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      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Owen Valley striving for 2A excellence

      The Owen Valley High School wrestling team has one main goal – to make the Class 2A Team state tournament. On Sunday the Patriots will find out if they get invited to the tourney.
      “Last year getting to team state was our goal,” Patriot coach Steven Spicer said. “Nothing’s changed for this year. We have talked about it all offseason. The guys know what the goal is. They have bought in. If we get in, it will be huge for our program.”
      Last season was the first time Owen Valley’s wrestling team was ever ranked in Class 2A. Spicer felt it would come down to a dual meet between the Patriots and Monrovia for the final spot in the team state field. In that dual meet Monrovia won by three points, and got in.
      “I would make a case for our team by saying that we haven’t lost to a 2A school this season,” Spicer said. “We are undefeated in our class. Our community is behind us as well. Right now our wrestling ticket gate is higher than our basketball. The team is already very motivated, and if they get in, they will just be on fire.”
      Currently the Patriots are 11-2. Their losses come at the hands of Terre Haute South and Cascade.
      The heart and soul of the Patriot squad is junior Branson Weaver. He is currently ranked No. 11 at 138 pounds.
      “The kid is a mat rat,” Spicer said. “He loves wrestling. He wrestles year around. He went to Fargo. He’s our leader both vocally and by example. He runs our warmups. When he talks, the team listens.
      “On the mat Branson is a freak athlete. He’s explosive, strong, fast and incredibly flexible. His wrestling IQ is very high. He’s always wanting to learn and he asks every coach questions, daily.”
      Senior Eli Hinshaw is the highest ranked grappler on the Patriot squad. He is currently ranked No. 10 at 220. Coach Spicer said Hinshaw is a quiet leader on the team. Hinshaw was named All-State in football this season.
      Sophomore Emery Jackson is ranked No. 18 at 126 pounds and senior Bryce Mills is currently ranked No. 7 in the Evansville semistate at heavyweight.
      Hinshaw is the only wrestler on the team with any wrestling experience before Spicer took over the program five years ago.
      “Everyone else on the team started after I took over,” Spicer said. “Bryce started wrestling as a freshman. Eli Hinshaw started as an 8th grader. Jackson started in seventh grade.
      “But they have all bought into the offseason,” Spicer said. “They are competing against guys that have wrestled their whole lives. We’ve started doing some sort of wrestling year around and we are always looking for opportunities to get on the mat. We are lucky here that the coaches in other sports are all on board. We are a smaller school, and we all know we have to share athletes.”
      When Spicer started with the team there were five wrestlers. Now they have 24. This year he talks about how, for the first time, he has flexibility with the lineup and how that makes a big difference in dual meets.
      “Last year we were really solid, but there was no room for us to bump anyone around,” Spicer said. “We couldn’t manipulate our lineup. This year it’s been nice to have some freedom with the lineup.”
      Individually, the Patriots are hoping to have several wrestlers punch their ticket to state. Spicer believes a few of the guys can compete for a state title.
      But right now the goal is to get into team state. That’s the focus.
      “The guys deserve it,” Spicer said. “We went to the Midwest Classic. We went to Disney. We competed as a team and we don’t take anyone that’s not on our team. We could have. We could have been a little tougher that way. But we wanted only Owen Valley guys.
      “I truly believe that has made us more competitive this year. In reality, with our guys, we can put up points against any team in the state. I feel we can be competitive with anyone. We are not the most experienced team and we know that. But we want to be the better athletes. We want to be in the best shape and we have to be the toughest team out there. We are athletic, we are in great shape and we are tough and I hope we get to prove that at team state.”


      #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Concord’s Koltookian raising mat profile at end of prep career


      Many wrestlers who enjoy success on the Indiana high school scene can look back at many years of training and competition.
      Some have been known to start even before they begin kindergarten.
      Such is not the case with Concord High School’s Armen Koltookian.
      His mat career began after he quit the freshmen boys basketball team.
      The athletic Koltookian got into the Minutemen’s varsity lineup in 2019-20 and posted a 7-4 record. He went 20-12 and was a Goshen Regional runner-up at 182 pounds as a sophomore in 2020-21 then really broke out.
      Stepping into the circle at 195, Koltookian won 37 of 43 bouts while earning second place to Mishawaka’s Christian Chavez at the Northern Lakes Conference meet and earning Elkhart Sectional, Goshen Regional and Fort Wayne Semistate titles as a junior in 2021-22.
      “He caught a lot of people by surprise last year,” says first-year Concord head coach Anthony Snyder. “He’s a great kid and a great leader. He comes in every single day with a positive attitude and wants to learn.”
      Koltookian was edged 3-2 by eventual eighth-placer Samuel Saunders of Terre Haute North Vigo in the first round of the IHSAA State Finals.
      Improvement on the mat came through open-room training at Mishawaka and Jimtown and made a few visits to Midwest Xtreme Wrestling in Mishawaka and Midwest Regional Training Center in New Carlisle.
      With the help of Concord’s Fitness and Performance Center director Scott Pherson, Koltookian got stronger by increasing his weight room numbers in the deadlift and clean-and-jerk.
      After another standout football season for the Craig Koehler-coached Minutemen in the fall (he was named all-NLC), NCAA Division II Hillsdale (Mich.) College gridiron verbal commit Koltookian opened the 2022-23 wrestling season at 5-1 with four pins at 195 then moved up to 220. In the Raider Invitational at Northridge Saturday, Dec. 10, he went 4-1 and is 9-2 on the season.
      “Wrestling definitely helped me improve as a football player, physically and mentally,” says Koltookian, a standout linebacker who also shined at H-back on offense. “I got tougher and I got a whole lot better with my hand-eye coordination and hand-fighting through the line.
      “I saw numerous things that improved from wrestling football. So I'd recommend any football player that's thinking about it to get out and try it.”
      Both grueling sports, wrestling and football require mental toughness.
      How does Koltookian deal with this?
      “I always like to remember that I've got bigger things in my life going on,” says Koltookian. “I always focus on the future and the success that comes with grinding through these times.
      “It also helps a lot to have a lot of teammates that support me — Lance Army (Class of 2023) being one of them. He's our heavyweight and he always supports me and is there to wrestle with me, push me and keep me mentally in-check.”
      Armen, who carries a grade-point average of 3.96 on a 4.0 scale, is the son of Aram and Shelley Koltookian and the younger brother of Zaven Koltookian, a 2022 Concord graduate now on the football team at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y.
      Snyder, a 2008 Mishawaka graduate, leads the Concord program after spending the past five seasons guiding Bremen. The Lions won one dual meet in 2017-18 and 13 in 2021-22.
      Snyder’s staff include Concord alum and veteran wrestling coach Brian Pfeil (the 1991 graduate went 97-18 and placed fifth at 189 as a senior) as well as Brandon Barcus, Andrew Cortez, Tyler Norment and Bryce Track. Barcus was with Snyder at Bremen.
      “I’ve surrounded myself with people who I though could help me build what I view this program can be,” says Snyder. “They all have the same vision as I do.”
      Snyder made the move for a few reasons.
      “It’s a better opportunity,” says Snyder. “It’s closer to home. It’s on my way to and from work (as a production leader at Lippert Components in Goshen). There’s a lot of support from the administration.
      “It’s just nice to be at a big school that wants wrestling to succeed and get to that next level. I feel like we can make it into a contender in the northern part of Indiana if not the state.”
      Before Bremen, Anthony was on Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mark Kerrn’s staff at Jimtown.
      Uncle and IHSWCA Hall of Famer Darrick Snyder (currently the head coach at Brownsburg) was Anthony's coach at Mishawaka.
      Snyder helped establish the Concord Wrestling Club which around 45 members. The Concord Junior High School team has begun practices with more than 60 participants.
      At the high school level, the Minutemen’s next meet is a dual Tuesday, Dec. 14 at Mishawaka. Not in the Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka this year, Concord is part of the 16-team McKee Memorial Invitational at Rochester Saturday, Dec. 17. The NLC meet is Jan. 14 at Wawasee with the Elkhart Sectional Jan. 28, Goshen Regional Feb. 4, Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 11 and IHSAA State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

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      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Hamilton Heights is poised to shock the state

      Hamilton Heights coach Gary Myers doesn’t feel like his wrestling team is getting the respect and state-wide attention they deserve. He’s OK with that.
      “I got to tell you, I’d rather not be ranked,” Myers said. “I was ranked No. 1 my whole senior year and that just put a target on my back and wore me out. When these kids aren’t ranked, I don’t even care. They will just go out and prove it. I know I have 10 kids that should be in the mix. Maybe not top 10, but top 15 to 18 for sure. But rankings are just opinions, that’s why everyone wrestles on the mat.”
      Myers reminds his squad constantly that nothing will be given to them. He tells the story of his own career, where he finished in the top four at state as a junior. Then, as a senior, he entered semistate undefeated and ranked No. 1, but he lost in the first round.
      “There are no guarantees in this sport,” he said. “We had four guys in the ticket round last year. This year we want more but they are going to have to work to get there.
      The Huskies have lofty goals this season. They want to win the team state title, send 12 wrestlers to regional and semistate and six or seven to state.
      Currently only one Husky wrestler is ranked in the state poll. Senior Evan Tilton is ranked No. 3 at 195. He could possibly wrestle 182 come tournament time.
      “Our decision now is what to do with Evan,” Myers said. “I think we’ll let him make his debut at 182. We were going to take him to 170. I asked him if he could win semistate at 182 and he said yes.
      “Evan is a funky wrestler. He can be in a bad spot and somehow, he always comes out on top. He’s hard to coach. He doesn’t do anything orthodox. He doesn’t even know where’s going to end up. He just finds ways to win.”
      According to Myers, this Husky team is the best he has ever coached. In fact, Myers believes this is the best team in school history.
      “We are a solid team at every weight,” Myers said. “We are going to be a problem for anyone. I used to have teams with seven good wrestlers. Teams could move people around against our lineup. You can’t do that now. You have to go heads up with us. Anywhere you move someone you’re going to get a good wrestler.”
      Currently the Huskies are ranked No. 6 in Class 2A.
      “When I saw that, I thought, this is unbelievable,” Myers said. “Our team is tough. We are going to shock some people. We are going to embarrass a few. We are going in hoping to win team state. I’ll never have this team again. This year we are going all in. The rankings just give us that feeling that we were slighted and we want to prove some people wrong.”
      Kendall Moe, a freshman, will be the team’s 106 pounder this year. She was an All-American at Fargo and is ranked No. 5 at that weight in the girls’ state rankings.
      Junior Jeylen Pugh will wrestle 126 for the Huskies. Last year Pugh wrestled at 132 pounds. Pugh has 11 siblings, and they have all wrestled for coach Myers. His sister, Zoe, is ranked 7th in the state for female wrestlers.
      Isaac Kuhn will be the team’s 132 pounder. Kuhn is one of the team captains along with Tilton.
      “People overlook Isaac,” Myers said. “He’s been in the ticket round at semistate two years in a row. He wrestles every offseason. He always shows up. He doesn’t miss practice. He’s very, very quiet. Once and a while you need the hard workers to show the others how to put in the time.”
      Junior Alex Furst has been a nice surprise, according to Myers. He will wrestle at 138 this year and is currently 6-0 on the year.
      Junior Carson Fettig will wrestle at 145 this season.
      “Carson has wrestled against high schoolers since he was in seventh grade,” Myers said. “He would beat them a lot of times. We are hoping for a good season out of him.”
      Michael Cain, a sophomore, will either be 152 or 160 this season for the Huskies.
      “He’s a very good wrestler and he’s going to be a problem for everyone,” Myers said.
      Senior Jimmy Lacey will be the team’s 170 pounder and classmate Josh Brown will wrestle at 220. Brown was a ticket-rounder last year.
      Mason Moran will round out the lineup for the Huskies at heavyweight.
      Myers wrestled with tenacity when he was younger. In fact, he did pay per view mixed martial arts fights well into his 40s. Through that he earned the nickname Iron Bear.
      “My mom gave me the name bear when I was two,” Myers said. “But I wrestled in Russia in 1990 and I had an overtime match against a Soviet champion (Alexandir Markov). I didn’t quit wrestling and the Russian press started calling me the Iron Bear. I almost caused an International incident that day. They called me that because I refused to give up.”
      That mentality is something the Hamilton Heights wrestlers will have this year, according to Myers. They won’t give up and they are going to turn some heads.

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      #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: With mantra of ‘hold the rope,’ Delta wrestlers keep on winning


      Delta High School has a history of wrestling success.
      The Eagles have piled up victories and titles over the years.
      From 1980-81 to 1984-85, Delta won five straight IHSAA team championships.
      There have also been eight semistates, 15 regionals, 19 sectionals,12 conference titles and numerous champions and state placers.
      Cody LeCount is in his second season as Eagles head coach in 2022-23 and working to keep Delta among the elite programs in Indiana.
      LeCount is a 2014 graduate of Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis where he went 184-2 and was a two-time IHSAA state champion (2013 at 132 pounds and 2014 at 145) and one-time state runner-up (2012 at 126). He was the Indianapolis Star’s Wrestler of the Year in 2014.
      He grappled for two years at Central Michigan University and spent two years at Marian University in Indianapolis.
      LeCount began his coaching career as an assistant for three years at Carmel High School before moving to Delta, where he is also a special education teacher.
      He got to work with Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Tonte as well as Matt Schoettle at Perry Meridian, National Wrestling Hall of Fame Michigan Chapter member Tom Borelli at Central Michigan, IHSWCA Hall of Famer Steven Bradley at Marian and IHSWCA Hall of Famer Ed Pendoski at Carmel.
      “Growing up around wrestling my whole life I’ve been around really, really good coaches,” says LeCount, who competed for . “I’ve learned a lot of things from a coaching standpoint on how to train, how to get in shape and get through the grinding season.”
      In LeCount’s first season at Delta, the Eagles went 14-5, won a sectional title and were Class 2A IHSWCA State Duals qualifiers. The only senior on that team was Dillon Tuttle (who placed eight at the state meet at 138).
      So far in 2021-22, Delta is 7-0 and has outscored foes 475-78. The Eagles beat Tri, Lapel, Alexandria-Monroe, Frankton and Greenfield-Central at the Rex Leavitt Elwood Invitational Nov. 19 and earned dual wins against Muncie Central Nov. 29 and South Adams Dec. 1.
      Seven individuals are 7-0. Five are state-ranked — Ayden Bollinger (Class of 2025) No. 3 at 106), Neal Mosier (Class of 2024) No. 7 at 120, Braxton Russell (Class of 2024) No. 13 at 170, Kolten Rhone’s (Class of 2024) No. 14 at 145 and Kaeb Stebbins (Class of 2025) No. 16 at 152.
      On a roster of 31, there are four seniors with two in the varsity lineup — Garrett Clay (160) and Heath Sprague (195).
      Borrowing from a locker room speech give by Susquehanna Township (Pa.) High School football coach Joe Headen, LeCount and his assistants — Austin Crouch, Jacob Gray (No. 3 on Delta’s all-time win list and a state champion at 182 in 2017), David Locke (No. 7 on the win list and a state champion at 145 in 1984) and Keith Rhonemus — have Delta wrestlers learning how to “hold the rope.”
      “When we’re the climbing the mountain everybody’s got to hold on to that rope,” says LeCount.
      “If one guy slips he might make everybody else fall. It’s our job to hold on to the rope and it’s also our job to help everybody else stay on the rope.”
      It’s about teamwork and accountability.
      “If I do my job, everybody else can continue to do their job,” says LeCount. “Don’t let that guy slack off in practice. Don’t let this guy give up an extra two points in a dual meet.
      “These kids have bought into that kind of system.”
      LeCount has gotten his athletes to “do everything to their full potential and just trust the process.”
      “If they do everything right they can get to where they want to be,” says LeCount. “They know that there are days when they’re going to be really tired. There are going to be days that are really hard. They might lose a match. They might win a big match.
      “It’s knowing the ups and downs of the season, how to train and compete and just love each other.”
      High school wrestling presents the opportunity to compete in an individual sport in a group setting.
      “Wrestling is 1 v 1 out there,” says LeCount. “You mess up it’s one you. The team aspect of things makes it even greater.
      “I might be biased, but it’s the greatest sport there is. There’s nothing else out there like it. It makes you have to depend on yourself to win your match and help your team.”
      So many wrestlers come off the mat after a loss in a six-minute match in tears because they gave it their all.
      And it’s as much mental as physical.
      “That internal drive, mental toughness and voice in your head, it all has to come from within,” says LeCount. “You can always do so much more than what your mind’s telling you.”
      2A No. 2 Delta goes to Jay County Tuesday, Dec. 6 for a double-dual. The Eagles grappled with Winchester at 6 p.m., followed by 2A No. 1 Jay County. Yorktown will also wrestle Winchester.
      Delta goes to Class 2A IHSWCA State Duals at Jay County Jan. 7. The Hoosier Heritage Conference at Pendleton Heights meet is Jan. 14. Then comes the IHSAA state tournament series — Delta Sectional Jan. 28, Jay County Regional Feb. 4, Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 11 and State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

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      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Purdue Polytechnic ready for their first full season

      After five years of watching others compete in Indiana’s wrestling state tournament, Purdue Polytechnic will finally get its chance to participate.
      Polytechnic started six years ago but this is the first year the school is fully sanctioned to compete in the Indiana High School Athletic Association tournaments.
      The Techies are hoping to find quick success on the mat this season.
      “This year we have some kids that we think will do pretty well in the state tourney,” Polytechnic coach Cory Graham said. “We want to get into team state and eventually work toward a team state title.”
      The school has just over 500 students. The wrestling team has 42 grapplers and fills every weight class.
      “If you look at most high schools, the kids come from the same location,” Graham said. “Here we have kids traveling from all over the Indianapolis area. We have kids from Greenwood, the west side and all over the city. We are a very diverse school, but we come together and work toward a common goal.”
      Although there are a good number of wrestlers on the team, the Techies are very inexperienced on the mats compared to other schools they will compete with.
      “We started with 16 kids when we started the program,” Graham said. “We’ve grown every year. I only have a couple of kids that come with some decent experience. We started a middle school program, but we only have six kids that have come up from that.”
      Currently the Techies have 22 freshmen and 12 sophomores on the team. They have just four seniors, two male and two female.
      “I’m excited about that,” Graham said. “This is a great opportunity for these kids to get experience and learn.”
      The only ranked wrestler in the program currently is sophomore Silas Foster. Foster is ranked No. 18 at 138 pounds.
      “My personal goal is to get a state title,” Foster said. “I want to wrap up our schools first state championship and then I want to go out and get two more in my junior and senior seasons.”
      Foster has gone to the New Castle semistate as a spectator several times. He has witnessed the emotion of the ticket-round matches and the thrill of the champions being crowned.
      There are seven female wrestlers on the Techie squad. Seniors Katelynn Hernandez is ranked No. 3 in the girls’ polls at 132 pounds. Her senior classmate, Carmen Castillo, is ranked No. 10 at 182.
      “I’ve had three girls that have been runners-up in the girls state tournament,” Graham said. “I’ve had six placers at girls state. We have four kids wrestling in college right now.”
      On the boys side, senior 152-pounder Canaan Miller is the team’s leader.
      “In the room he’s really vocal and he works well with the young guys,” Graham said. “He has wrestled all four years for us. He’s pretty tough. We bumped him up against Daleville to wrestle the NO. 9-ranked kid at 160 and he wrestled him pretty well. He’ll scrap with anyone in the state.”
      Although the wrestlers on the team come from all different parts of the Indy area, they have been able to bond.
      “We’re a very positive, upbeat team,” Graham said. “All the kids are super funny. They cool part of this team is that a lot of them played football together and they have like a brotherhood mentality. We are really close. It’s like a family but we can flip the switch when it comes time to practice and compete.”
      The Techies are hoping to build on whatever success they have this year, and in the near future they are hoping to become a strong wrestling program with multiple accolades.
      “It has been a long process to go through to become sanctioned by the IHSAA,” Graham said. “After fighting the battle for five years, we finally got in. A lot of our kids didn’t understand how the tournament even worked, especially my new kids. They are excited to be a part of this and to learn from it.”


      #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Brady relishes leadership role for Garrett Railroaders


      A can’t-quit attitude has helped Hayden Brady amass impressive numbers as part of a decorated wrestling program at Garrett High School.
      With a 9-1 start to the 2022-23 season at Goshen’s RedHawk Super Duals, 5-foot-10 1/2, 126-pound senior Brady is now 102-17 for his career (including 35-6 as a 106-pound freshman state qualifer, 27-4 as a 113-pound sophomore state qualifier and 31-6 as a 120-pound junior fourth-place finisher at the IHSAA State Finals).
      He moved past Andrew Wertman (98-65), Trevor Moe (100-31), Beau Schendel (100-19) and Brayden Moreau (100-29) on the Railroaders’ all-time win list.
      The Garrett victory call is topped by Brayden Shearer (152-37), followed by Clayton Fielden (141-26), Bryce Schendel (133-25), Beck Davis (127-38), Dylan Demarco (125-46), Zac McCray (125-29), Lance Moe (119-31), Bo Davis (116-39), Hayden Lee (114-7), Blake Davis (112-24) and Chandler Shearer (106-35).
      Tenth-year Railroaders head coach Nick Kraus says Brady has the chance to finish his prep mat career as high as No. 3 on the victory list and No. 2 in winning percentage.
      Brady has amassed 63 career pins. The school record — held by Fielden — is 84.
      “I don’t pay attention to any of that,” says Brady. “I just go out and do my job.”
      Kraus was introduced to Brady’s tenacity in the grappler’s first season at Garrett. The coach recalls Brady placing third a Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic as a freshman.
      “He had some technique, but it was mostly heart,” says Kraus. “His only loss that year was to (Crown Point’s) Sam Goin (who went on to place fifth at 106, fourth at 126 and first at 152 in the past three State Finals).”
      On the second day of the 32-team tournament, Brady earned victories in double overtime and ultimate tiebreaker.
      Says Brady, “It was two back-to-back matches that it took me a lot of heart to win.
      “He was just fighting and landing on top,” says Kraus. “He is a student so his wrestling has come a long way.
      “He was always pretty good when he was in the top position, but neutral (was not special) and he’s recognized that and really, really tried getting better at it. That’s what makes him him.”
      Where does he get the drive?
      “I’m very, very competitive and just motivated and always striving for better,” says Brady. “I never want to settle for anything less than what I can achieve.”
      Kraus encourages Brady to use multiple moves if the match situation allows it.
      “If it’s a pretty winnable match — and a lot of them are pretty winnable for Hayden — we might say ‘why don’t you work on this for this match?’ or ‘why don’t you try doing this takedown?’”
      This is done so when Brady is in a spot that he won’t be predictable for those scouting his tendencies.
      SETL are letters that are associated with Garrett wrestling.
      It’s the acronym for a motto that came from Bill Kraus who died when his son was 16 and wrestling in high school.
      “My dad had a pretty distinctive voice,” says Nick Kraus. “He’d say ‘Show ‘Em The Lights’ and you knew it was his voice.
      Looking for something to brand to program with something of meaning, Nick — who was a Garrett assistant for two years before becoming head coach — adopted SETL.
      “It’s kind of funny because my technique wasn’t the best when I was younger,” says Kraus. “I thought you had to pin somebody in wrestling. Beating somebody by points wasn’t much of an option. If I got off the mat and I didn’t win by pin I was kind of disappointed.”
      Kraus racked up 31 pins his senior year.
      “That’s what we did — ‘Show ‘Em The Lights,’” says Kraus, who counts Mike Poppe, Alex Arney, Tyler Lanning, Josh Buuck and Carlos Aguirre as assistant coaches in 2022-23. “It’s a big part of our culture. In town, people know what it means. It’s printed on shirts. Some kids have SETL tattoos once they’ve graduated.”
      Hayden Brady was first shown the mat by his father — former Churubusco wrestler Dennis Brady — and began competing as a middle schooler.
      “I thought I’d give it a shot,” says Hayden. “Over the course of the year I kind of fell in love with the sport and started wrestling more and more.”
      He was involved in other sports, but gave those up to concentrate on his new love.
      Wrestling has given him the opportunity to compete all over the country.
      “I’ve been on both coasts several times,” says Brady. “And several other places.”
      Hayden was at Churubusco in seventh grade and Central Noble in eighth grade before starting high school at Garrett.
      Hayden’s mother — Cassie Phillips — lives in Colorado. Older brother Harrison is in Montana and serving in the U.S. Air Force.
      Sister Lillie is a Garrett sophomore and a wrestling manager.
      After graduating from Garrett, Brady wants to wrestle in college and pursue an Aviation degree.
      Kraus teaches middle school Physical Education and Health at Garrett.
      He’s also coached football, helped out with youth baseball and taught high schoolers.
      “Middle school is my favorite,” says Kraus. “Some people think that those kids are difficult to work with. I enjoy it. I’m able to get kids to come out and wrestle. P.E. is a pretty fun job. You get to play basketball, football, baseball — whatever — all day.”
      He was also an MMA fighter for 11 years.
      Kraus admires Brady for his character.
      Looking for volunteers to coach at a junior varsity tournament on Nov. 19 at West Noble, Kraus saw Brady give up a free Saturday and don a coaching shirt and help out.
      “He was amped up about it and enjoyed coaching,” says Kraus. “He didn’t have to come to that. He chose to wake up super early.
      “He is willing to do that for his teammates.”
      Brady, who is a team captain, has also taken the time to work with other less-skilled wrestlers and drilled with them in the practice room.
      “He’s truly a team player,” says Kraus.
      Says Brady, “It’s a leadership thing. I was just showing up for my teammates. Even though they may not be the varsity kids they are the future of our program.”
      It’s that kind of attitude that has allowed Garrett to enjoy so much recent team success. The Railroaders won a Class 2A Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Team Duals title in 2021 and were IHSWCA 2A Team Duals runners-up in 2018 and 2020 as well as IHSAA sectional and regional champions in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
      Garrett also reigned in the Allen County Athletic Conference in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2019 and the Northeast Corner Conference in 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
      The 2023 2A IHSWCA State Duals at Jay County is Jan. 7.
      There’s also the Al Smith Classic Dec. 29-30, Garrett Invitational Jan. 14 and the NECC Tournament at Eastside Jan. 21 with the Carroll Sectional Jan. 28, Carroll Regional Feb. 4, Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 11 and State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
      Garrett’s next competition is a home dual at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30 against DeKalb.
      “If you get a quality dual meet, you can’t beat the atmosphere and what it does for fans,” says Kraus. “We’re renewing that rivalry. (The Barons) should be pretty good this year and I think we’re pretty good.
      “Wednesday night should be fun.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Cascade ready for year two under Harris

      The story seems familiar. Big city guy, through fate, ends up in a small town and falls in love with the community. Although Christmas is fast approaching, this isn’t a Hallmark movie script. It’s the real-life journey of Quinn Harris and his Cascade wrestling team.
      Harris is a 2015 graduate of Avon High School. Avon’s enrollment is close to 3,000 students. After high school he helped coach at Avon, then coached at Ben Davis, which also has close to 3,000 students. Last year he took the head coaching job at Cascade, a tiny high school in Clayton, IN with an enrollment of under 500.
      “There isn’t a whole lot to do here,” Harris said. “It’s a small farm town. 4H and agriculture are huge around here. A lot of kids live and work on the farm. They own pigs. They show pigs. The kids go hunting and fishing. It’s a much different culture than what I’m used to.”
      The wrestlers on his Cadet squad like to tease him a little bit about his city-guy life.
      “They tease me all the time,” Harris said. “They talk about how my jeans are a little tighter than the other guys.”
      The relationship has worked. Last year, in his first season at the helm of the Cadets, Harris led the team to a spot in the team state championship. The Cadets finished sixth at team state, won the Indiana Crossroads Conference for the first time, won a New Castle invitational and had a sectional champion for the first time since 2016.
      “All around, I couldn’t have been happier with the year,” Harris said.
      Early in the season Harris learned just how close the Cascade wrestling family was.
      “Last year, before I accepted the job, they lost a teammate to a disease,” Harris said. “Kadeo Lewis was his name. He would have been a senior last year. It was a big loss for their team. He was a captain as a junior. So, senior night they called it Kadeo Lewis night. We all wore orange in his honor. Orange Cascade shirts when the normal colors are Carolina blue. But the entire crowd was in orange, and it was a big crowd. We sold over 100 shirts that night. It was just a cool thing. Kids that had never went to a wrestling meet before came there. It really showed me that Cascade is a family, for sure.”
      Last year Harris was getting to know the team. This year he’s hoping to lead them to the 1A state title. He’s got a nucleus of seven highly talented seniors along with some key underclassmen that could push Cascade to the school’s best season in history.
      “This year we have an extremely motivated attitude,” Harris said. “There is a difference in practices. This year they are believing it on their own. They have expectations. Other than cheerleading and cross country, there has never been a team at Cascade that had been to a state championship. The kids are starting to believe it’s possible to win it.”
      The Cadets are led by four-ranked seniors. Liam Farmer (182), Michael Hutchison (160) and Dominic McFeeley (126) are all ranked No. 10 in their respective weight classes. Logan Bickel comes in ranked No. 8 at 113 pounds. Walker VanNess isn’t ranked, but he finished the year with a 31-9 record last year at 220 pounds.
      “This is a tough senior class,” Harris said. “Five of the seven had over 30 wins last year. Three were semistate guys and one a state qualifier. They are the reason we will have so much success. They are 100 percent leaders. They are our five captains. All five did a lot of off-season wrestling. They went out and competed at Virginia Beach and at Disney.”
      Bickel reached the 100-win mark at the end of the season last year. He is a three-time semistate qualifier. He was also the first Fargo All-American from Cascade.
      “He’s a big move kind of guy,” Harris said. “He has a lot of fire and passion. He’s a very cool kid and he didn’t even start wrestling until seventh grade. He’s very strong and athletic. I’m looking forward to seeing how far he can go.”
      McFeeley was the lone state qualifier from Cascade last year.
      “In some people’s eyes that was a big surprise,” Harris said. “He took out a returning 4th place finisher in semistate. He’s one of the hardest workers in our room. He leads day in and day out and he’s very humble. He does things the right way. He really likes working with the younger kids as well.”
      Hutchison is another team leader that likes to stay and help the younger kids at practice. He has a brother, Carter, that is the team’s 145 pounder as a sophomore.
      Farmer is more of the vocal leader on the team. He was a football phenom this past season as well.
      “Liam is a stud on the football field,” Harris said. “He broke our single game rushing record this year. He had a game with seven touchdowns and somewhere around 375 rushing yards. He was in the top 10 in the state for rushing yards.”
      Farmer broke his leg in the first round of sectional but is expected to be able to return to the mat sometime in December.
      The Cadets expect big contributions this season from Carter Hutchison and fellow sophomore Brayden Burelison as well. Burelison was a conference champion last year and Hutchison was a conference runner-up. Both had over 25 wins as freshmen.
      A few other key contributors to this year’s squad will be heavyweight Kyle Sullivan and 106-pound junior Logan Schnarr. Last year Schnarr only had one win going into team state, but he pinned all four of the opponents he faced in the tournament and was named the team MVP.
      Harris believes the team state aspect has really helped sell the kids in the sport. It gives them something to be motivated by.
      “The kids have really bought into this,” Harris said. “The community really backs the team as well. I think last year we sold around 200 team state T-shirts. When I was at Avon we went to team state, but I didn’t realize how much it meant to the small schools. The fans travel so well in these small communities. It’s extremely cool to see how much this means to them.”
      Harris believes because of his young age he has really been able to relate to the kids and help keep them motivated.
      “I was just in their shoes not too long ago,” Harris said. “I don’t know exactly what they are going through, but I know what it was like being a kid in high school. I think I’ve built a really good relationship with them on a personal level. Wrestling is about building character for the days after wrestling is over, and I’m glad to be a part of that here.”
      The city guy in the small town is learning to adapt. In fact, although he’s never been hunting or fishing before, he’s going to give it a try. The team has been wanting to take him out and teach him some of the small-town ways.
      “I’m interested in just about anything, and I’m going to give it a try,” Harris said.
      But for now, Harris and the Cascade Cadets have goals to meet on the mat.

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      #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Mikey Robles ready to finish strong


      Sometimes a change of venue is the best thing for a person.
      Mikey Robles placed fifth at the Michigan High School Athletic Association State Finals as a Niles High School 103-pound freshman in 2020.
      He qualified for the regional stage as a sophomore then had to quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic and saw his season end. His grades began to slip, making him academically ineligible. There were other distractions in his life that caused him to look for a new school.
      “It was so I could better my life and move away from all the drama and stuff,” says Robles of his decision to change schools.
      The oldest of eight children (four boys and four girls), Robles came to Indiana and Kim Wagley (the grandmother of his girlfriend) became his legal guardian until he turned 18.
      “(Wagley) treats him like a son,” says Steven Sandefer, head coach at Mishawaka High School where Robles enrolled after Niles. “She’ll do anything for him. She’s a sweet lady.
      “She’s working with us to keep him motivated and on-track and making good decisions. He’s come a long way in the last two years.”
      Sandefer, who is in his ninth year as a wrestling coach and sixth leading the Cavemen program, knows what it takes to be successful inside the circle.
      “It’s a lot of hard work,” says Sandefer. “You have to have discipline. I say this to my guys weekly: In wrestling and in life you’re going to have to do things you don’t want to do things are not always going to be easy if you want to get where you want to go.

      “It reinforces a lot of those bigger life lessons.”
      That message has reached Robles.
      “Wrestling has helped me be a better person in life,” says Robles. “Since it does come with discipline you show people a lot more respect and it also helps you stay out of trouble.”
      Robles was with the Cavemen in 2021-22 but ineligible to compete.
      “My grades have gotten back up to where they are pretty good,” says Robles, who counts History as his favorite subject and sees a future as an electrical engineer.
      With then-Niles wrestling head coach Todd Hesson bringing his Vikings to Penn’s Henry Wilk Classic, Robles had competed against Mishawaka in the past.
      Before joining the team, Mikey was familiar with Cavemen grapplers Christian Chavez, Chris Peacock, Courtney Rider, Gunnar Sandefur and Isaac Valdez.
      The 2022-23 season — Robles’ senior campaign — opens with him No. 12 in the Indiana Mat preseason rankings at 138 pounds for a team that is No. 2 in Class 3A.
      “When I’m on the mat I just like to get physical,” says Robles, who is 18 now and got started in the sport at 5. “I just love to wrestle. This is my senior year. I want to go as far as I can and leave everything on the mat.”
      Sandefer says he saw “flashes of greatness” from Robles last winter and during the off-season, but is not sure he was yet fully in grappling shape.
      “He has a lot of room to grow in his wrestling,” says Sandefer.
      Many wrestlers progress from the end of one high school season to another.
      “When the season gets here you can see the improvements the kids made in the off-season,” says Sandefer. “They get to showcase their talents.
      “That’s the real rewarding part.”
      Robles’ regular workout partners are 113-pound senior Peacock and 145-pound junior Brabender and — occasionally — 132-pound junior Zar Walker. The coaches he works with most are Sandefer and assistant Fabian Chavez.
      “We don’t screw around,” says Robles of their practice room mentality. “We go in their and try to get better.”
      The wrestlers teach each other moves and talk about making them more effective.
      “Staying in shape and packing on muscle is good,” says Robles, who stands 5-foot-7 1/2. “But it’s really not how strong you are to go out there and win a match.
      “I believe technique beats strength any day of the week.”
      Four state qualifiers return for Mishawaka — Walker (who placed sixth at 132 in 2021-22 and is ranked No. 2 at 132 in the preseason), seniors Chavez (No. 4 at 195) and Valdez (No. 8 at 170) and Brabender (No. 6 at 145). There’s also senior Xavier Chavez (No. 6 at 106).
      They are are part of a large squad of 47 (45 boys and two girls).
      “That’s about 10 more than usual,” says Sandefer. “My first year I had 30 kids so it’s come up.
      “All 47 kids have shown they’re committed.”
      A physical education teacher at Mishawaka, Sandefer leads athletes and others through weight training classes. Most wrestlers are in these classes, learning power movements like the bench press and squat.
      “We do pull movements,” says Sandefer. “If you’re on a guy’s leg you want to be able to pull him in.
      “We also need that leg strength.”
      Practices at Mishawaka began Nov. 1. The first boys meet is slated for Tuesday, Nov. 29 at Northern Lakes Conference foe Warsaw.
      Among the other competitions for the Cavemen are the Chris Traicoff Memorial Invitational at Calumet New Tech Dec. 10, a dual against crosstown rival Penn Dec. 21 at Mishawaka (Alumni Night), the 32-team Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 29-30, the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association 3A State Duals Jan. 7 at Franklin Community, the NLC Championships Jan. 14 at Wawasee, Mishawaka Sectional Jan. 28, Penn Regional Feb. 4, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 11 and IHSAA State Finals Feb. 17-18 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

      It’s not all about wrestling for Robles. He played football at Niles as a sophomore and Mishawaka as a senior. He was a middle linebacker for the 10-2 Cavemen in 2022. A shortstop/left fielder in baseball, he intends to try out for that sport in the spring. He stepped away from the diamond after eighth grade to focus on wrestling.

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      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Buttler looking to sprout under the lights

      Whiteland junior Joey Buttler has a knack for gardening. Yes, gardening.
      It’s an unusual skill for a teenager in 2022. For Buttler, however, it just makes sense.
      Buttler likes to see the literal fruits of his labor. He enjoys knowing the work he puts into something will pay off in the end. He is quite proud of the fact that this year he was able to grow 27 different types of tomatoes. He was able to tend to his apple trees and pear trees, his blueberry, blackberry and honeyberry plants with great success as well. His labor paid off with a bounty of fresh food.
      “I really got into gardening a few years ago,” Buttler said. “I was thinking about how people grow their own food and how cool that is. It’s exciting to me to see all the things you can do with your own garden.”
      It just makes sense, knowing Buttler’s passion for working hard and seeing that work pay off, that he also gravitated to the sport of wrestling. 
      Buttler started wrestling a little later than many elite-level grapplers. He got into the sport in seventh grade. He’s felt he was behind other competitors in technique and skill. He decided to work as hard as possible to close that gap.
      Saturday Buttler won the Evansville semistate at 126 pounds. He is currently ranked No. 4 in the state and has a 32-1 record.
      “I love wrestling,” Buttler said. “I like the fact that you’re going to get what you deserve, whether you agree with it or not. Luck favors the person who works the hardest. It’s a sport where you really work in silence. I like that. And when you achieve your goals, you aren’t happy because of other people’s reactions, you’re happy because you did something for yourself.”
      Buttler focused his offseason training on technique. He felt his strength was there with anyone in the weight class, but felt he was lagging behind on the technical side. So, he watched videos, went to different wrestling academies such as Wright Way Wrestling, Outlaws and Contenders. 
      “I lacked experience compared to a lot of the other guys I go up against,” Buttler said. “I’ve really dialed in on technique. The experience aspect is starting to equalize between me and other kids. I feel a lot more natural now.”
      Whiteland coach Anthony Meister says Buttler is the hardest worker in the room.
      “He’s always asking questions,” Meister said. “He’s eager to learn. If he could, he would practice seven days a week.”
      Another interesting aspect of Buttler’s is that he has an uncanny ability to retain information. That has helped him accumulate a 4.2 GPA and it helps him learn technique quicker than most others on the mat.
      “I feel fortunate that I’m naturally gifted in school,” Buttler said. “Information comes into my brain and for some reason I don’t forget it. The ability to not forget things has helped me in wrestling. I can retain knowledge. I watch wrestling content and I don’t ever get tired of it. I keep taking in the information and I am able to retain it.”
      Buttler will square off against Adams Central’s Gavin Cook (30-7) on Friday night in the state finals.
      Last year Buttler placed eighth at 113 pounds. He’s hoping to improve on that this year.
      “My goal is to win state,” he said.
      This season Buttler will have a teammate with him at state, something he went at alone in the 2021 campaign. Elijah Brooks qualified at 132 pounds. Brooks and Buttler are practice partners. Last season Brooks got a concussion right before sectional and wasn’t able to compete in the tournament. This year Brooks broke his ankle in December but was able to recover in time to wrestle in sectional.
      Brooks is currently 9-6 on the year.
      “Eli has made me a better wrestler,” Buttler said. “It’s really cool having him there with me. It was unfortunate he didn’t get the chance last year.”
      Meister sees a lot of similarities in the two wrestlers.
      “They are both overall good kids and grinders in the room,” Meister said. “I took over the program and this is the first class I’ll have for four years. I put a lot of pressure on them in hopes of turning the program around. I don’t have any seniors on the team, but our club level, middle school and high school numbers are going up and these guys are a big reason why.”
      After high school Buttler wants to wrestle in college. His ultimate goal is to win an Olympic medal.

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      #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Traditionally-strong Rochester Zebras blazing new trails in 2021-22


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

      1985 1 1

      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Feeler's ready for one last ride

      No matter what happens in the next couple of weeks, Brandon and Donnie Feeler are going to end a journey the same way they started it – together.
      Donnie Feeler is a senior 106-pounder from Crawford County. Brandon is his father and the only coach he has ever had.
      “Our situation is a little unique,” Brandon said. “I’ve coached him since he was five years old. We’ve been on this journey for many, many years. It means a lot to both of us, to say the least.”
      Brandon still remembers the day Donnie came home from school, waving a flyer about wrestling around and begging to be able to be part of it.
      “Donnie was a big fan of WWF wrestling back then,” Brandon said. “He would constantly watch it on TV. At the time we lived in Scottsburg and he brought home this flyer about wrestling – thinking it was going to be jumping off the ropes like they did in WWF. I explained to him what it was, and he was still really eager to go.”
      So, Donnie joined wrestling and Brandon started coaching the sport. Brandon had a background in grappling, but he was learning wrestling at the same time he was teaching it to Donnie.
      The two dived headfirst into the sport. Brandon would drive Donnie to tournaments across the country. They would have hours together in the car, in the hotels and in the restaurants. They formed a strong bond through the sport.
      “Me and my dad, we’ve had our differences,” Donnie said. “But the sport has really grown us closer. It’s not just me out there. It’s him too. We go through the same emotion and the same stress. It’s not easy being a coach of a son. There are times when I just don’t want to train. But it’s good to have a coach that keeps after me and keeps me going.”
      Last year Donnie did something that no other kid in the history of his school has accomplished. He qualified for the state tournament.
      “There were a lot of emotions when he won his ticket round match,” Brandon said. “He punched his ticket. That was just a real proud moment.”
      Qualifying for state put a new fire in Donnie. He didn’t win his Friday night match, but he started working harder than ever before. He and his dad went to tournament after tournament last summer. They hit the mat hard and pushed like never before. The problem was all that wrestling started to burn Donnie out. He questioned whether he wanted to go on.
      “I was just burnt out,” Donnie said. “I was exhausted from the off-season wrestling. I just didn’t want to do it anymore.”
      Qualifying for state also came with some high expectations for Donnie. His focus seemed to change, according to his dad.
      “To some degree he was wrestling for all the wrong reasons,” Brandon said. “He was trying to be the best wrestler for an audience, not for himself. He contemplated whether he even wanted to wrestle his senior year. He did some soul searching and came back with some confidence. He was ready to unlock his potential.”
      Donnie said that renewed vigor came from having some talks with his dad.
      “That relationship with my father, and just speaking with him and listening to what he had to say – that really helped me regain my focus,” Donnie said.
      This year Donnie is coming off a regional championship. He is Crawford County’s first regional champion, and now he’s a two-time champ. He’s ranked No. 12 at 106 pounds and currently has an unblemished 20-0 record. His goal ultimate goal is to be his school’s first-ever state placer in wrestling.
      Crawford County has just a handful of wrestlers on the team. In practice Donnie’s only choice is to go up against guys weighing 120-152. But that’s OK. He embraces the David vs. Goliath philosophy. He likes being the underdog. He likes coming from a small school and wrestling the big programs. He likes being counted out.
      “I want to win it all,” Feeler said. “But no matter what happens I’m going to give it my all. If all else fails, we gave it a good run and had a fun four years.”
      For Brandon, the next few weeks will mark the end of a journey.
      “We started his career together and we’re going to finish it together,” Brandon said. “It’s going to be an emotional time, for sure. But we’ve had a heck of a ride.”

      1961 1 2

      #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Multiplicity of moves favors East Noble senior grappler Sprague


      It may not be for everyone, but the way Aidan Sprague approaches wrestling has been good for him.
      “I’m pretty funky and I move on my feet,” says Sprague, an East Noble High School senior. “I’m not the strongest one out there, but I can use my technique and that works in my favor.”
      During Sprague’s prep career, the Knights’ postseason path has gone through the Westview Sectional (2019, 2020 and 2021) and West Noble Sectional (2022), Goshen Regional and Fort Wayne Semistate.
      As a 106-pound freshmen in 2019, Sprague placed second at sectional and regional, fourth at semistate and was a State Finals qualifier.
      As a 113-pound sophomore in 2020, Sprague was a sectional regional champion, semistate runner-up and placed sixth at State.
      As a 120-pound junior in 2021, Sprague took sectional, regional and semistate titles and placed sixth at State.
      As a 126-pound senior, Sprague heads into the 2022 Fort Wayne Semistate at 35-0 with sectional and regional titles to his credit.
      Sam Riesen is in his fourth season as head coach at East Noble after 10 years in charge at Churubusuco High School.
      Sprague, a University of Indianapolis commit, tries to follow the coaching staff’s directive during his matches.
      “I really cut a lot of people and they just want me to look as sharp as I possibly can on my feet,” says Sprague. “I get most of my tech falls like 20-5.
      “They want me to get as many takedowns as I can. I love it because I have a good mindset about it. It gets me in better shape. I’m drilling different types of takedowns almost like it’s like a practice.”
      How many takedowns are in Sprague’s bag of tricks?
      “I do five or six consistently,” says Sprague. “Then I’ll throw some tricky ones out there every once in a while.
      “It’s important to have a lot of stuff. When you only have one or two good things you become one-dimensional. That’s really when people can game plan against you. If everybody knows I have a good dump, they’re not going to let me tie up.
      “It’s so much harder to wrestle someone if they have multiple good moves.”
      Sprague grew up in Kendallville and began wrestling in the sixth grade. When he did not place in the middle school conference meet as a sixth or seventh grader, he spoke with his father Adam about becoming more serious about the sport and put basketball aside.
      As an eighth grader, he was a conference champion and a state qualifier.
      “Aidan is just an extremely focused, driven kid,” says Riesen. “He sets his mind to a goal and really gives everything he can to accomplish it.”
      Sprague plans to study Social Studies at UIndy with plans on being a teacher and coach.
      “It’s awesome to see a young guy going into education at a time where you don’t see colleges filled with people graduating with degrees in teaching,” says Riesen. “It’s exciting to see that.
      “He and his brother have super-supportive parents (in Adam and Susan Sprague, who both teach in the West Noble system).”
      Aidan Sprague is a three-sport athlete — outside linebacker and team captain in football, wrestling and pole vaulter with a personal best of 12-foot-6 on the track and field team.
      Alex Sprague is a 170-pound freshman wrestler and is also in band.
      “His parents are running them all over,” says Riesen. “They find the time to get them to wrestling practices all over the area during the off-season.
      “They go that extra mile to make sure he gets everything he needs.”
      Aidan has traveled to Indianapolis Cathedral to train with the Outlaws.
      While Riesen doesn’t name captains, Sprague has essentially filled that role.
      “He’s a natural leader,” says Riesen. “The team has followed him in a lot of ways — like in terms of attitude. He’s a light-hearted kid but he gets focused when he needs to. That really rubs off on the team.”
      “He’s pretty special in the fact that he doesn’t just have one go-to move. He’s constantly scoring and looking at different techniques and takedowns.
      “In practice, he’s just always innovating and trying new things.”
      East Noble assistant coach Austin Moore, a State Finals qualifier at Central Noble in 2017 and 2018, is a frequent workout partner for Sprague.
      “They do a lot of play wrestling, water wrestling — whatever you want to call it,” said Riesen. “They wrestle through and find different positions.
      “There’s really a lot of spots where he’s pretty comfortable.”
      Aidan Sprague is a three-sport athlete (outside linebacker and team captain in football, wrestling and pole vaulter with a personal best of 12-foot-6 on the track and field team.
      Alex Sprague is a wrestler and is also in the school band.
      “His parents are running them all over,” says Riesen. “They find the time to get them to wrestling practices all over the area during the off-season.
      “They go that extra mile to make sure he gets everything he needs.”
      Aidan has traveled to Indianapolis Cathedral to train with the Outlaws.
      While Riesen doesn’t name captains, Sprague has essentially filled that role.
      “He’s a natural leader,” says Riesen. “The team has followed him in a lot of ways — like in terms of attitude. He’s a light-hearted kid but he gets focused when he needs to. That really rubs off on the team.”
      “He’s pretty special in the fact that he doesn’t just have one go-to move. He’s constantly scoring and looking at different techniques and takedowns.
      “In practice, he’s just always innovating and trying new things.”
      East Noble assistant Austin Moore, a State Finals qualifier at Central Noble in 2017 and 2018, is a frequent workout partner for Sprague.
      “They do a lot of play wrestling, water wrestling — whatever you want to call it,” said Riesen. “They wrestle through and find different positions. There’s really a lot of spots where he’s pretty comfortable.”
      “His freshmen year we butted heads a little and had some debates on which way he should go in terms of being more funky or more traditional.”
      As Sprague has progressed and enjoyed success, the coaching staff has resisted pigeon-holing the wrestler and let do what feels and works best for him.
      Riesen says the first eight minutes of practice are devoted to “roll around” — which allows the athletes to try different positions and finishes and figuring out how to get out of certain spots.
      “I think it really has helped a lot of our kids,” says Riesen. “One thing we do really well as a staff is allow kids to explore different wrestling positions and options and figure out what works for them.”
      Popular among other wrestlers, Sprague has been called “The People’s Champion.”
      “He’s a great kid beyond being an obviously very talented wrestler,” says Riesen. “He’s been an awesome kid to have these last four years.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Hot Diggity Dog Elijah Anthony focused on a state medal

      Elijah Anthony is hoping the fourth time is the charm.
      Anthony, a senior wrestler at Frankfort High School, has qualified for state three years in a row. Each time, he’s fallen just short in his Friday night round. He has not placed yet at the state meet.
      “He has got to be one of the best state qualifiers that has never placed,” Frankfort coach Steve Cook said. “He has probably had the toughest draw on Friday night, three years in a row. He’s wrestled someone that has placed in the top three of the finals every single year.”
      Anthony didn’t have high expectations during his freshman campaign at state. He was wrestling with a broken hand. He drew Mater Dei’s Alec Freeman in the Friday night match. Freeman won 9-1 and went on to place third in the weight class.
      “From the get-go I’ve expected to place every year at state,” Anthony said. “My freshman year I had a broken hand, and I knew it would be really tough to place. But my sophomore and junior years I really felt like my coaches took me to a different level, and when I didn’t place it really got in my mind.”
      Anthony drew Avon’s Cheaney Schoeff for the Friday night round of state in 2020. It was a close match, with Schoeff escaping with a 7-5 victory. Schoeff then went on to finish second in the weight class.
      Last season Anthony drew Brownsburg’s Brady Isom on Friday night. The two battled for six minutes, with Isom emerging with a 1-point victory, 3-2. Isom ended up placing third, and yet again, Anthony went home without placing.
      This season Anthony is hoping his fortune starts to change.
      “I’ve really tried to focus on all the little things this year,” Anthony said. “I focus on every single match. I work hard in every single practice. I’m just ultra-focused right now.”
      Cook can see that focus every day in the Frankfort wrestling room.
      “I’ve never met anyone like Elijah,” Cook said. “When he sets his mind to something, he’s going after it. Wrestling is his life.”
      Anthony says he’s consumed with wrestling these days.
      “All of my time is devoted to wrestling,” he said. “After practice I go help with the middle school team. When I get home, I study film. My whole life is wrestling right now.”
      A month ago, Anthony got a scare that he thought might end his wrestling season. He was driving and he lost control of his vehicle. He ended up jumping a curb, knocking down a few trees and coming very close to hitting a telephone pole.
      “I seriously had no idea if I was going to wrestle again after that,” Anthony said. “I remember just thinking what if this is the end of my season. I was super nervous about that.”
      As it turned out, Anthony did not have any serious injuries from the wreck. He was hoping to wrestle that same weekend, but due to the circumstances he didn’t make weight for that meet. He was back on the mat the next week.
      Currently Anthony is 30-0 on the season and ranked No. 6 in the 132-pound class.
      Anthony wrestles at the Central Indiana Academy of Wrestling. There, his usual practice partner is the No. 1-ranked grappler in the 132-pound class – Zeke Seltzer.
      “I might have to wrestle Zeke in semistate. I really can’t wait to wrestle him.”
      Anthony’s wrestling style is like a pit bull that just never stops attacking. He’s aggressive, takes lots of shots and keeps his foot on the gas the entire match. He has learned to stay in better position when attacking as well.
      “He’s very aggressive,” Cook said. “He’s non-stop from the whistle. He’s always on the attack, for sure.”
      After high school Anthony would like to wrestle in college. He wants to study education and become a high school math teacher. He said his ultimate goal is to coach wrestling.
      Anthony started wrestling when he was four but didn’t like it at first. He ended up quitting for a while. He took the sport back up in fourth grade and has been hooked ever since.
      “I was in fourth grade and I started going to watch the state finals matches every year,” he said. “I watched Chad Red and Nick Lee, and all those big matches. When I made it there myself, I thought that was the coolest thing. Now, it’s all about business. If I get back to state, I’m there to win it. That’s my mentality.
      “I really love wrestling. In this sport there is always something more. You accomplish one goal, and there is another one that comes up. I love that challenge.”


      #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Jimtown’s Buchanan focuses on mental game, stays positive for teammates


      Landon Buchanan landed back on top at the Elkhart Sectional after being forced to injury default in the finals in 2021.
      Buchanan, a Jimtown High School senior, moved to 33-2 on the 2021-22 season with a second-period pin victory in Saturday’s finals.
      A sectional runner-up at 160 a year ago, he was first at 145 in 2020 and second at 145 in 2019.
      A Fort Wayne Semistate champion and eighth-place finisher at the State Finals in 2021, he lost in the second round at semistate in 2020 and the first round at semistate in 2019.
      Buchanan talks about his senior season.
      “I haven’t worked too much on technique,” says Buchanan. “I think I have the technique. It’s just more mental for me. It’s knowing what I need to get to and pushing myself.”
      Like many successful grapplers, Buchanan started focusing on the sport before high school.
      “It all kind of changed in middle school,” says Buchanan. “I started coming in with the high school (team) and see how they practice. I really made a jump there. I learned how to practice with (Martin Moyer).”
      Buchanan was a standout for Jimtown’s 9-3 football team in the fall.
      “It took awhile to get into the rhythm of things,” says Buchanan of the transition from gridiron to mat in the fall. “The conditioning is a lot different.”
      While he is not sure where, Buchanan does plan to wrestle in college and will likely study business.
      “I’m trying to find the best fit for me,” said Buchanan. “
      While he likes to do well as an individual, he also cares about being part of a team which had six weight class winners (himself plus  junior Alex Moyer at 106, senior Aaron DeLaLuz at 120, junior Mikey Kallimani at 126, senior Noah Eberhart at 138 and junior Conner Watts at 145) and lost to Elkhart by a whisker (223.5 to 223) for the 2022 sectional team championship.
      “We have guys with so many different wrestling styles — we’ve got strong guys, fast guys, funky guys,” says Buchanan, who moves on to the Feb. 5 Goshen Regional. “We’ve got everything you need.”
      Jimmies head coach Jerimiah Maggart encourages Buchanan to be a team leader.
      “I just encourage my teammates,” says Buchanan. “They all know what they need to do. I’m yelling for them and getting excited.
      “When I’m not in matches I’m on the sideline just like my coaches.”
      Maggart appreciates the example Buchanan sets.
      “He’s not loud, but he’ll do anything to help his teammates, which is awesome” says Maggart. “He leads by example. He never misses practice and he works. He stays after practice and helps the little kids every time.”
      Maggart also sees an athlete that is focused on his goals.
      “He’s got the determination and drive and he’s very level-headed,” says Maggart. “You know that when some kids lose you can’t talk two them for a few minutes. I could walk right up to him and talk to him.
      “He gets it. He’s easy to coach and break things down. That’s really one of the coolest things.”
      Landon is the third of Eric and Judy Buchanan’s four children. His older siblings are Mitchell Smith and Cheyenne Smith. His younger brother is Hayden Buchanan.
      “He’s 10 and he’s a pretty tough wrestler,” says Landon.


      #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Lakeland record setter Miller hoping to break through in state tournament

      Photo by Nathaniel Labhart

      Lakeland High School senior Ben Miller won his third Northeast Corner Conference wrestling title Saturday, Jan. 22 at Lakeland.
      Miller, who has a single-season school record 74 takedowns to go with 118 career victories — 26 as a freshman, 28 as a sophomore, 27 as a junior and 37 as a senior — took his late NECC championship at 145 pounds. Ehren Misner, a 1991 graduate, leads the Laker win list with 136. Miller was previously thought to have gone to No. 1 using win-percentage projections from missed matches during the 2020-21 season.
      After a 10-6 loss to Prairie Heights senior Sam Levitz in the Dec. 4 NECC Super Dual, Miller came back Saturday for a pin in 1:32 that secured Miller’s latest NECC crown.
      “(Levitz) is very strong and he likes to get me out of my position so I just had to hold it,” said Miller. “I made up that loss and I want to keep continuing from this and go for that (State Finals) podium.
      “It’ll be important that I don’t take short cuts.”
      Said Lakeland head coach Kevin Watkins of the Miller-Levitz rematch, “Those are two high-profile wrestlers. Ben’s been thinking about redemption all season.”
      The state tournament series opens for Miller and his teammates Saturday, Jan. 29 at the West Noble Sectional. The Feb. 5 Goshen Regional and Feb. 12 Fort Wayne Semistate follow that.
      Miller, who competed at 113 as a freshman, 120 as a sophomore and 138 as a junior and put on more muscle as a senior, has competed at the Fort Wayne Semistate three times, but has not yet broken through to the State Finals (this year’s event is Feb. 18-19 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis).
      As a junior, Miller pinned his way to the title at the Westview Sectional. He was a runner-up with two pins at the Goshen Regional.
      It was as a Lakeland seventh grader Miller became focused the mat sport.
      “I went to one outside tournament and I got beat,” said Miller, who moved from LaGrange to Fort Wayne and back before starting his wrestling career. “That’s when I said if I want to be good I have to go to all of these different things.
      “That’s when I really took it serious.”
      Miller tends to grapple with three Lakers in the practice room with junior Gabe Miller (138), Brady Schiffli (152) and Keagan Schlabach (126). All three placed in the NECC meet, brother Gabe Miller and Schlabach placing second and Schiffli fourth.
      “I’ll roll around with Keegan to get my speed up.” said Miller. “(My brother) is really good at holding his position. I have to fight really hard to get my takedowns and everything. (Schiffli) is strong and relentless so I have to be on my game every practice. I can’t just be sloppy in my practice moves.”
      There’s an intensity between the Miller brothers on the mat. But that goes away off it.
      “It gets kind of heated in the practice room,” said Ben Miller. “But when we get out of practice we’re friends. We’re cool and everything.”
      After the NECC meet, Schlabach is 33-6 and Ben Miller 29-3.
      Ben and Gabe’s father is Wayne Miller. Mother Kathy Miller lives in Fort Wayne. There two older sisters —  Hadassah and Audrey— and an older brother, Jaden Miller, who introduced Ben to wrestling. The Longs — including former Lakeland head coach Charlie — got Jaden into the sport.
      Watkin was a four-time Michigan high school state finalist and won a 152-pound state title for the Dale Wentela-led Constantine Falcons in 2000.
      What has made Miller a better wrestler this year than last in the coach’s eyes?
      “He learns,” said Watkins. “He’s a student of wrestling. He breaks down his own matches. I’ll build my report and he’ll built his and they’re usually pretty much the same.
      “He’s a very easy kid to coach. Even in matches he loses he never hangs his head. He goes to the drawing board, figures out what he did wrong and he fixes that. He’s just that type of kid.”
      Watkins, who was on the U.S. Marine wrestling team and served in the Corps for a decade, admires Miller’s drive and work ethic.
      “I don’t know that I’ve ever yelled at him,” said Watkins. “He’s a great kid.”
      After high school, Ben Miller sees himself flipping houses.
      “I’ve been in construction trades for two years now,” said Miller. “That gives me experience and my dad has experience so he’ll teach me.”
      The house built by Lakeland students goes to the non-profit organization — Agape Missions of LaGrange County.
      “They have really cheap rent for people who are struggling,” said Miller. “They can stay there for three months until they’re back on their feet.”


      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Ruhlman motivated to be under the lights again

      Delaney Ruhlman doesn’t let things get to him. That’s part of who he is. So, last year when he lost to Indiana legend-in-the-making, Jesse Mendez in the state championship match, Ruhlman didn’t sulk.
      Sure, the loss hurt. It hurt badly. He could have been the first state champion his coach, Mike Runyon had ever had in his 15 years at Bloomington South. But Ruhlman knew he had to pick himself up and go support his older brother, Tristan who was wrestling for the title at 220 pounds.
      “I needed to be completely there for him even after I lost,” Delaney said. “I was so excited to watch him wrestle.”
      As it turns out, the older Ruhlman dominated the finals. He won the championship in convincing fashion, 10-2. He became Runyon’s first champion. He finished the season 27-0, and his biggest supporter couldn’t have been happier.
      “Just knowing my brother and I were going to the finals together was one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt,” Delaney said.
      This season Delaney is ranked No. 3 at 152 pounds, behind Crown Point’s Sam Goin and Zionsville freshman Anthony Rinehart.
      “At any given day it could be a different result with any of those top four or five guys in the weight class,” Runyon said. “It is a matter of who is on their game coming up through the tournament series. It depends a lot on the draw and that sort of thing. It’s going to be a really interesting year at that weight class.”
      Delaney says he is more motivated than ever to get back under the lights.
      “Last year, I feel that just motivated me more,” Delaney said. “It made me push myself more. I want to become a state champ this year. I have to keep putting gin the work and my chances will be pretty good as long as I stick to what I need to improve on.”
      Runyon describes Delaney as an explosive wrestler, but slightly different than Tristan on the mat.
      “Delaney will wait to strike, and when he goes, he goes hard,” Runyon said. “Delaney is explosive, but he picks his spots to be. Tristan was just explosive all the time.”
      Delaney is uncertain what he wants to do after high school, but he did go on an official visit to Purdue recently. Tristan wrestles for Purdue. Delaney wants to go into the medical field.
      “Delaney is just very laid back,” Runyon said. “he’s a great kid. He handles adversity like nobody’s business. If there is anything that comes up out of the ordinary, he just brushes it off. He does that with losses too. I think he’s upset with himself, but it’s like, hey, let’s just go to the next step and get over this.”
      When he’s not wrestling, Delaney enjoys hunting and fishing and working out.

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      #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Peru’s May hopes to reap dividends of varied mat experience


      An increase in aggressiveness and confidence has Peru High School’s Jalen May shooting for high achievement in his second high school wrestling season.
      The son three-time IHSAA State Finals Placer Nic May (sixth in 2000-2001 at 103 pounds; third at 112 in 2001-02 and second at 112 in 2002-03, losing in the finals to Lawrence North’s Reece Humphries), Tigers sophomore Jalen May gets plenty of encouragement and pointers from his father.
      “He always tells me to work hard,” says Jalen of his father who is No. 2 on the all-time Peru win list at 159-5 (2005 graduate Daric Fuller is tops at 168-16). “He would do anything to wrestle again. He tells me all the work will be worth it. Only I know how hard I can push myself.
      “We have a mat in our basement and try to wrestle around four times a week and focus on one move.”
      Jalen May went 25-6 at 106 as a freshman in 2020-21. Along the way he topped eventual state champion Ashton Jackson 7-4 at the Western Triple Dual.
      “That shows Jalen can wrestle at that level,” says Andy Hobbs, Peru’s head coach since 1996.
      May lost in the “ticket” round at the 2020-21 Fort Wayne Semistate.
      “My freshman year I was a little naive,” says May, who is currently 25-3 as a sophomore 106-pounder. “That semistate opened my eyes.
      “I’m a lot more aggressive (since last high school season) and my confidence has gone up. I used to be scared to wrestle certain people and now I’m always ready to go.
      “I always try to stay positive in the practice room, on meet days or while I’m working out to lose a little bit of weight.”
      In 2021-22, May lost in the 106 semifinals of Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic to Crown Point freshman Gavin Jendreas (May beat Jendreas 1-0 at the 2021 IndianaMat Hoosier Preseason Open aka IHPO) and placed third.
      “It went alright,” says May. “I expected to do better. I know I’ll see (Jendreas) again this year.”
      Hobbs and his staff want to keep May challenged.
      “I’m getting ready for the state tournament,” says May. (Coaches) like me to have good matches. They’d rather me have a good match and lose than pin the kid in 30 seconds.”
      Hobbs, a 1986 Tipton High School graduate, coached Nic May and saw him go to Ken Chertow camps in the off-season.
      Jalen May, who says he really increased his drive for wrestling in the seventh grade, has gone to Chertow and Jay Robinson camps, travel team practices, club practices in Kokomo and with Central Indiana Academy in Indianapolis.
      “Jalen has had a lot more experiences (than his father),” says Hobbs. “He’s doing all the right things. He’s getting all the experience it takes to make a run at it.
      “He’s well-rounded wrestler and just a very fluid athlete. He’s wide open. We’re trying to get him to expand the playbook. He can do so many things. It’s a simple sport, but it’s really difficult.”
      May says his go-to takedown move is a high-crotch.
      His regular workout partner this season has been junior Cooper Baldwin (138).
      “It helps you a lot (to drill with a bigger athlete),” says May. “When I do wrestle somebody my size it’s a lot easier.”
      How does May benefit Baldwin?
      “Cooper is hard-working,” says May. “I have really good technique. I help him with that. He’ll feel my aggressive side.”
      Like the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals, May has bumped up in weight to try to help the Tigers and challenge himself.
      “It got me a little better wrestling bigger kids in six-minute matches,” says May.
      Jalen is the oldest of Nic and Ashley May’s four children ahead of brother Josh, sister Mischalay and brother Nicholas Jr. The family resides in Peru.
      Post-high school plans for Jalen currently call for wrestling and studying law in college.
      “My grandma (Jodi May) works at a law firm in Kokomo and one of our assistants Dustin Kern is a city attorney in Peru,” says May. “I’ve always thought it’s cool. It’s a very interesting job.”
      Peru’s remaining schedule includes the Three Rivers Conference meet Saturday, Jan. 22 at Maconaquah. The Tigers’ IHSAA state tournament series path goes through the Jan. 29 Maconaquah Sectional, Feb. 5 Maconaquah Regional, Feb. 12 Fort Wayne Semistate and Feb. 18-19 State Finals at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.  


      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Watson and Buchanan lead a young Trojan squad

      The key to good leadership is making everyone around you better. Center Grove seniors Hayden Watson and Drake Buchanan do just that.
      Both Watson and Buchanan seniors. Both are ranked No. 1 in their weight classes. Both finished runner-up last year in the state finals. They also both have worked extremely hard to not only make themselves better, but to make their team one of the elite ones in the state.
      Center Grove has a ranked wrestler in all 14 weight classes.
      “They have been captains since their sophomore year,” Center Grove coach Maurice Swain said. “They lead by example. They lead by poise. They do everything right on and off the mat. The younger guys really look up to them.”
      They are also great listeners.
      Buchanan was upset that he didn’t make it to state as a freshman, wrestling 138 pounds. So, he went to his coaches and asked what he needed to do. He was given a bit of unusual advice.
      “I think a lot of people expected me to go to state as a freshman, and I did too,” Buchanan said. “I knew I could get down in the dumps and pout that I didn’t make it, or I could figure out how to get better and improve. I asked coach how I could get better. He suggested I make the jump to 182 pounds.”
      So, Buchanan started working out. He also ate “a lot”. He wasn’t sure how moving up five weight classes was going to help him, but he trusted his coaches.
      “It was kind of fun, actually,” Buchanan said. “I was eating burgers while others were cutting weight. It was a cool thing, and, I had a lot more energy and I was a lot more motivated.”
      Swain also wasn’t sure what to think of his advice on the weight gain. Just a couple of matches into Buchanan’s sophomore season, he knew he made the right call.
      “We could tell that Drake had a long frame and with his body type he had the potential to be big,” Swain said. “In just a few months after the season he was at 160. He went to Fargo and placed at Cadet 160. Then, after football he was in his mid-170s. We thought, why cut weight when he can lift and get bigger and stronger. We felt that 182 was a weight he could be at for a few years. We were looking at the future and we didn’t think we needed to add extra stress of weight cutting on him.
      “I’d say when we saw him in the first few meets at 182 his sophomore year it was a surprise. We didn’t know before that how he would look. When we saw him compete, we were like, yeah, this is going to work.”
      Buchanan placed sixth in state as a sophomore and last year was a state runner-up.
      “I feel like I’ve really improved my cardio and my hand-fighting,” Buchanan said. “I’ve been able to already wrestle the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked guys in my weight class this year and was able to win. My goal is absolutely to win a state title and I want our team to win a title as well.”
      Buchanan defeated No. 2-ranked Orlando Cruz 13-5 and pinned No. 3-ranked De’Alcapon Veazy.
      Watson wanted to use the heartache of losing a close match in the state championship to drive him to improve in the offseason. However, a knee injury took away his summer training opportunities. He returned to wrestling one week before the Indiana Hoosier Preseason Open. He still managed to place third in that tournament.
      His goal is also to win a state title and he knows to do that he has to become more of an offensive wrestler.
      “There is a picture that someone has of me after losing in the spotlight where I’m down on my knees,” Watson said. “That picture means a lot to me. Knowing how I felt in that moment, and how devastated I was after having the lead and losing. I never want to feel that way again.”
      Buchanan said Watson is a very technical wrestler.
      “Hayden is such a great leader,” Buchanan said. “He’s so technical. If you have any questions about anything technique-wise, he’s got it. Even if he can’t explain it in words, he can show you. He’s been at a high level for longer than I have. We wrestle together a lot in practice and it really helps both of us.”
      Watson also takes his leadership role very personal.
      “With the team so young, the big thing is the seniors have to be role models,” Watson said. “I feel like I’m responsible for the whole team. I make sure they aren’t doing anything stupid at meets and at practice. I make sure they show up, and if they don’t, I’m calling them to find out where they are. Our younger guys are really good and once Drake and I leave, I can already tell who will be the next leaders. The team is in good hands.”
      In addition to Watson and Buchanan, seniors Michael Thorpe and Bryce Crump are also ranked for the Trojans. There are two ranked juniors on the team in Royce Deckard III and Andre Merritt. Center Grove has six ranked sophomores in Charlie Larocca, Noah Clouser, Reese Courtney, Wyatt Kresja, Drew Mills and Nate Johnson.  Freshmen Eddie Goss and Julian Weens are also ranked.
      “We have a big sophomore, freshman and junior class,” Swain said. “Our future can be bright if we continue to do the things we've been doing. But we also want to enjoy this season and this group. We don’t want to work ahead of ourselves. We want to enjoy the time we have with these seniors. They are a special group.”
      Buchanan will wrestle with the Air Force Academy next season and Watson will wrestle for Citadel.


      #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: A champ at the national level, New Prairie’s Carroll finally competes in high school

      (Photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

      Christian Carroll took care of business in the first three bouts of his high school career, earning pins in 13, 14 and 10 seconds against Wawasee, Peru and Hamilton Heights.
      The New Prairie High School junior 220-pounder made his debut as a Cougar at the Jan. 8 Class 2A Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals at Martinsville.
      A knee injury kept Carroll out of action during his freshman year at Penn (2019-20). When he transferred to New Prairie after the first semester of his sophomore year (2020-21), he was required to sit out for a year. That made him eligible at the end of this past week.
      Not that Carroll is a newbie on the mat scene. With two Super 32 titles and a Junior Freestyle Nationals crown to his credit, he is among the top-ranked grapplers at his weight in the country.
      He has committed to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to wrestle and study Finance in the Wharton School of Business.
      “Instead of thinking about my next four years, I’m thinking about my next 40,” says Carroll, 18. Each Quaker grappler in the Wharton School is assigned an alumni mentor and his is David Pottruck. “I’ve always been curious about stocks and how to use money. I have an entrepreneur mindset.”
      Christian is the youngest of Tony and Erin Carroll’s five children behind John, Jill, Ben, Cassidy and Katie. Tony Carroll works in finance with Aldi Foods. Erin Carroll is employed as a nursing home activity director at West Woods of Niles (Mich.).
      Christian grew up in the Jimtown area of Elkhart and started wrestling at age 5. He began to really take the sport seriously as an eighth grader in the Penn system at Schmucker Middle School.
      Over the years, Carroll has developed a mentality that is apparent to New Prairie head coach Bobby Whitenack.
      “He has a passion for the sport,” says Whitenack. “He has an intensity at practice and goes hard all the time.
      “He’s truly engaged every minute.”
      The athlete expects extra effort out of himself.
      “What you work for is what you get,” says Carroll. “There are no free lunches in this world.
      “That’s why I love wrestling. There’s no politics. It’s just you and the other guy battling on the mat.”
      Since joining the New Prairie program, Carroll has taken to the Whitenacks, especially Bobby and son/senior heavyweight Hunter.
      “(Coach Whitenack’s) a great role model,” says Carroll. “For him, it’s more about life (than wrestling). He cares about our well-being. He preaches so much about life.
      “How are you not excited to wrestle for a guy like that? He creates a family culture. That’s not a cliche.’ It’s real.”
      Hunter Whitenack, who is committed to study and play football at the University of Illinois, is a workout partner for Carroll and a team leader.
      “What’s awesome about Hunter is he’s in that big brother role,” says Carroll. “He’s always motivating, always positive and let’s get this job done. He guided me through the system being a new kid.
      “It’s about brotherhood. He doesn’t have to risk an injury for football. He puts his team and his community above himself.”
      Bobby Whitenack is a special education teacher and a 1999 New Prairie graduate. He came back from Manchester University, where he played football, to assistant Cougars head coach Wes Hobart then took over the program in 2010-11 and surpassed the 300-win plateau this season.
      “I reflect on how many people who made that happen — all the adults and wrestlers,” says Whitenack of the milestone.
      The coach has two sons in his lineup with freshman Hayden Whitenack at 132.
      What Carroll enjoys most about New Prairie is being part of a team in wrestling and an active student.
      “I release my knowledge and disperse as much as I can,” says Carroll of his relationship with wrestling mates. “We have a lot of sponges in the room. It’s a good atmosphere. There’s a certain standard in the room — leaving it all out on the mat.
      “I don’t think there’s a point in holding back (in class). I have a Type A personality. Communication flows and that is a good way to learn. Fear is False Evidence That Appears Real. I’m not afraid to fail (in wrestling or life). My aspirations are so much higher.”
      Whitenack appreciates Carroll’s willingness to give.
      “He’s really good at helping others,” says the coach. “He can work with any kid in the room and give them pointers. It’s a peer review. It’s different from hearing from a coach. He leads by example. You can’t say it if you’re not doing it yourself.”
      Away from New Prairie, Carroll works out with Chris Fleeger at Midwest RTC in New Carlisle.
      “He’s a technician,” says Carroll of Fleeger, who was a three-time All-American at Purdue University, Big Ten champion and trained at the U.S. Olympic Center. “He’s instilled a lot of morals in my brain and life perspective.”
      In the past year, Carroll is placed second at the World Trials. At the nationals, he won every bout by pin or technical fall except for one. In September, he competed in the Flo Wrestling Who’s No. 1 and lost a 3-2 nail-biter super match to heavyweight Nick Feldman, an Ohio State University commit from Malvern Prep in Pennsylvania.
      Carroll’s Super 32 titles have come at 195 (2020) and 220 (2021).
      Christian stands 5-foot-11 now, but he anticipates a growth spurt since his father and uncles are in 6-2 to 6-3 range and big guys.
      Whitenack, who has about 50 on his roster, has his wrestlers attack the season in two portions.
      “The beginning of season gets you ready,” says Whitenack. “We want to peak at sectional.”
      New Prairie once competed in Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic, but opted for super duals like the one at Lafayette Jeff.
      “Our average kids got better and that set us up to have more success in the postseason,” says Whitenack. “We want to go into sectional with the right mindset. We want everybody moving in the right direction.”
      Chris Carroll is now a part of that mix.

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      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Leighton Jones wrestling with diabetes

      “This will only make the ride harder, but don’t let it stop you from reaching your goals.”
      Those words have been etched into the mind of Brownsburg junior Leighton Jones since his life took an unexpected twist at a doctor’s office around midnight his sixth-grade year.
      That night, as he was coming home from a spring break vacation, he just didn’t feel right. He had spent the whole day sleeping. He felt dehydrated. He went to the bathroom five times in an hour. He knew something was wrong.
      His dad, Marshall Jones, had a suspicion what might be going on. He checked his young son’s blood pressure and immediately called his doctor. The doctor met with Leighton at 11 p.m. that same night. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
      “I was scared to death,” Leighton said. “I hated needles. I didn’t know what was going to happen. That’s when mom told me that this will only make the ride harder, but don’t let it stop you from reaching your goals. That meant a lot. That has helped me move on and still reach for what I want to accomplish.”
      Those words came back to Jones after a devastating defeat in the state meet last year. He had been rolling in the tournament. He pinned his way through sectional, regional and semistate before losing in overtime, one win from the championship match in the state meet.
      “I was as down as you could be after that loss,” Jones said. “I went up the huge elevator and coach (Darrick) Snyder was waiting for me. He hugged me and I cried on his shoulders. I never wanted to feel like that again.”
      So, like his mom told him – when things get difficult  he can’t let that stop him. Jones went out and won the third-place match by an impressive margin, 14-1. And from there he decided he was going to do everything in his power to claim the state title this year for himself, and to help Brownsburg win the team title.
      “He’s a one-of-a-kind heavyweight wrestler,” Brownsburg assistant coach Eric Lynn said. “He moves like a little guy. He doesn’t move like a heavyweight. And he’s really motivated right now. From his freshman year until now he’s improved in all aspects of wrestling. He’s well rounded. He wants to learn. He asks questions and he’s always ready to do whatever we ask.”
      Jones is a good student, an outstanding football player and a top-tier wrestler. That combination has led him to be one of the most highly recruited athletes in the state. He has already made visits to most of the schools in the Big Ten conference. He is keeping his options open at this point as to where he wants to go and what sport he wants to compete in.
      “I joke around about how great it would be to be in Leighton’s shoes,” Snyder said. “He has so much interest from Division 1 football and wrestling schools. It would be cool to be sitting in his shoes with all that interest he’s getting. There aren’t many days that go by that some college coach isn’t wanting to watch him work out or wanting to talk about him.”
      Although Jones has had an excellent wrestling career so far, the diabetes has certainly made it a bit more of a challenge. He must constantly monitor his blood sugar levels. He gives himself insulin injections five to six times a day. His coaches help monitor him and his parents are alerted when his levels are off as well.
      “If you’re stressed or if you get anxiety, your levels raise,” Jones said. “You go through practice, and you start feeling nauseous and get dizzy. You have to eat a really clean diet. You eat a lot of protein. You have to stay between the numbers, and often times that’s not likely. You take medicine if you get too low and feel light-headed. The medicine has side effects, too.”
      This year Jones has learned to keep his diabetes in a more controllable state – which has helped him in practice and in matches.
      “He has had to fight through some really tough times with diabetes,” Lynn said. “He does really well with it now.”
      Brownsburg is an absolutely loaded team this year. The Bulldogs have 12 wrestlers ranked in the top 20 of the state, 11 in the top 10 and eight in the top five. Freshman Jake Hockaday, senior Logan Miller and Jones are ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes. Sophomore Brady Ison is ranked No. 2 at 132 with classmates Preston Haines ranked No. 3 at 113 and Gavin Garcia No. 4 at 138.
      “This is a fun year for Indiana wrestling,” Snyder said. “We have three teams ranked in the top 25 in the country – and then you throw in Center Grove, who should be ranked. Our goal is to win a dual state title and an IHSAA state title.”
      Jones has taken on a leadership role on the team and hopes his influence can be beneficial toward the lofty team goals.
      “Leighton is definitely one of my more special heavyweights I’ve ever coached,” Lynn said. “He’s a motivated kid. He is really driven this year and it’s helping everyone in the program.”

      1119 1

      #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Unorthodox style proves successful for Lake Central’s Sues


      Jake Sues does not wrestle in what many call a conventional way.
      But the 182-pound senior at Lake Central High School has used his unique style for mat success in his final two prep seasons.
      In 2020-21, Sues went 22-7 and placed eighth at the IHSAA State Finals after finishing first at the Crown Point Sectional, third at the Crown Point Regional and third at the East Chicago Semistate.
      Through Dec. 29-30 Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka, where Sues placed fifth, he is 19-5.
      “I’m awkward to wrestle,” says Sues. “Funky might be a better word to describe it. I’m very different from the standard wrestler.
      “Being funky kind of found me. Being weird is what worked so I rolled with it. I’ve always been kind of a defensive wrestler. I make other people uncomfortable.”
      Lake Central head coach Luke Triveline has watched Sues use his unorthodox approach and his long limbs to his advantage.
      “We have a coaching style, but we try to push individualism,” says Triveline, a 2003 LC graduate who is in his 14th season coaching in the Indians program and fifth as head coach.
      “He’s good at using his length and body top against kids. He’s not a super-aggressive kid. If he keeps it close, he knows when to push the pedal and look to score.”
      At 6-foot-3, Sues is taller than most of his opponents.
      “I like to put people super far away,” says Sues. “When they try to shoot, they have to go a far distance. People give pressure then I hit my moves from there.”
      By forcing his foe to the end of his reach, he can use a slide-by, collar tie, ankle pick, front head lock or other move.
      Sues, 18, came to the sport as a Hal E. Clark Middle School sixth grader. By freshmen year at Lake Central, he was 170 and over 6-foot. Sues qualified for semistate as a freshman, but his record was well below .500. As a sophomore, he did not get past regional.
      He grew too much after his sophomore year to stay at 170 and bumped up to 182.
      “He’s not very intimidating-looking in general. He’s not super muscular. He’s a pretty intelligent wrestler when it comes to keeping himself in matches against pretty tough kids.”
      Though looks may deceive, Sues is very strong.
      “He spends a lot of time in the weight room,” says Triveline. “You’re not going to push him around.
      “Putting on size looks cool, but it doesn’t necessarily make you a better athlete.”
      Triveline is the owner of Fitness Evolution Strength and Conditioning in Crown Point and trains Sues in the wrestling off-season.
      “We spend time working on him as an athlete,” says Triveline. “Being able to use strength in the joint angles that are conducive to wrestling and looking good with your shirt off are two different things.”
      Mental strength has also increased for Sues.
      “I can recall the specific moment where he changed,” says Triveline. “His first two years (of high school), he never stopped talking. He was always chirping and running his mouth.
      One day, I just snapped. I couldn’t handle it anymore.”
      There was a talk between the athlete and coach.
      “Ever since then, he has put his head on straight and does what we ask him,” says Triveline. 
      “Jake’s one of the favorite wrestlers I’ve ever coached. He comes from a good family. He’s a hard worker.”
      The son of Rob and Cindy Sues, Jake has an older brother Ryan and younger sister Sarah. Ryan is a 2020 LC graduate and Sarah is a current sophomore swimmer for the Indians.
      Though undecided about what college he will attend or if he’ll wrestle there, Sues does enjoy his current Graphic Arts course. The career center class meets the first half of each school day and is taught by Jereme Rainwater.
      “We do all the printing for the high school like magazines or posters,” says Sues. “It’s a lot of working with machines. I’m good with deadlines and I keep everybody on-task as much as I can.”
      Senior Michael DeGrado (220) has long been a regular workout partner for Sues.
      “He helps me with my front head locks and defense,” says Sues. “I have to make sure that every detail is perfect or it won’t work. He has the strength and he’s pretty technical, too.”
      With the Al Smith Classic and the calendar turning to January, Sues and all other IHSAA wrestlers now get a two-pound allowance.
      Weight control has not been an issue for him.
      “Coach Luke has a lot of catch phrases,” says Sues. “One is ‘You’ve got to fuel your Ferrari.’ I’m pretty good about watching what I eat for the most part. I like to pick healthier options (like sugar-free cookies). I definitely have a sweet tooth.”
      Heading into the IHSAA tournament series, Lake Central looks forward to a Duneland Athletic Conference dual Jan. 5 vs. LaPorte, the Lake County tournament Jan. 8 at Hanover Central, DAC dual Jan. 12 vs. Merrillville, DAC meet Jan. 15 at Merrillville and DAC dual Jan. 18 vs. Crown Point. Then comes the Crown Point Sectional Jan. 29, Crown Point Regional Feb. 5, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 12 and State Finals Feb. 18-19 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
      “We see a lot of good competition,” says Triveline. “That prepares yourself for the postseason. Season accolades are nice. We don’t train our kids to be Mishawaka champs although that would be nice.
      “We want kids fighting for state placement.”
      That includes “funky” Jake Sues.


      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Farmer brothers enjoying success together

      Kelton Farmer is a massive high school junior. He’s ranked No. 5 in the state at 220 pounds. He’s the tackle on Evansville Memorial’s football team and he bench presses over 300 pounds. Yet, senior Aiden Farmer refers to him as his little brother.
      “Kelton is friggin huge,” Aiden said. “He got really big in the offseason. I put a lot of hours in the weight room, and I can tell you, he lifts more than anyone we know, by far. He even missed his own birthday because he was at the gym. We were supposed to eat cake and he didn’t show up and we had to reschedule.”
      Kelton said he lifts weights five days a week, for two to three hours a day even during wrestling season.
      “Weight lifting is relaxing and it’s a way to push myself,” Kelton said. “I know I make myself better.”
      The Farmer brothers are 15 months apart. Aiden is an 18-year-old senior and Kelton is a 17-year-old junior. Both are ranked fifth in their weight classes in wrestling. Aiden wrestles at 170 pounds.
      “I let him know, a lot, that I’m bigger than him,” Kelton said. “I think I outgrew him when I was six or seven. That’s when I started getting taller.”
      Last year the brothers qualified for the state tournament. The oldest Farmer brother, Jacob, had just missed going to state twice. He lost to Gleason Mappes 4-2 in the ticket round in 2015 and then lost to Gleason again in 2016 in the ticket round 8-7 in an ultimate tie breaker.
      “Qualifying for state was really cool for my family,” Aiden said. “My older brother wrestled for Castle and came so close to going. But I think I was more nervous and excited when Kelton won his ticket round match than I was when I won mine.
      “I get super excited and anxious for his matches – especially the big ones. I have a lot of faith in him, and I know he’ll do great, but I do get nervous for him.”
      The brothers line up next to each other on the defensive line for the Evansville Memorial football team. Aiden was an all-state defensive end on the team this year that reached semistate.
      Both would love to either wrestle or play football in college.
      On the wrestling mat, Aiden excels in the top position. He uses his length to keep his opponent down and he can get takedowns from multiple angles in the neutral position.
      Kelton’s style is to use his brut strength to wear down his opponents.
      “They are only a year apart, but they are very different people,” Evansville Memorial coach Larry Mattingly said. “It’s fun to watch how they interact with each other and how they encourage one another. Bot are very unselfish and are great teammates.
      “Kelton has a lot of speed and strength, especially for his size. Aiden is very hard to score on. He doesn’t do anything flashy, and his closes are usually pretty close. He’s like a good pitcher. He’s just hard to score on. They are also both very cerebral wrestlers. They understand the sport well. They expect a lot out of each other.”
      The Farmer brothers are excited about competing today in the Evansville Mater Dei Holiday Tournament. Both wrestlers will have ranked opponents in their weight classes and it’s a great test for the upcoming state tournament.
      “I have Brody Baummann and Codei Khawaja in my class,’ Aiden said. “They are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state. Kelton has Nathan Critchfield in his class, and he’s ranked No. 2.”
      There are two other Memorial wrestlers ranked in the state this season. Freshman Landon Horning is at No. 12 in the 126-pound class and junior Keegan Williams is No. 14 at 132.
      “That tournament is a tough tournament,” Mattingly said. “It’s right there in our back yard and it gives us a chance to go bang heads with the best of them.”
      The Farmer brothers both hope to get on the podium this year in the state tournament. Aiden wrote that as a goal going into the season. Last year his goal was to get to state, and he accomplished that. This year he’s upping the ante.
      “Their dad, Eric is very involved with them in wrestling and he’s been a big influence on them,” Mattingly said. “But he will tell you that they get their real competitive fire and toughness from their mom, Jessica Parsons. She played college volleyball.”

      1596 1

      #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Monroe Central’s first state placer as sophomore, Page shining at start of junior season


      Hunter Page loves it on a wrestling mat. But he hasn’t spent too much time there when at match time so far in 2021-22.
      Page, a Monroe Central High School junior 182-pounder, won the 2021 East Central Indiana Classic title Dec. 23 to move to 17-1 (13 pins and a major decision).
      “I shoot first,” says Page. “I don’t wait around.”
      Page, whose current current record in 85-14, was the first IHSAA State Finals placer in Monroe Central history when he came in sixth at 182 in 2021.
      Brett Hodson (Monroe Central Class of 1985) and Calvin Combs (Monroe Central Class of 1988) represented MC as seniors then Logan Swallow (Monroe Central Class of 2020 made it there as a junior and senior.
      “The community was completely behind Hunter last year,” says second-year Golden Bears head coach Andy Richardson. “Last year was an unusual year with restraints on the number we could have in the audience (because of the COVID-19 pandemic). At least we were able have a season. Illinois didn’t have a season.”
      Richardson is watching Page have another strong campaign.
      “Hunter’s just a hard worker,” says Richardson, who was a Monroe Central assistant for two years before becoming head coach. “Last year, he surprised some people.
      “He’s a grinder and not real flashy. He’s a strong kid and very athletic.”
      Page is also coachable, taking information and applying it.
      “He’s a sponge,” says Richardson. “He’s bought into our blue collar approach. We’re going to work and we’re going to win.”
      Richardson is a 1993 Muncie Southside High School graduate who was a freshman on the 1990 state championship team which featured senior Tony Abbott (now head coach at Cowan High School).
      Including the U.S. Navy (he served for 11 years) and stints with Bob Brennan at Zionsville, Mike Smitson at Greenwood and Brett Clark and Gary Schliessman at Delta, Richardson has coached 26 years.
      Noah Richardson, Andy’s son, is a 2017 Delta graduate and current Monroe Central assistant. He and cousin/two-time state qualifer Scottie Evans were both 100-match winners as Eagles.
      Though Page can put points on the scoreboard, Andy Richardson says he is content to win close, low-scoring matches.
      “We go after that first takedown,” says Richardson. “It’s something we preach — set the tone. I want (opponents) to react to us, not react to them.
      “(Senior 160-pounder Jonah Jones) does that, too. I think he’s going to have some real success this year.”
      Jones is a regular workout partner.
      “He’s quick and technical,” says Page of Jones, who shares team captain duties with Page and senior Peyton Tinsman.
      “I try to lead by example,” says Page. “I help show moves (to others).”
      Page grappled at 160 and 170 as a freshman and went 32-6. He posted a 36-7 mark at 182 as a sophomore.
      The 6-footer is still at 182 this year, but with more strength.
      “I was in the weight room a lot this year,” says Page, who as a defensive lineman enjoying breaking through the line making 34 total tackles with eight for loss and one quarterback sack in helping Monroe Central football go 10-1 in the fall.
      Page started school at Union (Modoc) and came over to Monroe Central in third grade. His first real exposure to the mat came in the Golden Bear Wrestling Club.
      Page, who lives on a farm near Modoc, is considering either Architecture or Agriculture for a college major and might wrestle as well if the situation is right.
      His father is Tink. His mother is Jennifer. Siblings are Lexi (20), Destiny (6) and Leo (6).
      Jennifer’s boyfriend, Nick Terharr (Monroe Central Class of 2004), was the Delta Sectional champion at 171 in 2004.
      “Nick helps me out with my singles,” says Page. “Andy kind of polished it up.”
      Uncle Zeb Doss, who wrestled at Winchester, also offers occasional mat advice.
      The lone loss this season for Page came Dec. 22 in Fort Wayne Snider Duals against Snider freshman D’Alcapon Veazy.
      Monroe Central’s next match is a Jan. 4 dual at Southern Wells. The Randolph County meet is Jan. 15 at Winchester. The Mid-Eastern Conference meet is Jan. 22 at Cowan.
      The Golden Bears’ postseason path includes the Delta Sectional Dec. 29, Jay County Regional Feb. 5 and Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 12 with the State Finals Feb. 18-19 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

      2063 2

      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: More than a team, Franklin Central comes together to help each other

      The Franklin Central wrestling team needed more than a coach. They needed someone to share the enormous burden of grief, someone to cry to, and someone to help them cope with pain no high school kid should ever have to endure. As it turned out, coach Kevin Moore needed the team just as much as they needed him.
      “It’s almost like I was meant to come here,” Moore said. 
      This is Moore’s fifth season at the helm of the Flashes. There have been five deaths in the wrestling family during that span – a statistic that nobody wants to keep.
      “We have literally lost a person every year I’ve been here,” Moore said.
      Senior Johnny Weisheit’s mother was murdered. Sophomore Gauge Clark’s sister was murdered. Former semistate qualifier Charlie Harp committed suicide in 2018 and just this November senior Ayden Harper died. Harper was one of the team captains and always led the warmups before matches.
      While Moore has tried to be there for the wrestlers during their grieving, he faced tragedy of his own. His wife, Mariah, was hit and killed by an impaired driver.
      “If it wasn’t for this community, I would have left a long time ago,” Moore said. “I’ve never seen people come together like they have here. When my wife passed, I didn’t have to do laundry, cook, or even pay for the funeral. The community did that for me. It was the same with Ayden – they paid for his funeral as well. Everyone is checking in on me all the time – and I know people are checking in with Ayden’s family and the other guys on this team as well.”
      In the midst of tragedy, the team has found solace on the wrestling mat. It’s their escape from reality, if only for a few hours a day.
      “Wrestling is tough,” Moore said. “It’s hard. It’s painful. But it gives you something you can control. There are a lot of things happening to these guys that they can’t control – but they can control what happens on the mat. Losing these people that we have lost, it completely sucks. But you can’t live life with those emotions. You have to find a way to move on.”
      Each wrestler on the Franklin Central roster is dealing with pain. The tragic journey has made them closer than brothers.
      “My teammates, they are my brothers,” junior Aataeveon Jordan said. “We aren’t blood, but we are. We have each other’s back. You mess with one of us, the rest of the lineup has their back even if we’re in the wrong.”
      And, the pillar of the team, is coach Moore. He’s their rock – a responsibility he believes is one he must shoulder.
      “There are certain people that are meant to handle these types of situations,” Moore said. “There are people that are built for it. Unfortunately, I’ve lost my wife and my kids lost their mother. In an unfortunate circumstance you have to lead by example. A lot of these young men don’t know that it’s OK to cry. They don’t’ know it’s OK to show that they are hurt. It’s OK to show emotion.
      “I would never want to say I’m like a father-figure – but we just have a different kind of bond going through all of this. To be effective as a coach, at times I have to be like their dad and at times I have to be like an older brother.
      When Mariah was in the hospital, the team was there with the coach almost daily. He had been their rock through their turmoil and then it was their turn to be his.
      “They really helped me get through it,” Moore said.
      The Flashes are hoping to turn their pain into success on the mat. The goal is to win the school’s first wrestling sectional since 1995. For some of the wrestlers, like Jordan, the individual goal is a state title.
      “My goal is to get that blue ring,” he said. “That blue ring has been calling my name.”
      Jordan is one of three ranked wrestlers on the Franklin Central team. Jordan is ranked No. 15 at 195 pounds. Last season he placed 8th at 220. Clark is currently ranked No. 17 at 106 pounds and senior Cayden Shelton is No. 17 at 138.
      “We also have Ashton Brandon, who didn’t have a chance to finish the season last year, but I think he will surprise a lot of people,” Moore said. “He’s our 132-pound senior. He’s a hands-on, in your face, gritty wrestler. He puts his hands on you for six minutes and he doesn’t wear down. He’s also a big-time leader.”
      Moore has helped build the Franklin Central program from when he started.
      “There were 13 kids in the room when I started,” he said. “I spent all pre-season recruiting, and that’s what we got. Now we have a middle school room of about 40-50 kids and the high school team started out with about 70. I’m impressed with the culture shift I have seen. I think what these kids have gone through, and persevered is unique and amazing.”
      The Flashes only were able to send a few wrestlers to the Marion County tournament because of illness. But, when the team is at full strength, Moore has high hopes. Win or lose, he’s in their corner and they are in his. They’ve been in the valley for a while, and now they are ready to climb out.
      “Coach Moore has really been our shoulder to cry on, and we are his,” Jordan said. “I think the one thing we can all take from this is that, on this team, ain’t nobody ever alone. We all have each other.”

      2006 1 1

      #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: LaPorte’s Jackson likes to light up the scoreboard


      If Ashton Jackson gets his way, scoreboard operators are kept plenty busy during his matches.
      The LaPorte High School junior wrestler prefers to stay on the offensive and put points on the board.
      Jackson, who earned the Slicers first state title since 189-pounder Matt Graham in 1994 when he reigned in the 2021 IHSAA State Finals at 106, sums up his plan as he looks ahead to the rest of the 2021-22 season at 113.
      “It’s about scoring points, not being sloppy and keeping up the rate of attack,” says Jackson. “I want to work my moves and get on and off the mat. Like Dan Gable said: “I shoot, I score. He shoots, I score.”
      “I’m chugging away to the state series. I haven’t really been taken into deep waters yet. I’m really looking forward to that.”
      Through the Dec. 18 Munster Super Dual where he and LaPorte seniors Caden Ellenberger (145) and Noah Salary (152) went 5-0, Jackson is 21-0. The only match to go the distance was a major decision against Crown Point.
      Next up for Jackson and the Slicers is the Dec. 29-30 Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka.
      “Those should be mostly tight matches and I can test myself,” says Jackson. “I’m looking forward to the fight.”
      Looking back, Jackson went 35-2 in 2020-21, including 4-0 at the State Finals in Indianapolis after going out in the “ticket round” at the East Chicago Semistate as a 35-8 freshman.
      “Going through the East Chicago Semistate, the Duneland (Athletic Conference) and northwest Indiana, it’s high-quality stuff and we pride ourselves in battling at that level,” says LaPorte head coach Louie Kuzdas, a 1986 LaPorte graduate in his 26th season as head coach 32nd on the Slicers staff and physical education/health teacher at the school.
      It was last season that one of his young teammates brought up a potential mat milestone.
      “I’m close to 100 career wins and everybody talks about,” says Jackson, who is 91-10 ???. “It’s something cool to have. But it’s not the end-all, be-all.”
      The current season opened Nov. 26-27 for Jackson and his teammates as Jackson went 9-0 as the 113-pound champion at the Goshen RedHawk Super Dual.
      “He’s been traveling all over the country getting some elite mat time,” says Kuzdas. “He’s just living and breathing wrestling right now. It’s what you need to do to be at that top level.”
      Jackson went to the Freestyle Nationals in Fargo, N.D., and Super 32 in Greensboro, N.C.
      “It wasn’t that successful an offseason,” says Jackson, who also trains in LaPorte and Elite Athletic Club in Lake Station and went with the Warren Central squad to the Disney Duals in Orlando, Fla. “That’s just motivation for this season to prove myself and prove what I can do.”
      Kuzdas looks to Jackson as a team leader.
      “He takes young’uns under his wing and walks them through different steps,” says Kuzdas. “He’s very, very interested in learning more about the sport.
      “After winning (a state championship) as a sophomore, we sat down and discussed that he’s already accomplished something that a lot of people don’t. But you still don’t know everything. He agreed 100 percent.”
      Says Jackson, “I’m just staying persistent in my training and having faith in my coaches and my teammates who’ve guided me along the way. Coach (Kuzdas) definitely pushes aggression. You’ve just got to fight. That’s the beauty of wrestling. It’s you and the other guy. The better-prepared man’s going to win.”
      Practice partners include freshman Josh England (120) and Landyn Hunt (126), junior Thomas Adred (126) and assistant coach Ian Barclay.
      “I think I stay in pretty good position,” says Jackson. “And I know if I don’t try my best it’s a loss.”
      Adam Jackson — Ashton’s father — was Kuzdas’ first state qualifier as LaPorte head coach, making it to Indy as a 135-pound junior in 1997.
      Crediting his father for his work ethic and sense of urgency on the mat.
      “He’s really involved, but not so involved to the point that it’s overbearing,” says Ashton. “He holds me to high standards — which is good.”
      Damen Jackson, a 2015 graduate of John Glenn High School, is a Glenn assistant this season after teaching and coach at Warren Central. He was there for Ashton at the beginning of little brother’s wrestling career.
      “When I was little he’d always help me out a kid tournaments,” says Ashton. “He was being a big brother and showed me nuances that little novice me wasn’t aware of at the time.”
      Ashton’s mother is New Prairie High School graduate Nacole and has two younger siblings in LaPorte — sophomore/sister Bailey
      and sixth grader/brother Brayden.
      Jerry Jackson, a 1982 LaPorte graduate, was a three-time state qualifier at 185 with a state crown in 1981 and third-place finish in 1982.
      “He’s no relation,” says Ashton. “But he’s a pretty cool dude.”

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