195 articles in this category1423
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Lakeland record setter Miller hoping to break through in state tournament
Photo by Nathaniel Labhart
By STEVE KRAH
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
By JEREMY HINES
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.
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Peru’s May hopes to reap dividends of varied mat experience
By STEVE KRAH
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.1488
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Watson and Buchanan lead a young Trojan squad
By JEREMY HINES
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)
By STEVE KRAH
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.
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Leighton Jones wrestling with diabetes
By JEREMY HINES
“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.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Unorthodox style proves successful for Lake Central’s Sues
By STEVE KRAH
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
By JEREMY HINES
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.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Monroe Central’s first state placer as sophomore, Page shining at start of junior season
By STEVE KRAH
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.
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: More than a team, Franklin Central comes together to help each other
By JEREMY HINES
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.”
1593 1 1
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: LaPorte’s Jackson likes to light up the scoreboard
By STEVE KRAH
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.”
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Critchfield ready for one last go in Indiana
By JEREMY HINES
Nathan Critchfield was down – but he sure as heck won’t allow himself to be counted out.
Critchfield wrestles through pain each and every day. He doesn’t complain. It has become a way of life for the Evansville Mater Dei senior.
Critchfield wrestled his first three years of high school in Illinois. His best finish was third in the state meet in 2020. Then he got the news that would ultimately change his life – he had a tumor on his spine.
“My back was hurting all year and moving into freestyle season I got it checked out that May,” Critchfield said. “They just did a physical exam and I kept at it and kept wrestling. Then, in August of 2020 I was still in pain and I got checked out again. They told me I had a tumor on the inside of my spinal cord.”
The news rocked Critchfield. He knew he was going to have to endure a grueling surgery and a long road to recovery. They wouldn’t know if the tumor was cancerous until after the surgery. The diagnosis was devastating – both physically and mentally for Critchfield.
“Hearing about the tumor was shocking, to say the least,” Critchfield said. “It came at a time that was so crucial in my life. I was going into my senior year. That’s an important time in your social life and in your academics. Then hearing that you’re probably not ever going to wrestle again, that was a big hit.”
Critchfield ended up sitting out his entire senior year to deal with his medical issues. He would have graduated in 2021 but will now graduate in 2022.
His first back surgery was a 12-hour ordeal. The next week he ended up getting a MRSA infection in the incision that required another surgery. He wasn’t out of the woods yet. The first surgery had caused his legs to not work properly. That required yet another surgery.
“Between my legs and my back, I couldn’t walk for a few months,” Critchfield said.
Critchfield tried to do a little drilling in wrestling in February, even though he says he wasn’t supposed to. His legs still weren’t working the way they were supposed to work In April he had another surgery to relieve the pressure in both of his legs.
In the end, the tumor was not cancerous. And, although he’s still in pain, it’s something he has learned to live with.
“This whole ordeal has made me a different kind of person,” Critchfield said. “I have really grown in my faith. I get reminded of it all every day when I go to practice. Both of my legs hurt and my back hurts. Wrestling really sucks with the pain – but I love doing it. I put myself through it because I don’t know what else I would do.”
Critchfield doesn’t care if his opponents on the mat know about his bad back, or his issues with his legs.
“People tell me not to let others know I’m hurting,” Critchfield said. “They say to not let your opponents know you’re not feeling your best. I don’t think that would give them an edge on me though. I think it gives me a little edge, actually. They are going to wrestle a guy knowing he’s going to feel like crap and he’s still not scared. They are about to wrestle a guy that has went through hell but is still out there ready to go. That’s got to mess with them more than it does with me.”
Critchfield is currently ranked No. 2 in the state at 220 pounds. He joins a Mater Dei team that is loaded with ranked wrestlers this season.
Mater Dei has two wrestlers currently ranked No. 1 in their weight classes, both are returning state champs in Brody Baumann and Gabe Sollars. Crtichfield is No. 2 at 220. Hunter May is No. 3 at 152 pounds. Isaiah Schaefer is No. 4 at 106. Evan Seng is No. 5 at 113 pounds, Ashton Hayhurst is NO. 8 at 145 and Reed Egli is No. 13 at 120 pounds.
“This is my first year at Mater Dei and it’s been pretty fun,” Critchfield said. “It’s an interesting atmosphere and it’s a lot different than other schools. They put a lot of emphasis on wrestling for your school instead of for yourself. They have built a program and the whole community gets behind it. When you hear about the culture at Mater Dei, you never imagine how it really is until you’re a part of it.”
Mater Dei coach Greg Schaefer is glad to have Critchfield on the squad.
“Nathan is just a genuine, hard-working, hard-nosed kid,” Schaefer said. “He’s one of those guys that will be hard to outwork. He has a great attitude and seems to be extremely grateful doing what he’s doing.”
Schaefer said a lot of the kids in the Mater Dei program don’t even know what all Critchfield has been through.
“You wouldn’t even know that there was anything going on with him,” Schaefer said. “He doesn’t talk about it, and he doesn’t act like there’s any issues. It’s pretty incredible to think about what he’s been through and that he still maintains the attitude and desire to chase after his dream.”
As far as Critchfield’s wrestling abilities, Schaefer describes him as a big guy with the skill set of a little man.
“He’s very skillful,” Schaefer said. “He’s not like some of the guys that are just big bruisers. He’s more technical than most big guys. He wrestles more like a little guy.”
Critchfield has wrestled for Mauer Coughlin since he was very young. He parents used to drive him to the practices over an hour away, three times a week. There he made friends with a lot of the guys on the team and a lot of Indiana wrestlers throughout the state.
This year his goal is to go out on top. He’s seen the Indiana state finals and wants nothing more than to wrestle under the spotlight.
“My No. 1 goal is to win a state title,” Critchfield said. “I like to go as hard as I can and put it on people. I keep the pace up and make people want to quit. I make them tired, and I ride hard. I’m real tough on top – but nobody holds me down either. And I don’t quit. That’s my biggest strength. I will not ever quit.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Bluffton’s Bertsch has sights set on making history
By STEVE KRAH
Landon Bertsch did not start wrestling in elementary as some top performers do. He was a swimmer in elementary school.
Then as a sixth grader, he met up with Ben Sprunger.
The winningest grappler in Bluffton High School history, Sprunger came back to his hometown to teach middle school Physical Education after college and began introducing youngsters to wrestling.
“For me it’s about numbers,” says Sprunger. “It’s about getting as many kids out, motivating them, getting them in love with the sport and continuing to develop them.”
That strategy worked with Bertsch.
“I fell in love with it,” says Bertsch. “It took me awhile to get good at it.”
By the time he reached high school, Bertsch was getting pretty good on the mat. A 132-pound Bluffton Tigers senior in 2021-22, he is a three-time IHSAA State Finals performer (qualifier in 2019 at 113 with a 39-3 record, qualifer in 2020 at 126 with 42-2 mark and sixth-place finisher in 2021 at 126 with a 24-2 ledger). His career mark 10 bouts into his final prep season was 115-7.
“He lives for wrestling,” says Sprunger of Bertsch. “That’s his thing. He puts a lot of effort into it.
“He has the grit and the toughness you can’t always coach, It’s that X Factor. Either you have it or you don’t.”
Sprunger, who is in his sixth season as Bluffton head coach, finished his high school career at 139-10 and placed three times at the State Finals — seventh at 125 as a sophomore in 1998, second at 125 as a junior in 1999 and first at 130 as a senior in 2000.
Bertsch, who also trains with the club at Bellmont and at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, has the chance to catch and pass Sprunger on the victory list and become Bluffton’s first four-time state qualifier.
For Bluffton, the IHSAA tournament series goes through the Jay County Sectional and Jay County Regional and Fort Wayne Semistate.
“I don’t plan on losing this year,” says Bartsch, who went 6-0 in the Allen County Athletic Conference Duals Saturday, Dec. 11 at Jay County and is 10-0 on the season. “I just want to be the best.
“My coach helps me and encourages me.”
It’s confidence that Bertsch has taken with him in each of his previous State Finals appearances.
“What goes through my mind is that these guys are not better than me,” says Bertsch. “They are the same level. I can beat every single guy here.”
As a freshmen, he was pinned by eventual fifth-placer David Pierson of Warren Central in the first round.
As a sophomore, Monrovia’s Ben Dalton edged him 6-4 in the Friday match on the way to seventh place.
“That still haunts us a little bit,” says Sprunger of the late takedown that eliminated Bertsch in 2020.
In 2021, he beat Wawasee’s Branden Dilley by technical fall in the first round and lost 5-3 to eventual runner-up Cheaney Schoeff of Avon in the second round on the way to sixth.
What about the down time between matches at a big meet?
“I mess around with my friends and let my body relax,” says Bartsch. “It helps me stay calm and not get too anxious or too excited.
“When it’s time to wrestle. it’s ‘go time’ again and I’m get ready to go.”
As his high school days have progressed, Bertsch has gotten bigger and become a tough defender and attacker.
“He’s growing up a little bit and filling out,” says Sprunger. “He’s stubborn on his feet. He won’t give up takedowns. If he’s on top, he’s a beast. He’s tough on his feet, too.
“He’s not scared of any opponent or any situation.”
Bertsch counts junior Austin Lewis — a returning state qualifer at 120 now at 145 — as a regular workout partner.
“They make each other better,” says Sprunger. “They both have a hunger to wrestle.”
The coach also rolls with the Tigers in practice, including Bertsch.
“He’s crazy,” says Bertsch of Sprunger. “He beats up on all of us.”
Bertsch notes that Sprunger keeps him honest and he makes it a point to stay in position.
“It allows you to set up and make shots and it allows you to have a good defense,” says Bertsch. “You’ve got to have good balance to be in good position. You’ve got to keep moving.”
When Bertsch moves on from Bluffton, he plans to go to college as an engineering major and wrestler. He has not yet decided on which school. His favorite high school subject is math and he’s looking forward to Calculus next semester.
Landon’s father — former middle school wrestler Matt Bertsch — is a civil engineer and owner at Bertsch-Frank & Associates LLC, a land surveying and construction engineering company located in Fort Wayne where his oldest son did an internship last summer.
Adams Central High School graduates Matt and Elizabeth Bertsch have three children — Landon, sophomore Alydia, eighth grader Eli and fifth grader Addie.
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Columbus East's Kade Law working to finish on top
By JEREMY HINES
Old western movies often ended with the hero riding off into the sunset. This signified the job was done – no matter how dangerous, or how challenging that job may have been. Columbus East wrestler Kade Law is hoping he has his riding off into the sunset moment this winter. To do that, he has to emerge as the top wrestler in his weight class at the state tournament.
“My goal is to win the state title,” Law said. “Last year I lost to the runner-up, by two. I was right there. And I definitely have improved.”
Law is currently ranked No. 2 in the 160-pound weight class, the same class he competed in last season. He’s ranked behind last year’s 152-pound champ, James Conway of Floyd Central.
“Kade is incredibly quick,” Columbus East coach Chris Cooper said. “We’ve had good kids in our room, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a wrestler that is more explosive than Kade. His quickness level is off the charts.”
Law says that explosiveness comes from confidence.
“I think it comes from being confident,” he said. “I am confidant in any shot I take. I set my feet and try to blow through my opponent.”
The quest for a state title hasn’t been an easy one for Law. As a freshman he broke his nose in practice the week of regionals.
“I was wrestling a kid in the practice room, and I got my nose broke,” Law said. “I had two nose surgeries, one right before semistate and one right before state. I had to wear a mask, and I didn’t like it at all. It was very hard to see out of.”
Law has had a total of four nose surgeries.
Two years ago he tore his MCL right before the sectional.
“I had to do a lot of physical therapy after that injury,” Law said. “When I first came back on the mat it was hard to even shoot. It took me a while to get back to where I was comfortable. I didn’t start feeling well until about mid-season.”
This year he is hoping all that bad luck is behind him. He’s ready to go out and show the type of wrestler he can be.
“Kade has improved quite a bit,” Cooper said. “He has always been a good practice, but he is getting so much more out of it this year. He’s a team leader, for sure. He pushes the guys to do their best. He’s much more vocal than he has been in the past. It’s made a big difference. I really think he has a sense of urgency now that he’s a senior. He maximizes every bit of his time in practice.”
Law has verbally committed to wrestle for Purdue next season.
“I went on an official visit, and I really connected with the guys,” Law said. “I like their coach and their philosophy. I loved how they ran practice. Purdue just felt like home.”
Law does not compete in any other sports. Wrestling is his top priority, athletically. It’s the only sport he has done growing up. When he’s not wrestling, he enjoys spending time with his family, and especially likes going boating.
Law is one of six state-ranked wrestlers on the Columbus East squad. Liam Krueger is ranked No. 10 at 113 pounds for the Olympians. Noah Lykins is No. 16 at 120. Jaden Durnill is ranked No. 14 at 182 pounds with Tommy Morrill taking the No. 10 spot at 220 pounds. Senior Ashton Hartwell is ranked No. 7 at 285. Eli Pollitt isn’t ranked in state, but he’s the seventh-rated wrestler at 145 pounds in the Evansville semistate.
“We are a real solid team,” Cooper said. “We’re ranked up close to the top. We want to win 3A duals and compete for a team championship.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: West Lafayette’s Barket learns how to turn weaknesses into strengths
By STEVE KRAH
Connor Barket is tenacious in the way he pursues wrestling — and for that matter — football.
The West Lafayette High School senior considers persistence and devotion to routine as his best athletic qualities.
“I find myself almost able to enjoy the grind,” says Barket, a 195-pounder who placed seventh at that weight at the 2021 IHSAA State Finals. He went 43-3 for his Red Devils junior season.
Also constant in the classroom, Barket sports a grade-point average near 4.0 (on a 4.0 scale) and is considering pursuing degrees in computer science, physics or engineering. He is considering studying and wrestling at Purdue University, Princeton University or Wabash College.
Dennis Barket, Connor’s father, is a former regional qualifier at Tell City High School who earned a chemistry degree at Purdue and is now a corporate executive.
Mother Donna Barket has worked as a biologist and is now a substitute teacher in West Lafayette and Frankfort as well as being in her eighth straight year as Red Devils wrestling team mom.
“She gets all the parents on the same page,” says Connor Barket. “She sorts team gear and is cheering at every match as loudly as possible.
“I’m extremely appreciative and I think most of the team is as well.”
Brother Aaron Barket (West Lafayette Class of 2018) was a semistate qualifer for West Lafayette and is now studying civil engineering at Purdue.
Rick Roseman has been coaching wrestling at West Lafayette since 1999 (2005-06 was his first as head coach) is full of praise for three-time team captain Connor.
“He is an amazing kid that does everything right,” says Roseman. “I can’t say enough good things about Connor Barket.
“He’s the highest-character kid I’ve ever coached. I never question what he’s doing off the mat.”
Barket likes to think of himself as the team leader, who will help out in the room and even give younger teammates a ride home.
“We’ve got a lot of young dudes,” says Barket. “I’m exposing them to the real work — on and off the mat.
“I lead the team through conditioning and the mental side. If I make the room better than will make me better.”
Roseman — or “Rosey” as his wrestlers know him — sees in Barket an ability to turn a weakness into a strength.
“You hope your kids learn from their mistakes,” says Roseman, who has observed just that in Barket.
After his freshman year at West Lafayette, Barket began going to Avon to train at Chad Red’s Red Cobra Wrestling Academy.
An East Chicago Semistate qualifier as a 170-pound freshman in 2019, Barket qualified for the 2020 State Finals as a 182-pound sophomore. He lost 6-5 with one second on the clock in the first round.
“That was an absolute brutal loss,” says Barket of his bout against Columbus East’s Noah White. I got a reversal with 10 or 15 seconds to go then he got a reversal on me to win by one.
Barket had his sight’s on a state title in 2021 after placing second at semistate and winning his first-round State Finals match. Then he lost in the second round and in his first consolation bracket bout before coming back for seventh.
“Connor’s such a steady kid,” says Roserman. “He had tough time rebounding.”
But he’s also learned from the experience.
“It’s those moments of failure that have helped me improve as a person and as a wrestler,” says Barket. “I look at myself objectively and work at what needs to get done.
“Each of my years have ended up a little bit short.”
Since last February, Barket has become even more serious about wrestling. He keeps a notebook of things he needs to work on. He’s dialed in his nutrition, exerted himself in the weight room and added yoga to his routine.
He also competed at the Folkstyle Nationals in Coralville, Iowa, Virginia Beach (Va.) Team Duals and Fargo (N.D.) Nationals.
As a junior, he made the transition from football and wrestling at 206 pounds and was around 193 for his matches.
“I was not quite as much as I wanted to be,” says Barket.
This past fall, Barket started on the defensive line (42 total tackles with 10 for loss and seven quarterback sacks) and rotated with Mariere Omonode at offensive left tackle for a team ranked No. 1 in Class 3A (the 9-1 Red Devils lost to eventual state runner-up Brebeuf Jesuit in the first round of sectional).
The 6-foot-1 Barket was about 215 when he began preseason wrestling workouts.
“I managed my weight and feel a lot bigger and stronger,” says Barket.
Omonode is West Lafayette’s heavyweight until he graduates mid-term and enters Purdue for football in January.
He is one of Barket’s workout partners.
“He’s definitely the toughest,” says Barket. “He’s got about 70 pounds on me. He’s an absolute monster.”
Swapping mat workout sessions with Barket are 2019 West Lafayette graduate Joey Kidwell (a two-time state qualifier at 220) and former Castle High School grappler and Purdue student Will Rolley.
“They’re older and stronger than me,” says Barket, who has also been known to drill with Roseman during his career.
“Rosey might be the most deceptively quick human being around,” says Barket of the Bob Freje-trained 1997 Brownsburg High School graduate and current West Lafayette elementary school physical education teacher. “His low single gets on you fast.”
Roseman says Barket has become good at attacking low and riding on top.
“For a big guy he’s as good at attacking at the knee,” says Roseman. “He has a low shot like an ankle pick or low single.”
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Castle's Purdy ready for a big season
By JEREMY HINES
The only thing that matters on the wrestling mat to John Purdy is the result. He’s not going to showboat and he’s not going to celebrate. He’s going to step on the mat, do everything he can to defeat the man standing across from him, and then go on with his day.
He doesn’t get emotional after a big win and doesn’t revel in a heartbreaking defeat. There’s always that next match – the next opportunity to prove himself. That’s what he looks forward to.
“John doesn’t get real hyped,” longtime Castle coach Bob Harmon said. “He doesn’t celebrate. He goes out, does his job and handles himself well. He doesn’t’ get emotional.”
Purdy had a strong start to his high school career. As a freshman he won the Castle sectional at 160 pounds, then placed third in regional to qualify for the Evansville semistate. Purdy was the only freshman in the weight class at semistate. He won his first-round matchup before falling to Brownsburg senior Petyon Asberry in the ticket round. He finished his freshman campaign with a 37-4 record.
“I got caught in that match,” Purdy said. “I shot and I just didn’t finish it. It was a learning experience. I knew I was going to learn from it and use that experience to prepare for the next season.”
That preparation worked. Last year, as a sophomore, Purdy punched his ticket to state. He won both sectional and regional in the 170-pound class. At semistate he finished second behind Columbus East senior Samuel Morrill.
Purdy finished fifth in the weight class at state. Morrill was the runner-up behind East Central’s Bryer Hall.
“Winning in that ticket round of semistate was sort of getting the monkey off of my back,” Purdy said. “But I had bigger dreams than just getting to state. I want to win state. The goal is to be a state champion. So, after I finished fifth at state, I went back to work.”
Purdy wrestles with the Maurer Coughlin Wrestling club in the offseason.
Currently, he is the No. 2-ranked wrestler in the state at 195 pounds, behind Evansville Mater Dei’s Gabe Sellers. The two could potentially meet up in the same Evansville North Regional this season.
“John is a good wrestler,” Harmon said. “He’s real technical. He’s strong and he’s athletic. Getting back to state is the goal, but that’s always a big challenge. Number one, you have to get back there. It’s important to go in and win each leg of the tournament. The state tournament is designed for champions, so if you can go in as a semistate champ, that really helps you.”
In addition to wrestling, Purdy also excels on the gridiron. He is the starting middle linebacker on the Castle football squad that finished the season with a 7-3 mark. Harmon coached Purdy in middle school football and knows how his athleticism is valuable on the football field.
“He was my quarterback and running back in middle school,” Harmon said. “Now he’s a force on the field on Friday nights. You hear his name called quite a bit.”
Purdy has competed in baseball, track, lacrosse and even basketball over the years. He has found that his two passions are wrestling and football.
“I like whatever one is in season,” Purdy said. “I think I do pretty well at both.”
Castle’s season will open on Saturday. Purdy is eager to start his junior campaign.
“I think we have a pretty good team,” Purdy said.
Purdy enjoys typical high school activities outside of sports. He likes hanging out with friends and family, listening to music and working out.
“John is a good kid,” Harmon said. “He’s a good student and he’s real personable. He’s just an all-around good kid. He’s not afraid of hard work and he’s willing to put the time in to get better.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Solomey family has impact on Kankakee Valley wrestling fortunes
By STEVE KRAH
The house is rockin’ and it is super-loud.
Coaches, wrestlers and spectators are all yelling encouragement and instructions.
Can athletes in the circle really pick out these messages above the din?
Cole Solomey, a two-time IHSAA State Finals placer heading into his junior mat season in 2021-22 at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatfield, says he can.
“I can hear my dad and brother,” says Cole Solomey. “I hear them everyday.
“I can hear exactly what they’re saying no matter how far away they are.”
Mike Solomey (Class of 1992) and Luke Solomey (Class of 2017) both grappled for the Kougars.
Mike Solomey is No. 2 on KV’s all-time win list at 117 (2005 graduate Dominic Willis is No. 1 at 119) and was a state qualifier at 130 pounds as a senior.
Luke Solomey made it to the “ticket round” at the East Chicago Semistate as a 160-pound senior.
Cole, the youngest of Mike and Becky Solomey’s three children behind Luke and Irelynn, was introduced to wrestling at age 4 with Caleb (son of Mike’s brother Shane Solomey, who was a 171-pounder during much of his KV mat career) coming to the sport a short time later.
“When we grew up we didn’t have the opportunities that Cole and Caleb have,” says Mike Solomey.
“(Cole) was good when he started out. He’s very self-motivated. Nobody has to talk him into going to practice. He does it on his own.
“I’m hoping to see him higher on the (State Finals) podium as the next two years go by.”
Luke is a KV volunteer assistant coach when his job of working for his dad’s roofing contractor business allows.
“Weekends in the winter time are spent in the gym,” says Luke Solomey, who joined the staff during the COVID-19 pandemic last season because spectators were not allowed at most matches and he was able to help his brother.
“I was in the corner for most of the year,” says Luke Solomey. “Cole can hear me when it’s very loud. It’s a different look in the corner — I can see something he can’t see (other wrestlers’ tendencies).”
Luke, who was known for his cradles as a KV wrestler, gives Cole a chance to work on defending that move in practice.
“One of Cole’s strengths is escapes,” says Luke Solomey. “If he’s on his game there’s nobody that can hold him down.”
Luke has also noticed Cole’s growth spurt.
“He’s grown up and out,” says Luke Solomey. “Puberty hit him pretty hard over the summer.”
Two off-season events where Cole shined were the IndianaMat Hoosier Preseason Open (IHPO) in September and the USA Wrestling Brian Keck Memorial Preseason Nationals in DesMoines, Iowa, in October. He was top eight at IHPO and sixth at Preseason Nationals after going out in the “blood round” in 2020.
“I wrestled a lot more offensively at Preseason Nationals (in 2021) and competed really well,” says Cole.
Third-year Kankakee Valley head coach Eric Kidwell first saw Cole on the mat when he and Brad Burvan state the Kougar Wrestling Club.
“I don’t know where he gets his drive from,” says Kidwell. “He’s very competitive. He hates losing. He has improved every year.”
“Caleb pushes Cole. He has that drive. He’s a tough kid.”
Caleb placed seventh at Frosh-Soph State last year.
Cole Solomey went 39-6 and placed seventh in the 2020 IHSAA State Finals at 120 and 27-7 and came in sixth at the 2021 state meet at 132. He finished third at the Crown Point Sectional, third at the Crown Point Regional and third at the East Chicago Semistate as a freshman then came in second, third and third at those stages as a sophomore.
It was 66 at the start of the season, but don’t ask Cole how many career wins he has.
“I only remember the losses,” says Cole Solomey. “I’ve always wanted to make a name for our school in wrestling.”
The 2021-22 season opens with a bigger, stronger Cole Solomey competing at 138 with his cousin, classmate and training partner Caleb Solomey moving up from 126 to 132 after placing second at sectional and regional and losing in the second round at semistate as a sophomore.
Both Solomey boys are 17.
“Caleb and I drill pretty hard together everyday, especially when it comes to weight-cutting,” says Cole Solomey. “His strength is on his feet with his shots.
“He hasn’t been able to get over the hump to get to the State Finals. I keep trying to push him as hard as possible every year.”
Caleb lost out on mat time in middle school because of a dislocated elbow.
Cole went up about an inch to 5-foot-9 and gained muscle in the weight room since last season. He says his “walking around” weight in 2020-21 was about 145 and now its around 150.
“Through lifting I gained more mass,” says Cole Solomey. “I’ve gotten a whole lot stronger (with my power, arms and grip) the last couple of years.”
Working out in the off-season with Chris Fleeger at Midwest Regional Training Center in New Carlisle in off-season as well as with Pete Petroff at Region Wrestling Academy in Schererville, Cole has upped his hand-fighting game.
“It creates larger shot opportunities and opens up my opponent a whole lot more,” says Cole Solomey.
“My mentality has also improved.
“I know how much more I have to give. You don’t know much more you have to give until you have to give it.”
Cole played baseball until middle school and football through eighth grade then decided to focus on wrestling.
“The off-season is about getting better and I saw other kids training year-round and passing me up,” says Cole Solomey. “Is there such a thing as too much mat time. In my perspective — no.
“The more time you’re spending on the mat those are more situations you would not be in if you’re sitting at home.
“Drilling is definitely a huge part of wrestling. Some practices where you don’t go 100 percent is where you learn (a move). Then you go into situational wrestling and get a real feel for it.”
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Confidence grows for Southport's Nathan Smith after an impressive offseason
By JEREMY HINES
Southport senior Nathan Smith is the sports editor of his school newspaper. With the success he had on the wrestling mat during the offseason, his own name might be the biggest news on his sports section this year.
Smith competed at Virginia Beach, Fargo, Tulsa and various Indiana tournaments. He placed second in the Junior Men’s Freestyle Nationals at Fargo. In Tulsa he went 7-0 in freestyle wrestling and 5-2 in Greco-Roman. He won the USAW Brian Keck Memorial Preseason Nationals in Iowa. He also won the John Hurrle Memorial Invitational in Indianapolis and placed second at the IndianaMat Hoosier Preseason Open.
“Nathan kind of punched some tickets this offseason,” Southport coach Nick Skinner said. “He had not been in a national final yet and he went to Fargo and finished second. That gave him confidence and let him know that he belongs at the top of the podium.”
For Smith, it was the Fargo tournament that really boosted his confidence.
“The finals made me realize I can get to anywhere I want to if I put in the work,” Smith said.
Now Smith is hoping to bring some championships home in the Indiana state tournament. He has never won a title in the state tournament. He is a three-time regional qualifier, a two-time semistate qualifier and last year he placed seventh overall at the state meet.
“I want to win state,” Smith said. “That’s the goal. I also think I’m about 36 wins off of the Southport all-time wins record. That’s something I think would be super nice to get, that all-time record. I have yet to win a county tournament, sectional, regional or semistate title. If I could get a win in all of those my senior year that would be really nice.”
The Southport sectional has had some hammers in the 106-pound class – the only class Smith has competed in during his career.
Perry Meridian’s Alex Cottey won the sectional in Smith’s freshman season. Cotton went on to finish second in the state meet.
In Smith’s sophomore year, Roncalli’s Bryce Lowery won the sectional with Cardinal Ritter’s Joshua Johnson placing second and Smith third. Lowery went on to place fourth at state and Johnson placed seventh.
Last year Smith lost to Perry Meridian’s Toby Billerman in the sectional final. There were only three wrestlers in the sectional bracket, but Billerman went on to place third at state and Smith finished seventh.
Smith isn’t the type of wrestler that is always on the attack. He likes to feel his opponent out and learn from his style, then use the moves he feels will be the most effective.
“I’m definitely a counter wrestler,” Smith said. “I don’t take a million shots right off the rip. As far back as I can remember I have never been one to go and shoot a lot. I like to feel my opponents out for a minute or two and then go from there.”
According to Smith, he was able to make solid improvements this offseason as well.
“I had a habit of sitting the corner, which is a unique defense,” he said. “It won me a lot of matches, but also got me into trouble. I’ve improved with my down blocking and I’ve been working on a more traditional defense.”
After high school Smith hopes to wrestle at the University of Indianapolis and study exercise science. He is considering minoring in journalism as well.
“I love journalism,” he said. “I’ve been on our journal staff for three years now. I was a sportswriter for two years and now I’m the sports editor.”
For fun, Smith mostly enjoys wrestling and hanging out with his dad.
“I just wrestle a bunch for fun,” Smith said. “In the summer, it’s kind of nerdy, but I love to go hang out with my dad (Greg Smith). We do all sorts of things. We watch football, go birding, biking or just walking. I don’t even know if I like things like birding, I think I just really like to be out in nature hanging out with my dad.”
Coach Skinner says that Smith is a leader on and off the mat and a “really fun kid to coach.”
“He’s just a good kid,” Skinner said. “He is intelligent, funny and he takes care of business on the mat and in the classroom. He gets the work done and that rubs off on everyone around him.”
Smith is currently ranked third in the state at 106 pounds.
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Senior Bailey has already forged unprecedented career with River Forest Ingots
By STEVE KRAH
Jeffrey Bailey is doing things that the wrestling program at River Forest High School in Hobart has never witnessed.
With a 2021-22 season-opening victory (takedown/near-side cradle/pin in 31 seconds) Nov. 17 against East Chicago Central, Bailey, a 106-pound senior, added to what is already the best mark in Ingots mat history at 106-12.
He went 35-5 as a freshman in 2018-19, 38-3 and an IHSAA State Finals qualifier as a sophomore in 2019-20, 32-4 as a junior in 2020-21 and became River Forest’s first state placer when he came in sixth.
As a freshman, Bailey came in fifth at Frosh-Soph State and placed second at Frosh-Soph State as a sophomore.
Bailey grappled in middle school, but he really became serious about the sport as a freshman – the same year that Mark Hidalgo became Ingots head coach.
Hidalgo, a 1989 Merrillville High School who has coached wrestling and football at several schools the past 25 years, brought enthusiasm and made the mat matter at River Forest.
“Before Coach Hidalgo got here we didn’t have a tradition,” says Bailey. “Guys just showed up.”
Bailey points to a turning-point moment during his sophomore year when Hidalgo sat him down for a heart-to-heart talk.
“He told me I have potential to do something no one has ever done in the school before,” says Bailey of the coach/Physical Education teacher. “I used to struggle with my confidence. I didn’t have confidence in anything I did.”
Suddenly, Bailey was full of tenacity and that showed in his matches.
“He knows wrestling, says Hildalgo of Bailey. He’s always watching it and trying to better him better. He’s pretty solid in all aspects, but he’s best on his feet.
“He’s been shooting doubles for years. He’s added a lot more to his arsenal over the summer and in the offseason.
“There’s a lot of good things about Jeff. He cares about this team. He pushes himself everyday in practice. He also puts in the work in the classroom. He’s a fun kid to be around. We’ve got a pretty good relationship.”
Hidalgo placed fourth at state as a senior heavyweight. He was in football, wrestling and baseball (one year) at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., where he was coached by former Eastern Illinois University heayweight All-American Dave Klemm who had clashed with future NCAA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Bruce Baumgartner. Hidalgo was also at Purdue University for one year when Jeff Jordan coached the Boilermakers.
Marcus Shrewsbury, a 189-pound state champion at Crown Point in 2009, is Hidalgo’s nephew.
The coach was on the Bill Kelly’s East Chicago Central staff when Hector Mendez ascended to the top of the IHSAA state heap at 125 in 2002.
Hidalgo says Bailey had a real shot to win a state championship in 2021.
“This year he’s focused,” says Hidalgo. “It’s state title or bust — one of those things.”
Some chances for Bailey to get better and for fans to see him include Nov. 27 at the North Newton Invitational, Dec. 4 at the Harvest Classic (Lake Central), Dec. 11 at the Traicoff Memorial (Calumet New Tech), Jan. 8 at the Lake County Tournament (Hanover Central) and Jan. 15 at the Greater South Shore Conference Tournament (Hanover Central) – where River Forest will be trying of a third-straight title. The IHSAA tournament series includes the Jan. 29 Portage Sectional, Feb. 5 Hobart Regional and Feb. 12 East Chicago Semistate followed by the Feb. 18-19 State Finals at Gainbridge (formerly Bankers Life) Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Bailey says he has gotten to the point where he is good in the top wrestling position.
“I like to turn and a I like to ride,” says Bailey. “It happened over time. My freshmen year, I gave up reversals.”
Charles Voss, Jeffrey’s uncle, was a state qualifier at Owen Valley, but that’s the only wrestling Bailey has in his family tree.
Jeffrey’s father – DeWayne Bailey was a high school basketball standout at Maranatha Christian in Portage and his youngest son also took the court when he was younger.
“I tried, but I would get dejected and get mad,” says Jeffrey Bailey. “Everybody was so much bigger than me. I really couldn’t do anything.”
At 5-foot-8, Bailey is among the taller 106-pounders and he uses those longer limbs to his advantage.
“In scrambles I don’t get in bad positions where I’m uncomfortable,” says Bailey.
But even with parents DeWayne and Heather preparing his meals he just wasn’t going to be that big. In fact, Jeffrey tried to add weight in the off-season and go up a class or two, but it just didn’t stick.
“I burned too many calories,” says Bailey.
He does go against bigger practice partners, including senior Jonathan Schultz (126), junior Alejandro Ramirez (132) and first-year Ingots assistant Eric Keith. Schultz is a semistate qualifier and Ramirez has been to regional.
Keith was a four-time state qualifier with a state title at 140 as a Portage High School senior in 2000. His career prep mark was 170-8.
“We have smaller guys in the room, but they don’t give me the feel that I want,” says Bailey. “Wrestling stronger guys makes me better.”
Bailey trains and competes pretty much year-round, going to workouts around northwest Indiana and many Indiana State Wrestling Association events. Last year, he also went with Hammond Gavit grapplers to the Disney Duals.
After high school, Bailey can see himself wrestling college if that opportunity arises. He expects to study History and pursue a path to becoming a high school Social Studies teacher and coach.
Bailey is particularly interested in Biblical history.
“I’m a Christian,” says Bailey. “I’m always trying to learn about my faith.”
Jeffrey and his father have Bible study twice a week and have enjoyed a net series called “The Days of Noah.”
Jeffrey grew up in the River Forest area with his parents and older brother DeWayne. He enjoys walking around town now and having them ask him about wrestling. It’s a big deal there now thanks in large part to Bailey, who returns the affection.
Says Bailey, “I love my community, my parents and my coaches.”
#WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Cowboy up! Edgewood's Cash Turner has a unique off-season training regimen
Photo by David Hughes/ BeltBucklePhotos.com
By JEREMY HINES
Cash Turner doesn’t get his strength from lifting weights. His muscles are built by moving over 500 hay bales a year, splitting wood and working on his family’s 100-acre farm. He doesn’t get his grip from the gym either – that comes from holding on for dear life while trying to ride a massive bull for as long as possible. And, that fearless attitude those around him say he has – that comes from growing up with a father that was a phenomenal wrestler and then went on to become an all-around champion in the rodeo world.
The Edgewood junior is certainly not your typical wrestler. He’s the Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV vs. the Ivan Drago’s of the world. His training isn’t conventional, but it works.
“Cash is training without training, and he’s doing it a lot,” Edgewood coach Greg Ratliff said. “I remember one time he went to his grandpa’s place in Kentucky instead of going to workouts. I asked him what he did while he was there, and he told us he and his grandpa spent the week just digging post holes. Somehow, I knew he would get more out of that then he ever would by hitting our weight room.”
Turner knows two things well – rodeo and wrestling. When he’s not in wrestling season, he’s working on his rodeo skills. His only break from the rodeo is when he’s wrestling. Coach Ratliff believes the work Turner is putting in on his rodeo is only benefiting him on the mat.
“We talk a lot about multi-sport athletes,” Ratliff said. “There are a lot of crossovers. The will, the drive, and the determination he uses in bull riding carries over to wrestling. There isn’t as much footwork and agility, but all the toughness that comes with it is a big plus. I think, in a day and age where coaches are asked to do more and more and more, and wrestlers are told they need to wrestle every weekend – but the best wrestler in your room is like – I have this going on. It’s refreshing. You can do other things and still get good. As long as they are training in something, that’s going to help make them better wrestlers.”
For Cash, part of the allure of the rodeo is facing fears and overcoming them.
“The hardest thing in my life is probably trying new things,” Turner said. “I was always an avid bull rider, but my dad asked if I would want to try saddle bronc riding and bareback riding – which is basically riding wild horses. I was the most scared I’ve ever been in my life. I was going to get on a giant horse that wants to throw me off. But I did it. I overcame that fear.”
That bravery has helped Cash excel in the rodeo. He qualified for the High School Nationals in Nebraska where each state brings four representatives to compete.
“The rodeo definitely makes me tougher in wrestling,” Turner said. “I know if I can do that, I can probably put a kid my size on his back on the mat.”
Although Turner’s dad, Toby, was a very good bull rider and wrestler. He didn’t want to push those things on Cash.
“Toby placed second in state in wrestling, twice,” Ratliff said. “In the rodeo he was on the PBR circuit and was a National Champion. It’s really cool to watch their interactions with each other in the wrestling room (Toby is an assistant coach). They are both so stubborn, but his dad really didn’t want to push wrestling or rodeo on his son. As it turns out, those are Cash’s biggest passions. Cash just loves them both.”
Turner found success early in his high school wrestling career. He won the Bloomington North sectional at 106 pounds his freshman season. He then went on to claim the regional title at Bloomington South and advanced to state by placing third in the Evansville semistate. In that semistate, Turner had his favorite match in his career up until this point.
“It was the match after my ticket-round win,” Turner said. “I faced a kid that I had never beaten before, and we had wrestled many times – probably around a dozen or so. I just knew this time would be the time. I wrestled how I wrestle and ended up hitting a lat drop on him and scored a few points, then hit another funky move and ended up winning by quite a few points. So far, that was my favorite match. I was getting over an obstacle.”
Coach Ratliff remembers that match well.
“I remember it because the young man he was wrestling’s dad yelled out ‘watch out for the spladle’,” Ratliff said. “I don’t know if Cash heard it or not, but he immediately hit the spladle. He went up five points. That was an exciting match.”
Turner proceeded to place seventh in state that freshman season.
He did not make it back to state as a sophomore. He won sectional and regional for the second time in his young career, but fell short in the ticket round of semistate, losing in the ticket round to Brownsburg’s Brady Isom. Isom went on to place third in state at 126 that season.
“Last year was tough,” Turner said. “I went up from 106 my freshman year to 126 as a sophomore. That was a big jump. I knew people were going to be a little stronger than me. I went as far as I could. The ticket round loss was a tough loss, but he was a really good opponent. I took what I could from it and I’m trying to work this year at getting back to state. That’s my goal.
“I think when you’re a junior you start to get a sense of urgency you didn’t have before. When you’re a freshman and sophomore you look at wrestling and you’re like, I still have three…or two more years. Now you realize it’s coming fast and pretty soon I’ll just be done. I only have one year after this.”
Turner is coming into the season slightly hobbled. He broke his elbow in September riding a bull.
“Funny story about that,” Cash said. “I had a duck hunting trip planned with a few friends. It was going to be a few days after the rodeo. I went to the rodeo and ended up hurting my elbow. I didn’t know I broke it. I finished my events and even won some events. When we went home, I didn’t think much about it, but I put it in a sling and went to school the next day. I couldn’t bend it at all.
“I showed our athletic trainer and he looked at it and said it was definitely broken. I went to the doctor, and they put a cast from my wrist to my elbow. The first thing I told my mom was I had to see if I could shoot a shotgun with one arm. I went out and tried to shoot a few times. It was hard, but I could do it. I went on the hunting trip and even killed a few birds there. It was an interesting experience.”
Going hunting with a broken elbow, while your entire arm is wrapped in a hard plastic cast shows just how stubborn Turner is.
“He’s the kid that is always stubborn,” Ratliff said. “For example – we do a drill in practice where we set it up like it’s an overtime match. First takedown wins. He might get taken down, because his practice partner is really good at takedowns, but Cash will argue and argue about whether something was a takedown or not. He just doesn’t give up. He’s going to keep wrestling from there. The ref has to really think about it. He will tell you ‘That wasn’t a takedown, I still had a hold of his toe’.”
Turner has several plans after high school. He is currently involved in a fire science and fire safety vocational school and would eventually like to be a firefighter. He said he would like to go to college somewhere that has a fire science education program where he can get a degree in that field. He also wants to pursue the rodeo out west, where there are more opportunities in the sport.
For now, however, he’s focused on getting back to the state finals.
“That’s my ultimate goal,” Turner said. “It was great to go as a freshman and I want to get back there.”
#MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Tiny Cowan clicking along after pausing program for several years
By STEVE KRAH
Wrestling has come back in a big way at a little school.
Cowan Senior/Junior High School in Delaware County folded its program following the 1994-95 for lack of interest.
As a Muncie Southside High School senior in 1989-90, Tony Abbott went 35-2 and was the IHSAA 152-pound state champion, grappled for the University of Indianapolis, served as head coach at Southside 1995-96 to 2012-13 and was inducted into the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame in 2017.
“I started coaching my first year out of college,” says Abbott, who also owns Abbott’s Body Shop in Muncie. “I’ve had no break since I was six years old.”
With Abbott as Cowan head coach, the Blackhawks came back to the prep mat in 2016-17 — a few years after establishing club (which drew about 50 kids the first year and around 60 the next) and junior high programs with all athletes funneling into CSJHS. That happened with the advice of former Muncie Central mat coach and then-Cowan principal Jim Suding and the support of parents.
That first new era high school team had four wrestlers and the next year six. By 2018-19, Cowan had 14 grapplers and filled all 14 weight classes. The Blackhawks had 25 out the next season, including oldest son Toby, and the numbers have been at least that high in each season since then.
“We started having a little bit of success,” says Abbott. “There’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears. The fun part of this whole team is that every one of the kids on my team have been Cowan kids in that club.
“We have 27 kids on the team right now. These kids were just kids and didn’t have anything to do. Now they’e wrestlers.
“They’re embracing the grind. The secret to success is there’s no secret. You’ve got to keep moving forward.”
Those wrestlers representing the Black and Gold of Cowan (enrollment below 250) won the Delaware County Tournament for the first time and claimed the school’s first sectional title (earned at Delta) in 2020-21. The Blackhawks placed fourth in the IHSCA State Duals.
As a 145-pound junior, Toby Abbott became Cowan’s first-ever regional champion and state placer (eighth).
“It happened later than I wanted it to,” says Toby of his state meet run. “I wanted to do it all freshmen and sophomore year.
“I didn’t have too many losses during the season. But it’s a good thing I did have the losses. I leaned from them.”
Abbott finished 33-5.
“At Cowan, we’re all-around wrestlers,” says Toby. “We wrestle hard and train hard.”
Toby, who also has three siblings — one older sister, one young sister and one young brother — says he would like to wrestle in college. He’s not decided on where he will attend or what he will study, though he is considering sports management or physical education.
What does Tony see in Toby the wrestler?
“He’s guy that everybody wants to coach,” says Tony Abbott. “He does what you tell him and he works hard.
“All the Cowan kids were brought up by me. They didn’t see older guys sitting around or cutting corners.”
A year-round wrestler with younger brother Levi (Class of 2024), Toby works out in the family barn, attends Central Indiana Academy workouts in Indianapolis and last summer went with a Cowan group to the Virginia Beach Duals.
“We wrestle everyday,” says Toby of he and Levi, who placed fourth at sectional and was a regional qualifier at 138 as a freshman. “He’s my practice partner in the room (the third court in the auxiliary gym where mats are no longer rolled up daily). I get him where he wants to be and he gets me where I want to be.
“We get along pretty well. My dad tries to make it pretty competitive in the room. All the coaches do.”
Cowan assistants are Casey Bradley (who wrestled at Muncie Southside and coached at Baldwin-Wallace University in Berea, Ohio), former Delta state qualifier Ronnie Goney and Cowan semistate qualifier Steve May.
Three seniors graduated from the 2020-21 Blackhawks – Garrett Smith (second at the Delta Sectional and Jay County Regional and a Fort Wayne Semistate qualifier at 285), Keagan Keesling (third at sectional and a regional qualifier at 152) and Preston White (third at sectional and a regional qualifier at 132).
Cowan does not open the season until a Dec. 2 home match against Blackford so weights and the lineup is still being sorted out.
The Keith twins — Raef (third at sectional and regional and a semistate qualifier at 106 in 2020-21) and Bowen (third at sectional and a regional qualifier at 113) shined as freshmen and are back as sophomores.
Junior Jesse May (fourth at sectional and a regional qualifier at 126) returns as does senior Austin Jones (first at sectional, second at regional and a semistate qualifier at 160), senior Malachi King (fifth at sectional at 170), senior Dalton May (fourth at sectional and a regional qualifier at 182) and junior Brandt Thornburg (fourth at sectional and a regional qualifier at 220). Regional qualifiers from 2019-20 include senior Cade Jones and junior Alex King.
There are two girls on the high school team and one is senior Cricket Morey (fifth at Girls State Finals at 98 in 2020-21).
The 2021-22 Delaware County Tournament is slated for Jan. 6 at Wes-Del with the IHSWCA State Duals Jan. 8 (site to be determined) and Mid-Eastern Conference Tournament Jan. 22 at Cowan. The Blackhawks’ state tournament series includes the Delta Sectional (Jan. 29), Jay County Regional (Feb. 5) and Fort Wayne Semistate (Feb. 12) leading up to the State Finals (Feb. 18-19).
#WrestlingWednesday: East Central captures 3A title
By JEREMY HINES
East Central wrestling entered the Class 3A team state tournament as a bit of an unknown. The Trojans certainly didn’t leave that way.
East Central was the No. 5 seed entering the tournament, but thanks to a must-have pin by junior Ryan Bovard, the Trojans defeated Floyds Central 33-32 to capture the state title.
“That was amazing,” East Central coach Adam Wolf said. “We’ve been working hard for a long time to get to this level. It was neat just getting invited to team state, but then to win, that was great.”
The Trojans battled three formidable opponents en route to the state title. They took on Northridge in the first round, winning 40-27. In the next round East Central squeaked past Franklin 37-31 setting up the showdown in the final.
“We knew going into the last round that it could come down to the final match,” Wolf said. “By the last match the whole place was going crazy and we had a junior, first-year varsity wrestler up. Ryan Bovard knew we had to have a pin in order to win. He had all the pressure on him in the world and he came through. He will never forget that moment. He’s a great kid and I’m so glad he got that moment.”
The Trojans feel they are a bit unknown because a big portion of their schedule comes against Ohio and Kentucky teams. East Central is located just 30 minutes from Cincinnati.
“We are from an area in Indiana that isn’t though about much,” Wolf said. “We’re not in the Indy area. We’re not up north. We’re really not known around most parts of the state so us winning was probably a surprise to many.”
The Trojans have three state-ranked wrestlers. Bryer Hall is the No. 1-ranked wrestler at 170 pounds. Hall, a senior, formerly wrestled for South Dearborn, but is now with the Trojans.
“Bryer transferred to us two years ago and his dad is our assistant coach,” Wolf said. “He and his family have been a huge asset to our team. Bryer is a funky wrestler. It’s hard to coach him on technique because a lot of what he does is just natural, and not normal.”
Coach Wolf’s young son, Blake, is ranked No. 12 in the state at 126 pounds. Blake is a sophomore. Last year Blake went undefeated until the ticket round at semistate where he ran into Alex Cottey, the eventual state champion.
“That was Blake’s only loss all season last year,” coach Wolf said. “I know a lot of our kids get slept on a little bit because of our schedule being teams in Ohio and Kentucky. Blake is one of those kids that works really hard and has beaten several kids that went on to place in other states.”
Senior Kole Viel is ranked No. 7 at 220 pounds.
“Kole is our football player,” coach Wolf said. “He signed to play at the University of Indianapolis. He’s wrestled since he was young though, and he’s a really solid wrestler – but he’s a stud on the football field. He’s one of our captains and he has been a big tool for us to tap into those football players and show them what wrestling brings to the table. He’s got us a lot of good athletes on the team. They look up to Kole and really respect him.”
Ben Wolf, coach Wolf’s older son, is a senior this season and is ranked No. 3 at 152 pounds in the New Castle semistate. He’s a team captain as well.
“Ben is a hard, hard worker,” coach Wolf said. “He’s quiet, but he leads with his actions. He’s the hardest worker in our room and he’s a really good wrestler, but he hasn’t had the best showing at semistate yet. We’re hoping this is the year he performs the way we know he can.”
Dylan Lengerich and Rider Searcy are also ranked in the New Castle semistate. Both are sophomores. Lengerich is No. 5 at 120 and Searcy is No. 6 at 138 pounds.
The Trojans have never had a state champion in the individual tournament, which is something the team is hoping to change this year.
“The future is to go up,” Wolf said. “We want to be relevant every year. We want to be known for good wrestling. That’s our goal this year with Bryer and Blake and some of the other kids coming up.
“I think, now that we’ve won the team state, our kids feel they can wrestle with anyone. It’s definitely something that gave us confidence and we are hoping to build on it.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Tell City ready for Team State
By JEREMY HINES
Things are quiet in Tell City, the town named after Swiss hero William Tell. Everyone knows everyone else by name. High school sports are one of the main attractions. This year, the town is abuzz about the wrestling team – and for good reason.
The Marksmen will enter team state as the No. 1-seed in the Class A standings. They are currently the No. 2 ranked team in the class behind only their archrival, North Posey. Coach Neal Stahly can’t wait for the tournament to begin.
“Our number one goal is to win team state,” Stahly said. “That has been our goal every since the coaches association came up with team state. We know there will be 12 fantastic teams that will be there with the same goal as we have.”
Outside of team state, Stahly has high hopes for his squad. He wants everyone to make it to regional or semistate in the individual tournament.
“I want the kids to wrestle to the best of their ability,” he said.
The Marksmen are a senior heavy team this season. There are eight seniors on the 18-man roster. Seniors include Tavor DuPont, Shane Braunecker, Corey Braunecker, Nigel Kaiser, Ross Wilgus, Will Kirtley, Chance Bolin and coach Stahly’s son, Alec.
“We are definitely a senior-heavy team this year,” coach Stahly said. “We have a good group of underclassmen as well and our sophomores are really strong. We have quite a few that are wrestling year around now.
“The seniors are really close to my heart, with it being my son’s age group. They are a fun group of kids. They are tight knit. They do Christmas gift exchanges every year, with gag gifts. They just really enjoy each other’s company and they love to get out and wrestle.”
The team has just one junior this season in Gage Meunier. There are six sophomores: Coy Hammack, Kelby Glenn, Brayden Lain, Collin Kessens, Tyce DuPont, Jack Skeen and J.C. Buckendahl.
Currently none of the Marksmen wrestlers are ranked in the state, but coach Stahly believes that will change soon.
“Coy Hammack is a returning state qualifier,” Stahly said. “He wrestles year around and it really shows. He is really becoming a leader on this team. We have been on lock down for a lot of this season so hopefully once he starts getting some matches he’ll climb into those rankings.”
Hammack qualified for state at 106 pounds last season. He will wrestle 113 this year.
Two Marksmen wrestlers are ranked in the always tough Evansville semistate. Shane Braunecker is ranked eighth in the semistate at 145 pounds and Kaiser is ranked sixth at 170.
Shane and Corey Braunecker are twins. Corey is the class President.
“They are both funky wrestlers,” Stahly said. “They’ve had a lot of success with twisting their bodies in ways they shouldn’t be able to do. Off the mat you wouldn’t be able to meet a more modest pair of twins. They are soft spoken, polite and very intelligent.”
Nigel is one of the team’s best all-around athletes.
“He was a cross country runner until his sophomore year when he switched to play football,” Stahly said. “He plays football, wrestles and plays baseball. He runs like a gazelle. Last year he finally started using his length in wrestling and it’s really improved him.”
Stahly considers Kirtley to be the team’s vocal leader this season, but said his squad really handles leadership by majority.
“Not one of them look for any individual accolades,” Stahly said. “They truly are a team. They hold each other accountable, too. They look out for each other and make sure everyone is doing their best on and off the mat.”
This is the 50th year for Tell City High School. The wrestling team has never had a state champion, which is something they would love to change.
“We have actually never had a state champion in any sport,” Stahly said. “We have had medalists in various sports. In wrestling we have had six or seven medalists.”
Tell city has had just two wrestling coaches over the last 20 years – which coach Stahly believes gives the team a sense of consistency.
Stahly is from Michigan. When he came to Tell City he fell in love with the place.
“This place is perfect. We have the Ohio River at our doorstep. We are close to Evansville, Nashville, Louisville and Indianapolis. Our county is about 75 percent National Forest – so we have a lot of hunting, fishing and camping we can do. People come to our town and they get that old-time feeling. We have a main street that is lit up at Christmas time. It’s like a throwback. It’s just a great place to live.”
As for team state, Stahly looks forward to a possible matchup with North Posey.
“They are the No. 2 seed and the No. 1 ranked team in class A,” Stahly said. “They are our biggest rival. They have done a tremendous job of getting their team to be a premier 1A team in the state. They are tough, hard-nosed kids that are hard as hell to pin and they don’t quit. We really look forward to that battle.”
8446 1 3
#WrestlingWednesday: Jennings County getting a major upgrade
By JEREMY HINES
Howard Jones is, without a doubt, the face of Jennings County wrestling. Jones has coached the Panthers for over four decades (41 years to be exact). And during those 41 years he’s always had to do things the hard way. That’s all about to change.
Jennings County has started the construction of a one-of-a-kind wrestling facility. Jones believes this might be the only dedicated wrestling venue for a high school in the Midwest, and possibly even the entire country.
The new, five-million-dollar venue will feature seating for over 800 fans. It will have four full-size mats down with the ability to remove some seating and go up to six full size mats. The 24,000 square feet venue will also have two locker rooms and a coaches’ office.
“We expect this to make our wrestlers feel like first-class athletes,” Jennings County Athletic Director Cory Stevens said. “They are going to have a facility that no other wrestlers in the region or in the state will have. We hope this attracts others to use it as well, for camps and things of that nature.”
For Jones, this is a dream come true. His wrestlers have practiced in a balcony overlooking the basketball gymnasium. The school has two balconies on each side of the gym, and the wrestling team was often so large that it had to split the team up and use both sides.
“I was lucky enough to have real good assistant coaches over the years,” Jones said. “I would go on one side and the assistants would go on the other. Sometimes we would divide by weight class. Sometimes we would divide by varsity and junior varsity.”
The wrestlers would also have to move the 800-pound mats that were stored in various places throughout the school down to the gym floor for invitationals or dual meets.
“Needless to say, it was an inconvenience, at the minimum,” Jones said. “We didn’t get the lighter mats until about four years ago. We always had to end practice early if there was a girls or a boys basketball game.”
Jones didn’t much believe that the program was getting its own venue when he was first told about it. He had heard similar talk before. One time the school was going to build a 4.7-million-dollar facility that would house three basketball courts, a weight room, a track and a wrestling room. Ultimately that got voted down by the community.
This time around school superintendent Teresa Brown told Jones that it was going to happen.
“One day she told me ‘Coach Jones, we’re going to get you that wrestling room.’,” Jones said. “I didn’t believe her. That was about three years ago. Then, at the first of the year, she steps into the gym and said to me ‘Don’t you doubt me coach Jones, don’t you doubt me’.”
Jones has had a hand in the design of the facility. He has looked at places like Purdue for inspiration and has tried to emulate what he knows works.
“It’s been a very emotional time for me,” Jones said. “I have thought our kids deserved something better, but maybe not this elaborate, for years. I questioned why it was going to be so good. The principal at the time said ‘Howard, why can’t we have the best for our kids?’ That made sense to me. I think this state-of-the-art facility will be what’s best for our kids.”
For Jones, the principal’s statement got him thinking.
“I’m pretty conservative with things,” Jones said. “When he said that to me, I started thinking differently. I started thinking why not. The school wants to be greedy for the kids and it really shows.”
The wrestling facility isn’t the only thing to get a major upgrade at the school. The baseball and softball fields got a multi-million-dollar upgrade. The weight room doubled in size. The football field got new turf. The tennis courts are getting a facelift. But, the largest change, is the wrestling renovation.
According to Stevens, this might not have ever happened if it weren’t for the influence Jones has had on the students and the community through wrestling.
“They say it has a lot to do with me, but it’s really for the kids,” Jones said. “The kids deserved better and we’re getting there. The educators care for the kids. But since this announcement I’ve had hundreds of people call or contact me about how much wrestling has done for them. That was done without this kind of facility. It’s not that we create champion wrestlers. It’s important that we realize we’re creating champion kids.”
This has been an emotional journey for Jones. Former wrestlers are working on the building of the new facility and even the companies that put in the bids for the construction were ran by some of Jones’ former wrestlers.
“Each of our six elementary schools have former wrestlers of mine that are coaching,” Jones said. “All but one of my assistants were coached by me. The middle school – all but one of the coaches was coached by me. It makes me very proud. One of the things that probably puts things in perspective for me the most is that I had a principal at one of the elementary schools come up to me and said ‘Howard, I’m tired of going to principal meetings and hearing about your wrestling program.’ But wrestling is a fraternity, not just within the school, but it creates a strong bond for life.”
Stevens hopes to see other schools build similar facilities for their programs in the future.
“We hope this inspires other schools to do something similar,” Stevens said. “Everyone is going to benefit from this – not just the high school, but the younger kids as well. Wrestling is a sport that does great things for kids. The more we can inspire other kids, the better. I was not a wrestler, but I see the value the sport offers for kids today.”
#MondayMatness: Indianapolis Cathedral runs state title streak to three
By STEVE KRAH
With a few exceptions, the cast of characters changed. But the plot was the same for Indianapolis Cathedral: Win Indiana’s high school wrestling team championship.
“You always want to set your expectations high,” said Irish head coach Sean McGinley. “We thought going in we had a legitimate shot to be very successful. We had several goals and one of our goals was to win a state title. We were able to accomplish that.”
Cathedral traveled across town to Bankers Life Fieldhouse and took the program’s third straight title and fourth overall Saturday, Feb. 22 at the 82nd annual IHSAA State Finals.
“I’ve said it before, Friday night is always key,” said McGinley after the latest hoisting of the state trophy. “Our goal is not a state championship, it’s to get through Friday night. That’s our state championship adage. We got five out of eight which gave us a chance. We thought we were still in it. Saturday morning was the big round for us. We went five for five with several kids getting bonus points. Bonus points probably made the difference. We were getting them but
(eventual runner-up) Crown Point and (third-place team Evansville) Mater Dei was also getting them.”
Two of the eight State Finals qualifiers in the 2020 field were finalists on Cathedral’s 2019 state title-winning squad.
“This year’s team was way different from last year,” said sophomore Zeke Seltzer, who won the 2020 crown at 120 pounds after placing second as a freshman at 113. “The only people we had returning to State was me and Elliot (Rogers). Logan (Bailey) was returning, but he didn’t make it last year.”
“We had some guys step up for sure.”
What was the difference between standing on the second step of the podium and the top for Seltzer?
“I’ve been working for this for a whole year now,” said Seltzer. “It feels great to finally get it.”
Rodgers was a state champion at 152 as a junior and finished third at 160 in 220 as a senior.
Five of eight Irish wrestlers in the field earned state placement in 2020. Besides Seltzer and Rodgers, senior Holden Parsons (285 pounds) was a champion, senior Bailey (138) a runner-up and senior Tyler Wagner (170) a fourth placer.
“For me it was my faith,” said Parsons. “God got me through it and made sure I wasn’t nervous and everything. My coaches were there for me in my corner. They knew what we needed to do. hey knew how to keep me calm.”
Parsons talked about the team approach to the season.
“We keep a constant pace,” said Parsons. “As it goes along, we start picking it up. During the postseason, we taper on and off. That just keeps our gas tanks up and our lungs burning so we’re ready to go 100 percent when it comes time to put the pedal to the metal.”
“Everybody knew we had to get bonus points to keep up with Crown Point. They are a great team. They had great wrestlers. They are phenomenally-coached.”
Senior Jacob Huffman (195), junior Johnny Parker (182) and sophomore Evan Dickey (106) competed Friday night but did not advance to Saturday.
It was an extra-big weekend for the Seltzer family. Not only were there the team and individual championships, assistant Brian Seltzer (Zeke’s father) was inducted into the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame the day after the State Finals.
When the Irish reigned over the IHSAA in 2019, seniors Jordan Slivka (first at 160), Alex Mosconi (second at 145) and Lukasz Walendzak (eighth at 126) were there along with Rodgers and Seltzer. At the 2018 State Finals, Cathedral was represented by junior Slivka (first at 145), sophomore Rodgers (second at 152), senior Zach Melloh (second at 138), junior Alex Mosconi (second at 132), sophomore Bailey (third at 106), junior Walendzak (fourth at 120), senior Jacob Obst (seventh at 285)senior Jacob Obst (seventh at 285) and qualifiers senior Anthony Mosconi (160), sophomore Caleb Oliver (113) and freshman Andrew Wilson (126).