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      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: 900 Wins and Counting

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      NEW CASTLE — A lot has changed in the world since Rex Peckinpaugh began coaching wrestling at New Castle High School.
      Michael Jackson was the big hit on the radio when Peckinpaugh started out. Ronald Reagan was President. Microsoft introduced the world to MS-DOS, the 3M company started mass producing Post-it notes and MTV first went on the air.
      One thing that hasn’t changed for Peckinpaugh, now in his 34th season at the helm of the Trojan team, is his ability to win.
      Peckinpaugh reached his 900th dual victory of his career (all with New Castle) last week at the Broncho Duals in Lafayette. New Castle went 8-1 in the meet to push its season record to 27-4.
      “When I got that 900th win, it was a special moment,” Peckinpaugh said. “I couldn’t help but sit back and think of my mom and dad who didn’t miss a match for about 500 of those wins. But when it was over, I was ready to go for 901 wins.”
      Peckinpaugh has been Indiana’s winningest coach for years. He is No. 2 nationally in high school wins.
      “Rex is obviously a good coach,” former Trojan standout turned Shenandoah head coach Gary Black said. “You don’t get anywhere near 900 wins without knowing what you’re doing. But I think he’s an even better motivator in life. For Rex, it isn’t so much about the wins and losses as it is about having the chance to instill great values and teach kids to be good individuals off the mat.”
      Peckinpaugh can still tell specific details about every wrestler that has put on a Trojan uniform for him.
      “They are all still pretty fresh in my mind,” Peckinpaugh said. “I can tell stories on any of them if I’m asked to do so.”
      Peckinpaugh continues to coach because he loves watching kids improve.
      “It’s not so much about the winning and losing,” Peckinpaugh said. “My favorite part of coaching is seeing kids get better in the sport. I love that moment when the lights go on so to speak. Also, I enjoy building the team each year. It’s like a construction project. Every year something changes and you have to figure out how to build the team to be successful.”
      This year the Trojans do not have any seniors in the lineup. They are led by seven freshmen, four juniors and three sophomores.
      “He’s taken a very young team and has worked to get the most out of his lineup,” Black said. “It’s easy to see why he’s so successful.”
      One stat that Peckinpaugh is proud of is that all of his teams have either won a sectional, a conference title or a regional. The Trojans had a winning streak of 106 matches from 1992-95. The team won 29 consecutive sectional titles from 1976 until 2003 (a streak that started before coach Peckinpaugh took over at New Castle).
      The 2004-05 Trojans lost the sectional to Centerville. It was the only time a Peckinpaugh coach team did not win the sectional tournament. But instead of focusing on the loss, Peckinpaugh geared the team up for the upcoming regional. New Castle would later win the team regional and become the first team in the state to not win a sectional, but turn around and claim a regional title.
      “That’s an important thing as a coach and as a wrestler,” Peckinpaugh said. “You have to have a short memory. If you get beat, you have to look at what’s next. If you don’t, you’ll get caught up in celebrating the moment and lose the next one. Or you’ll be so depressed you’ll lose the next one.”
      Peckinpaugh is the first to point out that his success also has a lot to do with those who are helping him. Mark “Sparky” Griffith has been an assistant coach for Peckinpaugh for almost the entire time he’s been at New Castle. Frank Ryan, Ted Fitzgerald and Larry Sutton were also instrumental in building the New Castle program. He also points out that his wife Bonnie has been a huge supporter of the team for the last 20 years.
      Peckinpaugh has coached three four-time state finalists in Mac Taylor, Matt Jaggers and Connor Mullins. He has had one state champion — James “Bubba” Dickerson won heavyweight in 1995 as a junior. He passed away before his senior season. He has had a plethora of state placers, including Brenden Campbell who was a state runner-up two seasons in a row. Campbell is currently wrestling for the United States Naval Academy.
      In 1995 and 1996 New Castle was the team runner-up in the state. The Trojans took eight to state in 1996.
      Peckinpaugh is a health teacher at New Castle. He is also on the New Castle City Council. He was an assistant football coach for the Trojans in the 80s. He also was the girls golf coach for a short time.
      “Coaching girls golf was an interesting experience,” Peckinpaugh said. “They needed someone and I said I’d do it.”
      Peckinpaugh is not sure when he will retire from coaching. He feels he has a good assistant in Jason Martin who can take over the team and keep it in good hands.
      “Jason has been trying to get me to stay on to maybe go for 1,000 wins,” Peckinpaugh said. “I don’t know if I’ll hold on that long. But I do love coaching the kids, and that will never change.”
      If you have an interesting feature idea, please contact Jeremy Hines at jerhines@cinergymetro.net.

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      #MondayMatness: Chesterton's Davisons making their mark on wrestling world

      Take the tenacity of the middle brother, the unpredictability of the youngest one and add the bloodlines of a two-time Indiana state wrestling champion and you get a formidable family combination: The Davisons of Chesterton High School.
      Andrew Davison, a 195-pound senior, and Lucas Davison, a 182-pound junior, are both ranked high statewide in their respective weight divisions and are out to make their mark this winter for the Trojans.
      Father Keith Davison, who won IHSAA state titles for CHS at 171 as a junior in 1988 and senior in 1989, is there as an assistant coach and inspirational figure along with long-time Chesterton head coach Chris Joll.
      Andrew has been to the State Finals twice already — placing fifth as a sophomore and bowing out in the first round as a junior. He missed his freshman season with a back injury.
      Lucas was a regional qualifier as a freshman and semistate qualifier as a sophomore.
      Jack Davison, now a student at Indiana University, was a three-time semistate qualifier as a Chesterton wrestler.
      Last summer, Andrew and Lucas both placed first at USA Wrestling Folkstyle nationals in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Five of eight All-American honors at the USA Wrestling Nationals in Fargo, N.D., were from Chesterton — four for the Davison boys and one for Eli Pokorney. Lucas was second in freestyle and fifth in Greco-Roman. Andrew placed seventh in both freestyle and Greco-Roman.
      In 2015, Andrew finished first in Greco-Roman and third in freestyle at Fargo while Lucas was second at folkstyle nationals.
      Keith Davison was a two-time All-American at the University of Wisconsin, where he grappled two years at 177, redshirted then two more at 190. Andrew is bound for the Big Ten as a signee with the University of Michigan, where is projected as a 197-pounder.
      For the 2016-17 prep season, Andrew and Lucas have flip-flopped weights. A year ago, Andrew was at 195 and Lucas at 182, but both grew during the off-season. At 6-foot-2, Lucas is slightly taller than Andrew and Keith.
      Keith sees Andrew as a wrestler willing to constantly push the pace.
      “(Andrew) doesn’t mind getting tired,” Keith Davison said. “He has a high threshold for pain and fatigue and he attacks a bunch, too.
      “He enjoys dragging people into the deep water (a phrase popularized by NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez of Illinois).
      Andrew explains his admiration for Martinez.
      “I hear he won’t leave practice until he has to crawl off the mat,” Andrew Davison said. “He’s pretty inspirational.”
      While tired himself, Andrew uses his opponent’s fatigue as motivation to fight through the pain.
      “It’s late in the third period, you’re gassed and breathing hard and you see your opponent is also gassed,” Andrew Davison said. “I’ve learned to push through stuff. It’s made me a much better and tougher athlete.”
      Having one last chance to climb to the top of the podium in Indiana inspires Andrew on a daily basis.
      “I’ve been thinking about it non-stop,” Andrew Davison said. “I can’t wait to get back down there (to the IHSAA State Finals). It’s definitely been motivating, just thinking about it all the time.”
      There won’t be many — if any breathers — along the way with tough Duneland Athletic Conference duals plus appearances in the Munster Super Dual, Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals and Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic all happening before the end of 2016.
      “We’ve got a loaded schedule this year, to say the least,” Andrew Davison said. “That’s awesome. We don’t get to wrestle a whole lot of Indy teams. Hopefully we get to do that (in the IHSWCA State Duals Dec. 23 in Fort Wayne). That will be good for us. You want to wrestle the best of the best.
      “When you love it so much, it’s like more of a privilege. It’s such a cool experience. I’m really enjoying it.”
      Andrew chose to wrestle at Michigan because he saw himself as a good fit after being recruited by the Wolverines and making a visit to the Ann Arbor campus.
      “I saw how hard all these kids were working,” Andrew Davison said. “They have a common goal. They all want to be great at what they’re doing. I wanted to be somewhere they took wrestling seriously and academics just as seriously.”
      Though currently undecided on his college major, Andrew is considering pre-medicine.
      Lucas, a frequent workout partner, addresses his brother’s wrestling strengths.
      “He’s really good on his feet,” Lucas Davison said. “As a seasoned Greco-Roman wrestler, he can go from the upper body to low singles and anything in-between. He can attack the hips and launch you if it’s there for him. He’s dangerous from anywhere.”
      Joll credits hard work and being the off-spring of two athletes (mother Jennifer was a runner in her days at Chesterton High School) for Andrew’s success.
      “He has a great set of genes,” Joll said. “Dad was a very good wrestler in high school and college and he has made a commitment to making those boys the best they can be.”
      There is no doing things half way when Keith is around. That goes for all Chesterton wrestlers — not just his boys.
      “We’re not too concerned with pushing them past the point of exhaustion,” Keith Davison said. “We keep the intensity very high and try to be very physical. We’ll taper practices when we get ready for big competitions.”
      Keith sees Lucas as a versatile wrestler who can combine sound fundamentals as an attacker and defender with a few unorthodox moves.
      “Luke is pretty uncanny at his scrambling abilities,” Keith Davison said. “You think he’s in trouble and he comes out of danger on top a lot.”
      Lucas sees his long arms and legs and his mat experience as assets.
      “I’m a pretty tall guy and that leads to some clunkiness, but I’m able to manage that pretty well,” Lucas Davison said. “Being at one of the bigger weights, there’s a lot of strong guys. I’ve been around the sport my whole life. It’s huge to be able to understand the sport. I feel things other people wouldn’t be able to feel.”
      Lucas enjoys being versatile on the mat.
      “I try not to wrestle predictably,” Lucas Davison said. “You don’t want to move the same over and over. You want to change it up. I like to attack from everywhere. It’s important to have a big bag of tricks and be able to switch things up. You do something that’s super easy to key off of for an opponent.”
      Chesterton wrestlers employ a variety of styles.
      “We’re striving to be diverse wrestlers and have styles that would be hard to scout as opponents,” Lucas Davison said. “The goal is to have clean impeccable technique. It doesn’t matter if they know what’s coming.”
      Joll emphasizes the same point.
      “We have some basics that we go by, but let kids focus on their strengths,” Joll said. “As coaches, we try to foster individually.”
      And there’s also the old steel sharpens steel thing going on in the wrestling room.
      “Having a drill partner like my brother, you get to defend better than the average guy,” Lucas Davison said.
      Joll said wrestling builds camaraderie and life-long friendships because of all the hard work the athletes put in together.
      “The most rewarding thing for me get wrestlers to their potential,” Joll said. “Their accomplishments are just important to me as the high placers.
      Joll also likes to see them give back to the sport.
      That’s what Keith Davison is doing as a coach. Keith is also president of the Chesterton Wrestling Club (formerly the Duneland Wrestling Club). The group is open to all students from DAC schools and is based at CHS. The club has 70 to 80 members in Grades K-12.
      Among the ones making a name for themselves are the Davison boys.


      #MondayMatness: Goshen’s Flores puts it work to make one last state tournament run

      A quiet leader continues to make noise for the Goshen High School wrestling program.
      By scoring three first-period pins and earning a second straight Goshen Regional title GHS 106-pounder senior Fernando Flores heads to the Fort Wayne Semistate with a 2017-18 season record of 39-3.
      At 145-26, “Nando” is No. 2 on Goshen’s all-time victory list.
      Program No. 1 Andrew Yoder, who went 40-4 and placed fourth at the state meet as a senior in 1998, finished his prep mat career at 156-36.
      “I like going out there and competing and having a good show for the fans,” says two-time Elkhart Sectional champion Flores when asked about his favorite part about wrestling. “I try to score as fast as I can.”
      Fernando is one of Goshen’s captains. But his leadership style is not a vocal one.
      “He’s a quiet kid,” says RedHawks head coach Jim Pickard. “But he leads by example. It’s his work ethic and what he produces. 
      “He does speak up when he needs to, but he’s really that example: ’Let’s do what Nando’s doing.’ You go and you work hard all the time.”
      With its physicality, wrestling can be a grueling sport and pain is inevitable.
      Flores pushes past it with plenty of support from his family, teammates and coaches.
      Shawn Haley and Marquita Flores have four boys — Victor, Hector, Fernando and Ricky. Victor, a 152-pounder, was a Goshen senior in 2015, 126-pound Hector in 2016. Ricky, a 120-pounder, is younger than Fernando and was on the RedHawks team last season.
      Fernando started his mat career as a sixth grader and chose wrestling over basketball when he got to high school. He was a semistate qualifier as a sophomore and a state qualifier as a junior.
      Where has he improved most since last season?
      “I’ve gotten better at getting off the bottom,” says Flores. “I’ve worked a lot on that. Last year, I had some trouble with it.
      “I’ve also gotten more confident.”
      That confidence has been helped by his coaches, including Jim Pickard and assistants Matt Katzer, Troy Pickard, Travis Pickard, Josh Abbs, Carl Creech, Gerardo Quiroz, Ben Schrock and Miguel Navarro, telling him that he could do well in the state tournament series if he performed to his capabilities.
      “It was a whole experience for me,” says Flores of going to the State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I just want to go down there again.
      What will it take to get back there?
      “A lot of hard work and just putting in the time over the summer,” says Flores. “That’s a big difference for a lot of guys. Working over the summer, you get so much better coming into the next season.”
      Some of Fernando’s favorite wrestlers are Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder and NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello — both at Ohio State University — and world and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs. 
      “I try to shoot a high crotch,” says Flores. “Tomasello is really good at those. I went to one of his camps. He showed us a whole bunch of set-ups and uses.”
      Pickard has encouraged Flores to open up his offense in recent weeks.
      “We don’t want to just do the same moves,” says Pickard, who is in his 25th season at Goshen. “Sooner or later, someone is going to shut down some of those moves. We’ve worked a little bit on some stuff he hasn’t done that much.
      “You’ve got to have that second, third, fourth move.”
      Pickard says moves must be practiced over and over again until they become muscle memory.
      “We drill everyday and we drill multiple moves,” says Pickard. “We don’t just drill your favorite moves. 
      “You’ve got to be able to switch off. I tell kids all the time that by the time you think I should do this, it’s too late. You just have to do it.”
      Pickard says Flores is beginning to get to the point where he can make the necessary on-the-fly changes.
      “He’s getting there,” says Pickard. “It’s one-week-at-a-time, but I think he has what it takes to get where he wants to be in two weeks.
      “He’s more committed than most. And he’s put in the time needed. He’s believing in himself. He’s focused and determined.”
      While Flores has been a 106-pounder at state tournament time the past four seasons, he has competed at 113 and 120 this season. 
      Flores is still contemplating his future plans. He says he is considering college or joining the U.S. Air Force.

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      #MondayMatness: Portage heavyweight Dancy making up for lost mat time

      Some are introduced to wrestling as toddlers and go on to enjoy plenty of success. Others come to the mat for the first time as teenagers and shine in the circle.
      The second scenario describes Damari Dancy, a 17-year-old senior heavyweight at Portage High School.
      After winning the Portage Sectional title Feb. 1, Dancy goes to the Feb. 8 Hobart Regional at 27-2 in just his second full season as a wrestler.
      A basketball player as an eighth grader, Dancy went out for that sport his freshmen and sophomore years of high school (2016-17 and 2017-18) and was cut each time.
      The second cut ushered in his introduction to a new way of life.
      “I went across the hall to the wrestling room,” says Dancy. “They accepted me.”
      A few weeks later, he was competing in his first-ever wrestling event — the junior varsity Duneland Athletic Conference tournament — and suffering a season-ending broken wrist.
      “My mom didn’t want me to wrestle after that,” says Damari, the son of Rachel Hawkins and the fourth of eight children (five boys, three girls).
      But that was not the end of wrestling for Dancy. He spent that winter watching his friends compete and practice. He was there at Lake Central for the Harvest Classic taking in all the quality competition.
      “That’s when I fell in love with it,” says Dancy.
      When he was healed, Dancy began training. He went to the freestyle/Greco-Roman state tournament and went a combined 0-4. He told his coaches he was not going to stop and began working on wrestling year-round.
      As a Portage junior, Dancy took part in the Harvest Classic. There he faced Hobart junior Mark Mummey.
      “I took him down the first time,” says Dancy. “Then he took me straight to my back and pinned me.”
      Dancy used the moment to fuel the rest of his season. He placed third at the Portage Sectional and third at the Hobart Regional, using a double-leg takedown to best Mummey 4-2 in overtime in the consolation match. He then finished fourth at the East Chicago Semistate and qualified for the IHSAA State Finals at 220. He was 21-13 for the 2018-19 season after being pinned on Friday night by North Montgomery junior Drew Webster, who went on to place fifth.
      That experience taught Dancy something.
      “I can actually do it,” says Dancy. “I can actually compete with the good guys. It helped me build my confidence.”
      “I’m not just some random guy. Guys have to practice everyday to watch out for me.”
      Portage head coach Andrew Bradbury saw the change in Dancy.
      “He was starting to believe he’s pretty good and holding himself to a high standard,” says Bradbury. “His technique is improving in all areas. He’s pretty technical, especially in the neutral position.”
      At 6-foot-2, Dancy has been carrying about 245 while competing in the 285 division as a senior.
      “I wrestle like a little guy,” says Dancy. “I go for ankle picks a lot. I go for a low single (leg takedown) and drive through. Once I’ve got the ankle, I don’t feel endangered. I’m really comfortable in that position.”
      While many heavyweight matches are of the 1-0 and 2-1 variety and full of underhooks, that’s not Dancy’s preference.
      “I feel more comfortable in high-scoring matches,” says Dancy. “I like to get at least two takedowns in the first period. If not, two takedowns in the second period.”
      Bradbury looks at Dancy and does not see a normal heavyweight. For one thing, he is among the team leaders in takedowns.
      “He’s more than capable of wrestling in that heavyweight style by pummeling in,” says Bradbury. “But he mostly uses a technical, shot-oriented style of wrestling.”
      “It’s a lot easier for him to lower his level and get in his shots. He does a good job of picking and choosing his shots. He does get into clinches or ties.”
      “Some of his best wrestling comes off his motion.”
      Dancy won a Greco-Roman state title in the summer.
      “It was positioning for me,” says Dancy. “I was creating positions with arm drags. I didn’t throw anybody.”
      He placed third in both the IndianaMat Hoosier Preseason Open and Preseason Nationals in Iowa and has used his quickness and agility to enjoy success in his last high school season. He has drawn some attention from college wrestling programs and has bumped up to heavyweight with that in mind.
      Damari lives with brother Dimonya Dancy and the two enjoy working on computers. Dancy would like to study computer since in college. Dancy has joined a program proud of its tradition and has become one of the team’s leaders, especially since so many talented wrestlers graduated after the 2018-19 season.
      “We needed somebody to step up,” says Bradbury, who tapped Dancy and Ty Haskins (who was a state qualifier at 120 in 2019 and a sectional champion at that weight in 2020) for the task. “We need them to help lead this team to where we need to be.”
      “We let Damari know we have high expectations and he needs to lead that. He took on the challenge.”
      “We lot of first-year varsity wrestlers at the beginning of the year. It was rough (Portage placed fourth in the Duneland Athletic Conference meet and it’s three dual losses came to powerhouses Crown Point, Chesterton and Merrillville). We feel like we can do some good things in the state series.”
      Leadership styles are not the same for Haskins and Dancy.
      “Ty, he’s the vocal guy,” says Dancy. “I try to do it by example. I’m not that vocal.”
      “Practices at the beginning of the year were so hard. They helped us build physical and mental strength. We know we can be good. We work everyday to get to that point.”
      Dancy often finds working out with sophomore Cory Hill (who placed third at sectional at 220) or assistant Montell Pace.
      “He goes all out and scrambles with low singles,” says Dancy of Pace. Assistants Kyle Keith and Mark Devyak tend to work more with the upper weights while Eric Keith and Jose Torres are with the smaller wrestlers.
      Pace is a Merrillville High School graduate. The rest of the staff went to Portage.
      Bradbury, a 1999 graduate, placed seventh in the state as a junior and was state runner-up as a senior — both at 119. He and 112-pounder Eric Keith were both members of the Indians’ state runners-up at the 1998 Team State Finals.
      “Tradition, it’s extremely important,” says Bradbury, who came back to Portage as an assistant in 2018-19 after serving as head wrestling coach at Seminole Ridge in Palm Beach County, Fla., a school built in 2006. “We’ve always expected to compete at a high level and be one of the best teams in the state.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Bailey Seeking the Elusive Blue Ribbon

      Breyden Bailey has done just about everything one can do to improve in wrestling. He puts time in the weight room, works relentlessly in practice and studies the sport. He’s gotten better in all aspects of wrestling. Yet, each year, despite his improvements, his season has ended in the exact same way -- third place.
      Bailey, a senior at Indianapolis Cathedral, is one of the most highly decorated wrestlers in Indiana history. He’s a four time sectional champion, a four time regional champion and as of last Saturday, he’s a four-time New Castle semistate champion.
      Going to state is nothing new for Bailey. He’s been there four times. He’s won his Friday night match the last three years. He’s also won his first and second matches on Saturday for the last three years.
      The state semifinals has proven to be the death round for Bailey. He has lost in the semifinals all three years. Each time, the opponent that has beaten him, has then fallen to the eventual state champion en route to a second place finish.
      Bailey has went on to win the third place match all three times.
      “It does mean a lot to me to be a four-time state qualifier,” Bailey said. “I am proud of my placings, but I want to win it.”
      Wrestling is in Bailey’s blood. His father, Bryan, is a two-time state champion from Martinsville and a one-time runner-up.
      “Bryan has been coaching Breyden his whole life,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “He’s been able to absorb things about the sport. Wrestling really is a way of life for him.”
      Bailey started wrestling when he turned seven. He had instant success, placing second in the ISWA folkstyle state that year.
      “Wrestling really seems to have come naturally to me,” Bailey said.
      About the time Bailey started wrestling, he also started going to the state finals in Indianapolis to watch the high school guys reach for their goals.
      “I’ve been going to the state tournament since I was in second grade,” Bailey said. “My favorite memory was when Briar Runyan from Martinsville won it. I remember getting my picture taken with him. They are close family friends.”
      Bailey doesn’t participate in any other sport. He says his normal day is waking up early, doing a little lifting or running a few miles, then going to school. During the school day he often gets the opportunity during one of his resource classes to look at film on wrestling. After school he goes to practice, then sticks around some nights to put extra work in with his freshman brother Logan.
      Logan lost in the ticket round of the New Castle semistate on Saturday.
      McGinley says there really isn’t a weakness in Bailey’s wrestling.
      “He’s good from top, bottom and neutral,” McGinley said. “But the first thing I’d say about Bailey is that he’s a student of the sport. I’ve never had a kid that has so much knowledge, that’s so involved in our room. He’s constantly helping other kids and coaching. He’s on another level in terms of his knowledge of the sport.”
      Bailey’s leadership (he’s a three-year captain at Cathedral) is one of the big reasons the Irish are considered contenders for the team state title this year.
      Cathedral won the New Castle semistate and will send seven grapplers to the state meet. The Irish were especially dominant in the middle weights. Jordan Slivka won the 126 pound class, Bailey took first at 132 and Zach Melloh won the 138 pound bracket. Elliot Rodgers finished second at 145.
      Ben Stewart finished second for Cathedral at 195 pounds and Andy Guhl was second at 220. Caleb Oliver finished fourth at 113.
      “We thought the semistate team championship would be close,” McGinley said. “I really thought it was Perry Meridian’s to lose. But we always talk about how we want to get on a little bit of a roll. We know if we lose one we aren’t expected to, we need someone who isn’t expected to win to pull off the upset.
      “That happened when we lost at 106 with little Bailey. We turned around at 113 and got back on track.”
      Oliver’s advancement was a bit of a surprise, considering he had just an 18-16 record entering the semistate.
      For Breyden, he has learned leadership skills by watching guys that were good leaders to him.
      “My freshman year we won state,” Bailey said. “We had guys like Vinny Corsaro and Wesley Bernard that were great leaders. I learned a lot from their style.”
      Bailey will wrestle for Division I Northern Illinois University next season. His college bio page will talk about his three third place finishes. He’s hoping there is also a line that reads “2017 Indiana state champion” as well.
      “Right now that’s my number one goal,” Bailey said. “I want to get under those lights.”


      #WrestlingWednesday: Monrovia Seeing Success on the Mat and Gridiron

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Two wrestlers. That is all Monrovia’s high school team had competing in the first meet of the season. A few months later the Bulldogs were claiming third place at Team State, with 22 wrestlers on the roster.
      That is typical for wrestling at Monrovia, a powerhouse football school. The Bulldogs highly encourage wrestlers to play football, and football players to wrestle. They believe the two sports go hand-in-hand.
      Monrovia won the class 2A football state championship on November 28. That was one week after the school’s first wrestling meet.
      “We went from two kids to 22 after football was over,” Monrovia coach Kevin Blundell said. “I get a lot of freshmen and sophomores that have never wrestled before. The kids that wrestle are really good on the football field. They say wrestling helps them. The football coach pushes all the linemen, especially, to wrestle.”
      Monrovia is used to early struggles in wrestling. Kids come in after football in football shape, not in wrestling shape.
      “It’s harder than what you think to get these guys in wrestling shape,” Blundell said. “A lot of people see a running back and think he’s in shape. But wrestling is a totally different thing. It’s challenging. A lot of these kids come in way over weight. We focus initially on getting in shape, and then we start to hit the technique side in practice.”
      Junior Garrison Lee, the team’s only returning state qualifier, is a prime example. Lee was the starting fullback on the football team. Any time the Bulldogs needed five yards on the ground, Lee was their go-to-guy. But he came in to wrestling quite a bit over weight and not at all ready to go three long periods on the mat with an opponent.
      “He was a monster,” Blundell said. “I didn’t think he would make 195. I think I talked to him at football regionals and asked him what he was weighing, and he just told me that I didn’t want to know.”
      Eventually the Monrovia wrestlers settled in to their weight classes, and then the successes started rolling. The team had three champions at the Mooresville sectional, and sent six to regional. Lee won regional, with sophomore Brycen Denny finishing third at 106 pounds and 220 pounder Dristin McCubbins, a senior, finishing second.
      “Brycen (39-2) has worked very hard to get to where he’s at,” Blundell said. “He’s been in football forever, but he’s only 106 pounds so he decided this season he’s just going to wrestle. Then the team wins state. But he’s still happy with the decision he made. It was what was best for him.
      “Garrison was our only qualifier last year. He knows what he needs to do. He’s been there and lost a really close match last year. He has had that lingering in his mind. He’s has a motor on him and he’s mentally tough.”
      Also advancing for the Bulldogs is Dristin’s younger brother Riley, a 29-11 sophomore heavyweight.
      “When Riley qualified I was very happy to see that,” Dristin said. “We became the first brothers in Monrovia history to both qualify for semistate at the same time.”
      For Blundell, those early days with just two wrestlers competing seem like a distant memory. He knows that will probably always be the case at Monrovia, where football reigns supreme. But he’s fine with that. He knows, once football is over, wrestling really begins.
      “This is a school where the parents are really great,” Blundell said. “They don’t want their kids sitting around doing nothing, so they put them in a lot of sports. They push their kids to do their best and they give me a green light to do whatever we need to do. This is a football school, but we’re becoming a wrestling school as well.”


      #MondayMatness: Elkhart Lions are on the horizon, but now it’s about Central’s Blazers and Memorial’s Chargers

      Elkhart’s two high school wrestling programs — Central and Memorial — have been well-represented on the statewide stage over the years.
      The Blue Blazers and Crimson Chargers have produced plenty of sectional, regional and semistate winners and state placers. Dave Riggle (98 pounds in 1973) and Barry Hart (119 in 1983) won state championships in a Central singlet.
      Dan Kratzer (145 in 1973), Aaron Moss (135 in 1993), Nick Iannarelli (103 in 1999), Sean Drury (103 in 2003), Chris Miller (112 in 2004), Nick Corpe (171 in 2005) and Steve Stahl (189 in 2008) reigned over Indiana on behalf of Memorial. There were also state runners-up finishes for Chargers Frank Cockerham (heavyweight in 1981), Brent Lehman (119 in 1988), Sean Drury (103 in 2003), Ryan Stahl (140 in 2009), Zack Corpe (152 in 2010) and Christian Mejia (113 in 2016).
      With the two becoming one known as the Elkhart High School Lions in 2020-21, Central and Memorial are in their final postseason push.
      With their performances Saturday, Feb. 8 at the Goshen Regional, six — Central’s Eric Garcia (first at 126), Peyton Anderson (second at 170), Sea Davis (first at 220) and Jacob Sommer (third 285) and Memorial’s Kamden Goering (third at 160) and Clayton Lundy (first at 170) — have advanced to the Feb. 15 Fort Wayne Semistate at Memorial Coliseum. The top four placers in each weight division there will move on to the first round of the IHSAA State Finals Feb. 21 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
      “It’s very exciting,” says senior Garcia, who is 30-8 in 2019-20. “This is the best thing to happen to me throughout this whole six-year journey in wrestling (including junior high). It’s a big part of my life.”
      What got Garcia his 8-6 victory against Northridge sophomore Jasper  Graber in the regional finals?
      “I’ve been praying for it, really,” says Garcia, who topped Graber 12-7 in the Elkhart Sectional championship. “It’s all in God’s hands. Not mine.”
      Garcia says finishing his moves on the opponent’s legs has been key to his recent success.
      “I used to have trouble,” says Garcia. “I would get the leg and stop right there. I wouldn’t go through.”
      Garcia has reflected on the last season of Elkhart Central wrestling.
      “I’ve thought about that a lot,” says Garcia. “It’s the community. It brings us all together. We all become as one.”
      “It’s the last year. I know I have to put in a lot of effort to go through senior year.”
      While Central and Memorial have not officially come together yet, Garcia says the idea of a unified Elkhart is happened.
      “It’s already there,” says Garcia. “It’s just one big community.”
      “Wrestling always brings people closer. You really get to meet a lot of good people. Even with the two schools going head-to-head, you still become close to those people.”
      Davis (33-5) earned an 11-1 major decision against Northridge senior Omar Khaoucha in the regional final a week after beating him 6-4 for an Elkhart Sectional title.
      “I controlled the tempo of the match really well,” says senior Davis.
      “I controlled him when I was on-top and controlled the pace when we were both neutral.”
      “That’s what I try to do well in most of the matches I wrestle. In my losses this season, I haven’t controlled that at all and I’ve been in bad positions.”
      Davis has thought more about his final high school season than the last one for Central wrestling.
      “I want to make my coaches proud,” says Davis.
      He has enjoyed the rivalry with Memorial over the years and trying to be the program that owns the city title.
      What does Davis think a unified Elkhart Lions will look like?
      “For one thing, there will be a lot more people on the team,” says Davis. “There will be a lot more talent on the team and we’ll go to further heights.”
      Anderson (25-9) was a regional runner-up, losing 8-4 to Lundy in the finals (Lundy won 11-3 when the two met for a sectional championship).
      “I worked hard all week,” says senior Anderson of what it took to advance to semistate. “I’ve been putting in lots of effort.”
      Each wrestler gets ready for a match in his own way. For Anderson, he sees his warm-up as very important.
      “I have to be in the right mindset,” says Anderson. “I walk around by myself and don’t think of anything.”
      “I don’t think about it. I just try to go do what I know.”
      Anderson is pleased to still be representing Central on the mat. He also looks to the future, though he won’t be involved as an student-athlete.
      “It’s nice to go as far as a I can for the school as a whole,” says Anderson. “It’s going to be interesting how it pans out next year with the teams.”
      What’s his relationship to the grapplers on Elkhart’s west side?
      “I love them,” says Anderson. “We wrestling with them at RTC’s all the time. They’re good guys. It’s fun.
      “I’ll be back for (the Lions).”
      Sommer (29-10) assessed his regional performance.
      “I wrestled hard and I had a hard hand fight,” says junior Sommer. “I just stayed in front of my opponents and had better conditioning.”
      As a heavyweight, Sommer has the distinction of being the last Elkhart Central wrestler to win an Elkhart Sectional title.
      He is focused on the current season and will worry about the Elkhart Lions when the time comes.
      “We’ll figure out what happens next year with everything,” says Sommer. “I wrestled in the off-season with a lot of (Memorial’s) kids. It’s not going to be too different.”
      Goering (29-5) has his take on why he’s in the semistate and aiming even higher.
      “I just pulled the trigger,” says Goering. “I believe in myself.”
      “I’ve just been following through (in matches) with what I’ve been doing in practice. I’ve been continuing to gas my tank up.”
      “I give all glory to God. Through Him, I can do all things.”
      As for the last season of Elkhart Memorial wrestling, Goering has enjoyed the experience.
      “It’s exciting. It’s kind of surreal,” says Goering. “It’s cool to be a part of. Other than that, it is what it is.”
      Lundy (36-5) goes to the semistate after winning his second regional crown (he reigned at 160 in 2019).
      What pulled him through in his most-recent championship?
      “Just the determination that comes with the sport in general,” says junior Lundy. “It’s always my drive to keep myself high-spirited and keep my mentality strong during matches.”
      “(Wrestling) consumes me. The competition is unlike anything else. I just have to keep my confidence up and know I have what it takes. I’ve put in the work to get here. I can’t let any lapses happen and just come out strong and keep it that way for the whole tournament.”
      Lundy has looked at the last go-round for Memorial wrestling.
      “It has a special meaning to it,” says Lundy. “I’m the last Elkhart Memorial sectional champion and the last Elkhart Memorial regional champ. I’m hoping to keep that rolling.”
      Lundy says the Charger-Blazer rivalry remains until the end of this season and then it becomes about the Lions.
      “Right now, it’s a matter of trying to beat each other and keep the big rivalry going,” says Lundy. “Next year, we’re going to be helping each to push into the state series.”
      Zach Whickcar (Elkhart Central Class of 2006) and Brian Weaver (Elkhart Memorial Class of 1996) are the head coaches of the city’s two programs.
      They both took a look at the present and the future.
      “(Garcia, Anderson, Davis and Sommer) have a common characteristic in that they all work really hard,” says Whickcar, who is in his eighth season as Blazers head coach. “They’re focused. They’re dialed-in. They love to wrestle. When you practice and it’s fun and not work, that goes a long way.”
      Central wrestling is winding up and Whickcar is soaking it up.
      “I haven’t thought about the last ride per se, but it’s bittersweet,” says Whickcar. “There are a lot of challenges ahead of us. I’m just living in the moment, hanging out with these guys and enjoying what little time we have left.”
      “I’m glad we ended with this group.”
      Whickcar says he plans to apply to be the head coach for Elkhart High School wrestling. He notes that the two middle school teams have more than 60 wrestlers and there are quality returners expected at the high school level.
      “Every senior is going to have a tall task,” says Whickcar of the first Elkhart Lions team. “We want to do it right. We want to create at culture. We’ve got to be in it together. We’re a family. We’re going to get better.”
      “Whoever leads the program, it will be in good hands with the kids we have coming back. I love Elkhart athletics. Anything I can do to help keep that moving in the right direction, I’ll do it. It’s not about me, it’s about (athletes).”
      Including assistant and head coaching duties, Weaver is in his 21st season of coaching wrestling at Memorial.
      “This season has been a little rough,” says Weaver, who placed seventh at 130 pounds at the 1996 IHSAA State Finals. “We were down to 13 guys with only seven guys on our varsity roster, forfeiting 42 points (in dual meets).”
      “Our main focus was the state tournament. For dual meets, we had to take those 42 points out of the equation. We’d go out and wrestle our matches and see where we’re at head-to-head.”
      Weaver talked about Goering and Lundy.
      “Kamden and Clayton are different kids,” says Weaver. “They both have a certain work ethic. They push each other when they wrestle with each other. The biggest thing is they have to believe in themselves to get to where they want to go.
      “We just have to keep reaching our goals.”
      Weaver says not yet decided if he will apply to be head coach of the Elkhart Lions.
      “I’ve enjoyed the ride,” says Weaver. “It gets emotional when you think about it.”
      Weaver and Whickcar are long-time friends.
      “Zach and I get along extremely well,” says Weaver. “Our programs are very similar to each other. In the off-season,we work together and do tournaments together.
      “Whatever happens to Elkhart wrestling, it’s going to be for the best if I’m the head coach or not or if Zach gets it. I’d like to have him on my staff if I get it. I believe he would feel the same way if he gets it.”
      Weaver notes that rosters have shrunk in Elkhart sports at the middle school and high school levels. If students are taking seven classes, they must be passing six.
      “It’s kind of hard to get your participation numbers up if you can’t get it done in the classroom,” says Weaver. “That’s been our biggest struggle: getting the kids to accomplish what they need to in the classroom so they can do the athletics.”


      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Darren Elkins Goes From State Champ to UFC Star

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      There were times growing up as a wrestler in Portage that Darren Elkins wished he could have punched his opponent in the teeth.
      The 2004 state champion never acted on those impulses in high school. Now he makes a living trying to knock guys out. Elkins is a seasoned mixed martial arts fighter who is currently ranked No. 12 in the world in the UFC featherweight division. Elkins was the first featherweight to win five consecutive fights.
      “I always tell people this,” said Elkins. “I like to get wrestlers into the gym and I tell them why I like MMA. I think back to all the times in wrestling when I was like, man, I just want to punch this guy. Maybe he was taking cheap shots at me, or elbowing me. There was nothing I could do about it then. But now, if I want to punch my opponent, that’s encouraged. They pay me to do it.”
      In 2004 Elkins was one of a host of state champions that went on to have great careers after high school. The list of state champions that year include Angel Escobedo (won an NCAA championship), Reece Humphrey (on the USA wrestling team), Elkins, Matt Coughlin and Alex Tsirtsis. Eric McGill, another former Indiana great, was a runner-up that year.
      Elkins credits his wrestling background, and the mentality he got from coach Ed Pendowski at Portage, for part of his MMA success.
      “Wrestling teaches you to train hard,” Elkins said. “I’ve always put in the work. I put in the time training and each fight I strive to be better than I was before. I think the grinding style we had at Portage transferred to MMA very well. Coach Pendowski was all about takedowns. We would take people down, then let them up. In MMA you want those takedowns but you aren’t staying on the guys because they can get you in a submission.”
      He also credits some of his toughness from growing up with an older brother, Rickie, who was a state runner-up in high school.
      “Rickie was always bigger than me,” Darren said. “He always got the best of me. He was ranked No. 1 in high school in his weight class. It wasn’t until I took on fighting and he started getting out of shape a little that I could beat him.”
      Elkins has a professional record of 20-5. He is hoping to get back in the UFC Octagon soon. Right now he trains six days a week in Indiana. Before his last fight, a unanimous decision over Rob Whiteford in UFC Fight Night in October, Elkins had trained in Sacramento with Team Alpha Male.
      Elkins is hoping to climb back in to the top 10 rankings, a place he has been before.
      “Right now it’s just about climbing back into that top 10,” he said.
      Although Elkins says having a wrestling foundation is a huge asset in MMA, you have to be able to develop more skills to be successful.
      “You really have to develop your all around fighting techniques,” he said. “You can’t just rely on wrestling.”
      Elkins also knows the importance of staying healthy. He does not eat processed food. He cuts down on sugar and salt and only eats organic. That has helped with maintaining his weight for fights.
      As far as athletic highlights, Elkins doesn’t have one favorite.
      “I’ve had so many great moments, and I really don’t put one over the other,” he said. “Winning state was one of my best moments. It was something I dreamed of since I was 5-years-old. Then, getting called to fight in the UFC, and then winning in the UFC. Those are all very great memories for me.”
      Elkins is married and has an 8-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. His daughter swims competitively and his son has started wrestling.
      “Right now it’s his first year,” Elkins said. “I don’t want to push him. I want him to enjoy it. Right now my daughter goes to practices too because she said if my son gets to wrestle, she does too.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Slivka poised for another big run

      Jordan Slivka may not be the fastest wrestler in the state, the most powerful or the most dynamic – but, he just might have the most heart.
      “He’s probably the most mentally tough wrestler I’ve ever had,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “He loves the big matches. As coaches we ask ourselves who we want to have out there, down one going into the third period. I’d put Jordan Slivka in that spot over anyone.”
      Slivka, a senior for the Irish, showed just how much ice is in his veins in the state tournament last season. The Irish needed a win in the worst way if they were going to have a shot at winning the team state title. Slivka just told them to relax, he was going to win.
      That’s what he did. He claimed his first individual state championship by beating Yorktown’s Christian Hunt 1-0. That win also sealed Cathedral’s team state title.
      “Winning state felt amazing,” Slivka said. “I envisioned it before I won it. I told myself in the locker room before my match that I knew it was going to come down to my match. I said I was going to win it, and I knew that’s what I was going to do.”
      Slivka has made a career out of winning the close matches. In the state tournament Slivka is 16-3 in matches determined by three points or less.
      “I come out in each of my matches with a game plan,” Slivka said. “I don’t try to rush things and I don’t try to force points. I have the mentality that nobody can take me down, nobody can escape me and nobody can ride me. I’m confident that I own people on the mat.”
      This season Slivka has continued to shine in the close matches. Recently in a dual meet with Indianapolis Roncalli Slivka bumped up to 170 to face No. 5-ranked Elijan Mahan. In that match Slivka injured his ribs and had to take two injury time outs, but he didn’t want to quit. He eventually escaped with a 6-4 victory which helped lead the Irish to the team win as well.
      “He just gutted that win out,” McGinley said. “He was in a lot of pain. You really see his mental toughness in matches like that. As the seasons go on you just see how many of those close matches he wins, and you know he’s the guy you want out there in those situations.”
      Slivka also edged No. 7-ranked (160) Peyton Asbury and No. 5-ranked (160) Nathan Conley by 1-0 scores. He beat No. 3-ranked Brooks Davis 3-2 and No. 4 ranked Peyton Pruett 5-2. He did lose one close match this season, falling to Conley 3-2.
      Slivka started out in the Shenandoah school district. He went to Shenandoah until his freshman year. His dad was one of the coaches who helped turned that program around. His father, John, is a former state champion in Georgia.
      “My dad, in that Shenandoah room made sure we were all tough,” Slivka said. “One of the drills we had was we would get in our stance and dad would walk around a bunch and snap our necks down. We kept going long after we were tired. It taught me to be tough.”
      Slivka’s older brother, Johnny, was also a solid wrestler for the Raiders. Jordan even has a game plan for wrestling his older brother.
      “If we do takedowns, Johnny might beat me,” Jordan said. “But in a full match I have him now. He’s a little out of shape. The first and second period he might get me, but come the third, he’s mine.”
      Slivka is ranked No. 2 at 160 pounds behind Portage senior Donnell Washington. The two wrestled earlier in the season with Washington claiming the 8-3 victory.
      “I am 1 and 1 against him,” Slivka said. “He beat me this year and I beat him last year. I’ve taken losses before and have been able to come back from them. I hope this is no different.”
      Slivka’s goal this season is to win another state title. He admits it will be very hard to top last year’s title – with the team state championship being on the line as well.
      “I have no clue how you top that,” Slivka said. “Only thing I can think of is doing it again and scoring more points.”
      Next year Slivka will wrestle for Ohio University.
      “My plan is to be as good as I can be in college. It’s the next challenge.

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      #MondayMatness: Central Noble making presence known as small-school mat program

      Mighty in achievement if not mighty in size.
      That describes Central Noble High School’s wrestling program. The Cougars went 15-8 in 2016-17 dual meets and earned the school’s first sectional runner-up finish, trailing perennial powerhouse Prairie Heights at Westview while sending 10 to the Goshen Regional, where the squad finished 10th and advanced two to the Feb. 11 Fort Wayne Semistate.
      In December, Central Noble placed eighth in the Indiana High School Wrestling Association Team State Duals. The school was there for the second time in three seasons. If not for a disappointing day at the 2015 sectional, the Cougars might have gone three straight years.
      “(Team State Duals) gives us a chance as smaller schools to showcase ourselves. Getting 10 underclassmen to regional (in 2016-17), we’re in pretty good shape to go back again,” says Central Noble head coach Chuck Fleshman, the 1989 CNHS graduate who has served in various capacities in the program for 27 years (among those he’s coached are current Center Grove head coach Cale Hoover). “We talk about that. I’m an honest coach. We don’t have a state champion on our team. We’re not at that level. But I’ve got a couple who might medal (at the State Finals) if they put that work in.”
      Watching his wrestlers at the high school and junior high at the past few years, Fleshman knew the Cougars could be pretty good.
      “We’ve been seeing this coming,” says Fleshman. “I’ve got a lot of kids that put in the time in the off-season.
      “That’s a positive.”
      Instead of just one or two, about a half dozen wrestlers spent last summer at tournaments and in training. This at a small school where eight of 21 wrestlers are three-sport athletes.
      “It’s hard to focus on wrestling like some of the bigger schools,” says Fleshman, who counts Josh Dull, Randy Handshoe, Jonathan Pearson, Andrew Pyle and Tyler Rimmel as assistant coaches. “I’ve got a good group. They’re buying into what we’re coaching and teaching.”
      It’s all about the discipline to make weight through Thanksgiving and Christmas and beyond and all the grueling workouts in Central Noble’s three-tiered converted cafeteria of a wrestling room that make the Cougars a success inside the circle.
      When you are among the smaller schools on the scene, depth is a rarity.
      Even schools with a considerably higher enrollment than the just over 400 of Central Noble struggles to fill all 14 weight classes.
      While the Cougars did not have a 106-pounder for most of the season, there was plenty of competition in the wrestling room for many other varsity spots.
      “This is first year I’ve ever had 21 kids,” says Fleshman. “Some of these older kids better watch out, they’ve got freshmen there to push them.
      “We’ve got a group of kids who have worked and want to work.”
      Those grapplers include:
      • Sophomore Tanner Schoeff (sectional champion, third at regional and a semistate qualifier at 113).
      • Junior Ray Clay (third in sectional and regional qualifier at 120).
      • Junior Austin Moore (sectional and regional champion and a semistate qualifier at 132).
      • Sophomore Jadon Crisp (sectional runner-up and regional qualifier at 138).
      • Junior Tadd Owen (third in sectional and regional qualifier at 152).
      • Junior Connor Mooney (sectional runner-up and regional qualifier at 160).
      • Freshman Austin McCullough (fourth in sectional and regional qualifier at 170).
      • Junior Jordan Winebrenner (fourth in sectional regional qualifier at 195).
      • Sophomore Levi Leffers (sectional runner-up and regional qualifier at 220).
      • Junior Jesse Sade (fourth in sectional and regional qualifier at 285).
      Sophomore Giran Kunkel might well have been in the mix after going 33-4 as a freshman, but he suffered an ACL injury before the season and did not get to compete.


      #MondayMatness: Jimmies Rise to the Occasion

      Plenty of practice and coaching reminders gave Jimtown High School wrestlers to succeed during a recent grueling stretch.
      The Jimmies placed 11th out of 32 teams in the 37th annual Al Smith Classic, held Dec. 29-30 at Mishawaka. Jimtown junior Kenny Kerrn took top honors at 145 pounds.
      On Saturday, Jan. 2, the Jimmies finished second out of 12 squads in the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals at Fort Wayne’s Memorial Coliseum. Jimtown edged Yorktown 31-30 in the semifinals before bowing 46-23 to Bellmont in the Class 3A finals.
      Jimtown head coach Mark Kerrn and his staff got the Jimmies ready for the tough week with quality mat time the week after Christmas and through visualization and confidence-building drills.
      Repetition in practice and time spent in the high school off-season at tournaments, camps and Indiana State Wrestling Association Regional Training Center sessions at Jimtown, Penn and Mishawaka continues to get the Jimmies ready for whatever they face during a match.
      “We work a lot in practice on situations,” Mark Kerrn said. “It’s about knowing what the score is and (getting an extra point or avoiding giving one up). We’ve been making good decisions.”
      Kerrn constantly talks about the effort it takes to be a Jimmie wrestler and the family bond that is being built though the shared hard work.
      “A lot of kids sacrificed (in the State Duals, especially against Yorktown),” Mark Kerrn said. “They were getting thrown in against better wrestlers, but they were unselfish.”
      In giving Yorktown its first-ever loss in State Duals competition in an event began in 2012-13, Jimtown got pin victories from sophomore Hunter Whitman (113), Kenny Kerrn (145) and senior Ben Davis (182), a major decision victory from junior Dalton Heintzberger (170) and decision triumphs from freshman Matt Gimson (120), senior Jarod Hayes (195) and junior Nick Mammolenti (heavyweight).
      The Jimmies yielded two pins to the Tigers, but no other “bonus” points (four for a major decision, five of a technical fall or six for a pin or forfeit).
      Mammolenti won 4-3 in overtime and freshman Hunter Watts (106) took the final match to overtime before losing 9-6 while giving up no extra points and helping Jimtown to a narrow win.
      “Going in I knew I had to win to give us (a chance to win) the match,” Mammolenti.
      After he was penalized for a fleeing — a call he disagreed with — the Jimmie heavyweight got fired up even more.
      “That really made me motivated to take (Yorktown’s Jacob Rhoades) down,” Mammolenti said. “I got up and turned around and shot at him and I don’t think he expected it. Then he was hurt. I just had to ride him out for another three seconds and it was over.”
      Mammolenti credits his progression in the sport to all the coaches who train with him in practice. Among those are Paul Bachtel, a state champion for Concord in 197x and a longtime Jimtown assistant.
      “If I can do anything on him, I can do anything on anybody,” Mammolenti said.
      Also contributing to Jimtown’s 2A runner-up finish were freshman Connor Gimson (126), senior Greden Kelley (132), senior Cole Watson (138), senior John Windowmaker (152), freshman Tyler Norment (160), freshman Aaron Martinez (also at 170) and junior Caleb Fowler (220).
      Jimtown followed up the performance in Fort Wayne with a practice filled with a little fun as well as work. With a day off of classes, the Jimmies wore “crazy” singlets and had a dodgeball tournament before being put through drills by assistant coach Anthony Lewis.
      “We try to break up the monotony as much as possible,” Lewis said. “We had just had a tough week — mental and physically.”
      Lewis, who wrestled for uncle Darrick Snyder at Mishawaka and joined the Jimtown staff in 2012-13 to help the Jimmies place fifth at State Duals and get Nick Crume an individual state championship, said the season is a progression.
      In early practices, coaches show wrestlers a large number of moves. As the season goes on, those moves are refined and a wrestler finds the combinations that works best for them. Practices become shorter, but more intense.
      The constant is the attack mode.
      “We try to push the pace and control the tempo in the match,” Lewis said. “Get the first takedown and then keep lighting the scoreboard up after that.”
      Mark Kerrn asks his youth athletes to give it their all during workouts, but he knows that there’s more to life.
      “We ask them everyday to touch the sign, just think about wrestling for two hours and then they go back to being a kid,” Mark Kerrn said. “It’s not wrestling 24/7.”
      But the dedication needs to be there as Mark’s son will attest.
      “You’ve got to love the sport of wrestling,” Kenny Kerrn said. “It’s an intense sport. You can’t dread it.”
      After a 3-1 day at the West Noble Super Dual (the loss came against 2015-16 IHSWCA State Duals 1A winner Prairie Heights) on Saturday, Jan. 9, the Jimmies look forward to the Northern Indiana Conference tournament Saturday, Jan. 16 at Mishawaka (the first NIC meet since Jimtown, Bremen, Glenn and New Prairie joined the conference in 2015-16) and then the IHSAA state tournament series.
      “The (Elkhart Sectional) is wide open,” Mark Kerrn said of the eight-team field. “There’s about five teams who could win. It just depends who is on that day.”

      3811 1 3

      #WrestlingWednesday: Eldred ready for last run at state

      A little brotherly love has fueled Westfield’s Carson Eldred to wrestling greatness.
      Eldred set a goal his freshman year to beat his older brother Evan’s school record for pins and career wins.
      “I asked Carson his freshman year what his career goals were going to be,” Westfield coach Phil Smith said. “We knew he was going to be pretty special. He said he wanted to beat his brother, Evan’s career pin record and wins record.”
      Carson broke the pins record at his school during the Mooresville tournament this season. He’s five wins away from the career wins record.
      “I told him after the tournament that he broke the record,” Smith said. He was like ‘uh, that’s cool.’ “
      His reaction points to the type of person, and wrestler Eldred is. He doesn’t get emotional during the highs, or the lows.
      “He can keep a stone face no matter what,” Smith said. “You don’t know what he’s going to do out on the mat. Every time he wrestles, he wants to prove something. He always wants bonus points and falls. He doesn’t get too up or too down.”
      Eldred seeks perfection in everything he does. His grade point average is 4.15. He hasn’t missed a day of school in four years. He has never missed a wrestling practice.
      “He’s honestly the best wrestler I’ve coached,” Smith said. “He’s the most gifted wrestler I’ve had, without a doubt. He absolutely hates to lose. In everything we do he hates losing. It doesn’t matter if it’s sprints, drills, wrestling the coaches or anything else. He will do whatever it takes to win at any cost.”
      Currently Eldred is ranked No. 4 at 120 pounds. He is a sectional and regional champion and will take on Southport’s Khua Thang in the first round of the New Castle semistate on Saturday. He is 36-1 on the season with his lone loss coming at the hands of Cathedral’s No. 1-ranked Zeke Seltzer.
      Part of the reason behind Eldred’s success is his early training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. His father owns a Jiu Jitsu training facility and he learned from a young age some of the keys of the sport.
      “Jiu-Jitsu helps with my movement in wrestling,” Carson said. “I haven’t done it much in a while, but when I was younger, I trained a lot with my family. It really helps you when you’re in uncomfortable positions. You don’t panic and you can find a way out of them.”
      Carson is most comfortable in scrambles. His unorthodox style makes him dangerous in any position.
      “He can ride anyone on top,” Smith said. “He scores a lot of his points from the top position. He’s a talented mat wrestler. He finds points from the bottom position as well and has some crazy reversals. He’s really refined his craft to be a great wrestler from any position.”
      After the high school season is over Eldred will likely not wrestle competitively again. He will attend Purdue University where he is a direct admit to the engineering program.
      “It’s going to be a little tough,” he said. “I’ve been wrestling since I was in kindergarten. It’s been a big part of my life. It will be a hard adjustment not interacting with teammates or getting a chance to wrestle in front of fans again and have people cheering for you. It will be different. But I’m excited to focus on my schooling as well.”
      For now though, the focus is on getting to that state championship match.
      “I’m just following in my brothers’ footsteps,” Eldred said. “They both (Dillon and Evan) made it to state. I want to outdo them.”

      3768 2 3

      #WrestlingWednesday: Mullets and Mustaches, Oh My!

      The Man. The Myth. The Mullet. The Mustache.
      Outside of the famous Willie and Red’s smorgasbord (best fried chicken and prime rib in the area), senior wrestler Jake Combs is the biggest attraction in Hagerstown.
      He’s popular because he’s a phenomenal three-sport athlete, because he has a mullet and mustache that would make Billy Ray Cyrus jealous and because he has become the first Tiger wrestler since 2003 to advance to the state finals.
      “I can’t put it into words, honestly, what going to state means to me,” Combs said. “It’s something I’ve been dreaming about ever since I lost here last year. It just feels amazing.”
      Combs had a huge contention of fans Saturday at the New Castle semistate. When he won his ticket round matchup against Frankfort senior Ezekial VanDeventer, it seemed as if the whole gym erupted in applause.
      “Wrestling is unlike any sport in many ways but the family aspect that comes with it is truly humbling,” Hagerstown coach Anton Payne said. “I feel the entire TEC (Tri Eastern Conference), our sectional and regional teams were pulling for Jake today. The crowd from Hagerstown was huge but when Jake won there were hundreds, if not thousands of people screaming and jumping out of their seats.”
      Combs doesn’t have the typical wrestling story of athletes that are going to the state finals. He didn’t wrestle as a young kid. He didn’t wrestle in middle school. He didn’t even wrestle as a freshman or sophomore, despite coach Payne practically begging him every year to give it a try.
      Payne finally wore Combs down before his junior season.
      “Jake started wrestling for the first time 15 short months ago,” Payne said. “I tried my best to get this young man out since junior high, but it wasn’t until his junior year, in November that he said he would try a practice to see if he likes it.”
      Combs fell in love with wrestling. Early on it was evident that he was strong as an ox, but he didn’t have any technique to go along with that raw strength. As the season progressed, Combs continued to learn the sport and by tournament time, he was good enough to advance to semistate. That success created a hunger.
      Combs started working as hard as he could to learn more about wrestling. He went to open gyms in the summer. He traveled to Carmel and other places looking to soak in as much knowledge as possible. It paid off.
      “I told Jake that we would have to work hard,” Payne said. “I told him we would have to push through adversity. We would have to wrestle through pains. We would have to stay on the mat as much as possible in the off season. We would have to work on our explosiveness. We would have to gain more mat confidence and we would have to be 100 percent committed. Jake’s response was ‘let’s do it.’ “
      This season Combs is 38-5 and was perhaps the surprise of the 182-pound class in the New Castle semistate. He knocked off Greenfield’s Scott Stanley by fall in the first period to advance to the ticket round. In the ticket round he dominated VanDeventer, pinning him 1:53.
      But Combs wasn’t done yet. In the next round he had the task of taking on No. 14-ranked J.D. Farrell of Fishers. Combs won that match 3-1 to advance to the semistate championship.
      Combs lost in the finals to Elwood’s No. 12-ranked Jalen Morgan 5-0.
      To Combs, wrestling is fun. That’s part of the reason he grew his world-class mullet and mustache – which some accredit to his quick rise to success in the sport. Combs isn’t sure which one gives him these special powers, though.
      “You know, I’m thinking it’s the mullet,” Combs said. “It’s newer. I’ve had the mustache for a while. But, you know what, it has matured a lot, so maybe it’s that, too. It might be both.”
      In Hagerstown they have made fan support T-shirts for Combs. The shirts just have an outline of a mullet and a mustache. Combs loves them.
      “Wrestling is such a serious sport and I’m just trying to bring a little flavor to it.”
      Friday Combs will get to showcase that flavor at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in front of the state’s most die-hard wrestling fans. He will take on Oak Hill’s No. 16-ranked Bradley Rosman in the first round.
      “Jake has accomplished what he said he would do last year after semistate,” Payne said. “But we are not satisfied yet.”

      3762 1

      #MondayMatness: Jay County’s Hare, Winner stepping back on Indiana high school wrestling’s big stage

      “We have two from the Patriots of Jay County!” 
      Gaven Hare and Mason Winner are back for their second appearance in the IHSAA State Finals “Parade of Champions.”
      Once the pre-meet pageantry is over at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis Friday night, it’s time to get down to business for 220-pound senior Hare and 160-pounder Winner.
      There’s no more “just happy to be here.”
      Hare was a state qualifier at 220 as a junior. Winner placed seventh at 145 as a freshman.
      This year, Hare’s postseason path has included runner-up finishes at the sectional and regional tournaments — both held at Jay County — and a championship at the Fort Wayne Semistate.
      “This year, I know not to go in there content,” says Hare, who is 38-7 for 2017-18 and 120-44 for his prep career. “I have to stay hungry. “I’ve already lost two title matches (at sectional and regional). I know how bad it feels to lose. I’m not trying to have that feeling anymore.”
      It was Hare’s first semistate title and Winner’s second straight (the sophomore also won sectional and regional in 2018).
      Other Jay County semistate champions include Glenn Glogas (1982), Greg Garringer (1982), Eric Lemaster (1987), Geoff Glogas (1987), Larry Brown (1988), Casey Kenney (2008 and 2009), Drake Meska (2011) and Eric Hemmelgarn (2013 and 2014).
      When Hare earned his semistate title, he impressed a number of people in the Memorial Coliseum crowd.
      “I was getting feedback on both sides of the coin,” says fourth-year Patriots head coach Eric Myers. “I had at least 10 people come up to me afterward and say that he was one of their favorite wrestlers to watch.”
      It’s obvious to his coach by the smile on his face that Hare is enjoying the challenges of wrestling.
      “He likes to compete and have a good time,” says Myers. “Gaven is great for the sport. He makes it exciting out there.” Myers, a former Adams Central wrestler and South Adams head coach, is a seventh grade teacher and he first encountered Hare as a junior high student. It was in that seventh grade year that Andy Schmidt recruited the young man to the mats.
      “He was really raw at first,” says Myers. “But he had this athleticism and this innate sense to compete and to win.”
      As a freshman, Hare set his sights high and he won a challenge match to take a sport in the varsity lineup.
      “He’s always set goals,” says Myers. “ I’m going to be here by such and such time and usually he’s achieved those goals.”
      Myers has watched Hare experience some ups and downs in his senior season. He took two losses and narrowly avoided a third at the Carroll Super Dual and suffered setbacks against South Adams senior Isaiah Baumgartner in the sectional final and Adams Central senior Chandler Schumm in the regional championship match.
      Those only served to re-focus him.
      “He’s been pushing himself just a little harder than he did before,” says Myers. “He was banged up going into state tournament series so he backed off and that showed in his results.”
      At semistate, Hare edged Baumgartner 5-4 in the semifinals and pinned Central Noble junior Levi Leffers in 1:58 in the finals.
      A three-sport athlete, Hare is also a two-way lineman in football and right-handed pitcher in baseball. He has worked as an umpire and would like to explore coaching, something he has discussed with his Jay County head coaches — Myers in wrestling, Tim Millspaugh in football and Lea Selvey in baseball.
      When he’s not playing school sports, he is likely competing with friends or family in basketball, wiffleball, bowling or something else.
      “I’m a sports fanatic,” says Hare.
      Between all his other sports, Hare has found time to make it to off-season open rooms and works out in practice with assistant coaches like Bryce Baumgartner, who placed seventh at 182 as a Bellmont senior in 2017.
      “These older guys give me a good pounding,” says Hare. “They show me more technique and the moves that will get me through the tough matches.”
      Myers has two paid assistants in Jeff Heller and Bruce Wood and three volunteers in Baugmgartner, Jon Winner and Chad Chowning. Bellmont graduate Heller was a Myers assistant at South Adams and is also his brother-in-law. Wood and Chowning are Jay Country graduates. Jon Winner is a former Monroe Central wrestler and the father of Mason.
      The son of Molly Robbins and Zack Hare and middle sibling between Destiny Hare and Corbin Hare, Portland resident Gaven says he would like to pursue one or more sports in college.
      As self-described academic slacker his first few years of high school, Hare pulled a 4.0 and 3.8 in the first two grading periods this school year.
      “I’m trying to catch up,” says Hare, who has drawn some interest from college wrestling programs and will wait to see what unfolds this spring on the baseball diamond.
      Winner, who is 44-2 on the season and 83-6 for his career, has been around wrestling almost non-stop since he was a second grader. He has traveled extensively with the Indiana Outlaws and trained with the best at CIA and Pride centers and attended Jeff Jordan’s camps.
      “He’s a year-round grinder,” says Myers of Winner. “He immerses himself in the sport and so does his family.”
      Winner, who topped Fort Wayne Bishop Luers senior Chandler Woenker 3-0 in the semistate finals, is always looking to make himself better.
      That’s why he started running cross country in sixth grade.
      “It’s whether you want to push yourself or not,” says Winner. “They say that wrestling is 90 percent mental. It’s whether you want do to it or not. You have to push yourself — in running or wrestling.”
      Winner has a way of pushing himself and his opponent.
      “He’s an in-your-face wrestler that will keep coming at you,” says Myers. “He’s got a quality that is hard to implant in kids. He’ll keep going until he gets what he wants. He’s hard-nosed and mentally tough.
      “He has the confidence to keep going after it.” Mason also draws inspiration from his family. Jon and Kimberly Winner have three children — Mason, Mitchell and Mallory. Mitchell is a
      freshman and also runs cross country. Fifth grader Mallory competes with the Jay County Wrestling Club and also plays softball.
      The Winners are Ridgeville area farmers and have about 50 head of Charolais cattle between their property and that of Bill and Sandra Winner — Jon’s parents.
      Both of Mason’s paternal grandparents were too ill to attend semistate.
      “I’m wrestling with so much more emotion,” says Mason. “My grandpa has Alzheimer’s (disease). He’s my hero.
      “It would mean so much to me to win a state title for him.”
      Two Patriots — Geoff Glogas (98) and David Ferguson (105) — reached the top of the State Finals podium in 1987.
      Jay County’s state placers:
      • Glenn Glogas (second at 112 in 1981; second at 119 in 1982).
      • Greg Garringer (fifth at 155 in 1982).
      • Kurt VanSkyock (third at 145 in 1984; third at 155 in 1985)
      • Larry Wilson (fourth at 167 in 1985).
      • Geoff Glogas (state champion at 98 in 1987; fifth at 103 in 1988).
      • David Ferguson (state champion at 105 in 1987).
      • Shawn Jordan (sixth at 152 in 1997).
      • James Myers (seventh at 125 in 1997).
      • James Brewster (seventh at 215 in 1999).
      • Casey Kenney (second at 103 in 2008).
      • Eric Hemmelgarn (third at 285 in 2012; fifth at 285 in 2013; fourth
      at 285 in 2014).
      • Kyle Garringer (sixth at 195 in 2013).
      • Andy Kohler (sixth at 182 in 2016).

      3742 11

      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Konrath Going an Alternate Route

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      When the Indiana High School rankings are revealed, it will appear that there is one glaring omission.
      Paul Konrath, who finished second at 106 pounds his freshman year and third at 113 pounds as a sophomore, has chosen to not wrestle this high school season. Konrath is also a Flo and a Fargo champion.
      “This was a tough decision,” Konrath said. “There was quite a bit of thought behind it. My dad and I weighed the opportunities we saw with not wrestling for a high school and decided that was probably the best option for me.”
      Konrath, who had previously wrestled for Mt. Vernon High School, has also decided to complete his education at Indiana Connections Academy, and online school.
      The change in school to an online program will allow Konrath to wrestle in multiple national tournaments throughout the year. Those national tournaments are what the family is hoping will bring the most competition and the most college exposure to Paul.
      Tim Konrath, Paul’s dad, didn’t like that Paul had to miss out on several tournaments due to high school.
      “We went to as many tournaments as we could last year,” Tim said. “But the school frowns on missing too many days and we really pushed that envelope. His grades are very good, but they still want you in class.”
      With the online schooling, that frees Paul up to do more traveling.
      Paul will compete in Las Vegas, Missouri and in several other states this year.
      The Konrath family believes that by entering so many national tournaments, they will get more college exposure than wrestling the high school season. They also are excited that they will get to train with top notch coaches they have met through some of the big tournaments.
      Another reason for the decision, is that the rigors of high school wrestling have taken a toll on Paul, physically.
      Paul has dislocated his elbow, cracked his sternum and broken his nose more times than he can remember. He has also dislocated his knee cap multiple times. He had surgery on his knee earlier this year.
      “He really has to get some rest,” Tim said. “The high school season seems to always be hardest on his body, and the least rewarding as far as furthering his collegiate career.”
      Paul, a devout Christian, doesn’t have a specific college he’s looking to attend. He doesn’t know yet what he wants to study or what he wants to do after college. He said all of those things he has left undecided, waiting to hear what God has in store for him.
      “I know I may sound like a broken record,” Paul said. “But for me it’s a big deal to make sure I’m going where God wants me to, and doing what God wants me to do. I don’t want to get any ideas in my head about college or a career and it not be God’s plan.”
      That doesn’t mean Paul doesn’t have goals. He wants to climb the national rankings as high as he can and he wants to keep getting better. He also hopes to stay healthy.
      Paul is one of six Konrath brothers. His older brother Andrew was the best wrestler of the group, until Paul came along. Andrew was a two-time state qualifier.
      “All of my boys, except Paul, started wrestling when they got to high school,” Tim said. “None of them started young like Paul. The boys actually pushed me to get Paul in a program early.
      “I didn’t know how he would do. Then the coach called and told me that Paul was some sort of freak of nature, and I thought, ‘Yeah right, he’s a momma’s boy’. Then I went out and watched him and saw how much he loved wrestling and how he was pretty good at it. He won that tournament and we’ve been doing tournaments ever since.”
      Paul said his favorite moment in wrestling was after he won at Fargo and was able to talk about God during his video interview.
      “I’ve went to church my whole life and I have a passion for talking to the people around me about God,” Paul said. “That’s why whenever we go to a tournament I always meet new friends and I get to tell them about what Jesus has done for me. I love that.”
      Whether or not the decision to not wrestle in high school will help Paul’s recruitment process has yet to be determined. The Konraths are going all-in with the idea that increasing Paul’s national presence can only help.
      Paul still has strong ties with the Mt. Vernon wrestling family. His former high school coaches have been supportive. Paul plans to be at as many meets as he can, as a fan, and to be the team’s biggest supporter.
      “It’s tough because Paul really loved the kids in that program, and the coaches,” Tim said. “But we feel we are still representing Mt. Vernon whenever he goes to these big tournaments. Not only is Paul representing Mt. Vernon, he’s representing Indiana and that’s something he takes very seriously.”

      3729 1 4

      #MondayMatness: Harrison’s Poindexter makes wrestling his 'thing’ and excels at it

      A.J. Poindexter has experienced moments of motivation during his wrestling career.
      His first season at Harrison High School in West Lafayette ended with Poindexter — then a 138-pound sophomore – placing sixth at the 2018 Lafayette Jeff Sectional.
      After that, he really dedicated himself to the sport and qualified for the 2019 State Finals in the 138 bracket as a junior.
      A 1-0 loss to Mt. Vernon (Fortville) junior Chris Wilkerson (who wound up seventh) in the Friday night match ended his second prep campaign and fueled his desire to excel in his senior year and beyond.
      “I can’t let the big stage change the way I wrestle,” says Poindexter, referring to the lesson he learned last February at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. “I took a lot of shots. But I didn’t get to my finishes quickly.“
      “When you get on the bottom in the third period, you’ve got to get away. There’s no excuse for (not escaping).”
      A major point of emphasis in Poindexter’s training since then has been in the bottom position when the opponent puts in his legs.
      Poindexter was born in California, moved to Virginia around age 1 and then Connecticut. His father, Anthony Poindexter, was in the National Football League with the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns and then became a coach, serving at the University of Virginia and University of Connecticut prior to becoming co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Purdue University.
      Anthony and Kimberly Poindexter have three children — Morocca, Anthony Jr. and Chloe.
      Morocca (20) is a 400/800 runner on the women’s track and field team at UConn.
      A.J., who turns 18 on Jan. 14, says eighth grader Chloe (13) placed seventh in the junior state cross country meet last fall and was second in the 800 and fourth in the 400 as a seventh grader in the junior high state track meet last spring.
      A.J. went out for wrestling as an eighth grader in Connecticut at the insistence of his coach for lacrosse, a sport he began playing in kindergarten. He grappled as a short 120-pounder as a freshmen then moved to Indiana when his father was hired at Purdue.
      By growing and hitting the weight room, Poindexter has added length and strength to his frame and is now a shade over 5-foot-9 — taller than many in his weight division, which is now 145.
      “I’m deceptively strong,” says Poindexter, who is a senior.
      The younger Poindexter played football as a Harrison sophomore then opted to focus on wrestling.
      “It’s kind of my thing,” says Poindexter of wrestling. “You can’t blame your teammates or the ref. It’s all on you.“
      “If you want to be good, you have to put int he work.”
      Third-year Harrison head coach Johnny Henry says that what makes Poindexter special is his dedication and his athleticism.
      “Practice room through competition, he’s put in hard work,” says Henry of Poindexter. “He is fully-committed. He has speed. He is just very quick on his feet.“
      “His technique has improved so much over the last two years.”
      Poindexter says Harrison coaches have told him to use his quickness and athleticism to his advantage.
      “Wrestle like an athlete instead of robotic,” says Poindexter of the advice. While he considers his double-leg takedown to be his “bread and butter” move, Poindexter has been working to make his offense more diverse.“
      “I watch tons of wrestling on YouTube and TV,” says Poindexter. “I’m trying to pick moves. Wrestling freestyle and Greco-Roman in the spring has added more upper body (moves) in my arsenal.”
      To get different looks against different body types, Poindexter works out with various teammates in the Harrison practice room. Some of his steady drill partners are Tristen Hood (152), Matthew Baylay (138) and Sam Hein (120).
      Poindexter has honed his skills by attending camps, clinics and tournaments and attending workouts led by Henry at Harrison as well as Chad Red of the Red Cobra Wrestling Academy in Indianapolis.
      “He really cares about his guys,” says Poindexter of Red.
      Poindexter is also thankful to the knowledge and encouragement provided by former Harrison assistant (and ex-Purdue University head coach) Scott Hinkel.
      “How bad do you want to be good at this?,” says Poindexter, echoing the question Hinkel asked him.
      Poindexter has committed to continue his wrestling and academic careers at George Mason University, an NCAA Division I program in Fairfax County, Va.
      By going 5-2 at the Virginia Beach Junior Nationals, Poindexter caught the attention of Patriots coaches. He was invited for a campus visit and later committed.
      George Mason assistant Camden Eppert wrestled for Hinkel at Purdue.
      “It’s the place for me in terms of culture and coaches,” says Poindexter. “I want to try to be a D-I All-American.”
      Poindexter enjoyed taking Journalism at Harrison last year and his current favorite class is Intro to Communications, where he has learned video editing and recently posted a commercial parody of the Nike “Dream Crazy” ad using Raiders wrestlers. It can be viewed on his Twitter page at @AJ_Poindexter.
      With the help of Poindexter (28-0), Harrison is 21-2 in dual meets and won the 32-team Spartan Classic at Connersville.
      Prior to the IHSAA tournament series (Lafayette Jeff Sectional Feb. 1, Logansport Regional Feb. 8, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 15 and State Finals Feb. 21-22), the Raiders’ Varsity “A” team has a dual meet at Tipton Jan. 15, a home dual against Rensselaer Central Jan. 23 and North Central Conference meet at Richmond Jan. 25.
      Henry promotes closeness with his Raiders and Poindexter embraces that model.
      “A.J.’s very enthusiastic,” says Henry. “He can pump up the team. Practice is very team-oriented. We stick together as a family. It helps us stay mentally tough and focused as a team.“
      “We build each other up when one person’s down. There’s times when the season feels long.”
      To break up the monotony, the team sometimes plays games — like ultimate frisbee with a football.
      “It gives our minds a break,” says Henry. “It’s a workout but they have fun with it. It’s team bonding for them.”
      Henry was a Harrison for four seasons before becoming head coach. Before that, the former University of Indianapolis wrestler spent one year as an assistant at his alma mater — Benton Central. He is a full-time trainer at Miracles Fitness in West Lafayette.
      The Raiders have about 50 athletes in the program and 13 coaches — Henry plus assistants Bill Bailey, John Campagna, Kevin Elliott, Donnie Fahler, Aaron Hawkins, Michael Kern, Dustin Kult, Chris Maxwell, Jonathan Mongold, Walt Prochno, Aaron Quakenbush and Dennis Synesael.

      3703 2

      #MondayMatness: Mishawaka’s LaPlace, Walker keep on making each other better wrestlers

      A friendship formed at a junior high football practice has led to a pair of successful high school wrestlers.
      Jacob LaPlace met Joseph Walker when both were gridders at Mishawaka’s John Young Middle School.
      LaPlace, who had been wrestling since age 4, saw mat potential in Walker.
      “You’re really athletic, you’ve got to come out for wrestling,” says LaPlace of his invitation to Walker, who was already around 160 pounds. “Since then, we’ve been training together.”
      Now in their fourth season as Mishawaka High School teammates, Walker is competing at 182 and LaPlace at 195. LaPlace is 16-0 so far in 2019-20 and 125-22 for his career. Walker is 6-0 and 75-25.
      LaPlace placed fourth at the IHSAA State Finals at 138 on 2017 and was a state qualifier at both 145 in 2018 and 182 in 2019.
      After being a state qualifier at 152 in 2018, Walker placed sixth at State at 170 in 2019.
      Going against Walker everyday in the practice room makes LaPlace better.
      Third-year Mishawaka head coach Steve Sandefer has watched iron sharpen iron with LaPlace and Walker.
      “They’ve drilled and wrestled live with each other their entire high school careers,” says Sandefer. “The other person is the reason they are as good as they are now.”
      “They wouldn’t be where they’re at without each other.”
      LaPlace agrees with that sentiment.
      “He gives me quick and agile,” says LaPlace of Walker. “He’s got a real explosive double (leg takedown). His strength and defense is really good and that helps my offense.”
      “I help him because I’m bigger than him.”
      Walker credits LaPlace with getting him started in the sport and is grateful to his first head coach and his current one.
      “Jacob’s always been my partner since seventh grade,” says Walker. “I have the speed so I give him different looks. He keeps good position and gives me looks.”
      “Adam Sandefur was my first coach and he’s always been on me, directing me. Steve (Sandefer) has also pushed me to become greater.”
      Walker, a University of Michigan commit, credits his faith for his success.
      “God’s my source of energy and power,” says Walker. Sandefer uses adjectives like hard-nosed, hard-working and super-athletic to describe Walker. He knows that he is also meticulous in his approach to wrestling and its technique, position and adjustments.
      “He really takes the time to learn the finer details of wrestling,” says Sandefer of Walker. “He is very detail-oriented. That’s going to benefit him not just on the mat but off the mat.”
      Says Walker, “I want to make sure everything is done right so I don’t do a wrongful move and don’t drill it wrong. I want to make sure it’s precise.”
      While he has the physical tools, Walker is also a technician.
      “Athleticism does help a lot, but I’m making sure my technique is down,” says Walker. “That’s a big factor.”
      “With the bigger guys, strength is going to help a lot. But technique is the main source. I have to make sure my technique’s sharp.”
      Most days, there’s a Hall of Famer in the room.
      “Having Al Smith in there is a big help,” says Walker. “That’s another set of eyes watching us to make sure we’re making moves correctly.”
      Walker says he likes to keep his bucket of moves open.
      “If one thing doesn’t work, I can hit another thing,” says Walker.
      “But all those moves, I have to make sure I sharpen them in the practice room each and every day.”
      “A lot of wrestlers have one good move and it’s very hard for people to stop. That’s their move. It’s what they drill. It’s what they do. It’s their bread and butter.”
      Walker chose Michigan for college because of the academic and athletic connections.
      He plans to study anesthesiology while grappling for the Wolverines.
      “(Anesthesiology) fascinates me,” says Walker. “You have to make sure you have the right dosage and all the math behind it and the science. Grades and school comes first. School is very heavy in my life.”
      “The wrestling is very heavy in freestyle. They’re going past folkstyle. There’s a lot of international wrestling. That’s what I want to do.”
      “I want excel in the sport and be the best I can be.”
      Joseph is the son of William and Rhonda Walker has eight siblings, including Salome Walker (on the women’s wrestling team at McKendree University) and Queen Walker (on the women’s track and field team at Bethel University).
      LaPlace, the son of Lester and Rae and younger brother of Mariah and an Indiana Tech commit who plans to study business administration, explains his mat style.
      “I rely on my defense a lot,” says LaPlace. “I only have a few offensive shots, but I’m really confident in those shots.”
      “I’ve always been a defensive-type wrestler. Most of my offense comes outside of a tie.”
      LaPlace says he was more offensive as a freshman and sophomore when he competed at 138 and 145.
      “Moving up, I figured out that you’ve got to slow down,” says LaPlace.
      “You’ve got to wear out the bigger guys before you can start to get on your offense.”
      As he grew and got older, LaPlace decided not to cut as much weight.
      “I wanted to wrestle what I weigh (as a junior),” says LaPlace. “The same thing this year. I’m walking around at about 188.”
      “I feel comfortable wrestling 195 at about 188 or 189. I might not look it, but I’m pretty strong in wrestling positions. I’m confident in my strength.”
      Sandefer, who won state titles for Mishawaka at 140 in 2008 and 2009, has become a believer in wrestling at a comfortable weight rather than cutting all the time.
      “That’s a mistake a lot of kids make,” says Sandefer. “They come into the wrestling room and think about how much weight do I have to lose rather than getting better”
      “We’ve gotten away from pushing kids to cut too much weight.”
      Sandefer looks at LaPlace and sees wider shoulders and thicker legs.
      “That’s exactly what he needed — not just for our season but going forward in life,” says Sandefer. “It’s really given him an opportunity to focus more on his wrestling more than cutting weight.”
      LaPlace, Walker and the rest of the Cavemen are gearing up for the 32-team Al Smith Classic, which is Friday and Saturday, Dec. 27-28.
      “The Al Smith is a real eye opener and we train really hard for it,” says LaPlace. “We’re excited for it. We’re going to have a really good run this year as a team.”
      Many coaches over the years have described the Mishawaka event as a “meat grinder.”
      “That’s exactly what it is,” says LaPlace. “It shows you just what State’s like. You’ve got to make weight two days in a row. There’s really tough competition.
      “It’s a tough tournament. It’s fun.”
      Mishawaka is coming off of the Henry Wilk Classic at Penn Dec. 21.
      After the Al Smith Classic, the Cavemen will take part in the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Class 3A State Duals in Fort Wayne Jan. 4.
      Other meets on the horizon are the Northern Indiana Conference Championships at Mishawaka Jan. 18, Mishawaka Sectional Feb. 1, Penn Regional Feb. 8, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 15 and IHSAA State Finals in Indianapolis Feb. 21-22.
      It will take mental toughness for the Cavemen to get through the season and Sandefer emphasizes that on a daily basis.
      “Today in our society there’s a lot of people who find excuses for their failures and easy ways out with no responsibility or accountability,” says Sandefer. “Be responsible for yourself. If you’re losing matches what are you not doing in the wrestling room? Are you playing around too much? Hold yourself accountable.”
      “(It’s about) being mentally tough to push through these tough times. If we’re in a tough practice, everybody else is going through it. It’s not just you. Lift your teammates up. It’s much easier to get through it together.”
      As a wrestler, Sandefer put in plenty of time away from practice, putting in miles on the treadmill and stationary bike. That extra work had a carry-over effect.
      “It makes it that much tougher to give up,” says Sandefer. “When you’re putting in that kind of quality time and work in the wrestling room, when you step on the mat, you say, ‘I did not put in all this time and all this effort to come out here and lose or just give up in the middle of a match.’”
      Sandefer has watched Mishawaka numbers grow from less than 30 to about 45 in his three seasons in charge. The Mishawaka Wrestling Club has more than 60 members.
      “We have all the right people in the right places,” says Sandefer. “I couldn’t be doing this without my club coaches, assistant coaches, my family and the group of parents we have who are supportive of Mishawaka wrestling.
      “They help us get a lot accomplished. They get everybody pumped up and fired up.”
      That includes Jacob LaPlace and Joseph Walker.

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      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Mater Dei Returns to the Top

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Evansville Mater Dei got a late start to the wrestling season, like many teams with a successful football team. The school of just over 500 students reached the state championship game on the gridiron. That left little time to prepare for wrestling.
      But Mater Dei quickly adjusted, and is now a dominating force on the mats.
      “We got off to a late start because of football,” Wildcats coach Greg Schaefer said. “Over half of our lineup plays football. It’s not just our big guys either.”
      Schaefer wasn’t entirely pleased with the team’s early dual meets. It wasn’t that Mater Dei had done poorly, it was just that Schaefer puts high expectations on the team with one of the richest wrestling traditions in the state.
      Soon, things started to click for the Wildcats. The turning point of the season, according to Schaefer, was the team state meet.
      “The guys really turned the corner at team state,” Schaefer said. “The New Palestine match, we had guys step up and get some big wins. Then we just seem to have a progression the rest of the day. “
      Mater Dei defeated Westfield 73-3, New Palestine 56-9, Warren Central 42-23 and Perry Meridian 31-27 to claim the IHSWCA Team State title for class 3A.
      Statistically speaking, the Mater Dei lineup is absolutely stacked. Seven weight classes have wrestlers ranked in the top 12.
      Sophomore Will Egli is currently ranked No. 7 at 120 pounds. Senior Alex Johnson is No. 4 at 126. The Lee brothers, sophomore Nick and freshman Joe, are both highly ranked. Nick is No. 1 at 132 while Joe is No. 3 at 138.
      “The Lee brothers are hard working kids that maintain good attitudes,” Schaefer said. “They are good teammates. As a coach you really appreciate those type of athletes. It’s not always about them, they are team-first wrestlers. They are good young men as well as good wrestlers.”
      Junior Blake Jourdan is ranked No. 5 at 145 pounds with senior Ashton Forzley ranked No. 9 at 160. Senior Sam Bassemier is the No. 12-ranked 182 pounder in the state.
      “It’s hard to say where we are at in the history of Mater Dei wrestling,” Schaefer said. “I will say that from top to bottom this is one of the stronger teams we have had since I’ve been coaching.”
      Mater Dei has roughly 35 kids on its team this season. That depth has helped lead to success on the mat.
      “Tradition sums up a lot of what Mater Dei wrestling is about,” Schaefer said. “We have strong families with a strong sense of community. They take ownership and responsibility to represent the school to the best of their ability. That has led to a lot of our success.
      “We have great feeder league coaches that have been around for a long time. They take a lot of pride in what they do.
      “And we also have guys that people don’t know about that are really the backbone of our program. It’s not the ones that get their names in the paper. It’s the guys who go to practice and do their jobs every day. You can’t have a good team without good people to practice with. Those guys push the guys in the lineup because there is always competition for those spots.”
      Schaefer does not appoint team captains. He feels the true leaders of the team will step up when the time comes and become the unofficial captains. Everyone on the team is responsible for holding each other accountable in the classroom, after school and on the mats.
      Mater Dei’s team goals this season were to win every dual meet. They have just one more dual this season, tomorrow night against rival Evansville Reitz. The team also placed a goal of winning the team state tournament.
      Individually Schaefer is hoping to have several state placers this season. Mater Dei has not had a state champ in 10 years. The last Wildcat champion was Matt Coughlin at 152 pounds in 2005.
      “We’ve had a few runners up and a few place winners since then,” Schaefer said. “But to win a state title it takes more than just being a good wrestler. Things have to go your way. In many cases you have to overcome circumstances or calls. You can’t just be good. You also have to put yourself in the right circumstances.”
      Schaefer would know. He is a two-time state champion.
      Schaefer is a theology teacher at Mater Dei as well as the wrestling coach. It’s a job he loves and plans to stay at for a very long time.


      #MondayMatness: Returning state placer Alexander helps resurgent Wawasee to 2A IHSWCA State Duals title

      “Warrior Tough” was on display in the Summit City.
      Years of effort were rewarded when Wawasee climbed to the peak that is the Class 2A championship at the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Team State Duals.
      The Warriors beat Franklin County 54-19, Bellmont 49-25, North Montgomery 31-28 and Garrett 37-33 for the right to hoist the trophy Saturday, Dec. 23 at Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne.
      “This has been a long time building,” says Frank Bumgardner, Wawasee’s third-year head coach of the program’s resurgence and his 2017-18 team’s qualifying for the annual IHSWCA event. “It’s a culmination of a lot of effort over a lot of years.
      “We’re all on same path. When you have that uniformity, it’s inevitable that good things are going to happen.”
      Bumgardner, who was the head coach at alma mater Whitko High School for five seasons before coming to Wawasee, and the other coaches (Jesse Espinoza, Jamie Salazar, Dillon Whitacre, Matt Elvidge, Darrell Carr at the high school level) in the program have the Warriors being physical while having fun.
      “We understand that different people come with different personalities,” says Bumgardner, who counts 80 to 100 kids in Grades K-12 that also compete in either the Wawasee Wrestling Club for beginners or Viper Wrestling Club for the advanced and elite. “Not everyone is going to embrace every style to the furthest degree. We do what the kid does best, we score points and have fun.”
      Fun is essential.
      “When you have fun, you look forward to coming back,” says Bumgardner, who is a seventh grade math teacher at Wawasee. “You look forward to getting better.
      “It’s like they say at Ohio State — Positivity Infinity. The better you can do that, the better life you’re going to have.”
      Last year, the Warriors were just seven points shy of automatic qualification for the State Duals without the coaches vote and “7” became the rally cry.
      “We knew we were capable of it,” says Bumgardner. “The kids have done wonderful job of doing that. The community is excited.
      “We’re looking to bring the momentum back to the program so we can continue to build well beyond this year.”
      Five Wawasee wrestlers — senior Elisha Tipping (285 pounds), juniors Braxton Alexander (126) and Geremia Brooks (132), sophomore Garrett Stuckman (138) and freshman Jace Alexander (106)— enjoyed 4-0 days at the 2017 State Duals.
      “A lot of us on the team now started when we were young,” says Braxton Alexander, who placed sixth at 120 at the 2017 IHSAA State Finals. “Just about all on the team wrestled for at least five years.
      “We put too much work into it to be bad.”
      Bumgardner has witnessed a change in Braxton — the older brother of Jace — that has made him an even better grappler.
      “He’s willing to take more risks,” says Bumgardner of Braxton. “He’s attempting to score more points and dictating were the action goes.
      “He would definitely look to score points before. He was such a good scrambler, he was consistently catching people in big moves. He is developing an offense that is consistent.”
      Braxton has grown about three inches since last season to 5-foot-7 and turned from a counter-offensive wrestler to an attacker.
      “Last year, I didn’t have a shot too often,” says Alexander of his 42-6 sophomore season. “I was defensive. Now, I’m pushing the pace and pulling the trigger more often.”
      He can hear Bumgardner’s words echo as he goes through a match.
      “‘As long as you’re moving and pushing the pace, no one can keep up with you,’” Alexander of his head coach’s message.
      Braxton is constantly pushing workout partner Stuckman and Garrett returns the favor.
      “We scramble more often,” says Braxton. “On the mat, we know what to do and how to capitalize on a mistake.”
      To stay in shape for wrestling, Braxton is a member of the Wawasee cross country and track and field teams. His best 5K cross country time is 17:10. He runs the open 800, 3200 relay and does the pole vault in the spring.
      Last summer, he sharpened his wrestling skills in folkstyle tournaments in New Jersey, Virginia, Michigan and Iowa.
      Braxton and Jace are the two oldest of four children in a single-parent household. Mother Jaclyn also has seventh grader Landen (who also wrestles in the spring and summer) and third grader Kenadee.
      A building trades student at Wawasee, Braxton would like to have his own construction business someday.
      Right now, he’s helping to build the Warriors back into wrestling power to be reckoned with.


      #MondayMatness: Marsh wrestling family on different sides now that Kyle is head coach at Fairfield

      “How many of you can look me in the eye and tell me you are working as hard as you can? … Find a teammate and help him push through.”
      Those are the words of Kyle Marsh in his new role as head wrestling coach at Fairfield High School.
      The former West Noble High School wrestler and six-year assistant coach is putting the Falcons through a grueling workout — something Marsh knew well when he competed for WNHS for father Tom Marsh.
      Work ethic and attention to detail are the qualities that Kyle Marsh credits for his prep success.
      “You could push him, push him and push him,” Tom Marsh said of his oldest son. “He would take it and try to get better.”
      Before graduating from the Ligonier school in 2008, he was a two-time Indiana High School Athletic Association State Finals qualifier and two-time Westview Sectional champion (all at 130 pounds as a junior and senior). He was a Goshen Regional champion as a senior and place third at the Fort Wayne Semistate his final two high school campaigns.
      A collegiate mat career at Trine University was cut short by a shoulder injury suffered just before the Thunder’s intrasquad meet.
      Kyle learned how to put in maximum effort from his father. Tom Marsh has been an assistant football coach at West Noble for more than 25 years and has led the Chargers’ wrestling program since the mid-2000’s.
      “Being around him and his teams, work ethic was built into my DNA from a young age,” Kyle Marsh said. “I know there are kids that have a hard time being coached by a dad or a parent because sometimes the sport can be taken home. I’m definitely not like that. My dad coached me for six or seven years and was constantly pushing me and motivating me and I’m very thankful that he did.”
      Kyle Marsh began wrestling in the sixth grade. When Tom Marsh caught the wrestling bug, it allowed Kyle — and his younger siblings (Kevin and Molly) — plenty of off-season opportunities like tournaments and camps.
      “It became a family affair,” Kyle Marsh said. “My sister probably would have been the best wrestler in the state. She was a placer at the (Indiana State Wrestling Association) state meet a couple of times.”
      Molly Marsh is now a junior catcher on the softball team at Indiana University-South Bend.
      After his own college athletic career was over, Kyle began coaching wrestling, middle school football and some high school football at West Noble.
      In recent years, he had discussions with his father about possibly coaching at a different school.
      Kyle Marsh wound up at Fairfield — a Northeast Corner Conference rival to West Noble — after Jim Jones retired, leaving a head coaching vacancy for the Falcons.
      After discussing the situation with his wife — the former Erica Dolezal (who had been a girls basketball coach at Goshen Middle School) — Kyle decided to apply.
      “My wife was a coach and she knows the time commitment that coaching in general takes up,” Kyle Marsh said. “She thought it would be great. I reminded her that it would be a lot more time than just being dad’s assistant. She said ought to do it.”
      Kyle and Erica have three children — daughter Brogan, son Layten and caught Caelin. The latter is name for Cael Sanderson — “the greatest wrestler.”
      When Kyle got the Fairfield job, his father was the first person he called with the news.
      Tom Marsh said an attribute for Kyle is his ability to relate to young athletes.
      “I’m more Old School,” Tom Marsh said. “It’s a lot different than 20 years ago. There are so many more options for (students) after school. Some sports getting individualized. There are a lot of one-sport athletes.
      “Kyle does a good job of getting those kids to give it a go. They relate better to the young guys better than the old guys.”
      Father and son are ultra-competitive with everything from corn hole to golf (the two are currently tied in head-to-head matches at 22-all). Trash talk at family functions are common.
      So what happens when the Falcons and Chargers step on the mat together?
      “My sister, brother and I even joke around it being hash-tagged in text messages,” Kyle Marsh said in referring to the West Noble at Fairfield NECC dual meet. “It’s #December8.”
      Michelle Marsh — wife to Tom and mother to Kyle — is expected to be there with some sort of mashup outfit combining Fairfield and West Noble.
      The date is also important at West Noble.
      “I know he wants to beat us and we want to beat him,” Tom Marsh said. “We don’t talk about any of our kids to each other. We don’t go there with each other.”
      Kyle is familiar with the returning grapplers for the Chargers.
      “I know their kids real well and I know their wrestling styles,” Kyle Marsh said. “It’s probably a slight advantage, but I’m sure my dad is doing everything he can to find about kids from over here and they will talk plenty about strategy before Dec. 8.”
      Fairfield is scheduled to open the varsity season at home Nov. 22 against Northridge.
      West Noble begins varsity action Nov. 26 at the Wawasee Super Dual.


      #MondayMatness: Adam O'Neil Takes Over at Clay

      “Who wants to learn?”
      Adam O’Neil invites his athletes to one side of the South Bend Clay High School wrestling room.
      There, the second person ever to win an IHSAA state mat title for the Colonials (Randy Goss was the first in 1964 and 1965) shares his knowledge as Clay’s first-year head wrestling coach.
      A little later, O’Neil gets in front of the group and tells them about stance.
      “Keep your chest up,” O’Neil tells them. “I don’t want hunching down, alright? We don’t want to see the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
      After all, an opponent can control, if a wrestler is hunched over.
      O’Neil also instructs his Clay grapplers how to sprawl and demonstrates with a series of “burpees”.
      But he stresses the basics.
      “Even the best guys have to do the basics,” says O’Neil. “We’ll get into the flow of the different moves and when we do them later.
      “I can only teach them what I know.”
      What O’Neil knew when he wore a Colonial singlet was strength and a solid stance and form and loads of mat know-how gained from coach Al Hartman, an Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer.
      It helped O’Neil win 154 matches. He went 45-0 as a senior in 2003-04, reigning as the 160-pound state champion.
      That season, O’Neil tied for first in single-season wins with Jaylin Allen, Shakir Carr, Joe Gallegos, Mitchell Hartman and Laquan Lunfiord. Gallegos and Allen were state runners-up in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
      O’Neil set Clay school records with 26 pins in both the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons.
      Any one of those accomplishments should give the 30-year-old instant credibility with these teenagers. But O’Neil doesn’t see it that way.
      “I still need to prove myself to them,” says O’Neil, who went into this season ranked No. 4 on Clay’s all-time win list (behind Mitchell Hartman’s 164, Jake Hartman’s 156 and Steve Salinas’ 156. Places 5 through 12 were held by Kevin Hartman, 145; Gallegos 142; Lunsford, 121; Ryan Salata, 114; Garret Gleuckert, 112; Jeremy Burnside, 112; David Elliot, 109; and Dustin Swindeman, 108). “One of my biggest challenges is getting all the kids in here at the same time and getting them to listen. I want them to focus and listen to what I’m saying. If they are not listening, they are not absorbing.
      “I’m only here a couple of hours a day with them. I try to have them learn as much as I can.”
      After two seasons as a Clay assistant, O’Neil has taken over the reigns of the program from Hartman (who is still involved, mostly at the junior high level).
      “It’s been a dream of mine to coach wrestling,” says O’Neil. “When I had the opportunity, I took it. Coach Hartman really helped me prepare for it. He pushed me to do it.”
      A frozen foods frozen manager for Martin’s Supermarkets during the day, O’Neil relies on assistant coach and Clay teacher Jay Love to take care of administrative details and monitor the wrestlers during the school day.
      “He helps me out a lot,” says O’Neil of Love. “He does paperwork and helps me recruit kids.”
      Love also helps teach the sport to the Colonials.
      The lessons have yielded a 9-1 start to 2015-16 season (5-0 at the South Bend Clay Super Dual and 4-1 at the Elkhart Central Turkey Duals).
      O’Neil said he considers two-time semistate qualifier Rishod Cotton plus Mason Cao and Andrew Taborn to be his top three wrestlers as the season begins. But it’s steady improvement from he group that he seeks.
      “Seeing them get better everyday is what I want,” says O’Neil.
      Before the practice closes, O’Neil gets his wrestlers in a circle for a chant.
      When the volume and enthusiasm are not right, he yells, “That was weak. Get back here.”
      Then they do it to O’Neil’s satisfaction: “Clay on 3. 1, 2, 3, Clay!”

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      #MondayMatness: Two generations of Faulkners make an impact on Mishawaka wrestling

      Following in the footsteps of their father, the Faulkner brothers — senior 182-pounder Austin and junior heavyweight Alex — are looking to leave their mark on the storied Mishawaka High School wrestling program.
      Mike Faulkner, a 1987 graduate, was an IHSAA state finalist as a junior 185-pounder and state runner-up as a senior heavyweight for Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer Al Smith.
      Mike was bested by Lake Central’s Mike Fross in the ’87 finals then went on to grapple two years at Grand Rapids Junior College (now Grand Rapids Community College), placing eighth and fourth at the National Junior College Athletic Association Nationals for coach Charlie Wells, and two at Ferris State University.
      The elder Faulkner has coached or officiated the sport ever since. His resume includes a three-year stint as head coach at South Bend Adams High School, one season of leading the John Young Middle School program and many years as an assistant coach for his alma mater, working primarily with the heavyweights. He has more than two decades of experience as an IHSAA-sanctioned wrestling official and member of the St. Joseph Valley Officials Association.
      A former City of Mishawaka employee (14 of his 18 years were spent as parks superintendent), he served five years as assistant athletic director at MHS and July 1, 2016 became director of operations, overseeing buildings and grounds, transportation and safety.
      Austin Faulkner, 18, has his sights set high for his final prep wrestling campaign after earning his first Mishawaka Sectional title and second semistate appearance in 2015-16. He also went to semistate as a sophomore. All of this came at 182.
      A wall in the MHS wrestling room lists the state champions and state placers. Austin notices it at every workout.
      “I want my name to up there,” Austin Faulkner said. “I’m a Mishawaka wrestler. Mishawaka has had a tradition of great wrestlers. I want to continue that.”
      Alex Faulkner, 17, is looking to make his mark on the mat this year after placing fourth at sectional and bowing out in the first round of the Rochester Regional as a sophomore heavyweight.
      One thing Alex did in the off-season was hit the weight room.
      “I feel like I’m more physical and stronger than I was last year,” Alex Faulkner said. “I feel like I have more movement and will have a much better year. My loss at regionals last year upset me and I’m doing everything I can to make it to state this year.”
      Austin, who went into last week ranked No. 14 statewide at 195 but intends to be back at 182, knows that the formula for mat success is an offensive mindset.
      “Sometimes I catch myself being a little bit patient and not going after the guy,” Austin Faulkner said. “My dad tells me all the time just ‘go, go, go and keep attacking.’”
      That’s the way Mike was during his days as a wrestler and he still believes it.
      “You can’t win in wrestling unless you attack and go on offense,” Mike Faulkner said. “A lot of times you see wrestlers who are passive and they want to go on the defensive. Any successful wrestler that you have seen over time are those ones who continuously attack.”
      Those wrestlers also hone their moves repeatedly in the practice room in order to be able to perform them well on the competition mat.
      And the number of tricks in the bag does not have to be large.
      “It’s definitely better to perfect a few amount of moves,” Austin Faulkner said. “You see successful collegiate wrestlers who use a double-leg, a single-leg — nothing crazy.”
      Mike Faulkner is also a fan of repetition.
      “It becomes muscle memory,” Mike Faulkner. “It’s a reaction rather than a plot. I’m going to go out there and do this. As a wrestler, you can’t do that. It has to be a reaction. Mat time is crucial for the experience and for getting that feel for the flow of the match.”
      And no matter what, a grappler must commit to what they are doing.
      “You have to finish your move no matter what it is whether it’s a stand-up or a sit-out, switch, reversal or takedown,” Mike Faulkner said.
      Scouting reports on opponents are helpful, but not necessary if a wrestler can dictate what goes on inside the circle.
      “It’s nice to know what another guy does but you’ve got to go out and wrestle your match every time,” Austin Faulkner said. “You can’t let them control the match.”
      Mishawaka head coach Charlie Cornett counts Austin Faulkner as a leader for the Cavemen.
      “He comes in the room ready to go,” Cornett said. “He leads by example. He has improved quite a bit on his feet.”
      Cornett now sees Austin constantly pushing the pace, something he did not always do last season.
      The Faulkner boys are both multi-sport athletes. They are coming off a football season where fullback Austin (1,274 yards and 13 touchdowns as an all-Northern Indiana Conference first teamer) often followed the blocks of right guard Alex in helping coach Bart Curtis and the Cavemen go 10-3 and place second to Penn in the NIC North.
      “Football and wrestling go hand-in-hand in a lot of ways,” Austin Faulkner said. “Tackling is the same thing as a double-leg takedown. One of the things I like about being in football is that it makes me hungrier for wrestling season. Some of those kids that wrestle year-round might get tired of it. I can’t wait to get back on the mat.
      “(Mishawaka head football) coach (Bart) Curtis is big about us going out for other sports. It doesn’t matter what it is.”
      Cornett has watched Alex Faulkner fill out his frame, which is about 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds.
      “Alex has definitely picked up a little bit of an edge that he didn’t have last year from playing the interior line in football,” Cornett said. “He wrestled small at heavyweight last year and he got pushed around a little bit. I don’t see that happening this year nearly as much.”
      What’s the difference between football and wrestling shape?
      “They’ve finding that out right now,” Mike Faulkner said as his sons are now cutting weight for the mat. It’s something they don’t have to sweat in the fall.
      “Football shape, you can eat whatever you want,” Monique Faulkner, Mike’s wife and the mother of Austin and Alex, said.
      “You can’t get into wrestling shape by running the football or tackling the guy with the football,” Mike Faulkner said. “You’ve got to be wrestling live matches and doing those workouts in the wrestling room to get into tip-top wrestling shape. There’s no question.”
      Austin, who is pondering college offers for football and wrestling, played football at 207 and planned to be at 182 to start the season.
      Mike typically cut 40 pounds from football and wrestling leading up to his senior season when Coach Smith convinced him to be a heavyweight. Earlier in the year, he went from 190 to 210.
      “I never looked back,” Mike Faulkner said. “I was a heavyweight the rest of my life.
      “You can cut weight, but you’ve got to be smart about it. You can’t cut it too quick. There’s a reason the IHSAA and National Federation have implemented these (weight loss) rules.
      “(Austin’s) eyes are bigger than his stomach. He’ll eat the foods he enjoys the most rather than the ones that will benefit him and give him the protein he needs.”
      As for officiating, a wrestling background is helpful.
      “You can anticipate which way they’re going and get yourself in good position to call that near fall or takedown on the side of the mat,” Mike Faulkner said. “Knowing how the flow of wrestling goes is an advantage to an official.”
      Focus in the face of mental and physical fatigue is also important. Wrestling tournaments can be very long for wrestlers, coaches and the men in stripes.
      “You have to try to stay sharp and not let the day get the best of you,” Mike Faulkner said.
      Giving it their best is what Austin and Alex Faulkner indeed to do each day they step on the mat for Mishawaka.
      “It’s great to have both Faulkner boys on one team,” Cornett said. “They are definitely pillars.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Frankton = Family

      Frankton wrestling coach Courtney Duncan walked in on the first day of practice carrying something a little bit unusual. The Frankton wrestling coach wasn’t holding a whistle, or uniforms. He was holding index cards. He passed one out to each kid in the room and told them to write down why they came out for wrestling.
      When Duncan read the answers, he knew he had a pretty special team.
      “Almost every kid put that they wrestle because it builds family and relationships,” Duncan said. “I didn’t have the kids put their names on the card, but that told me right then and there that they get it. It’s not about wins and losses. It’s about trusting each other and being loyal to each other.”
      Frankton, a small school of 480 students just north of Anderson, had one of the best Class A teams in the state last year. Coach Duncan really thought that they could have fared well at the team state tournament, but they did not get an invite. This year, that has changed. Frankton will be one of the teams competing for the Class A title.
      “We are really excited about team state,” Duncan said. “This is where we wanted to get as a team. We thought we had a chance last year, but this year we’re going in hoping to prove we belong. We have more kids out than we’ve probably ever had. The kids are excited and they all really look forward to the tournament.”
      One of Frankton’s hammers is junior 170 pounder Cody Klettheimer. Last season Klettheimer was one of two Frankton grapplers to advance to the individual state tournament.
      “We are looking forward to team state,” Klettheimer said. “Our goal is to win it. But we also think we can win our sectional, regional and maybe even our semistate.”
      That isn’t out of the realm of possibilities for Frankton. The team has four returning wrestlers who advanced to at least the ticket round of semistate last year. Klettheimer and senior David Delph advanced to state. Senior Dru Berkebile lost in the ticket round at semistate as did junior Cole Baker.
      The Eagles have other wrestlers, like senior Grant Geisinger, that are hoping to do well in the tourney this year. Geisinger lost to Cathedral’s Elliott Rodgers on a last second takedown in the opening round of regional. Rodgers went on to place fourth in state.
      “Grant has really developed,” Duncan said. “He has had a taste of success now, and he’s ready to make a run.”
      Frankton has the luxury of depth this year, something the school hasn’t really ever had before. There were over 30 kids go out for the team.
      “I have options this year,” Duncan said. “We are able to move kids around. We are able to make strategic lineup decisions. We have backups at just about every spot in our lineup.”
      Another major team strength is the bond the wrestlers have.
      “We all love being around each other,” Klettheimer said. “We know what we want to get to, and we push each other to the limit in the room. Even drilling we are starting to go 100 percent on everything. And, when we’re not wrestling, we are all hanging out together. We’ve became very close.”
      Frankton has improved its strength of schedule over the last several years, hoping it will create better wresters.
      “Our kids believe,” Duncan said. “They believe in each other, and they believe in themselves. We have a tough schedule, but it doesn’t matter what size school you come from, you still put your wrestling shoes on the same way. We are realizing by facing these larger, stronger schools, we can compete with anyone.”
      Klettheimer said the team’s motto is “Take No Prisoners.” The Eagles are good, and they want to prove it. Team state can’t come fast enough for this tight knit group.
      “We’re ready to see what we can accomplish,” Duncan said. “I think we can do something pretty special.”

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

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


      #MondayMatness: Red Finishes Stellar Career

      It was one of the most highly-anticipated championship matches in the 78 years of the IHSAA State Finals.
      There was a buzz around the Indiana wrestling community for months.
      On Saturday, Feb. 20, before 12,602 leather-lunged fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis, New Palestine’s Chad Red and Evansville Mater Dei’s Nick Lee — ranked No. 1 and 2 in the nation and holding four previous state titles between them — stepped under the lights with the 132-pound title on the line.
      Here they were, what long-time State Finals public address announcer Kevin Whitehead called “two of the finest high school wrestlers on the planet.”
      The crowd and the television audience was treated to a tussle between the two Big Ten Conference-bound grapplers.
      Red had never lost a match as a high schooler and yet he found himself behind 4-0 early in the match. He cradled his way back into the lead and wound up with his hand being raised after a 6-5 victory.
      “I just feel like I wrestled through that match calmly and, other than giving up that four. I wrestled pretty good,” Red said. “(Lee’s quick 4-0 lead) definitely caught me off-guard. I noticed I had to move a lot more. Once I started moving a little more, I started changing the momentum of the match. Once I locked up that cradle, I started changing the momentum of the match and the crowd got a little more quiet. It was back to us wrestling. I had to control the lead.”
      The New Pal Dragon sprinted off at 183-0 with state titles at 106, 120, 126 and 132.
      Red is only the third Indiana high schooler to go unbeaten throughout his career and the ninth four-time IHSAA state champion, joining Crown Point’s Jason Tsirtsis (2009-12), Griffith’s Angel Escobedo (2002-05) and Alex Tsirtsis (2001-04), Mater Dei’s Blake Maurer (2001-04), Indianapolis Cathedral’s Lance Ellis (1986-89), South Bend Central’s Howard Fisher (1949-52), Muncie Central’s Willard Duffy (1930-33) and Bloomington’s Estil Ritter (1924-27).
      Lee, who was at the top of the podium at 132 in 2015 and third at 126 in 2014, finished his junior season at 16-1.
      He’s been on big stages and won championships all around the country, but Saturday in Indianapolis was special.
      “This is crazy,” Red said. “This is one of my favorites, if THE best.”
      Ellis, the first Indiana grappler to run the table, was there to present Red with his medal and later reflected on the moment.
      “That was good for our sport, good for Indiana wrestling,” Ellis said. “What Chad Red did is amazing. He’s put himself in the record book as probably the greatest high school wrestler in Indiana history.”
      What makes Red so good?
      “A lot of things,” Ellis said. “It’s the time he puts in on the mat, the dedication, athleticism, just the will to win. He’s just a phenomenal wrestler. The bond he has with his dad (Chad Red Sr.) is special. Once you start winning, it becomes contagious.”
      But what it boils down to for Ellis is that Red has what it takes to go into an early deficit, in front of a huge crowd with many rooting against him and still dig deep and come out on top.
      “It comes down to mental toughness,” Ellis said. “And you’ve got to give (Nick) Lee all the credit in the world. For him to go after Red and challenge himself says a lot about him. Most people would do that. No one would do that. He’s a competitor.”
      Ellis said as impressive as the showdown was now, it will be even more important years from now when Red and Lee can look back on even bigger titles at the national and international levels.
      What did Lee think about the experience?
      “You don’t get to wrestle the best kid in the country all the time,” Lee said. “You don’t take it for granted. You go out there and give it 100 percent. The hype is the hype. There’s always hype every year in every weight class. The opportunity to wrestler somebody with that many great credentials is just exciting for me.”
      The moves that built the 4-0 lead?
      “An inside tie to a Fireman’s (Carry) and I got him to his back, so two (points) for a takedown and two for a near fall,” Lee said. “You can’t panic when you get down and he didn’t panic and he took the lead. That’s something you can admire in wrestlers at this level. They’re always in the match no matter what the score is.”
      Red will take his talents to the college mat at Nebraska while Lee has committed to Penn State.
      Who knows, but these two could meet again many times in the future?
      As for the immediate future for Red, he does not plan to be back in the wrestling room on Monday.
      “I’m going to take a long time off,” Red said. “I’m about the chill-ax right now, kick my feet up and sit back.”
      But Red will be back in the spotlight again soon enough when he takes on the Pennsylvania 132-pound champion March 26 at the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic.

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