I wanted to wrestle what I weigh (as a junior),” says LaPlace. “The same thing this year. I’m walking around at about 188.”
“I feel comfortable wrestling 195 at about 188 or 189. I might not look it, but I’m pretty strong in wrestling positions. I’m confident in my strength.”
Sandefer, who won state titles for Mishawaka at 140 in 2008 and 2009, has become a believer in wrestling at a comfortable weight rather than cutting all the time.
“That’s a mistake a lot of kids make,” says Sandefer. “They come into the wrestling room and think about how much weight do I have to lose rather than getting better”
“We’ve gotten away from pushing kids to cut too much weight.”
Sandefer looks at LaPlace and sees wider shoulders and thicker legs.
“That’s exactly what he needed — not just for our season but going forward in life,” says Sandefer. “It’s really given him an opportunity to focus more on his wrestling more than cutting weight.”
LaPlace, Walker and the rest of the Cavemen are gearing up for the 32-team Al Smith Classic, which is Friday and Saturday, Dec. 27-28.
“The Al Smith is a real eye opener and we train really hard for it,” says LaPlace. “We’re excited for it. We’re going to have a really good run this year as a team.”
Many coaches over the years have described the Mishawaka event as a “meat grinder.”
“That’s exactly what it is,” says LaPlace. “It shows you just what State’s like. You’ve got to make weight two days in a row. There’s really tough competition.
“It’s a tough tournament. It’s fun.”
Mishawaka is coming off of the Henry Wilk Classic at Penn Dec. 21.
After the Al Smith Classic, the Cavemen will take part in the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Class 3A State Duals in Fort Wayne Jan. 4.
Other meets on the horizon are the Northern Indiana Conference Championships at Mishawaka Jan. 18, Mishawaka Sectional Feb. 1, Penn Regional Feb. 8, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 15 and IHSAA State Finals in Indianapolis Feb. 21-22.
It will take mental toughness for the Cavemen to get through the season and Sandefer emphasizes that on a daily basis.
“Today in our society there’s a lot of people who find excuses for their failures and easy ways out with no responsibility or accountability,” says Sandefer. “Be responsible for yourself. If you’re losing matches what are you not doing in the wrestling room? Are you playing around too much? Hold yourself accountable.”
“(It’s about) being mentally tough to push through these tough times. If we’re in a tough practice, everybody else is going through it. It’s not just you. Lift your teammates up. It’s much easier to get through it together.”
As a wrestler, Sandefer put in plenty of time away from practice, putting in miles on the treadmill and stationary bike. That extra work had a carry-over effect.
“It makes it that much tougher to give up,” says Sandefer. “When you’re putting in that kind of quality time and work in the wrestling room, when you step on the mat, you say, ‘I did not put in all this time and all this effort to come out here and lose or just give up in the middle of a match.’”
Sandefer has watched Mishawaka numbers grow from less than 30 to about 45 in his three seasons in charge. The Mishawaka Wrestling Club has more than 60 members.
“We have all the right people in the right places,” says Sandefer. “I couldn’t be doing this without my club coaches, assistant coaches, my family and the group of parents we have who are supportive of Mishawaka wrestling.
“They help us get a lot accomplished. They get everybody pumped up and fired up.”
That includes Jacob LaPlace and Joseph Walker.
#MondayMatness: Isiah, Sam latest to shine as part of Prairie Heights’ Levitz legacy
By STEVE KRAH
There are some names that are synonymous with certain sports at particular schools.
Levitz is tied to wrestling at Prairie Heights High School near Brushy Prairie in LaGrange County, Indiana.
The family has long enjoyed mat success for the Panthers.
It started with Dan Levitz, who went 58-21 and graduated in 1989.
Second brother John Levitz (1994) went 133-17 and was a state qualifier at 125 in 1992 and placed fourth at state at 140 in 1994.
Third brother Mike Levitz (1996) enjoyed a 144-18 career and placed third at 145 in 1996.
Doug Levitz (2015) posted a 165-33 mark and was a state qualifier at 145 in 2015.
Jed Levitz (2018) went 178-31 and was a state qualifier at 160 in both 2016 and 2018.
Doug and Jed are the sons of John Levitz.
Two brothers — senior Isiah and sophomore Sam — are the two oldest sons of Mike Levitz and part of the family legacy. Youngest brother Matt Levitz is a 105-pound eighth grader.
“I was destined to become a wrestler,” says Isiah Levitz. “But the being good part, that’s more of the own person’s work and how much they put into the sport.
“Just because we’re Levitzes doesn’t always mean we’re going to be good. We still have to put in our work.”
Isiah Levitz (121-31) was a sectional and regional champion and placed sixth at the IHSAA State Finals at 152 pounds in 2018-19 and has been competing in 2019-20 at 160. He is currently 10-0.
“I’m getting better,” says Isiah Levitz. “I just need to work on being crisp, getting to my moves and working my offense. It’s more of a mindset thing for me more than anything physical.”
While some wrestlers have a teammate they drill with on steady basis, Isiah tends to work out with many Panthers in the practice room.
“I try to get my hands on everybody,” says Isiah Levitz. “I have a variety of different partners and I see a variety of different positions.”
Sam Levitz (31-4 for his career) was a sectional champion at 120 in 2018-19. Competing at 138, he is 6-2 so far in 2019-20.
Isiah Levitz and Zeke Rowdon (Class of 2019) have been Sam’s primary workout partners.
“They bring speed, agility and a lot of strength,” says Sam Levitz.
“I’ve been watching my brother. I do what he does. I’m more on the quick side and I’m decently strong. I consider myself to be better neutral or on bottom.”
Isiah says Sam benefits from his position in the lineage.
“He’s got a lot of people behind him,” says Isiah Levitz. “He gets the experience of not being the first one in the family to try and be a test subject. “He’s going to be a lot more refined. He’s got a lot of experience.”
Isiah first competed in wrestling around age 5, but it was later that he really took to the sport.
“It didn’t stick that I loved the sport until about sixth or seventh grade,” says Isiah Levitz. “I started to believe this is for me. I started putting in the work and started getting better.”
Along the way, he also started becoming a leader. But not the loud kind.
“I don’t use my vocals a lot,” says Isiah Levitz. “I lead by example and my team follows because they respect me quite a bit.”
Mike Levitz says he and Isiah have spent much of his high school career focusing on winning close matches.
“He’s not got the surprise factor the family’s known for,” says Mike Levitz of Isiah. “My nephews were always pinners."
“(Isiah’s) not a great pinner. He’s just a solid all-around wrestler. He gives it everything he’s got on and off the mat."
“Isiah has come leaps and bounds the last three or four years. He’s worked his tail off.”
Brett Smith is in his ninth season as head coach at Prairie Heights. His assistants include Mike Levitz, John Levitz, Lee Fry, Craig Hoyer, Dylan Forbes and Van Barroquillo.
“A lot of my coaches have told me to just believe in myself and have confidence,” says Isiah Levitz. “That’s really helped me with my offensive skills. I used to be pretty timid on the mat. Now I’m really aggressive because I believe in my own moves.”
The coaching advice that sticks with Sam?
“Be the best in everything you do and try your hardest,” says Sam Levitz.
Isiah impacts current and future Prairie Heights grapplers with his example and willingness to take them along for the ride and passing along to them what he already knows.
“He’s been around it long enough,” says Smith. “He knows what it takes to get better."
“He’s not afraid to pull extra kids in with him because once he leaves there’s going to be some foot marks there to replace and to walk in.”
The example also extends to the class room. Isiah is a regular on the honor roll and has been academic all-state.
Mother Abby Levitz is a nurse practitioner in LaGrange. Isiah (surgeon) and Sam (radiologist) say they are both considering careers in the medical field.
“I want to spend the rest of my life helping people,” says Isiah.
If he has to pick a favorite school subject Isiah says he would choose chemistry.
A 1997 Prairie Heights graduate, Smith has long known about the Levitz connection.
“They have just been a staple,” says Smith. “They’re hard workers.”
From working for their parents’ tree service to bailing hay to wrestling, the older Levitz boys “put their nose to the grindstone” and that’s carried over to the next generation.
“You never hear them complain about anything,” says Smith of Isiah and Sam Levitz. “They’re some of the hardest workers we’ve seen."
“If you try to get through being average, you’re going to be average or below average. If you’re working 50 percent then you’re going to get out 50 percent.”
When Smith took over the high school program, he invited John Levitz and Mike Levitz to join the coaching staff and the Panther Wrestling Club was established.
Mike Levitz asked former Panthers head coach Fry to come back.
“He’s all in,” says Mike Levitz. “He’s a godsend, Coach Fry.
“He makes you want to be better. He truly is one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around. The kids love him. He gets the most out of them."
“I’m very thankful that he came back in and joined the group.”
Fry, an Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer, will be part of the inaugural Prairie Heights High School Athletic Hall of Fame class to be honored at halftime of the Angola-Prairie Heights varsity boys game game on Jan. 10.
Among those also going into the Hall is Terry Levitz. The 1971 PHHS graduate was a standout running back and still holds four football records at the school. He also played basketball, baseball and ran track. He is a third cousin to Isiah and Sam Levitz. Terry’s father and Mike’s grandfather are brothers.
Prairie Heights is scheduled to return to the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne Jan. 4. The Panthers placed second in Class 1A in 2014-15, won the 1A title in 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 and placed second in 2018-19.
Some other highlights on the Panthers’ schedule include the New Haven Super 10 Dec. 21, Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 27-28, Northeast Corner Conference Championships Jan. 25 at West Noble, IHSAA Westview Sectional Feb. 1, IHSAA Goshen Regional Feb. 8, IHSAA Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 15 and IHSAA State Finals Feb. 21-22.
“We’ve had a pretty strong run the last five or six years,” says Mike Levitz. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
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#WrestlingWednesday: Going once, going twice, you're pinned by Freije
By JEREMY HINES
It is said that a good auctioneer can almost hypnotize bidders into spending money. The seemingly random words used by the auctioneer are well rehearsed and designed to lull bidders into opening the pocketbooks and splurging on the products presented before them. Auctioneers talk fast – and that too has a purpose. The speedy delivery gives a sense of urgency to the bidders. If they don’t act now – they may miss out on that item they just have to have. A good auctioneer demands the attention of the room and can quickly have the audience doing exactly what they want them to.
Indianapolis Roncalli senior Tyce Freije is a good auctioneer. In fact, he’s the best at his young age. And, just like he does on the auction block – Freije dazzles audiences on the wrestling mats as well.
Freije is currently ranked No. 6 in the state at 152 pounds. He is a two-time state placer and is coming off a season where he finished fourth at 138 pounds. Off the mat he is the reigning International Junior Auctioneer champion.
“I’m a fourth-generation auctioneer,” Freije said. “My grandpa and my dad both have an auctioneering business right by my house. We host an auction at least once a month. We sell everything from cars to tractors, lawn mowers, antiques, toys and guns. I really enjoy it and I will be pursuing it in my future.”
Freije excels at whatever he does. He’s a stellar student, a good leader, he is an experienced member of the 4H community in addition to wrestling and auctioneering.
“Everything the kid touches he works at it until he beats it or becomes the best,” Roncalli coach Wade McClurg said. “He’s very business-like and mature in his approach, whether it’s in auctioneering, wrestling, his faith, showing pigs, school, etc. He’s a winner and the ultimate competitor in everything he does.”
Freije’s wrestling style is an in-your face, I’m coming at you, try to stop me approach. He’s physical and strong. He’s also tough. As a sophomore he broke his hand and refused to have surgery because he didn’t want to miss the entire season. He didn’t get to wrestle until the sectional, but he ended up making it to the ticket round of semistate before losing to eventual state runner-up Alex Mosconi.
“Tyce loves the fight and is a super tough guy,” McClurg said. “He’s a strong and physical wrestler that goes at a high pace and has a big motor. He’s especially passionate about his wrestling. He enjoys the process of a training cycle and improving his game.”
Freije’s goal this season is to become a state champion. He wrestles with Alec Viduya, a former state champ, in the Roncalli room often. In fact, the two recently wrestled in their inter-squad match and Viduya won in triple overtime. The two are able to push each other in practice, which in turn helps them during matches against other opponents.
Freije credits his family for a lot of the attributes that make him the person he is. He learn auctioneering from his family and he says he also comes from a family of wrestlers. His uncle, Bob Freije, wrestled and coached at Brownsburg.
“My parents have taught me growing up that I have to earn everything I want,” Freije said. “If I want success, I have to earn it. I have to work harder than everyone else to have a shot at it. They really drilled that mentality into my head, and I know that’s why I’ve been able to find success in things. I am willing to work to achieve my goals.”
Freije also tries to help younger wrestlers understand that if you want results, you have to put in the work.
“He’s an exceptional leader for our program,” McClurg said. “He does things the hard way which is the right way.”
After high school Freije plans to attend college and wrestle, but he hasn’t decided where yet. He also plans to go into the family auctioneering business.
#MondayMatness: Youngest Fiechter William looking to make noise in final season for Southern Wells
By STEVE KRAH
For the better part of the past two decades, high school wrestlers in the Fiechter family have been regularly getting their hands raised in victory while wearing Southern Wells colors.
Five Fiechter brothers — Vince (Class of 2004), Troy (2009), Darin (2010), Benjamin (2013) and William (2020) have accounted for more than 600 mat triumphs.
All have eclipsed the 100-victory mark and rank among the winningest wrestlers in Raider history.
Four have represented Southern Wells at the IHSAA State Finals.
Vince Fiechter (118-18) placed fourth at 125 pounds in 2004.
Darin Fiechter (134-28) was a state qualifier at 130 in 2010.
Benjamin Fiechter (135-20) was state qualifier at both 126 in 2012 and 132 in 2013.
William Fiechter (117-21) was a state qualifier at 138 in 2019, losing an 11-10 overtime match in the first round.
“State was shock for sure,” says Fiechter. “Looking back, it was good for me. I learned to never take anything for granted. If I would have placed last year, there wouldn’t be as much fire or motivation to really push hard this year."
“I’ve definitely got a fire under me and I’m working hard because I want to get over that Friday night match.”
Troy Fiechter (121-28) was a four-time semistate qualifier.
In addition, William set the school record with 92 takedowns in 2018-19 and ranks high in career takedowns as well as season and career wins.
“There’s a 15-year age gap between my oldest brother Vince and me,” says William. “(My brothers) were really good at teaching me. They did not force their techniques on me. I think I’ve picked up something from every single one of them. They’ve always pushed me to be a hard worker."
“They’ve always made me understand that there’s way more in life than wrestling. But wrestling can definitely help me out in life.”
The youngest Fiechter is back for his senior season in 2019-20 and competing at 145. Through the Dec. 7 Wabash County championships, William is 11-0 for the 2019-20 season. He went 5-0 in the county meet at Northfield with four pins and a major decision.
What William appreciates about wrestling is its individuality.
“I can be my own person,” says William Fiechter. “I get what I put in. I enjoy the challenge of it."
“I definitely have a lot of people around me who push me to be a better man and a better wrestler. There’s also a lot of motivation knowing that wrestling will help me later in life. It definitely makes you tougher.”
Fiechter regularly works out in the practice room with friends he grew up with, including Jed Perry, Josh Beeks and Jacob Duncan.
How do they help each other get better?
“Just knowing that we can’t let up every single day,” says Fiechter.
“Even if you don’t feel like wrestling, those are the days you probably become a better wrestler."
“You have a practice partner who’s going to push you no matter what.”
Southern Wells head coach Ryan Landis has been working with the Class of 2020 since they were fifth graders.
“This is a special group of seniors,” says Landis. “They’ve stuck together. They push each other to get better. It’s a real fun group to coach.”
Fiechter, who has competed some with the Adams Central club and as an independent in the high school off-season, offers a scouting report on himself.
“Being around the sport quite a bit has helped my technique,” says Fiechter. “I’m definitely not as aggressive as I should be probably. I’m trying to learn a little more aggression. I’m pretty quick so that helps.”
Pondering his future, William is considering college or perhaps becoming an entrepreneur.
“I’d like to end up on the farm someday,” says Fiechter.
The hands of the Fiechters have also been kept busy farming. The family, which is led by former wrestler and 1981 Adams Central High School graduate Lynn Fiechter (a state runner-up at 112 in 1980) and wife Ronda, works around 5,000 acres — mostly corn and soybeans with some swine.
The closest town to the farm is Keystone. Southern Wells High School is near Poneto.
Summer days might find the Fiechters boating or water skiing. The Fiechters are also a musical family and have recorded CD’s of their favorite gospel songs. William plays the guitar and ukulele.
“Mom and dad are very good singers and passed down to some of us kids,” says Fiechter. “We were blessed with the ability that we should sing. It’s something we enjoy. It brings us closer together.”
Fiechter appreciates Landis for showing him the way both off and on the mat.
“The example he’s set has had a big impact on me,” says Fiechter. “He has this saying: Be brave when you’re scared; Be strong when you’re weak; Be humble when you’re victorious. That’s one that’s stuck with me.”
Landis, a 2000 Southern Wells graduate, was an assistant for his first three years after high school and has been Raiders head coach since 2004.
“I don’t know where that came from,” says Landis of the saying. “But it’s something we’ve adopted these last three or four years.
“It’s awesome. It’s great. It’s what wrestling is about. It’s about finding that last bit of strength in your body when you don’t think you can do it. It’s about being humble when you are victorious, knowing that if you don’t keep working hard somebody’s going to come up and kick your butt.”
Landis has coached all of the Fiechter brothers.
“The personality is all completely different,” says Landis of the Fiechters. “But the No. 1 characteristic is that they’re the hardest-working kids in the room. Growing up on the farm, they just work hard in everything they do."
“William is the most down-to-earth kid you’ll ever talk to. As much success as William has had on the mat, he’s a kid that you still have to pump confidence into him. He’s very humble. He’s very hard-working. He’s fun to be around.”
Landis sees William as a solid mat technician.
“He’s very fundamentally-sound,” says Landis. “He’s not a wild, crazy scrambler. Everything’s cautious and in position. He’s hard to score on. A couple takedowns and an escape and he’s in control of the match.”
There are several key dates on the South Wells calendar. Besides the Wabash County Championships Dec. 7 at Northfield, there’s the Allen County Athletic Conference Duals Dec. 13-14, Connersville Spartan Classic Dec. 27-28, ACAC Championships Jan. 24 at Woodlan, Jay County Sectional Feb. 1, Jay County Regional Feb. 8, Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 15 and State Finals Feb. 21-22.
#WrestlingWednesday: Chundi excels on the mat and in the classroom
By JEREMY HINES
Carmel senior Suhas Chundi isn’t one to brag about his accomplishments – and there is plenty to brag about. His GPA is astronomical. His SAT score was close to perfection. He doesn’t want either of those actual numbers published because it’s just not something he thinks needs attention.
Chundi isn’t just gifted in the classroom though – he’s also a superb wrestler with state championship aspirations.
Last season Chundi placed fourth at 106 pounds. He enters the 2019-2020 campaign as the No. 2 ranked 113 pounder in the state – but has already made weight at 106.
Chundi’s success in academics, and in wrestling comes from his work ethic.
“Academics and wrestling are a lot alike,” Chundi said. “I was born with a little bit of natural intelligence, but I’m not any Rain Man genius or anything. I had to put in the dedication, figure out what to do and follow the plan. It helped me be successful.
“Wrestling is the same way. I don’t have a lot of natural talent, but I listen to my coaches, try to learn what they are telling me and follow their plan.”
On the academic side Chundi spent the summer preparing for the Biology Olympiad. Out of over 2,000 applicants, the top 20 are chosen to go to the Biology camp. In that camp there are days of learning, doing labs and taking tests. At the end there is over nine hours of testing and the top four students get selected to represent the United States in the Biology Olympiad. Chundi was one of those top four and went on to place 25th in the world at the event in Hungary.
“I think saying he’s insanely smart is an understatement,” Carmel wrestling coach Ed Pendoski said. “I’ve coached guys that have went to Northwestern, Cornell and the Navy Academy. But Chundi is on a different level. He’s applied to Harvard, Cornell, Stanford and a school that’s part of Northwestern that you have to apply to just to see if you can get the admissions application.
“I asked the head of our science department if the Biology Olympiad was a big deal. He said it is ‘out of your mind big,’ and said that it will set his plate forever.”
Pendoski had one bit of advice for Chundi as he left for the Biology competition.
“I told him if the guy from Poland finishes higher than him, don’t bother coming home,” the coach said jokingly.
Last season Chundi had 15 losses but come tournament time he was clicking on all cylinders. He won sectional and regional, got runner-up in the New Castle semistate and eventually placed fourth in state at 106 pounds.
“I want to be a state champion this year,” Chundi said. “But I also want to share the podium with most of my teammates. I want Carmel to become a wrestling school this year.”
Chundi is one of the team leaders for the Greyhounds – which is unusual for a guy competing in the smallest weight class.
Chundi is 5-2, 106 pounds but Pendoski said the team listens to him.
“He’s a lot of fun to be around,” Pendoski said. “He has a huge personality inside of the wrestling room. He really does a good job of leading by example.”
This season Chundi will be one of the rare seniors at 106, which Pendoski hopes will help him have a strength and maturity advantage over the field.
“He’s a late bloomer,” Pendoski said. “He’s really trying to elevate his game this year.”
Chundi’s parents moved to the United States from India two years before he was born. He visits India frequently and really enjoys the trips.
“Things are more rugged in India,” Chundi said. “It’s fun getting a taste of that culture and being able to visit family.”
The Carmel senior has proven he can succeed on the mat, or in the classroom. He’s also an outstanding teammate, according to Pendoski.
“I really can’t think of a better example of an ultimate teammate,” Pendoski said. “From helping give a guy a ride, to community service, to cutting weight – he does it all. When his career ends in February, Suhas Chundi will be on to bigger and better things and will excel at whatever he does.”
#MondayMatness: Leo’s Heath embraces the brotherhood, grind of wrestling
By STEVE KRAH
Bolstered by the bond of teammates and the backing of family and coaches, Ian Heath continues to give it his all on the high school wrestling mat.
The 132-pound junior at Leo enjoys workouts and meets with about a dozen other Lions, appreciates all the support from his parents and sister and gets guidance from a staff led by a seasoned head coach.
“Everything you do is for your team and for your family,” says Heath.
“We’ve got a small team. We’re super close and would do anything for each other. It makes you want to wrestle harder when you do it for guys you’ve bonded with. I really enjoy how close we are.
“It’s like a big group of brothers.”
Ian is the son of Shane and Kelli Heath and the older brother of Anna. Shane is Fort Wayne Police Department detective and former Norwell High School wrestler, Kelli a DeKalb County probation officer and Anna a Leo eighth grader.
“They’ve supported me through everything,” says Ian. “Me and my dad have been on so many road trips. My mom has stayed up so many late nights washing clothes. My little sister helps clean mats at the high school.
“It’s a family effort for sure.”
Rod Williams is in his 30th season of coaching high school wrestling in Indiana. It’s his fifth in charge at Leo. He was head coach at East Noble and Norwell and before that an assistant at his alma mater — DeKalb (Class of 1986).
Among his East Noble grapplers was Taylor March, who won 163 matches with a state titles, two runners-up and a third-place finish. Danny Irwin, who is now head coach at West Liberty (W.Va.) University, wrestled for Williams at Norwell.
Danny’s brother, Matt Irwin, was in junior high when Williams led the Knights program and went on to win a state title.
Williams wrestled for Logansport and head coach Joe Patacsil then moved to DeKalb as a senior and worked with head coach Russ Smith. He grappled at Manchester College for head coach Tom Jarman.
“I was blessed with outstanding coaches,” says Williams, who is assisted this season at Leo by Chad Lothamer, Tad Davis and son Logan Williams.
Heath says Rod Williams trains wrestlers to defeat the best.
“You work to beat the top 1 percent and you’ll beat everybody else anyways,” says Heath. “We focus at Leo on proper technique that’s going to beat the best guys.”
Heath and his mat brothers take that message of being relentless to heart.
“(Williams) preaches that to the team,” says Heath. “That’s what we try to live by at Leo.
“It comes back to wrestling hard the whole time."
“It’s not about doing just enough to win. That’s not what Coach Williams wants.”
What Williams appreciates about Heath is his willingness to always give his best effort.
“Everybody wants to be a champion,” says Williams. “Very few people are willing to pay the price. (Heath’s) motor never stops."
“We always say we want to be extremely stubborn on our feet, relentless on top and explosive on bottom. He never stops wrestling.”
As for Heath’s place on the team, his head coach sees him as a leader with his work ethic.
“He leads by example,” says Williams. “He’s very encouraging of the other guys."
“A lot of the other wrestlers feed off his intensity.”
Heath had his first mat experiences in first grade, but really began to take the sport seriously in middle school. He has traveled extensively since then and competed with coach Bryan Bailey the Indiana Outlaws Wrestling Club and trained with coach Kevin English and Elite Athletic Club among others.
“In the off-season, we travel everywhere,” says Heath. “It’s a different practice every night."
“(English) told me to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and embrace the whole grind of the sport.”
Spending so much time in so many different wrestling environments has taught Heath many ways to attack and defend.
“I really enjoy new technique,” says Heath. “When it comes down to it,
I have my fundamentals I stick to.
“But I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve.”
Heath went 41-6 as a Leo freshman and was a qualifier for the IHSAA State Finals at 120. As a sophomore, he went 44-3 and placed fifth at 126. He is off to a 5-0 start as a junior.
At 90-9, Heath is No. 2 on the all-time victory list at Leo. With nearly two seasons left in his prep career, he seems sure to go well past 2007 graduate Chad Friend (112-13) for No. 1.
“It’s not as important to me as getting as good as I can,” says Heath.
“I’m not chasing records."
“I have a passion and love for the sport. Everyday I go to practice I get to do what I love."
“It makes it easier to get through the tough times.”
His regular workout partners are senior Clayton Jackson (138) and junior Jacob Veatch (126) as well as Logan Williams.
Jackson and Veatch present contrasting styles.
“Clay is very fundamental,” says Heath. “He has very good defense. He stays in good position all the time.
“If I’m going to score on him, it has to be perfect technique.”
Jackson and senior Tom Busch (285) serve as team captains. Heath describes Veatch as “super funky” and flexible.
“I have to be even more fundamental (against Veatch),” says Heath. “I have to finish quick and start if I’m going to finish the takedown on Jake."
“I’ve got great partners.”
The Leo schedule includes the New Haven Super 10 on Dec. 21, the North Montgomery Holiday Tournament Dec. 27-28 (duals on Friday and individual format on Saturday) and the Class 2A Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals. Four of eight Northeast Eight Conference schools — Leo, Bellmont, Columbia City and Norwell— will compete.
“Everything you do is working toward the middle of February,” says Heath. “I take every match one match at a time. But State’s always on my mind."
“There’s nothing compares to being on the floor at Bankers Life.”
Heath has already experienced what it’s like on Friday night of the State Finals with the Parade of Champions leading up to first-round matches.
“We’re all in the (Indiana) Pacers practice gym and it’s quiet,” says Heath. “You know in about 20 minutes it’s ‘go time.’ (Wrestlers are) getting their mind right before they step out there."
“One of the coolest things I’ve got to experience is that walk.”
He has the chance to make the walk a couple more times before heading off to college where he hopes to continue as a wrestler.
While their time together at Leo has not been that long, the coach and the athlete actually met several years ago.
A Herff Jones salesman, Williams was introduced to Heath when he was a toddler and around the Norwell program where Ian’s aunt was then a manager.
One day when Williams had the Heisman Trophy with him, he and Ian posed with it for a photo.
The youngster told the coach he was going to be a wrestler.
“I’d like to coach him some day,” says the coach’s reply.
All these years later, it is happening.
“Ian is a great young man,” says Williams. “It’s an honor to coach him.”
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#MondayMatness: From deaf slave to Warsaw wrestler, Linky has taken quite a journey
By STEVE KRAH
Real adversity meets opportunity.
That’s the story of Jacob Linky.
The wrestling room at Warsaw Community High School is filled with pulsing music and coaches barking instructions as more than three dozen Tigers get after it.
One wrestler — junior Linky — goes through the workout, rehearsing his moves with his workout partner, cranking out pull-ups and running laps around the room.
But without the sounds heard by the others.
Linky lives in a world that is mostly silent.
Without his cochlear implants, Linky can’t hear much of anything.
There was one incident where smoke alarms went off all over the house where Jacob now resides with Nrian and Brenda Linky. It was 3 a.m.
“Jacob slept through the alarm,” says Brian Linky, Jacob’s legal guardian. “I woke him in the morning.”
The young man was not born deaf.
Now 18, Jacob was about 5 and in native Africa — Lake Volta, Ghana, to be exact — when he lost his hearing at the hands of his father.
“We were slaves,” says Jacob, speaking of his early childhood through interpreter Rebecca Black. “We helped my dad in his fishing business.
“I didn’t used to be deaf. My dad hit by head a whole bunch. That’s how I became the way I am.”
His father demanded that young Jacob dive into very deep waters full of dangerous creatures.
“I felt a pop in my ears,” says Jacob. “I was a kid.”
His native language was Twi, but he didn’t hear much that after his hearing was gone.
Growing up the second oldest of seven children, Jacob has a brother who was born to another family, rejected and traded to his father.
It was a life that is difficult to imagine for those in the U.S.
“My mom didn’t do anything wrong,” says Jacob. “She fed me.”
Wanting the best for Jacob, his mother placed him in an orphanage. He eventually came to live in Warsaw when he was adopted by Andy and Dawn Marie Bass and began attending the fifth grade at Jefferson Elementary in Warsaw. He received hearing aids and then implants.
“I’m thankful the Basses adopted me and brought me here,” says Jacob.
“I now live with the Linky family.”
Following grade school, Jacob went on to Edgewood Middle School in Warsaw and was introduced to wrestling.
“I knew nothing (about the sport),” says Jacob. “I played around.”
Drive and athletic prowess allow Jacob to excel on the high school mat.
“At times his feisty side comes out because of that past,” says Warsaw head coach Kris Hueber. “He’s channeled it well and we’ve been able to harness well most of the time.
“He has days where he is cranky and fired up, You know that he’s drawing from stuff that no one else has.”
After missing his freshmen season, Jacob made an impact with the Tigers as a 145-pound sophomore, advancing to the East Chicago Semistate.
“This year, I’d like to go all the way to State,” says Jacob, who spent the summer pumping iron and continues to eat a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables and protein while packing more muscle on a 5-foot-7, 160-pound frame.
“(Jacob) fell in love with the weight room,” says Hueber. “There is not much on him that is not muscular. He’s one of those guys with his energy level he needs to be active. As an athlete, he is a remarkably gifted human being. He’s able to do things no one else in the room can do. Between strength, balance and agility, he is uniquely gifted.”
Ask Jacob what his best quality is as a wrestler and says speed. His quickness and and strength come into play in the practice room with larger practice partners — 170-pound Brandon Estepp, 182-pound junior Mario Cortes and 195-pound senior Brock Hueber.
“I don’t like to wrestle light persons,” says Jacob. “It makes me work hard to wrestle the big guys.”
Warsaw opened the 2019-20 season Saturday with the Warsaw Invitational and Jacob went 5-0 with four pins.
Sign language and lip-reading help him navigate life as a teenager and athlete. When Jacob wrestles, Black circles the mat to maintain eye contact and relay information to him.
“She always looks where my head is,” says Jacob. “She always gets sweaty.”
Who gets sweatier during a match? “Me,” says Jacob, thrusting a thumb at his chest. “I’m a harder worker.”
Black has been around Jacob since he was in eighth grade.
“I feel privileged to be involved in his life,” says Black. “He’s an amazing person. He just is.”
Hueber has come to appreciate that Jacob has the ability to be both competitive and light-hearted.
“He’s ornery still, but in a good way,” says Hueber. “He has not been able to out-grow being a kid. I love that.”
While Jacob’s background and circumstance are different than his Tiger mates, Hueber says he’s “just one of the guys.”
“(They) don’t treat him differently in any way,” says Hueber. “They love being around him because of his charisma and personality. He’s a really great teammate.”
Hueber says working with Jacob has helped others recognize their influence.
“They might be able to goof off for two minutes and snap right back,” says Hueber. “If (Jacob) misses one line of communication, there’s a lot that he’s got to recover from.”
This means that workout partners need to be focused and attentive as well — not just for themselves but to also help Jacob. Hueber notes that Jacob has to concentrate and keep focused on his interpreter in class (his current favorite class in English and he is looking forward to Building Trades in the future) and practice.
“There are probably times when he’s looking for a break,” says Hueber.
“He’s on and he’s full-wired all day. That’s taxing mentally for sure.”
Brian Linky works in payment processing at PayProTec in Warsaw and Brenda Linky is the special needs coordinator for Warsaw Community Schools. The Linkys have two sons who played basketball at Warsaw — Zack (now 28 and living in Calfiornia) and Ben (now 22 and attending Indiana University).
Taking in Jacob means they have a teenager in the house again.
“He’s been nothing but polite,” says Brian Linky. “He’s hard-working around the house (mowing the lawn, making his bed, walking the dog and cooking his own meals). He has friends over. He’s very happy.”
As for the future, Jacob is considering joining the football team next year (he has never played the sport). He turns 19 in May.
A brother, Christian, lives in Virginia and communicates with Jacob and family in Africa through text.
“We’re going to save up so we can visit our parents in Africa,” says Jacob.
Right now, he is doing life as an Indiana teenager and wrestling is a big part of it.
Real adversity meets opportunity.
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#WrestlingWednesday: Cathedral comes up clutch in the finals
By JEREMY HINES
“You’re still in this. It’s not over.”
Elliott Rodgers kept hearing those words coming from his corner Saturday night in the championship match of the 152-pound weight class at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.
With under a minute to go in the match Rodgers trailed Greenfield’s Cooper Noehre 7-4. Rodgers was wrestling for an individual title and a chance to all but secure a team title for the Irish.
“It was nerve wracking,” Rodgers said. “It’s scary to be trailing like that. I don’t like it. But, you just have to think if you win, you win. If you lose, you lose. The coaches are in my corner yelling that it’s not over. That kept me going.”
Rodgers earned an escape point to cut Noehre’s lead to 7-5. Then, with under 10 seconds remaining, he earned a takedown to tie the score and force overtime. It was the third overtime meeting this season between the two rivals.
This time Rodgers pulled out a move he has been working on in practice but hadn’t shown Noehre yet – an inside trip. The move worked, and Rodgers won the match. The victory gave him his first state title and helped Cathedral win its second team title in as many years.
“Elliott just grinded it out,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “He was down points but he didn’t panic and he battled back. He didn’t just do it in the finals, he grinded out wins in the quarterfinals and on Friday night.”
Rodger’s teammate, senior Jordan Slivka sealed the team championship for the Irish in the next match.
Slivka took on Portage’s No. 1-ranked Donnell Washington Jr. in the 160-pound championship. Washington beat Slivka 8-3 during the regular season and appeared on his way to beating him again in the final.
Washington took Slivka down early in the match and then cut him (gave him a free escape). Washington continued his dominance for most of the first two periods. Then, in the final minute of the match, Slivka came alive. The Ohio University commit scored seven points in the final minute to win the match 12-7.
That victory ensured no other team could catch the Irish in points. Slivka won his first individual state championship last season, and coincidentally, that victory also sealed the team title for the Irish.
“This title felt better than last year’s,” Slivka said. “My goal wasn’t to be the best wrestler at Cathedral. I didn’t think I could ever accomplish that with guys like Blake Rypel and Lance Ellis. But no other Cathedral team has won two titles, and I wanted to be able to say I was the best team captain.”
Slivka’s wrestling shirt has the word “clutch” on the back of it – one that coach McGinley feels is appropriate for the senior.
“He comes through when people count him out,” McGinley said. “Washington is extremely, extremely talented and tough. He was on us that first period. We just wanted to stay close and ride it out. Slivka never lost faith and he pulled out that win.”
Going into the final Cathedral looked to be in great shape to claim the team title. The Irish had four wrestling for weight-class championships and a small lead in the team standings. But things got a little dicey in the early goings.
Irish freshman sensation Zeke Seltzer lost the 113 pound final to returning state champion, No. 1-ranked senior Jacob Moran of Portage 3-0. Then Cathedral’s Alex Mosconi fell to No. 1-ranked Matt Lee, 5-2 in the 145-pound final.
When Avon’s Asa Garcia earned a pin over Roncalli’s Alec Viduya in the 132 pound final, suddenly things got interesting. Avon still had Carson Brewer to wrestle at 182 pounds. Brewer was the heavy favorite in the match, and if he pinned his opponent, Avon had a chance to take the team title.
That’s when Rodgers and Slivka stepped up and won back-to-back matches to eliminate that possibility.
“If we polled everyone they would have probably said we were an underdog in three of the matches and probably a push in the fourth,” McGinley said. “We knew the odds were against us, and we just needed someone who was going to step up and pull it through.”
In all, Cathedral sent five wrestlers to the state tournament. Rodgers and Slivka won their weight classes. Seltzer and Mosconi placed second and Lukasz Walendzak finished 8th at 126.
#MondayMatness: Crown Point’s Mendez runs table as a freshman
By STEVE KRAH
Jesse Mendez had a “blast” in punctuating his freshmen wrestling season at Crown Point High School with a 2019 IHSAA title.
The 126-pounder started off his finals match with a “blast double” takedown and went on to a 6-0 win against Avon junior Raymond Rioux to cap a 42-0 season.
Mendez reigned in a stacked weight division. He pinned Western freshman Hayden Shepherd in 1:02 Friday and Mt. Vernon (Fortville) senior Chase Wilkerson in 3:58 in the quarterfinals before earning a 13-4 major decision against Jimtown senior Hunter Watts in the semifinals.
“He’s a tough wrestler and a tough opponent to get by,” said Mendez of Watts, who was a champion at 120 in 2018, runner-up at 113 in 2017 and sixth at 106 in 2016.
Rioux, who had placed third at 120 in 2018 and sixth at 106 in 2017, beat Yorktown senior Brayden Curtis 3-1 in the semifinals. Curtis was a champion at 113 in 2018 and at 106 in 2017 after finishing seventh at 106 in 2016.
And yet Mendez was dominant. How did that happen?
“I work hard in the (practice) room,” said Mendez. “My coaches and I are always trying to get to my attacks more often. I just trust in what they’ve been teaching me and it’s been working.”
Bulldogs coach Branden Lorek has been impressed with the ability and work ethic of Mendez.
“He’s got all the attributes — he’s fast, strong, physical, smart,” says Lorek. “He listens very well. He’s very coachable and a student of the sport.
“He’s the first guy in the room and the last guy to leave. For a freshman, he’s not afraid to speak up and pick guys up. He’s a welcome
While there plenty of eyes on him at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and on television, Mendez was not intimidated.
“I’ve been wrestling in big tournaments my whole life,” said Mendez, 15. “I’ve been in tight situations in front of big crowds.
“I think I thrive off of it.”
Mendez is confident in his abilities.
“If I wrestle my match I can beat anybody,” said Mendez. “If I get my attacks going, there’s nobody who can stop me.
“I think I can really open kids up a lot. I’m really good at moving my feet and my hands.”
As his head coach puts it, Mendez wants to “be the hero.”
“He wants to go out and get bonus points and do whatever he can for the team,” said Lorek. “If we bump him up a weight class, he has no problem doing that. If we need him to wrestle for a major, he’ll get the job done.”
Around 7 or 8, Mendez put aside his other sports and focused on the mat. He hooked up with the Region Wrestling Academy.
“Those coaches are great,” said Mendez, who grew up in the Lake Central district before moving to Crown Point in middle school. Hector and Monica Mendez have three children — Payton, Jesse and Lyla.
“My family’s really important to me,” said Jesse. “They sacrifice a lot for me.”
There won’t be much time spent basking in his state title for Mendez. After a brief break, he’s going to start working again to get ready for meets like the FloNationals, Iowa Folkstyle Nationals, World Team Trials, Super 32, Fargo and Who’s No. 1?.
In other words, the wrestling world will be hearing more from Jesse Mendez.
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#WrestlingWednesday: Mullets and Mustaches, Oh My!
By JEREMY HINES
The Man. The Myth. The Mullet. The Mustache.
Outside of the famous Willie and Red’s smorgasbord (best fried chicken and prime rib in the area), senior wrestler Jake Combs is the biggest attraction in Hagerstown.
He’s popular because he’s a phenomenal three-sport athlete, because he has a mullet and mustache that would make Billy Ray Cyrus jealous and because he has become the first Tiger wrestler since 2003 to advance to the state finals.
“I can’t put it into words, honestly, what going to state means to me,” Combs said. “It’s something I’ve been dreaming about ever since I lost here last year. It just feels amazing.”
Combs had a huge contention of fans Saturday at the New Castle semistate. When he won his ticket round matchup against Frankfort senior Ezekial VanDeventer, it seemed as if the whole gym erupted in applause.
“Wrestling is unlike any sport in many ways but the family aspect that comes with it is truly humbling,” Hagerstown coach Anton Payne said. “I feel the entire TEC (Tri Eastern Conference), our sectional and regional teams were pulling for Jake today. The crowd from Hagerstown was huge but when Jake won there were hundreds, if not thousands of people screaming and jumping out of their seats.”
Combs doesn’t have the typical wrestling story of athletes that are going to the state finals. He didn’t wrestle as a young kid. He didn’t wrestle in middle school. He didn’t even wrestle as a freshman or sophomore, despite coach Payne practically begging him every year to give it a try.
Payne finally wore Combs down before his junior season.
“Jake started wrestling for the first time 15 short months ago,” Payne said. “I tried my best to get this young man out since junior high, but it wasn’t until his junior year, in November that he said he would try a practice to see if he likes it.”
Combs fell in love with wrestling. Early on it was evident that he was strong as an ox, but he didn’t have any technique to go along with that raw strength. As the season progressed, Combs continued to learn the sport and by tournament time, he was good enough to advance to semistate. That success created a hunger.
Combs started working as hard as he could to learn more about wrestling. He went to open gyms in the summer. He traveled to Carmel and other places looking to soak in as much knowledge as possible. It paid off.
“I told Jake that we would have to work hard,” Payne said. “I told him we would have to push through adversity. We would have to wrestle through pains. We would have to stay on the mat as much as possible in the off season. We would have to work on our explosiveness. We would have to gain more mat confidence and we would have to be 100 percent committed. Jake’s response was ‘let’s do it.’ “
This season Combs is 38-5 and was perhaps the surprise of the 182-pound class in the New Castle semistate. He knocked off Greenfield’s Scott Stanley by fall in the first period to advance to the ticket round. In the ticket round he dominated VanDeventer, pinning him 1:53.
But Combs wasn’t done yet. In the next round he had the task of taking on No. 14-ranked J.D. Farrell of Fishers. Combs won that match 3-1 to advance to the semistate championship.
Combs lost in the finals to Elwood’s No. 12-ranked Jalen Morgan 5-0.
To Combs, wrestling is fun. That’s part of the reason he grew his world-class mullet and mustache – which some accredit to his quick rise to success in the sport. Combs isn’t sure which one gives him these special powers, though.
“You know, I’m thinking it’s the mullet,” Combs said. “It’s newer. I’ve had the mustache for a while. But, you know what, it has matured a lot, so maybe it’s that, too. It might be both.”
In Hagerstown they have made fan support T-shirts for Combs. The shirts just have an outline of a mullet and a mustache. Combs loves them.
“Wrestling is such a serious sport and I’m just trying to bring a little flavor to it.”
Friday Combs will get to showcase that flavor at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in front of the state’s most die-hard wrestling fans. He will take on Oak Hill’s No. 16-ranked Bradley Rosman in the first round.
“Jake has accomplished what he said he would do last year after semistate,” Payne said. “But we are not satisfied yet.”
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#MondayMatness: Bellmont, family tradition carries on with Ruble brothers
By STEVE KRAH
It’s an Indiana tradition unique to wrestling and two brothers from Bellmont High School will follow in the footsteps of so many Braves that came before them.
Qualifiers for the IHSAA State Finals will parade into Bankers Life Fieldhouse before first round of the tournament Friday, Feb. 15 and Jon and Isaac Ruble were be representing their family as well as their storied mat program.
“That’s pretty exciting, especially for their parents, Becky and Joe,” says Bellmont head coach and former state champion Paul Gunsett.
“They’ve done a lot for those two. They’ve traveled everywhere for these two to wrestle. They’ve earned it with all the time and effort they’ve put in.”
Jon Ruble is one of Bellmont’s captains and often leads the squad in during warm-ups at practice.
“He’s a leader in our program,” says Gunsett of the older Ruble boy.
“He’s been real reliable for me. He’s pretty special. He spends a lot of time with our younger kids. He spends more time with them than he probably needs to. He’s helped groom them and made them better.”
Freshmen Carter Thomas (120) and Dominic Litchfield (113) are Isaac aka Ike’s usual workout partner during practice.
Like many wrestling families in and around Decatur, Ind., there is a mat legacy. Joe Ruble is one of Bellmont’s many State Finals qualifiers, competing at Market Square Arena in 1991. The boys’ uncle Paul qualified for State and blew out his knee the week of the meet and was unable to compete.
Joe Ruble’s uncle Kent Buuck was a a standout Braves wrestler. His best friend was Bill Schultz (uncle to Becky Ruble). When Buuck died in a highway accident before his senior year, Schultz dedicated his training to Buuck and became the second state champion in Bellmont program history, winning the IHSAA heavyweight title in 1977.
The Braves’ first state winner was Phil Lengerich (138 pounds in 1969). Gunsett reigned at 135 in 1988. On 10 other occasions, a Bellmont wrestler has ascended to the top of the victory platform —Chris Mahlan (185 in 1979), Brent Faurote (98 in 1981), Paul Baker(130 in 1988), Tim Myers (119 in 1993 and 130 in 1994), Jason Baker (125 in 1996), T.J. Hays (152 in 1996), John Sheets (103 in 2000), Matt Irwin (135 in 2006) and Billy Baker (215 in 2009).
The Braves reigned as team state champions in 1987, 1988 and 1994 and were runners-up in 1979, 1999, 2006.
Jon Ruble (36-6) took an early 2-0 lead and made it stand in beating Rochester senior Drew Sailors in the Fort Wayne Semistate championship match.
“I got that two-point lead and I’ve been riding leg stuff all year so I put the legs in and tried to ride it out and possibly get turns,” says Ruble, who was a state qualifier at 145 in 2018. “(Winning the semistate) means a lot. There’s such a big difference between second place and first place. You’re setting yourself up for that state run.”
Both Ruble brothers —#DosRubles on social media — placed first at the Jay County Sectional and Jay County Regional. Isaac Ruble (36-6) placed second at semistate.
Sharing the season and the State Finals experience with his sibling is something the older Ruble brother does not take lightly.
“This is the only time we get to wrestle together,” says Jon Ruble.
“This means the world to me. “We talk about it all the time.”
What does Jon see in Isaac the athlete?
“He’s a competitive kid,” says Jon Ruble. “He always thinks he’s the best.”
With his family history, Jon Ruble was destined to be a wrestler.
“I had no other choice,” says Jon Ruble. “Being a part of Bellmont history means the world. They’ve had such a great program forever. To be a part of that tradition is amazing.”
The youngest Ruble brother has soaked up his learning opportunities in his first high school season.
“I learn things and try to get really good at the — like firemen’s carries,” says Isaac Ruble. “It really helps me out.
“There are certain things (Gunsett) gets on me about — like keeping my head up — and I fix them.”
Given the age and size difference, do the two brothers wrestle against each other?
“I can’t hang with him,” says Isaac. “He’s pretty good.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Hall is back for more as a sophomore
By JEREMY HINES
In a town named after the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora, a new wrestling star is rising in the south east corner of Indiana.
South Dearborn sophomore Bryer Hall was a relative unknown last season. He put together a successful freshman season, and by the end of the year had worked his way up to No. 16 in the state rankings at 126 pounds. When the state tournament rolled around, people started to take notice of the newcomer.
Hall rolled through his sectional as a freshman, winning every match by pin. He was just as dominant in the Richmond regional. He won his first round with a pin in just over a minute. In the second round he took on ranked senior Trevor Ragle (47-4) and pinned him in just 1:09. Then, in the final he went up against another talented wrestler in Centerville freshman Gabe Phillips, who is currently undefeated on the year and ranked No. 5 at 138. Just a little over two minutes into the match Hall injured Phillips shoulder, and Phillips was unable to go on. That injury ended the season for Phillips.
Then, to start out the semistate, Hall injured another wrestler with almost the same move. It wasn’t anything intentional, but the injuries rattled Hall.
“I didn’t want to hurt anyone,” Hall said. “It was upsetting that I ruined someone’s season and they could have went pretty far in the tournament. I thought it would be tough to go back and use the move because I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. But once I started wrestling again, instincts just took over and I had to get that thought out of my mind.”
Hall won his ticket round semistate match 16-8 and then secured his biggest victory of his young career. He defeated former state champion Alec Viduya 11-5 to advance to the semistate championship.
“We were hopeful that Bryer could get to state as a freshman,” South Deaerborn coach George Gardner said. “But we thought it might be a long shot when he had to go up against returning state champion Alec Viduya. But Bryer really took it to him in that match and handled that match much better than I thought he would.”
Hall didn’t have enough in the tank to defeat Ethan Smiley in the final, who cruised to an 11-2 victory.
Hall ended up placing sixth in state. He had wins over Kyle Lawson and Brycen Denny, but lost big to Cayden Rooks (tech fall) and Christian Meija (17-5).
This season Hall is hoping to not have those big letdowns.
“He ran out of gas in the semistate,” Gardner said. “Hopefully that won’t happen again.
This year Hall is undefeated. He has stepped on the mat 33 times and each time had his hand raised in victory. He has moved up three weight classes and is currently ranked No. 2 at 145 pounds.
“It felt pretty good to get noticed in the rankings for my hard work,” Hall said.
Hall’s style of wrestling is difficult for others to scout. He calls himself a funky wrestler.
“I am hard to figure out,” Hall said. “I’m just naturally funky. I move where my hips feel they should go.”
That funkiness is especially helpful in scramble situations.
“Bryer is a tremendous scrambler,” Gardner said. “He doesn’t have a signature takedown. He just makes things happen. He’s really hard to scout because he doesn’t do the same thing very often.”
Hall could potentially see Warren Central’s Antwaun Graves in the New Castle semistate semifinal. If so, that is a match that could be particularly interesting. Hall won the regular season battle 4-3.
“Anything can happen Saturday,” Gardner said. “He has to go out and wrestle his best each match.”
Hall said his biggest wrestling accomplishment so far was placing fourth at Fargo over the summer at 138 pounds. He is hoping to top that with a state title this year.
“My goal is to go undefeated and win state,” Hall said. “Last year I was nervous. This year I’m coming in a lot more confident.”
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Allred is headed to the Big Red
The top ranked 195lber in the state an our top Junior wrestler, Silas Allred, has committed to wrestle for Nebraska. Allred, hailing from Shenandoah just north of Indianapolis, will join four-time state champion Chad Red on the Husker roster.
Allred is ranked anywhere from 5th-7th by all the national ranking services and atop 30 prospect for the class of 2020. Currently he sports a spectacular 90-2 record over his three years that includes a 5th place finish at state in 2018. His long list of national accolades includes placing 3rd at the Super 32 this past fall, a Cadet Folkstyle National title, and a 4th place finish in Cadet Greco-Roman.
Allred had plenty of offers from many of the top programs in the country. The programs on his final list included state schools Purdue and Indiana along with North Carolina State and Maryland. Currently he is undecided on a major, but is leaning towards a business degree at Nebraska.
Projecting at 197lbs for his collegiate career, Allred stated he was drawn to Lincoln for a plethora of reasons.
“I chose Nebraska because it felt like home. After visiting a few colleges, no place made me feel even close to the way Nebraska did,” Allred said in response to his commitment. “I knew in my spirit the search was over. Not to mention the coaching staff and RTC is absolutely incredible. It is the perfect fit for my athletic and academic goals.”
Good luck to Silas as he pursues not only his state goals, but national and international goals thi off-season.
#MondayMatness: Attica Red Ramblers’ Douglass goes far and wide to get better
By STEVE KRAH
Jorden Douglass wears the singlet of the Red Ramblers of Attica Junior/Senior High School. So its fitting that this standout wrestler has done plenty of traveling to improve his skills.
After becoming his school’s first IHSAA State Finals qualifier in 2018, Douglass hit the road again to find wrestlers and coaches that could make him better. Last summer, he made the trek to Avon to work out at Chad Red’s Red Cobra Wrestling Academy. He also competed with the Indiana Flash, led by Wheeler High School coaches Jose Diaz and Yusef Mohmed. He’s gone with the Outlaws in Virginia Beach, Va.
Douglass has trained with Warren Central’s Brice Coleman and Antwaun Graves. He has worked out at clubs and in wrestling rooms all around Indiana and competed all over the Midwest. Since he was about 8, parents Dan and Tamara Douglass has supported his dedication to the mat sport.
“My parents pay a lot of money for me to do that sorts of stuff,” says Douglass, now a 145-pound junior who takes a 36-0 record into the East Chicago Semistate on Saturday, Feb. 9. “I always want to improve.”
“I don’t want to feel like I plateau.”
Dan Douglass wrestled at Clinton Central High School, graduating in 1987. Greg Moe was head coach of the Bulldogs when he was in elementary and junior high. Dan Callahan was his high school coach. He has watched his youngest son put in the mat time.
“Jorden has worked hard,” says Dan Douglass. “He’s never satisfied where he was at. He’s tried to make himself better each year.”
While his older brothers wrestled some before concentrating on baseball (Jacob, a member of Western Hugh School’s state runner-up in 2016, plays at Trine University and Joe, an all-stater at Clinton Central, played one season at Trine), Jorden made the mat his sport.
“He loves the discipline,” says Dan Douglass. “And that does not have to rely on anybody else for his success.”
Ryleigh Douglass, an eighth grader, looks forward to being a wrestling manager at Attica with his brother on the team.
Dan Douglass was an assistant to Dean Branstetter at Clinton Central and is now on Branstetter’s Attica coaching staff along with Josh Barnett, Blair Brindle and Jay Hodge.
Branstetter, a 1983 graduate of South Adams High School, where his wrestling coach was Steve Tatman, was head coach at Clinton Central 1988-2001. He spent one season at Mona Shores High School near Muskegon, Mich., then started the wrestling program at Marmion Academy in Aurora, Ill., and guided the Cadets for a decade before returning to Indiana at Attica in 2012.
“He’s gotten a lot better on his feet,” says seventh-year Ramblers coach Branstetter of Jorden Douglass. “He was always good on-top. He can control and shorten a match on top.”
Jorden Douglass looks to strengthen his weak areas.
He was not very good from the bottom and his coaches avoided choosing that position for him. He has worked to make himself better there. It also helps when you don’t get put in that position too often.
Douglass has not yielded a takedown so far during the 2018-19 season.
“I like to push the pace,” says Douglass. “I try not to leave the opportunity (for my opponent) to get (a takedown) before I do.”
Branstetter echoes that point.
“If you get taken down and the kid is a hammer on top, it’s going to be hard to win,” says Branstetter.
Douglass took the 2019 Lafayette Jeff Sectional and Logansport Regional titles with six first-period pins.
“During tournament time, if the opportunity is there for the pin, I go for the pin,” says Douglass. “There’s no reason to make a mistake and go on my back.”
The program and, consequently, Douglass have benefitted from a team schedule that has included the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals (the team placed 10th in Class 1A in January. It was the third appearance for the Ramblers in four years).
Attica has 199 students and 15 of those are on the wrestling team.
“It’s a hard sport,” says Branstetter. “Practices are tough and they have to be watching their weight.
“The State Duals have been really neat for us.”
There was also a two-day New Year’s Challenge in Danville, Ill. There, Douglass faced off with ranked grapplers from Illinois and Wisconsin. This season was the second that the Ramblers have taken the same postseason path. When Douglass was a freshman, Attica went through the Crawfordsville Sectional, North Montgomery Regional and New Castle Semistate.
As a 132-pound freshman in 2017, Douglass won sectional and regional crowns and lost to eventual semistate champion Breyden Bailey of Indianapolis Cathedral in the “ticket round” at New Castle. As a 145-pound sophomore, he earned sectional and regional titles, placed second at semistate then lost by technical fall in the first round at the State Finals to eventual third-place finishers Jake Schoenegge of Columbus East.
The level has been raised in the Rambler practice room this season with nine wrestlers qualifying for regional and seven others making it to semistate along with Douglass — junior Jack Hargan (first at 195), junior Avery Miller (second at 106), senior Koaldon Kerr (second at 160), junior Jordan Hodge (third at 120), senior Jacob Demumbrun (third at 195), junior Johnny Synesael (fourth at 160) and senior Hunter Purple (fourth at 152).
Douglass says he would like to wrestle in college and study to become a conservation officer with a degree in criminal justice. While the Douglass family has about three acres at home, they like to hunt on property owned by good friends in Parke County.
But his current focus is on what’s in front of him and that’s the East Chicago Semistate and a chance to be Attica’s first two-time state qualifier.
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#WrestlingWednesday: Dickens and Lee are looking for gold
By JEREMY HINES
Matt Lee and Eli Dickens are practice partners in the Evansville Mater Dei wrestling room. They are good friends, they are both juniors and they are both ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes. The similarities don’t end there.
The two are soft spoken and humble. They have extremely similar voices, so much so that it’s hard to differentiate them if talking on the phone. They both have a 3.9 grade point average.
“On the wrestling mat they both like to push the pace,” Wildcat head coach Greg Schaefer said. “They are both students of the sport and they love fine tuning techniques. They are both competitive. They don’t like giving up anything. They just push each other and the other guys in the room.”
In fact, the two are so similar that coach Schaefer has a hard time finding any differences.
“I don’t really know how they are different,” Schaefer said. “There isn’t a lot of differences that I know of. There are a lot more similarities than differences.”
Lee also struggled to think of a difference.
“We are pretty similar,” Lee said. “We are really good friends and practice partners and our styles are similar.”
Dickens was the only one that could offer up some differences between the two.
“I guess the main thing that separates us is our setups,” Dickens said. “He is more of a high crotch guy and I’m more of a getting ankles and sweep singles kind of guy.”
Lee, who is the younger brother of Indiana legends Joe Lee and Nick Lee, is currently 30-0 on the season and holds the top ranking in the 145-pound class. He finished seventh the last two years in a row and is hoping to climb the ladder more this year.
“It was a good feeling to place at state,” Lee said. “But you can’t be truly satisfied unless you get first. It’s always good to be at the top. I was happy to place, but I wanted more. I was hungry for more. That pushed into this year and drives me.”
Being the younger brother of Nick (won state in 2015, now wrestles for Penn State) and Joe (won state in 2016 and 2017) hasn’t put a lot of pressure on Matt.
“People always talk about the pressure of being their younger brother,” Matt said. “I don’t feel that pressure. I talk to them and they give me advice. They help me as much as I allow them to. I keep them as a source of information. I don’t pry them to learn everything they know, but if I need help I can always go to them.”
Matt said watching Nick wrestle for Penn State makes him nervous.
“I’ve heard how it’s hard on parents to watch their kids wrestle sometime and watching Nick wrestle I know what they are going through now,” Matt said. “I didn’t understand that before. I get more nervous for Nick’s matches than I do for any of my own.”
Dickens has not placed in state so far, but he did qualify last year. This season he defeated former No. 1 ranked Elliott Rodgers 4-3 and that catapulted him to the top spot in the 152-pound weight class.
“It was pretty amazing to see that I was ranked No. 1,” Dickens said. “I try not to think of it too much, but it was exciting. It gave me more confidence and belief in my ability. I knew that I could beat anyone, but that just solidified that idea in my head.”
One big key for Dickens is that he doesn’t have to worry about his weight like he did last season. He feels that has helped him to be stronger and not focus so much on the weight aspect of the sport.
“I had a huge growth spurt last year where my body wanted to grow mid-season,” Dickens said. “This year I’m wrestling up three weight classes and I feel so much healthier.”
Matt is currently 30-0 on the season and Eli is 31-2, with both of his losses coming to out of state wrestlers.
Both Matt and Eli are hoping to wrestle in college, but neither have decided where they want to go.
Matt enjoys watching television, playing games and watching movies on weekends when he’s not wrestling.
“I’m a pretty average kid,” he said. “Probably my favorite thing to do is eat, but you can’t do a lot of that during the season. I just like to try to find fun in the small things. I’m just normal and I like hanging out with my friends.”
Eli enjoys going to his Bible study on Wednesday’s with his youth group.
“I feel that it really builds me spiritually and gets my mindset right,” he said. “I focus on God and the bigger picture.”
The two will compete Saturday in the Evansville North regional.
“I don’t want to sound boring,” Schaefer said. “But they are both just awesome kids that work really hard. I hope they are able to accomplish their goals.”
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#MondayMatness: Confidence carries NorthWood’s Lone to mat success
By STEVE KRAH
Jake Lone has developed an edge in his junior season as a NorthWood High School wrestler.
Lone was second at the Elkhart Sectional, third at the Goshen Regional and a qualifier for the Fort Wayne Semistate as a 160-pound freshman. As a 170-pounder junior, Lone won sectional and regional titles, placed second at semistate and then eighth at the IHSAA State Finals. As a 182-pound junior, he is 30-3 after winning another sectional title. The 2019 Goshen Regional is Feb. 2.
Lone, who first competed in Indiana State Wrestling Association events at age 4, is gaining confidence.
“As the season has progressed, I think I’ve developed a little bit of an attitude out on the mat,” says Lone. “There’s a little more aggression.”
Shoulder surgery after the 2018 State Finals meant that Lone was away from competition for the spring and summer.
He was only cleared to play football for NorthWood during the week of the season opener. Switched from linebacker to defensive end, he had a sensational season while helping the 2018 Panthers aka “Black Crunch” go 11-1 under head coach Nate Andrews.
Lone was selected for Class 4A honorable mention all-state honors by the Associated Press.
Then it was back to the mat.
“I think I’ve gotten tremendously better,” says Lone of his progress since the beginning of the 2018-19 wrestling season. “I’ve been getting back in the swing of things after surgery last spring, getting my conditioning up and knocking all the rust off.”
“Having Coach Andrews is the room to push me has been great.” Andrews, who won a 171-pound IHSAA state title as a NorthWood senior in 1996, took over as wrestling head coach this winter.
He has watched Lone get better and better.
“It certainly opens up his offense when he’s lighter on his feet and when his motion is vertical and horizontal at the same time with 1-2 and 3-4 combinations,” says Andrews. “When he opens that up and puts pressure on people, he can be dangerous.
“A lot of he team aspects and leadership qualities that he learns in football he brings to the wrestling mat.”
Lone has fed off Andrews’ enthusiasm and intensity.
“What I get from him is always pushing the pace, staying aggressive, never stop,” says Lone. “It’s that never-quit attitude.”
Lone knows that there are differences and similarities in his two sports. “Football shape is short bursts,” says Lone. “Wrestling shape you have to go the full six minutes without stopping.”
While he played some wide receiver or tight end on offense, Lone really enjoyed playing on the other wide of the ball.
The hand and body fighting and one-on-one battles that a defensive linemen encounters translate to the wrestling circle.
“I love defense,” says Lone. “I was able to use by wrestling technique for tackling.”
Andrews, who counts Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dennis Lewis plus Jim Matz and Elisio Roa as assistants, says beefing up the NorthWood schedule was helpful for Lone. “He was able to see a little tougher competition,” says Andrews. The Panthers took on LaPorte, Merrillville and Knox at the LaPorte Super Duals, Churubusco, Eastside, Garrett and Jay County at the Fort Wayne Carroll Super Duals. NorthWood also faced Wawasee, Goshen and Jimtown in duals at home and took part in the 32-team Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka.
Inclement weather Jan. 19 caused cancellation of the Northern Lakes Conference varsity and junior varsity tournaments.
“For our program and where we are now, we were devastated,” says Andrews. “A week ago we were really in good shape to do our best and climb another rung on the ladder as we try to build our program.” That meet was to be the last for JV grapplers.
“The kids who come out and go through this grinder of a season, they didn’t get rewarded,” says Andrews. “They didn’t get to play in their Super Bowl. It’s very, very unfortunate.”
Andrews said the focus turns to individuals still alive in the state tournament series, but he is still trying to “rally the troops” for those who saw their season come to an end.
The Panthers are young with just two seniors on the squad.
“I’m looking forward to the future,” says Andrews.
Jake has been in wrestling practice rooms since age 3. His father, Rod Lone, was head coach at NorthWood for seven seasons. After two years as a volunteer assistant at Jimtown, he has returned to NorthWood as head middle school coach. He is also a volunteer with the high school and helps the NorthWood Wrestling Club.
A former wrestler at Clinton Prairie High School and then for Tom Jarman at Manchester College (now Manchester University), Rod Lone has witnessed a rise in his eldest son’s confidence level.
“With that confidence he’s gotten more aggressive and that’s shown in his matches,” says Rod Lone. “He’s never been that fast-twitch, go-get-em kind of kid. This year, he’s finally starting to get there.”
“He’s trying to control the match instead of letting the match come to him.” Says Andrews, “He should be a pretty confident kid the way it is. He’s been on the mat a long time. He had a good sophomore campaign.”
Getting down to Indianapolis and competing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse has helped fuel the self-assurance.
“After going to State last year and having all that experience, I feel I know what it’s like,” says Jake Lone.
Rod and Denise Lone’s second son — eighth grader Kaden — just won an ISWA Middle School State title at 132 pounds. He has a chance to be the first NorthWood wrestler to go unbeaten through their middle school career (sixth, seventh and eighth grade) with three Big 11 Conference championships.
Jake and Kaden work out together and use the wrestling room in the family basement.
“We go down there and roll around a lot,” says Jake Lone. “It’s fun.”
Given the size differential, Kaden has to use his quickness against his big brother.
“He can’t muscle things and just rely on strength,” says Jake Lone.
“That’s been great bond at home,” says Rod Lone. “They push each other in a very positive way.”
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#WrestlingWednesday: Slivka poised for another big run
By JEREMY HINES
Jordan Slivka may not be the fastest wrestler in the state, the most powerful or the most dynamic – but, he just might have the most heart.
“He’s probably the most mentally tough wrestler I’ve ever had,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “He loves the big matches. As coaches we ask ourselves who we want to have out there, down one going into the third period. I’d put Jordan Slivka in that spot over anyone.”
Slivka, a senior for the Irish, showed just how much ice is in his veins in the state tournament last season. The Irish needed a win in the worst way if they were going to have a shot at winning the team state title. Slivka just told them to relax, he was going to win.
That’s what he did. He claimed his first individual state championship by beating Yorktown’s Christian Hunt 1-0. That win also sealed Cathedral’s team state title.
“Winning state felt amazing,” Slivka said. “I envisioned it before I won it. I told myself in the locker room before my match that I knew it was going to come down to my match. I said I was going to win it, and I knew that’s what I was going to do.”
Slivka has made a career out of winning the close matches. In the state tournament Slivka is 16-3 in matches determined by three points or less.
“I come out in each of my matches with a game plan,” Slivka said. “I don’t try to rush things and I don’t try to force points. I have the mentality that nobody can take me down, nobody can escape me and nobody can ride me. I’m confident that I own people on the mat.”
This season Slivka has continued to shine in the close matches. Recently in a dual meet with Indianapolis Roncalli Slivka bumped up to 170 to face No. 5-ranked Elijan Mahan. In that match Slivka injured his ribs and had to take two injury time outs, but he didn’t want to quit. He eventually escaped with a 6-4 victory which helped lead the Irish to the team win as well.
“He just gutted that win out,” McGinley said. “He was in a lot of pain. You really see his mental toughness in matches like that. As the seasons go on you just see how many of those close matches he wins, and you know he’s the guy you want out there in those situations.”
Slivka also edged No. 7-ranked (160) Peyton Asbury and No. 5-ranked (160) Nathan Conley by 1-0 scores. He beat No. 3-ranked Brooks Davis 3-2 and No. 4 ranked Peyton Pruett 5-2. He did lose one close match this season, falling to Conley 3-2.
Slivka started out in the Shenandoah school district. He went to Shenandoah until his freshman year. His dad was one of the coaches who helped turned that program around. His father, John, is a former state champion in Georgia.
“My dad, in that Shenandoah room made sure we were all tough,” Slivka said. “One of the drills we had was we would get in our stance and dad would walk around a bunch and snap our necks down. We kept going long after we were tired. It taught me to be tough.”
Slivka’s older brother, Johnny, was also a solid wrestler for the Raiders. Jordan even has a game plan for wrestling his older brother.
“If we do takedowns, Johnny might beat me,” Jordan said. “But in a full match I have him now. He’s a little out of shape. The first and second period he might get me, but come the third, he’s mine.”
Slivka is ranked No. 2 at 160 pounds behind Portage senior Donnell Washington. The two wrestled earlier in the season with Washington claiming the 8-3 victory.
“I am 1 and 1 against him,” Slivka said. “He beat me this year and I beat him last year. I’ve taken losses before and have been able to come back from them. I hope this is no different.”
Slivka’s goal this season is to win another state title. He admits it will be very hard to top last year’s title – with the team state championship being on the line as well.
“I have no clue how you top that,” Slivka said. “Only thing I can think of is doing it again and scoring more points.”
Next year Slivka will wrestle for Ohio University.
“My plan is to be as good as I can be in college. It’s the next challenge.
#MondayMatness: Current Adams Central team keeping up BAGUBAs tradition
By STEVE KRAH
When you grow up in the Adams Central Community Schools district and are inclined toward the wrestling mat, you begin dreaming about grappling for Adams Central Junior-Senior High School.
AC calls its athletic teams the Flying Jets. The wrestling team also goes by the acronym adopted by original head coach Barry Humble (1970-71 to 1990-91) — BAGUBA (Brutally Aggressive Guys Uninhibited By Adversity).
“It just means when you step on the mat, you have have a mindset of toughness, hard-nosed, gritty, tough wrestler,” says fifth-year Adams Central head coach Tony Currie. “You’re not going to back down and you’re not going to quit.”
AC wrestlers are taught to be mentally as well as physically strong. “Wrestling’s a tough sport,” says Currie. “It rarely goes just like you want it. You have to have that strong mind.
“We ask them to control the controllable — focus on you and what you can control.”
Senior 132-pounder Logan Mosser, a state qualifier at 120 in 2018, explains it.
“You have to stay focused on your goals and fight through it,” says Mosser, whose brother Anthony wrestled for AC and graduated in 2017 as a two-time state qualifier (113 in 2015 and 132 in 2017). “Remember why you’re there.”
Currie competed at the IHSAA State Finals his last three seasons wearing a singlet for the BAGUBAs — qualifier at 140 pounds in 1993, second at 145 in 1994 and third at 151 in 1995.
Since Jack Bersch in 1977, AC has produced 78 state qualifiers through 2018. The Jets have had at least one state qualifier every season except one. Troy Roe was a state champion at 105 in 1985. Besides Currie, Lynn Fletcher (112 in 1980), Ray Ashley (119 in 1984), Mark Griffiths (125 in 1990) and Andy Bertsch (135 in 1996) have been state runners-up. Adams Central has qualified for every Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals and won the 2018-19 Class 1A title in Fort Wayne, besting Prairie Heights 35-32 in the finals.
“It was a total team effort,” says Currie of AC’s third IHSWCA State Duals championship (the Jets also reigned in 2013 and 2015). “At the 1A level, every roster has three or four top-end guys. But it’s the depth. If you can run out a solid kid at every weight class, you can do well.”
Eighteen BAGUBAs competed for Adams Central and helped the team win four duals. Logan Mosser went 4-0 at 132, senior Jashawn Berlanga 3-0 at 220 and 1-0 at 285 and junior Paul Faurote 2-0 at 160 and 2-0 at 170. Fourteen others won at least one match.
Why have the Jets enjoyed success?
“A big part of that would be our coaches,” says Mosser. “All have good knowledge to spread around.”
Currie is assisted by Bobby Perry, Doug Linthicum and Doug Schultz. Volunteers include Hunter Bates, Aden Feasel, Brian Jordan and Zeke Schultz.
“(Currie) preaches hard about working hard in the practice room,” says Mosser. “It’s paying off on the mat.”
Parker Bates (170) credits experience for helping with this season’s accomplishments.
“We get really good senior leadership,” says Bates, one of 11 members of the Class of 2019 and the younger brother of 2016 graduate Hunter Bates (who placed eighth in the state at 152 as a senior and grappled two seasons at Wabash College). “They’ve grown up through the (Jet Wrestling Club, which currently includes about 75 pre-kindergarten through fifth grade).
“They’ve seen upperclassmen succeed and that’s what they want to do. They don’t want to be the ones to let the town and community down. We wrestle as much for our fans and hometown as we do for our team. Our fans travel really well. It helps us a lot. It picks up the intensity and gets us more hyped-up for matches.”
Adams Central edged Jay County to win Allen County Athletic Conference tournament title. Weight class champions for the BAGUBAs were Mosser (33-1) at 132, senior Logan Macklin (20-3) at 145, Bates (26-1) at 170 and Berlanga (30-3) at 220.
AC’s IHSAA state tournament series path includes the Jan. 26 Jay County Sectional, Feb. 2 Jay County Regional and Feb. 9 Fort Wayne Semistate prior to the Feb. 15-16 State Finals.
#WrestlingWednesday: Avon's Band of Brothers leading the way
By JEREMY HINES
The Avon wrestling team knows exactly where to look for inspiration as the season winds down and the state tournament draws near. The Orioles look to their own past.
Avon has learned first hand how wild and unpredictable the tournament can be. Wrestlers on the team have proven that it doesn’t matter if you win sectional, or regional. It doesn’t matter if you take some losses during the regular season. What matters most is surviving and advancing.
Avon senior Asa Garcia has epitomized that philosophy in his stellar career.
As a freshman Garcia lost to Ty Mills of rival Brownsburg in the sectional championship. Mills went on to beat him again in the regional, and then handed him a 5-0 loss in the semistate final. At state, however, Garcia was the one standing at the end. Mills lost to Warren Central’s Keyuan Murphy 9-2 in the semifinal round. Garcia pinned Murphy in the state championship to claim his first title.
Garcia had a fantastic sophomore year - winning sectional, regional and semistate, but he fell just short of his goal of back-to-back state titles, losing to eventual champion Alex Viduya in the state semifinal round. Garcia finished third that season.
As a junior Garcia again lost to Mills in sectional (2-0) and regional (5-1). In the semistate Columbus East’s Cayden Rooks handed Mills a semifinal defeat (1-0) and then dealt Garcia a loss in the semistate championship (3-1). But, like his freshman year, Garcia learned from his losses.
In the state finals Garcia ran through an absolute gauntlet of wrestling phenoms. He took out Beech Grove’s Ethan Smiley. He then faced Mills, who had dealt him so many previous losses. This time Garcia came out victorious 8-1.
In the championship, Garcia would once again take on Rooks - who had just beat him the week before. This time Garcia won the match 3-2 to claim his second title.
“Asa is really the heart and soul of our team,” Avon coach Zach Errett said. “As he goes, so does the team. He’s not afraid of losing. That’s really a quality that a lot of our guys have. You have to learn from your losses, and Asa has really shown he can do that.”
This year Avon has seven state-ranked wrestlers in the lineup. Garcia is No. 1 at 132 pounds this season and senior teammate Carson Brewer is ranked No. 1 at 182 pounds.
Asa’s younger brother, Blaze, a freshman, is currently ranked No. 12 at 106 for the Orioles. Sophomore Tyler Conley is ranked No. 10 at 120 and his older brother Nathan Conley (12) is ranked No. 4 at 152.
Junior Raymond Rioux is currently ranked No. 7 at 126. Sophomore Jaden Reynolds rounds out the ranked wrestlers for Avon, at No. 10 in he 138 pound weight class.
“Asa, Nathan and Carson really lead the way for us,” Errett said. “They are great leaders and they work hard. That shows the other kids what’s expected and what needs to be done in order to have success.”
Avon has three sets of brothers on the team in the Garcias, the Conleys and Jaden and Trae Reynolds. Trae, a senior, is injured and will miss the remainder of the season.
“Trae had been ranked for most of the year,” Errett said. “Then at team state he dislocated his elbow and is out for the year. I feel terrible for him. The type of kid he is, he will probably be first team academic all-state. He had either the highest or the second highest GPA in all of the juniors and seniors last year. He’s a phenomenal young man. He’s a hard worker. His senior year ended in the wrong way, but he still comes in the room and helps coach. He’s trying to help his teammates anyway he can. He’s been an awesome kid.”
For the last few years Avon has finished just behind Brownsburg in sectional and regional standings. The Orioles are hoping this year they can pull off the upset.
“Our goal is to win the IHSAA state title,” Errett said. “We know in order to do that we have to have a lot of things go right for us. In this sport, that’s unpredictable. But, we really feel we have a chance if everyone is wrestling their best.”
#MondayMatness: A.J. latest in a long line of Fowlers piling up victories at Calumet
By STEVE KRAH
One family has had their hand raised in victory nearly 500 times while representing Calumet High School wrestling.
Brothers Artty (Class of 1991) and Ed Fowler (1992) grappled to victories for the Warriors then the next generation added to that total. Artty and Deanna Fowler’s five oldest sons — Nathan (2010), Noah (2014), Nick (2015), Kobe (2016) and A.J. (2019) — have all won for the Warriors, especially Nick and A.J.
With success in the IHSAA state tournament series, A.J. has a chance to pass Nick on the way to the top of the Calumet victory list. No. 1 is now held by 2010 130-pound state qualifier Mike Clark (143).
In a household full of wrestlers, A.J. found out he had to get tough just to protect himself.
“I’m as aggressive as a I can be,” says A.J. Fowler. “All my brothers beat me up when I was little.”
All the Fowlers have played football and wrestled for the Warriors. A.J. ran for more than 500 yards as a fullback and also played defensive end and outside linebacker last fall. He sees his collegiate path including business management classes and either wrestling or football.
“The two go hand-in-hand for success in both,” says Jim Wadkins, a 1980 Calumet graduate who grappled at 177 pounds for coach Rolland Beckham (who had been an NAIA All-American at Indiana State and coached at Calumet for 18 years) and has been on the wrestling coaching staff since 1984-85 (he was an assistant to Ken Stigall, who was placed third at 112 at the 1967 IHSAA State Finals) and head coach since 1990-91.
Known for close to a decade after reorganization as Calumet New Tech High School, the Gary-based school has about 600 students. That makes it one of Indiana’s smaller Class 3A schools.
“We’ve got a lot of two- and three-sport athletes at Calumet,” says Wadkins.
A.J. Fowler wrestled at 182 pounds as a freshman, 195 as a sophomore and junior and is at 220 as a senior. His resume includes two sectional titles, one regional crown, three semistate berths and a state qualifying appearance in 2018. He has a chance to join Butch Carpenter as four-time semistate qualifier for Calumet.
The Warriors are members of the Greater South Shore Conference and face a strong schedule which includes, in addition to the conference tournament, the Warsaw Invitational, Harvest Classic at Lake Central, Chris Traicoff Memorial Invitational at Calumet, Jeffersonville Classic, Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka and Lake County Championships. Chris Traicoff started the Calumet program in 1939. The program was shut down during World War II and beyond and Beckham helped bring it back with the help of AD and boys basketball coach Traicoff during the 1960’s. He died in 1989.
According to Wadkins, Lowell native George Belshaw introduced Traicoff to Indiana University coach Billy Thom and even though 1935 valedictorian Traicoff played basketball and never wrestled a match in at Calumet Township High School, he won an NCAA title for the Hoosiers in 1939. That same year, he came back to Calumet to start the program. Calumet’s modern state tournament path has led them through the Griffith Sectional, Hobart Regional and East Chicago Semsitate.
In other words, a lot of tough Region wrestlers.
“It’s pretty tough,” says Fowler of northwest Indiana grappling. “You never know what you’re going to get."
“You may get a guy who’s big, burly and knows about three moves but he’ll still go with you.”
Wadkins notes that most Region wrestlers in the upper weights are juniors and seniors and Fowler held his own as an underclassman. Fowler has honed his skills with senior 195-pounder Aaron Lizardi and senior 285-pounder Keiloun Martin being his regular workout partners. He also spars regularly with assistant coach Andy Trevino. A state champion at 140 for Calumet in 1991, he has assisted Wadkins for more than a decade.
“He’s an asset in our room,” says Wadkins of Trevino. “Coaching wrestling is a young man’s game. They’re able to get on the mat with the kids."
“We’ve been very fortunate. Calumet grads or those connections to the program have shown a lot of devotion and have been good about giving back.”
Alec Noworul (Class of 2014) and Lamberto Garcia 15 are giving back as middle school coaches who also help out at high school workouts.
A.J. gives knowledge to his younger teammates by showing them the many moves he knows.
“It’s kind of like a big brother system,” says A.J., who is also sometimes joined in practice by actual brothers Nathan and Noah. Sister Felicia is the oldest of the Fowler kids and the only girl. Wadkins says she might be the toughest. Youngest Kade (Class of 2026) has yet to get too involved in wrestling.
Like his older brothers, A.J.’s matches keep his mother on the move. “She still has anxiety,” says A.J. Fowler. “She has to walk around after every match.”
Calumet has competed this season with 22 wrestlers and filled most weight divisions, even when being undersized in some of them.
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#WrestlingWednesday: Three-sport athlete KJ Roudebush ready for the challenge
By JEREMY HINES
Most wrestling stories don’t begin like K.J. Roudebush’s did. Then again, most wrestlers aren’t wired quite like the three-sport star from Tipton, either.
Roudebush got into wrestling as a punishment, and because a household lamp was broken.
“It’s really a funny story,” the Tipton senior said. “I was in fifth grade and my oldest brother was in college so my middle brother and I were downstairs wrestling around. Right when dad got home from work we were still wrestling and my brother and I had gotten mad at each other and one of my mom’s lamps got broken. My dad wasn’t happy. He said if we wanted to continue wrestling at home, we were going to join the wrestling team. I went to the wrestling team and I just fell in love with it.”
Roudebush is currently ranked No. 10 in the state at 195 pounds. He lost in the ticket round last year at the New Castle semistate to current No. 1-ranked junior Silas Allred of Shenandoah.
Roudebush doesn’t make excuses for that loss.
“Silas is something special,” he said. “I went out on the mat and he just dominated me. I couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t tired or anything, he was just better than me.”
This season Roudebush wants to go one step further than he did last year. He wants to advance to the state tournament.
For Roudebush, wrestling is a part-time gig. Unlike most highly ranked Indiana wrestlers, Roudebush doesn’t wrestle in the offseason. Summers are for baseball and the fall is for his first love, football. Roudebush plays quarterback on Tipton’s offense and splits time between linebacker and defensive end on defense.
“K.J. is in the top 10 of his class,” Tipton coach Mark Barker said. “He’s such an intelligent guy and he’s a leader in every sport he does. To me, he’s one of those exceptional people that don’t come along that often. If he focused solely on wrestling, I really think it would be hard for anyone to beat him.
“But I like multi-sport athletes. The more sports you do the better you’ll become at all of them. That’s the way things have always been here at Tipton.”
Currently Tipton has just seven wrestlers. For Roudebush, that’s perfectly fine.
“Being on such a small team could really suck, but we get a lot more attention from the coaches,” Roudebush said. “Our individual time with the coaches is through the roof. We’ve never had a big team. I think the most I’ve seen here is 10 wrestlers. Because of that, we don’t win a lot of matches as a team, but when you look at our head-to-head and don’t count forfeits, we’ve won close to 40 duals. We also have a very close bond with each other. I wouldn’t trade that for a bigger program with more practice partners.”
The Tipton team has adopted a philosophy through necessity. The goal is for every wrestler in the lineup to pin their opponent. If they do that, they have a shot at winning dual meets.
“We know what we are up against going into the match,” Roudebush said. “Coach tells us we’re starting out down 24-0, or something like that. We know every single one of us have to pin in order for us to win. It’s awesome. All of a sudden, Bam! We pin everyone and pull off the surprise win. We love that challenge. When we get people on their backs, we keep them there.”
In practice Roudebush alternatese from wrestling with the team’s heavyweight, sophomore Nate Morgan to wrestling with their 145-pounder Blake Hicks.
“Nate is stronger than me and that makes me really focus on my technique,” Roudebush said. “Blake is a scrapper. He’s good on top and he can put the legs in. He has a mean crossface cradle and he’s tough. It helps me a lot getting to wrestle with guys with different body types and strengths.”
Roudebush beat Elwood’s Jalen Morgan last year 5-2 to claim the sectional title. Morgan reversed that decision in regional, winning 3-2. That put Morgan on the opposite side of the semistate bracket as Allred. Morgan advanced to the championship match, losing to Allred but still advancing to state. Roudebush was eliminated in the second round.
“I want to go one step further,” he said. “That’s all I’m worried about. We have a tough sectional. The regional is even harder and I think New Castle is arguably one of the most difficult semistates. My focus is on getting past the ticket round. I’m worried about each match in front of me because wrestling is a different kind of sport. Anyone can win. You have to be ready at all times.”
#MondayMatness: Talented Crown Point Bulldogs taking down foes with team-first mentality
By STEVE KRAH
It’s an approach that Bo Schembechler would have recognized. Wrestling requires one wrestler go into the circle for one-on-one competition. But in high school, that wrestler is part of a team.
At Crown Point, the Bulldogs are doing like the old University Michigan football coach said. It’s about “The Team. The Team. The Team.”
“We’ve really been preaching the team concept,” says Branden Lorek, who is in his third season as Crown Point head coach and 14th in the program. The graduate of Fenton High School in Bensenville, Ill., wrestled at the University of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. “This isn’t just about ‘I’ or ‘me.’ It’s about the team.”
With guidance from varsity assistants Bill Hawkins and Vince Sessa, each Dog knows their job before they step on the mat, whether it’s to rack up bonus points or at least save points for the team.
It’s an approach the wrestlers have come to embrace.
“It took a couple weeks, but now they’re seeing it on the scoreboard,” says Lorek. “We give them pretty specific instructions. This is what we need from you — nothing less.
“We have an amazing coaching staff that’s passionate about the sport,” says Lorek, who also counts Brennan Cosgrove as a volunteer assistant, Nick Bruno as junior varsity coach and Aaron Sessa as freshman coach.
It’s about setting a goal and knowing the expectation.
“Our goal is always to win the match,” says Lorek. “If things go sideways, this is what’s next and our kids understand that.”
After several years away, Crown Point competed in 40th Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 28-29 and placed fourth out of 32 teams.
“The Al Smith was a nice feather in our cap,” says Lorek. “Our team is just starting to come together.
“Our conditioning is better than ever.”
The Bulldogs had traditionally taken the Christmas break off from competition. Two years ago, Crown Point participated in the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals and placed 12th in Class 3A. Last season brought participation in the Connersville Spartan Classic and a first-place finish.
“We’ve found our holiday tournament home,” says Lorek of the Al Smith Classic. “We were happy with the competition and hospitality. And it’s only a two-hour drive.”
The team was bolstered by six placers at Mishawaka — freshman Jesse Mendez (first at 126 pounds), junior Riley Bettich (second at 120), sophomore Stephen Roberson (third at 106), senior Jake Burford (third at 145), freshman Nick Tattini (sixth at 113) and senior Ethan Potosky (seventh at 195).
Crown Point followed that up with a 36-25 Duneland Athletic Conference dual victory against Merrillville on Jan. 2. With wins, Mendez moved to 24-0, Bettich 23-1, Roberson 21-1, Buford 23-2 and Potosky 8-2. The Bulldogs visit Michigan City for another DAC dual Jan. 8. The DAC tournament is Jan. 12 at Michigan City.
Mendez won numerous folkstyle, freestyle and Greco-Roman titles as a middle schooler. Last summer, he competed in the USA Nationals and lost in the All-American round in both freestyle and Greco-Roman.
“It’s not a shock to us what Jesse’s doing (in high school),” says Lorek. “Jesse’s an extraordinary athlete and teammate. He’s done a great job of assimilating into the program. He listens. He’s good student. He does not get a big head. He’s always looking to get better.
“He’s not shy about his goal or vision for the season.”
Bettich’s first two high school seasons came at Lakeshore in Stevensville, Mich. Competing at 103 in Division 2, he was a state champion in 2018 and state runner-up in 2017.
Like Mendez, Bettich has traveled all over the country for folkstyle, freestyle and Greco-Roman events and the best opponents he can find. A strong student with a 3.5 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, Bettich has aspirations of wrestling in college.
“He’s been a great teammate and leader for us,” says Lorek of Bettich.
“We were happy to see him rise to the occasion and compete (at Al Smith, where he lost 7-2 to Center Grove junior Brayden Littell in the finals).”
Robertson is a transfer from Portage High School where he behind state champion Jacob Moran at 106 last season. The 2018-19 season marks Robertson’s first as a varsity starter.
“He’s doing phenomenal,” says Lorek. “He’s a smart kid and a good student. He’s quiet and works hard. He’s very coachable.
“We’re looking forward to see what he can do.”
Buford and Potosky came up through the ranks at Crown Point.
“Jake is having a great year,” says Lorek. “Where he ends up on the (State Finals) podium is up to him. The sky’s the limit for Jake. He’s a team leader, hard worker, good student and just a good person.
“(Potosky) is a loyal, loyal Crown Point wrestler. After an injury in the regional championship in football, he’s starting to get back into it. His older brother (Steven) was a state qualifier (at 220) in 2014. If Ethan can get down to state, we think he can be someone on the podium.”
The Duneland schedule is weighted toward the team concept with more points being awarded during the dual-meet position than the conference tournament.
Lorek says finishing high in the DAC and adding points to the athletic department in the all-sports trophy chase is point of pride at Crown Point.
“It teaches the kids that this is bigger than them,” says Lorek. “They are part of something special.
“Hopefully that teaches them a life lesson. They can be a leader or a part as long as they belong to something.”