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#MondayMatness: Marion’s Lee sets sights high in final prep mat season
By STEVE KRAH
Strength, speed and strategy have helped Victor Lee achieve success inside the wrestling circle.
Creativity and drive have allowed him to excel away from it.
The Marion grappler is hoping for even more mat achievements in his last high school go-round and a future filled with wrestling and film.
A state qualifier at 195 pounds in 2017-18, Lee is currently ranked among the top competitors at 220.
“I’m a naturally strong guy,” says Lee. “Speed is something I rely on most. I usually try to attack below the knee.”
Giants head coach Lonnie Johnson likes the way the 5-foot-11 Lee moves on the mat.
“He’s really mobile for a bigger guy,” says Johnson. “I want him to be a go-go-go guy and wear guys down. He’s in pretty good shape. I want him to pick up the pace a little.”
Lee has been working hard on his stance since last season. If he has a signature maneuver it would be his high crotch.
It’s what Ohio State University’s Kollin Moore used against University of Missouri’s J’den Cox.
“It’s a move to be feared,” says Lee, who started his wrestling career in sixth grade, grappled in the 215 class as a middle schooler and was at 195 his first three seasons of high school.
Gabe Watkins (285) and Corey Horne (152) have served as practice partners for Lee, each giving him a different look.
Lee has studied the methods of Cox, who was a bronze medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“He has a very strategic way of practicing and coming from different angles,” says Lee of Cox. “He tries to keep his attack percentage really high. He’s not real aggressive like (Arizona State’s Zahid) Valencia.
“He’s very technical. I try to emulate that. I use hand fighting to tire the other guy out and keep his head down so all he’s looking at is the mat.”
Johnson is a 1995 Marion graduate. He wrestled at 189 his first three seasons and 215 as a senior. He has coached in the Giants system for two decades and is in his third season as head coach.
The coach has offered advice that has stuck with Lee.
“He says to always be confident in my shots, be persistent and always finish through them,” says Lee of Johnson. “Last year, he sometimes got himself in a bind with 30 seconds to go. I want him to get up on guys 10-3 or 10-4 and then stick them.
“He reminds me of Darryn Scott (who was a two-time state qualifier and placed sixth in the 2010 State Finals at 189) with his strength and his speed. (Scott) would go at you. (Lee) sits back and tries to pick you apart.”
Lee won his first sectional title and qualified for his third regional in 2018. After reigning at the Oak Hill Sectional and qualifying for his third regional. He placed second to Maconaquah’s Aaron Sedwick at the Peru Regional then third at the Fort Wayne Semistate, his first appearance there.
“I was always trying to prove myself, says Lee, who lost 6-3 to West Noble’s Draven Rasler in the semistate semifinals. Rasler then was pinned by New Haven’s Jaxson Savieo in the finals.
Lee was pinned by New Albany’s Jaden Sonner in the first round at the State Finals, but got a taste of that big stage in Indianapolis.
“I won’t be blinded by all those fans,” says Lee, who plans to be back at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in February 2019. “I’ll be going to State with better confidence in my abilities.”
Besides his wrestling prowess, Lee is also a solid student.
“I’ve never had a teacher complain about him,” says Johnson. “I don’t have to worry about the attitude.
“When it comes to that he’s maintenance-free.”
Lee plans to major in drama and film and cinematography at Indiana University and hopes wrestling will also be a part of his college experience.
It’s the behind-the-scenes side of the arts that Lee appreciates most.
“I don’t do acting,” says Lee, who intends to take theater and drama classes at IU next summer. “I mostly direct and writing scripts for plays. I hope one day I can make movies.”
Lee has made a few small films on his own and has started an Instagram account with a friend that he can see leading to film production company.
Why the interest in film.
“Me and mom watched movies a lot together and it just stuck with me,” says Lee, who is the oldest of four adopted by single mother Rosalind Lee. Victor is 18, Zella 17, Levi 16 and Diamond 15.
Foster children at first, the four youngsters were allowed to choose their new first and middle names at the time of the adoption.
During his freshmen year, Javion Mack became Victor Lee.
“We try to make it easier on her,” says Victor of what he and his siblings do for their mother. “We do our chores and we all try to stay
out of the house so it’s not so cluttered.”
Levi is a 220-pound sophomore who came out for wrestling for the first time last season.
“He’s getting pretty decent at it,” says Victor of Levi. “I spar with him sometime then give him another partner so he can speed up.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Greenwood's Nick Willham looking for a trip to Bankers Life
By JEREMY HINES
Greenwood senior Nick Willham has won two wrestling sectional titles, been one win away from advancing to the state meet and is currently ranked No. 9 at 182 pounds – but he’s got a way to go before he can become the alpha dog at the family Christmas party.
That’s because Willham has three older cousins that have combined to qualify for the state meet 11 times, placed nine times and have a total record of 542-40. Willham’s cousins are Indiana legends Doug, Chad and Luke Welch.
“My cousins really got me started on wrestling,” Willham said. “I remember watching Luke at the state finals, and that got me going. I’ve learned so much from them. I’ve worked out with them in the summer and they have taught me everything from getting better on my feet, to my top and bottom game.”
Willham started wrestling in sixth grade. He has always had an athletic build and has excelled in sports – but things weren’t easy early on for the Greenwood grappler.
“My freshman year wasn’t too hot,” Willham said. “I was like 16-27. It was very discouraging having that losing record. I got beat up every day and when that happens you start to think you don’t want to do it anymore. It sucked. Instead of giving up, it motivated me to get better.”
Willham devoted more time to his wrestling after his rough freshman season. He worked in the offseason, went to tournaments and started developing more technique. It paid off.
As a sophomore Willham finished with a 37-12 record. He earned his first sectional championship and eventually advanced to semistate before he was beaten by Evansville Mater Dei’s phenom, Joe Lee.
Willham continued to improve his junior year. He finished 35-4, won sectional again, and this time made it to the ticket round at semistate before losing a 4-3 heartbreaker to Columbus East’s Andy Davidson.
So far this season Willham is 5-0 and is currently wrestling at 195 pounds.
“Nick has increased two weight classes every year,” Greenwood coach Jay Yates said. “We’ve cut him down a little every year. This year we’re letting him go. We’re letting him eat and letting him be strong.”
Willham has set his sights on a state title this year.
“I want to win everything,” he said. “Last year I scouted opponents a little bit, but that took the focus off of myself. This year I’m focusing on what I need to do. I am not scouting, I just want to wrestle my match.”
Coach Yates said Willham is a goofy kid that likes to joke around and have fun with the team. He gives the entire team nicknames, including the coaching staff.
“He calls me the bald eagle,” Yates said. “Obviously, because I’m bald. We have another coach named Rockwell, and Nick calls him the boulder. He even gave himself a nickname – ham.”
But, when it comes time to wrestle, Willham takes things much more seriously. He’s hoping the renewed focus and the hard work will continue to push him toward his ultimate goal – to win a state title, and possibly, be able to push his cousins around a little bit.
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#MondayMatness: O’Neill returns to Wabash, helps Apaches thrive
By STEVE KRAH
The second time around has been extra sweet for Jake O’Neill and the Wabash High School wrestling program.
O’Neil spent six seasons as Apaches head coach then four as an assistant at his alma mater — Ben Davis in Indianapolis — and is now in his second six as head coach at Wabash.
With the help of several folks, O’Neill and the Apaches have enjoyed a resurgence since he was drawn back to the northern part of Indiana.
“I like where this little school’s going,” says O’Neill. “I’m excited about it.”
“I love this community.”
Wabash has a population of about 10,000 and around 400 attend the high school.
This season, the Apaches will participate in the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals for the first time. Wabash will be in Class 1A for the Jan. 5 meet in Fort Wayne.
The Apaches’ varsity schedule also includes the Wabash County Invitational, Western Invitational, Whitko Invitational and duals with Maconaquah, Rochester, Lewis Cass, Eastbrook, Peru and Western.
“When you have rivalries and communities meet up it only only helps the sport grow,” says O’Neill. “We had a nice gym going against Maconaquah. It was a fun atmosphere.”
There are 27 wrestlers on the Wabash team.
“We have a really big sophomore group,” says O’Neill. “Quantity helps. Quality is what we’re looking for.”
In the mix are freshman Jared Brooks and sophomore R.J. Steg at 106 and 113, sophomore Ethan Higgins at 120, junior Braden Brooks at 126, junior Jaxon Barnett at 132, sophomore Anthony Long at 138, freshman Brayden Sickafus at 152, junior Traydon Goodwin at 152, sophomore Grant Carandante at 160, sophomore Justin Heckman and sophomore Bryson
Zapata at 170, senior Blake Wiser at 182, senior Luke Voirol at 195, sophomore Grant Warmuth at 220 and senior Justin Samons and junior Blake Price at 285.
Higgins and Braden Books competed in the off-season at the Freestyle and Greco-Roman Nationals in Fargo, N.D.
“They got to see guys who will be on the (IHSAA State Finals) podium at the end of the year,” says O’Neill. “Training with them all summer was definitely good for them.”
Carandante is O’Neill’s stepson. His other two children are freshman wrestler Kiersten O’Neill and sophomore basketball player Keegan O’Neill.
Upon his return to Wabash, O’Neill established the Apache Wrestling Club. It now has about 30 grapplers in grades K-6.
There are also about 20 sixth, seventh and eighth graders in the junior high program.
A wall was knocked down in the weight room to double the size of the Wabash wrestling room.
“We’re changing the culture here with the sport,” says O’Neill, who notes that the Apaches scored four points and were down to six wrestlers the season before his return. “The community is starting to see the hard work these young men and women are putting in.
“We want to continue to get kids up on that podium at Bankers Life and get kids up on our little wall of fame at school. We’ve got to aim big. That’s how I want my wrestlers thinking.”
Ross Haughn and Jimmy Olinger are coaching the elementary wrestlers and are part of a high school coaching staff which also includes Tyler Niccum, Jeremy Haupert and Isaac Ray. Ray wrestled at Hamilton Heights High School and at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., about 15 miles from Wabash.
“I have a solid relationship with Coach (Kevin) Lake (at Manchester U.),” says O’Neill. “I use my resources wisely with that.”
Chad Ulmer, who wrestled at Triton High School and Manchester U., has departed Wabash for Hendricks County, where he will serve as a probation officer and likely help coach wrestling at one of the area schools.
At Ben Davis, where O’Neill had graduated in 1995, he joined with then-Giants head coach Aaron Moss to have plenty of mat coaching success.
“We produced some pretty good wrestlers together,” says O’Neill.
O’Neill was dating a Wabash girl — Aimee — and decided to look for a job that would bring him back north. He took an interview at nearby Manchester High School.
By then, principal Jason Callahan had become superintendent of Wabash City Schools.
“(Callahan) made it happen,” says O’Neill of the former Daleville High School wrestling coach. “A job created (at Wabash) within a couple of weeks."
“He believed in me a bunch.”
Jake and Aimee O’Neill have been married for five years.
In his first tenure in town, O’Neill formed some key relationships like those with Peru coach Andy Hobbs and Northfield coach Bill Campbell (now retired).
“They put their arms around me and helped me,” says O’Neill. “I’m proud to call them mentors and friends.”
He’s also grateful to Pat Culp for her role in running tournaments at all levels around Indiana.
“She’s a blessing for everybody,” says O’Neill, who is an Indiana State Wrestling Association director for Cadets. “She encouraged us to host tournaments. She played a big rule in helping us grow this program.”
O’Neill admits that during his first tenure he was looking to go elsewhere. This time, he’s in it for the long haul.
“My first year back at Wabash, I started approaching it looking at the big picture and setting long-term goals with the program,” says O’Neill.
About that time, O’Neill discovered a move-in from North Carolina in his eighth grade physical education class.
Noah Cressell qualified for the IHSAA State Finals twice and placed third at 182 pounds in 2018 — Wabash’s first state placer since heavyweight Tim LaMar won a state title in 1999.
“That kid did a lot with helping this program grow,” says O’Neill of Cressell. “It was not just his wrestling, but his personality. He was a humble kid and everybody loved him. He was the poster boy for our program.”
Cressell is now on the team at North Dakota State University.
And the Wabash Apaches are back on the state wrestling map.
#WrestlingWednesday: Warren Central focusing on team
By JEREMY HINES
Warren Central wrestling coach Jim Tonte was watching a documentary on the life of South African Nelson Mandela. That documentary sparked a philosophical mantra that Tonte would use to help push his team-first mentality.
“We really adopted the term ‘Ubuntu’,” Tonte said. “To Mandela, it meant ‘I am because we are.’ Mandela talked about everyone sacrificing for the good of the people. South Africa found success because they worked together. It wasn’t about me, it was about us.”
Although wrestling is largely considered an individual sport, Tonte embraces the team aspect first and foremost. His teams have won four state titles (three with Perry Meridian and one with Warren Central). Individually, he has coached eight state champions.
With over 70 wrestlers in the program Tonte feels it is vitally important to stress the team-first mentality.
“A lot of people don’t understand or believe my philosophy,” Tonte said. “I believe in building a team and building depth. A lot say the team state isn’t as important as individual. They say you can just make one really good team. But that doesn’t make Indiana wrestling any better.
“I remember one year we got second in state and we had Nick Walpole, who was a state champion. Nick said he would trade that individual ring any day of the week and twice on Sunday for a team title. We are a family from the little kids on. You build your elementary, your middle school and you all support each other.
“I’m good at reenacting what other greats do. Mater Dei really had this same philosophy and year after year they would produce great teams because of it.”
This year Tonte is hoping his team lives up to their potential.
“From top to bottom we are as solid as we were in 2016,” Tonte said. “We aren’t as flashy as the 2016 team, but we’re as solid.”
The Warriors return three state qualifiers from last season. David Pierson finished fourth at 106, Antwaun Graves was fifth at 145 and Jarred Rowlett qualified at 132.
Four other returners were semistate qualifiers last year – Jevian Ross, Aundre Beatty, Brice Coleman and Aaron Taylor.
Sophomore Carlton Perry will likely be the Warriors’ 106-pounder. Perry is currently ranked No. 12. Pierson is ranked No. 4 at 113 pounds.
Senior Chris Stewart will be at 120 for the Warriors with Ross, a sophomore, filling the 126 varsity spot.
Ross was an All-American at the Disney Duals over the summer, just three weeks after a stray bullet came through his house, into his bedroom and struck him in the head.
“That was a freak, freak thing,” Tonte said.
Beatty, a junior, will fill the 132 spot with Rowlett, a senior, moving up to 138. Coleman will wrestle 145 for the Warriors.
Graves, at 152, is perhaps Warren’s most decorated grappler. He was a preseason national champ last season. He beat eventual state champion Jordan Slivka in the semistate and beat Kasper McIntosh, who now wrestles for the University of Minnesota, in the placement round at state.
“When Antwaun is on a roll he can beat anyone,” Tonte said. “He’s legitmate. He’s one of those kids that learns during a match. He’s very coachable. His freshman year at team state duals he had a kid named Joe Lee (Mater Dei). Lee only decisioned him. At the time, Antwaun was our JV kid. Can you imagine Joe Lee decisioning a JV kid, and at the end of the match Joe got called for stalling. I told Antwaun then that he can be a state champion.”
Graves is ranked No. 4.
Taylor will be Warren’s 160 pounder.
“He’s one of the most athletic kids I’ve ever coached,” Tonte said.
At 170 junior Damon McClane will look to make his mark in his first year as a varsity wrestler.
“Damon has been very successful during the offseason at all three levels,” Tonte said. “We’re hoping he will really surprise people this year. He was a JV guy for us last year.”
Senior James Dycus will wrestle at 182 for the Warriors with senior Nathan Bishop getting the 195 spot.
Warren’s 220 pounder and heavyweight will likely be filled by members of the state championship football team. Senior Carlos Mitchell will wrestle at 220 and either Dennis Hubbard or Alex Hernandez will fill the spot at heavyweight.
With such a large number of wrestlers, Tonte says there could be others that break into the lineup at some point in the season.
“We have guys like Jajuan Anderson as a back up at 145-152. He just All-Americaned at Iowa in the preseason nationals as a sophomore.”
Tonte said part of his strength as a coach is to emphasize to everyone that they have an important role on the team. That helps when there is so much competition for position spots.
“That’s my niche,” Tonte said. “We have to find ways for kids to stick around. If there is one thing in this sport that I’ve been pretty good at, it’s probably that. I try my best to keep kids around the program. Even the worst kid in the world is important to the program. We are going to have wrestle offs this week and we’ll have state caliber kids battling to stay in the lineup. But, in the end, they know it’s all about the team and they’ll do whatever they need to do to help the team win.”
#MondayMatness: Jimtown’s Gimson twins gearing up for senior season
By STEVE KRAH
The identical Gimson twins — Conner and Matt — return for their senior wrestling season for Jimtown High School in 2018-19.
Both brothers are two-time IHSAA State Finals qualifiers. Both stepped onto the State Finals podium last season — Conner placed fifth at 138 pounds and Matt eighth at 132.
Both Jimmies are back and looking to do even better in their last prep mat go-round. They will likely be in those same weight divisions.
After going 46-4 in 2017-18, Conner Gimson’s three-year career record stands at 123-21. Matt Gimson went 46-5 last season and is now 127-20. “They have a ceiling that’s still really high,” says Jimtown head coach Jeremiah Maggart of the Gimsons, who are the youngest of Scott and Sherry Gimson’s four children (Drew and Kylie are the oldest). “They’re successful because they wrestle really hard and do things strong.”
Both brothers honed their skills and got different looks by competing in out-of-state tournaments last spring and summer. Among those were individual and national duals in Virginia Beach, Va., and the Super 32 in North Carolina.
“They showed me a different way to wrestle so I have to think differently,” says Conner Gimson.
His approach on the mat has changed since the beginning of his high school days.
“Earlier in my career, I was thinking strength could win it all,” says Conner Gimson. “But you need both technique and strength.
“You have to have the dedication in practice everyday. You push yourself more today than you did yesterday to be a better wrestler later on.”
Matt Gimson is also taking the lessons he learned in the summer and applying them in the Jimtown practice room. To improve, he has grappled with Maggart, Conner, Hunter Watts and others.
“I thank everyone that’s helped me through the process,” says Matt Gimson. “I’m better at getting takedowns (compared to my early prep career). In the neutral position is what I’ve been working on from my freshman year to now.”
Repetition is the key.
“When you do something so much, you get used to it will become muscle memory,” says Matt Gimson. “That’s what I think has gotten better for me.”
Conner has witnessed an improvement in Matt, his older brother by 27 minutes.
“He’s gotten smarter, faster and stronger, too,” says Conner Gimson of his brother. “He can do a quick re-shot compared to some other people.”
Maggart says he is trying to get Conner to realize his potential.
“He can win big matches,” says Maggart. “Last year, he lost at the Charger Invitational (at Elkhart Memorial) and two matches at the Al Smith (Classic at Mishawaka).”
After that, Conner told his coach that he wanted to step up his game.
His work ethic increased and so did his focus on technique.
“We drilled everyday from the Al Smith to State,” says Maggart of Conner Gimson. “He worked really hard in positions he wasn’t good at.
A kid coming up and saying I want to do this is pretty awesome.
“He beat a lot of good kids from the regional on (including Elkhart Memorial’s Bryton Goering in the Elkhart Sectional and Fort Wayne Semistate finals as well as Central Noble’s Austin Moore in the regional final and Yorktown’s Colt Rutter in the semistate “ticket round,” Western’s Hunter Nottingham in the semistate semifinals and Culver Military’s Adam Davis is the fifth-place match at State).”
Matt Gimson’s first loss as a junior came to Indianapolis Cathedral’s Alex Mosconi in the Al Smith Classic finals.
“That didn’t faze him,” says Maggart. “Sometimes you lose a match or two and you’re kind of shaky on where you’re at.
“(Conner and Matt) stayed the course and listened to our coaching staff about getting them where they want to be — state place winners.”
Maggart has seen the twins excel with what appears to be natural strength. It might also come from a 6-foot-4 father and grappling against bigger kids at a younger age.
“Wrestling stronger kids made me who I am today,” says Conner Gimson.
Their coach has noticed that muscle in both twins.
“They are so strong,” says Maggart. “They are no live-in-the-weight room kids. When they grab on to you, you say that kid’s really strong for 130 pounds.”
Does it help to have many moves in your arsenal?
“It helps if you know a lot of things, but if you stick to the basics that will be the best,” says Conner Gimson. “The basics we talk about are high crotches, single-legs and doubles.”
Maggart notes that the Gimsons have improved technically a lot the last year and a half, but there is a comfort zone with certain moves. “I’m confident that I can get the stuff done if I do it my way,” says Conner Gimson.
Conner Gimson was once known for his spadles and Matt Gimson his cradles, but both have worked to diversify their attacks.
“I have to have other moves if that one doesn’t work,” says Matt Gimson.
Some wrestlers can become known for certain things. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can be stopped.
“If you do something well enough and hard enough, it doesn’t matter if they know it’s coming,” says Maggart. “You can’t be a one-trick pony and have one move. But if you have a couple of things and you do them well enough that no one can stop you, you’ll be OK.
“Jordan Burroughs is one of the best wrestlers in the world. Everyone in the world knows he shoots a double and he still scores on doubles on everybody.”
Not only are the brothers physically tough, there’s mental toughness there, too.
“Probably the biggest part of the sport that is unnoticed is how tough are you when things are tough?,” says Maggart. “Everybody’s going to eventually get in that spot. (The Gimsons) are tough. They’ll do whatever you ask them to do. They show up. They put a lot of time in.
“They’re always mentally in it.”
Both brothers plan to wrestle in college, but have not yet made commitments.
The Jimmies open the season with the Jimtown Super Dual Dec. 1. Some of the other competition include the Charger Invitational at Elkhart Memorial Dec. 8, the Henry Wilk Classic at Penn Dec. 15, a dual at NorthWood Dec. 18, the Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 28-29, the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals in Fort Wayne Jan. 5, a dual against Northridge Jan. 8, Northern Indiana Conference Tournament Jan. 12 and a dual against Edwardsburg (Mich.) Jan. 15.
#WrestlingWednesday: Cathedral ascends to the top once again
By JEREMY HINES
It was the moment Cathedral’s Jordan Slivka had dreamed about his whole life. He was about to wrestle under the lights at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse with a weight-class and the team state championship on the line.
“Earlier in the day I had told my coaches that I knew it was going to come down to me,” Slivka said. “I just had that feeling. That’s not a dig on my teammates, but I just knew it was going to come down to me. That’s what I wanted. If there was anyone in the state that I would want in that position, I’d choose me.”
Slivka battled for six minutes with Yorktown’s undefeated senior Christian Hunt. In the end, Slivka emerged victorious in the narrowest of margins - a 1-0 victory. That win gave Slivka his first state title and also clinched the championship for Cathedral.
The Irish outscored the field with a total of 108 points. Brownsburg finished with 100.5 followed by Columbus East with 98.5.
“We knew the score and we knew Brownsburg had two big guns left,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “Slivka told me not to worry about it, he was going to take care of it. He said he’s going to get it done. He’s one of the most mentally tough kids I know, and at the end he pulled it out.”
The Irish sent 10 wrestlers to the state meet. On Friday night, seven of those 10 won their match to guarantee a top eight finish.
“I said at the beginning that our goal was to win a state championship,” McGinley said. “The only way we were going to win was by committee. We did. We brought 10 to the finals and then had a great Friday night. We had seven place winners. We battled and we won the close ones. We pulled a lot out in the last seconds and ended up on top.”
In the tournament Cathedral won seven matches by two points or less.
Perhaps the most pivotal match of the tournament came at 138 pounds when Cathedral’s Zach Melloh took on Brownsburg’s Blake Mulkey.
The match went to the ultimate tie breaker, after a controversial stalling call on Mulkey. Melloh eventually won the match 3-2.
“That was two teams going at it right there,” McGinley said. “The thing about Zach Melloh, he’s always going to give us six minutes no matter what. He pushes the pace. Sometimes you are going to get a call, and sometimes you don’t. We got the call in this one and took advantage of it and scored when we needed to.”
Cathedral had four wrestlers reach the final. Alex Mosconi (132 pounds), Mellow (138) and Elliott Rodgers (152) all earned runner-up finishes. Slivka was the Irish’s lone champ.
Cathedral also got a third-place finish out of 106-pounder Logan Bailey and a fourth by Lukasz Walendzak (120). Jacob Obst (285) finished seventh. Caleb Oliver (113), Andrew Wilson (126) and Anthony Mosconi (160) lost in their respective Friday night matches.
“All year we knew we had a group of kids that are really tough to beat,” McGinley said. “We knew we would have our hands full in the finals. The guys we were taking on were all very quality guys and great wrestlers. We were able to pull one out, but for us, it was all about committee. Everyone scored points for us when we needed them.”
Another key to Cathedral’s success, according to Slivka, was the team’s swagger.
“My motto is ‘Learn to love it’,” Slivka said. “You have to have fun in this sport or you’ll start to hate it. That was really the main key. We went out there and had fun all day. We were confident and we had swagger. I’m not sure coach cared for it too much, but it kept us relaxed and ready to get the job done.”
The title was Cathedral’s second in wrestling. The Irish also won the team title in 2014. Next season seven of the 10 state qualifiers will return. Only Melloh, Anthony Mosconi and Obst are seniors.
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#MondayMatness: Yorktown’s McCormick has one last memorable go-round at State Finals
By STEVE KRAH
When Trent McCormick became head wrestling coach at Yorktown High School, he was a teenager leading teenagers.
Over the decades, McCormick turned the Tigers into a mat powerhouse.
In his 30 seasons, Yorktown sent many wrestlers to the State Finals in Indianapolis. Fifty-nine times, they headed back to Delaware County as state placers.
Six times, they were state champions — Ross Janey (285 in 2010), Devon Jackson (138 in 2012), Rhett Hiestand (160 in 2014), Brad Laughlin (160 in 2017), Brayden Curtis (106 in 2017 and 113 in 2018). McCormick, 50, has announced his retirement and he steps away as the leader of the program with a memorable last go-round at the State Finals.
“We were a small team this year,” said McCormick Saturday, Feb. 17 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “There were a lot of studs on the team. We always like to say, ‘Steel sharpens steel.’ It’s been a long, grueling season and to have four state placers and six state qualifiers, I was very proud of them.”
McCormick, a state champion at 185 for Delta in 1986 and an Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer, took his boys back to the State Finals after winning the 22nd sectional, 13th regional and eighth semistate of his career.
At Indy, junior Brayden Curtis (40-0) bested New Castle junior Andrew Black 6-0 in the finals to become a two-time state champion on McCormick’s watch.
“He knows how to plan and he knows how to coach us mentally and physically,” said Curtis of McCormick. “He’s a huge part of my success as well as (assistant) coach (Kenny) O’Brien.” Senior Christian Hunt (48-1) concluded his Yorktown career as a state runner-up at 145.
“It was a great honor to go out and represent my school,” said Hunt.
“I definitely wanted to come out with a first, but second isn’t too bad.”
“As a senior, I wanted to send Coach McCormick out on a positive note,” said McCormick. “I did absolutely the best I could.”
Senior Alex Barr (48-3) placed sixth at 132.
Senior Zach Todd (42-8) came in seventh at 106.
State qualifiers were junior Eric Hiestand (42-4) at 152 and sophomore Holden Parsons (39-6) at 285.
The Tigers finished seventh in the team standings. During McCormick’s run, Yorktown has been state runner-up twice and won four team state duals championships.
A lay coach for 18 years who transitioned into teaching and has been in the classroom for the past 12, McCormick said he plans to spend more time with loved ones. He also plans to travel and that means going to West Point, N.Y., to see son Cael McCormick wrestle for Army. Cael was a three-time state medalist at Yorktown.
“I’m going to spend some more time with the family and not so much time in the gymnasium,” said McCormick.
#WrestlingWednesday: Hadley is first from Lapel to wrestle at state
By JEREMY HINES
In middle school Harrison Hadley weighed 60 pounds but had to wrestle in the 75 pound weight class because that was the smallest class available. Today, he’s the big man on campus at Lapel High School.
Hadley, a junior 106-pounder for the Bulldogs, became the school’s first wrestler to ever reach the state finals when he defeated South Dearborn’s Eli Otto 13-5 in the ticket round of the New Castle semistate.
“I definitely feel like I’m the big man on campus right now,” Hadley said. “The elementary school made this big banner for me and everyone signed it. People are going up to me in the halls and around town telling me congratulations and wishing me luck. The school recognized me for advancing. It’s pretty cool right now.”
Lapel has been a school since before the 1870s. At first Lapel was a one-room school house, but over time the location has changed and school buildings have come and gone. The school’s history is one of the oldest in the state. To be the very first athlete to accomplish going to state is something first-year coach Jake Stilwell doesn’t believe has fully sunk in for Hadley yet.
“This is huge for Lapel wrestling,” Stilwell said. “There have only been five semistate qualifiers in school history. For our program, this is absolutely huge. The younger kids see that state isn’t something impossible now. They see it can be done.
“It’s never occurred here before and most people didn’t think it could happen. Now they see Harrison has done it, and it gives them hope. I don’t even know if Harrison has grasped what has happened. It will take a little time for this to all settle in.”
After Hadley won the ticket-round match he immediately wanted to watch film on the match to see what he could have done differently. That’s what he does every match, win or lose.
“I like to see what type of positions I exposed myself to,” Hadley said. “I look at how I could have improved. I look for things that will take me to the next level. I always critique myself, even if I tech fall or pin a kid.”
Stilwell wanted Hadley to take a moment to take in the importance of what he had accomplished at semistate.
“He was very excited when he won,” Stilwell said. “But when he came off the mat he likes to dive right into what just happened and look for ways to improve. We had to stop him and remind him about what he just accomplished. He was excited, but wasn’t showing that emotion. He was still just trying to think of what he could have done differently.”
According to Harrison, the person most excited after the ticket round was his mom, Sonya.
“She was crying and everything,” Hadley said. “She was telling me how proud she was of me. I’ve never really seen her like that. It was a great moment.”
Hadley enters the state tournament with a record of 39 wins and only three losses. Two of those losses came last week at semistate. Hadley fell to Perry Meridian’s Alex Cottey in the semifinal round, then lost to Warren Central’s David Pierson in the consolation match.
Hadley, who likes to race 600cc mini sprint cars in his free time, has wrestled 106 pounds his entire high school career. As a freshman he came into the season weighing just 99 pounds. He’s put on about five pounds per year, but is easily able to get down to weight for the wrestling season.
Hadley is hoping his victory could help the team. He says it’s great to go to state, but it would be much sweeter going there with teammates also competing.
“I see some schools take nine or 10 guys to state,” Hadley said. “I think that would be awesome. Just seeing Cathedral’s team and how well they did at semistate and the bond those guys have, it’s fun to watch.
“Our program has struggled. We have never been that strong. But, if we can start advancing more kids it will really help build things up.”
Last year Lapel had just eight wrestlers. This year there are 17 on the Bulldog roster.
“Lapel is a school that has some good athletes,” Stilwell said. “The challenge is to get those kids to go out for wrestling. I really think Harrison’s success is going to help with that.”
Hadley will take on Brownsburg freshman Kysen Montgomery (38-7) in the Friday night match.
“For me, wrestling is an escape from everything,” Hadley said. “It’s something that helps me focus on my goals. It helps me in life situations and helps build my character. Right now my major goal is to be able to wrestle in college.”
#MondayMatness: Jay County’s Hare, Winner stepping back on Indiana high school wrestling’s big stage
By STEVE KRAH
“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).
#WrestlingWednesday: Eiteljorge is kinda cool
By JEREMY HINES
There’s cool, and then there’s Jack Eiteljorge cool.
The Carmel senior wrestler may even be too cool.
“Jack’s the guy I want to do my heart surgery because he’s as cool as a cucumber,” Greyhound coach Ed Pendoski said. “He doesn’t get rattled by anything. But, that’s one of the things we are trying to work on this year. I want him having emotion. We’ve talked to him about how sometimes you have to have emotion, whether it be positive or negative.”
Just how cool is Eiteljorge?
“He’s so cool that you could sit him down and tell him that someone just walked into his house and killed his dog, Bacon. His reply would be, ‘Oh, OK.’,” Pendoski said. “You could tell him that Taylor Swift is in the hot tub and wants to make out with him, and he’d say ‘Oh, OK’.”
Eiteljorge is currently ranked No. 2 in the state at 160 pounds. He is a three times sectional and regional champion, but he has never punched his ticket to state. Pendoski thinks opening up and getting a little emotional may be the edge that Eiteljorge needs to finally get to state - and possibly win.
“Going into this year, after the Super 32, we had just had two pretty bad losses,” Pendoski said. “We really started dialing in on our mental part. He’s done a good job reacting to that. The phrase we use a lot is that mental toughness is the ability to manage the thoughts in your head. We went back to that simple platform. We talked to him about getting excited. We said let’s get angry. Let’s be happy. Show something.”
The plan has worked. Eiteljorge is 33-2. He has pinned or tech falled all of his opponents in the state tournament except for one, and that match he won 18-8.
“I’ve been trying to show emotion,” Eiteljorge said. “Coach wants me to, and he has a lot of muscle so I listen to him. He feels that sometimes I’m like a robot on the mat. He wants me to just start having fun.
I’ve really been working on that part. It’s a big change from past years. Making myself be less methodical is the key. I have to go out there and make the matches fun.”
Eiteljorge isn’t one of the kids that found immediate success in the sport of wrestling. When he was young and just started going to CIA, Pendoski’s wrestling academy, he was the guy getting beat up on.
“Jack was in a group with some very, very good wrestlers,” Pendoski said. “He was the beginner. The partners he was with had been around for years and were winning championships. I think Jack went two or three months before he even scored a point. But, he was the guy that would stick around after practice and do pull-ups or pushups.”
Eventually he won his first club level state tournament. Pendoski says that was a turning point for him.
“That’s the day I knew this little ankle-biter would be OK one day,” Pendoski said. “It was nice to see a guy that started from the beginning, worked his tail off and then started to see the results.”
Eiteljorge lost in the first round of semistate his freshman year. As a sophomore and a junior he lost in the ticket round.
“This year my goal is to win state,” Eiteljorge said. “My goal is not just to get to state. But, I still know there will be a pressure on me to get past the ticket round. If I win that match, I’ll certainly feel a weight has been lifted.”
Eiteljorge isn’t one to talk about personal successes, he’s too cool to brag. But, he’s more than willing to gush about his teammates.
“I have really good teammates,” he said. “They are awesome. I love hanging out with them. Carmel’s team chemistry is what helps us be a top program. We are always improving. We have a casual, playful environment. We have fun. But when it’s time to get serious we focus and get the job done.”
Next season Eiteljorge will wrestle for the University of Indianapolis.
“The University of Indianapolis is going to be real happy with the product they are getting with Jack,” Pendoski said.
#MondayMatness: Goshen’s Flores puts it work to make one last state tournament run
By STEVE KRAH
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.
#WrestlingWednesday: Hunt ready for one last title run
BY JEREMY HINES
If it were all about heart, Bloomington South’s Noah Hunt would likely be a multiple time state champion. But, in life and on the wrestling mat, sometimes heart isn’t enough.
Hunt grew up around wrestling. He was naturally gifted in the sport and he spent many nights fine tuning his craft. But, in sixth grade, he decided he had enough. The love just wasn’t there like it used to be.
“I was burned out,” Hunt said. “I quit.”
Soon Hunt realized that quitting wasn’t part of his character. Being away from the sport showed him how much he actually loved it. Midway through the seventh grade season he returned to wrestling.
“I came back with a new mentality,” Hunt said. “I was ready to go. I was ready to get better than ever.”
Hunt pushed his body to the limits for the sport. His sophomore year that hard work started to pay dividends. He won sectional and regional and advanced to the Evansville semistate at 120 pounds. That’s when Hunt’s journey of pain, frustration and a quest for redemption began.
In the first round of the semistate Hunt hurt his knee. He was nine seconds into his match with Eastern’s Robbie Stein. Hunt shot in and grabbed Stein’s leg. As he was lifting it in the air to secure the single, he stepped wrong and twisted his knee. He knew he was in pain, but he continued to compete.
Hunt ended up winning that match in dominating fashion, 9-1. His knee did not feel right, and he knew it - but he had put too much work in to give up. If he was going to get to state, he had to wrestle through the pain and win the next match.
Hunt punched his ticket to state the next round, beating Center Grove’s Zak Siddiqui 12-1.
Hunt ended up finishing fourth at the semistate, winning two matches with a severely injured knee. He couldn’t wait to wrestle at state the next week. It was a dream come true for him - at least that’s what he thought.
The knee injury ended up being worse than Hunt expected. Doctors did an MRI and determined he had completely torn his ACL in his left knee. As much as he begged and pleaded to be able to wrestle at state, the doctors would not release him.
“It was a terrible feeling,” Hunt said. “I knew I could wrestle on it, and win. But I wasn’t allowed to.”
For Hunt, the road to recovery was a long, painful one. It took six months for him to be fully back to wrestling condition. He missed the entire summer of workouts. He knew while his competition was working on improving - he was working on getting back to the level he was previously.
Still, Hunt had a goal to return better than ever - and he did just that.
As a junior Hunt had more regular season losses than he did his sophomore year - but by tournament time he was clicking on all cylinders. He won the sectional and regional at 126 pounds. Then, at semistate, he defeated North Posey’s Cameron Fisher, Center Grove’s Peyton Pruett and Evansville Mater Dei’s Matt Lee in succession. He lost the semistate championship to Graham Rooks, 8-3.
Hunt won his Friday night match at state, guaranteeing him a placement in the top 8. He beat Ft. Wayne Carroll’s Joel Byman in that Friday night round, but then lost back-to-back matches to Michael DeLaPena and Jordan Slivka.
The only thing left for Hunt to wrestle for was seventh or eighth place. There was only one problem - he had hurt his right knee in the previous match. He recognized the feeling, it was almost the same as he had the year before.
He decided to wrestle anyway, knowing the pain he was in. This time around, Matt Lee won the match 6-3 - giving Hunt 8th place in the state.
A few days later he got the news that he had feared - he had torn his ACL. Six more months of recovery. Six more months of watching everyone else get better. Six more months off the mat.
“I just had to focus on what my ultimate goal was,” Hunt said. “I couldn’t feel sorry for myself. I knew I had to work in order to make the most of my senior year.”
Hunt’s mom, Melissa, didn’t want him wrestling again. She thought it wasn’t worth it.
“She was worried about me hurting myself again,” Hunt said. “I told her I’m sorry, but I have to do it. She wasn’t super thrilled, but she knew this was something I just had to do.”
This season Hunt is ranked No. 18 at 138 pounds. He is 32-3 and coming off a dominating sectional performance where he won the championship by eight points.
“A state title is pretty much his goal,” Bloomington South coach Mike Runyon said. “We set that goal early on in his career and despite everything he’s went through, that’s still his goal.”
Hunt has spent a full year of his high school life recovering from knee injuries. He said the hardest part of returning to the sport was getting his mat awareness back. Once he did that, he feels he’s ready to get the job done.
“I never had the thought that this isn’t worth it,” Hunt said. “All I see is wrestling, wrestling, wrestling. I’ve been pushing it as hard as I can. I’ve lost a few. But, if that’s what it takes to make my goals happen, then so be it. I’m there mentally and physically now. If I beat the kids ranked higher than me, some might think it’s an upset - but I won’t. I think I can wrestle with anyone and win.”
Bloomington South is a school rich in wrestling tradition. Pictures of past state champions line the wrestling room - a constant reminder of those that have claimed the state’s ultimate prize. Hunt says he looks at those pictures every day, and every day dreams his will be there as well. If so, perhaps no other wrestler in school history has had to overcome as much as he has to get that prize.
#MondayMatness: Diaz brothers showing mat moves, smarts for Wheeler Bearcats
By STEVE KRAH
The Diaz family was on the ground floor in building the wrestling program at Wheeler High School.
Now, two Diaz siblings are reaching for the heights during the 2017-18 IHSAA state tournament series.
At the Jan. 27 Crown Point Sectional, senior Jose Diaz Jr. placed second at 113 pounds and sophomore Giovanni Diaz finished first at 106. They both move on to the Feb. 3 Crown Point Regional.
“He’s very intelligent,” says third-year Wheeler head coach Robin Haddox of Jose Jr. “He knows the sport very well. He’s extremely fast. He’s strong. He’s got the whole package.”
A 106-pound Jose Jr. became Wheeler’s first State Finals qualifier in 2016. He placed eighth at 113 in 2017. Giovanni was an East Chicago Semistate qualifier at 106 in 2017.
Jose Jr. explains why he enjoys wrestling.
“It’s you and another person,” says Jose Jr. “You go out and show who you really are. It’s what you decide to put on the mat.
“Winning feels great. Every time I get my hand raised, it feels great and motivates me to keep going.”
Giovanni likes to be pushed to his limit — something that he gets with wrestling.
“I like everything about it,” says Giovanni. “Most days, we try to push ourselves even when it’s supposed to be a light day.
“You’ve got to have a certain mindset. If you want to achieve your goals, you’re going to have some toughness and think you’re going to break.”
While they sometimes drill with other wrestlers in practice, Jose Jr. and Giovanni often trade moves.
“It’s always close when we wrestle,” says Jose Jr. “It’s always fun.”
Says Giovanni, “sometimes it get a little rough, but we keep it under control.”
The Wheeler Bearcats officially hit the mats six years ago. Jose Jr. was a seventh grader. Giovanni was a fifth grader. Father Jose Sr. introduced the boys to the sport soon after they were born.
Jose Sr. wrestled at Taft High School in Chicago, placing fourth in the city championships — just one win from the Illinois State Finals — as a senior in 1999.
“I loved it,” says Jose Sr. of the sport. “Wrestling helped me stay out of trouble. That’s what it does for a lot of Chicago Public Schools kids.”
The elder Diaz and wife Patty moved their family to unincorporated Valparaiso near uncle Luis Del Valle.
“It was one of the best decisions we made,” says Jose Sr. “It’s a better than the life I lived.
“There have been a lot of opportunities for all of my kids (Jose Jr., Giovanni, third grader Aidan and second grader Emma).”
Jose Sr. knew he wanted his boys to wrestle and they began training at home, but he waited for them to commit to competition. When Jose Jr. was in third grade and Giovanni first grade, they joined the Boone Grove Wrestling Club as athletes and their father as a coach.
Then came the Wheeler Wrestling Club and the high school squad. Steadily the numbers have grown. This winter, the Bearcats filled nearly every weight class in most duals. The club has swelled to more than 40 wrestlers and the middle school team competed for its second season.
“Wheeler is not a dominant program yet, but we have guys who go down-state,” says Jose Sr., a construction contractor.
Jose Jr. likes the idea of leaving a legacy.
“I want to be remembered at this school as a good wrestler,” says Jose Jr. “When I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a role model. I was always shy. (Success in wrestling) helps me understand that I can be. It helped me with my confidence.”
Jose Jr. stays after high school practice each day to help younger club grapplers and is proud of what Bearcats wrestling has become.
“I love coaching the little kids and giving back to the community,” says Jose Jr. “With our numbers. our program has started getting 10 times better. Being part of this program means a lot to me.”
The Diaz boys will also leave their mark at Wheeler for his academic achievements.
Jose Jr. carries a 4.089 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and is on his way to making the Wheeler Academic Hall of Fame. Giovanni has a 4.105 GPA.
“Wheeler is great for academics,” says Jose Jr. “Teachers are always there for you.”
With about 500 students, the teacher-to-student ratio allows for one-on-one attention.
Jose Jr., a National Honor Society member, has been accepted at educationally-prestigious Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., where he will compete in NCAA Division I wrestling. He plans to study health science with the aim of becoming a physical therapist.
“It’s a perfect fit for Jose,” says Jose Sr., of Franklin & Marshall, where Mike Rogers in head wrestling coach. “It’s a small private school. The student-to-staff ratio is 9-to-1. The school has history. It’s like an Ivy League school. A degree from there opens up a lot of doors. You go to Franklin & Marshall for academics, not for wrestling.
“I get a good feeling, handing over my son. Jose has been coached by me. I’ve been his dad and his coach. It’s a big step. I wanted to make sure Jose goes into a program that fits him.”
Jose Jr. knows it will be transition.
“I’m nervous to not have (my father) in my corner,” says Jose Jr. “He’s been there since Day 1. He sees what I don’t see. He tells it straight on.
“I’m not always happy about it, but it helps me tremendously.”
The student half of student-athlete is important throughout the Wheeler wrestling program.
“This is the highest grade-point average team I’ve ever been involved with,” says Haddox, an industrial construction manager. “The majority of our kids are 3.0 or better. We have not had to worry about grades at all with any of our wrestlers.”
Haddox wrestled at Chesterton High School, where he graduated in 1981, and the University of Tennessee. After a time in Texas, he moved back to northwest Indiana and began helping with the Portage High School wrestling program before Wheeler came calling.
Besides Haddox and Jose Diaz Sr., the Bearcats are coached by Alex Bravo (former Valparaiso High School wrestler) and Yusef Mohmed (who has a background in mixed martial arts).
#WrestlingWednesday: Guerrier looking to go out on top
By JEREMY HINES
Kiave Guerrier isn’t your typical elite-level wrestler. He never went to camps growing up, or clinics. He didn’t wrestle in elementary school or middle school. He hates practicing. Yet going into sectionals he’s undefeated and ranked No. 5 in the state at 182 pounds.
“He’s basically self-made,” Guerrier’s Evansville Central coach Mike Lapadat said. “He’s really just a part-time wrestler.”
Guerrier’s wrestling story began four years ago when he was sitting in the school’s cafeteria eating lunch. Guerrier asked coach Lapadat how the wrestling team was going to be that season, and about an upcoming meet.
“I was telling him that we were going to have to forfeit at 195 pounds,” Lapadat said. “He asked me why we would forfeit, and I explained to him that we didn’t have anyone at that weight. He told me he could wrestle it. I told him that would be great, but he was going to have to start putting on weight.”
At the time, Guerrier weighed 170 pounds.
Guerrier’s very first match that freshman year came in a dual against one of the top programs in Kentucky -- Union County High School.
The match went several overtimes. Guerrier didn’t even know the rules of overtime. He ended up winning the match in sudden death.
“After that match I looked at our assistant coach and said that if Kiave doesn’t go to state in his career, we should be fired. I knew right then that this kid was special.”
Guerrier’s first love is football. He has verbally committed to the University of Indianapolis. He went out for wrestling just thinking it would help him with football. But, after that first match - he fell in love with the sport.
“That match got me hooked,” Guerrier said. “It was a lot of fun and that feeling just really stuck with me. I really liked the sport and wanted to continue with it. I started out not knowing much about it - but I’ve tried to learn quickly.”
For Guerrier, one of the hardest parts of wrestling is just making himself get up and go to practice each day.
“It was always a big struggle, especially early on,” Guerrier said. “The hardest part was getting to practice. But, once I made myself get there, it became easy.”
Despite his premium athletic ability, Guerrier didn’t see himself as a good wrestler early in his career.
“I thought I’d be average and it could help me with football,” he said. “Then I started to push myself in practice. I’d do extra work on weekends and sometimes even after meets. Still, I would have never guessed that going into sectionals I would be a No. 1 seed and undefeated.”
Now Guerrier’s goals are more lofty. He wants a state championship and feels he is completely capable of getting it.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “If I keep working, I know I can win.”
Last season Guerrier lost in the ticket round of the Evansville semistate to No. 1 ranked Nathan Walton. The score was 1-0.
“Kiave has a very high wrestling IQ,” Lapadat said. “He can watch a move on video and then bring it to the mat. He picks up things very quickly. He studies teh sport. He knows everyone he is going to wrestle and he watches matches on them to study them.”
Before wrestling, Guerrier had never competed in an individual sport.
“Wrestling was the first sport that if I messed up, it was only because of me,” he said. “It’s one-on-one and there are no excuses. On the mat I know what I need to do, and how I want to do it.”
Outside of wrestling Guerrier enjoys nature and working in the communities challenger baseball and track programs.
“I have a lot of fun working with the kids in the challenger sports,” he said. “Some people aren’t as blessed as others, and I really love helping them out and making them laugh and watching them have fun. It’s very rewarding.”
Guerrier wants to study engineering in college. He does not plan on wrestling past high school.
“Knowing my career is almost over is sad,” Guerrier said. “I fell in love with the sport. Wrestling is tough to like, but once you fall in love with it, you’re hooked for life.”
#MondayMatness: It’s a family wrestling affair at Northridge for Grabers, Evelers and Hooleys
By STEVE KRAH
Cousins Conner Graber and Owen Eveler were born into a wrestling family.
Every time the Northridge High School seniors step on the mat, they have a small army of relatives clad in green and gold enthusiastically cheering them on.
“It’s a huge factor,” says Owen of the family appreciation for the sport. “It’s been bred in us since we were young.
“You can definitely pick out the Northridge crowd.”
Such is also the case for sophomore Oliver Eveler, junior Adam Hooley and freshman Logan Hooley. They also part of the second generation in a clan that loves its wrestling.
“They are the loudest fans,” says Northridge head coach Eric Highley. “But they’re not malicious or inappropriate. They’re always encouraging. They’re a great family.”
In the Raider rooting section, there’s first-generation mat mavens Scott Graber (NHS Class of 1982) and his brothers Jeff (NHS Class of 1984) and Ted (Class of 1986) and sister Tonya (Graber) Eveler (NHS Class of 1988).
Tonya is married to Mark Eveler (Goshen Class of ’85) and they are parents to Owen, Oliver and seventh-grade grappler Sydney.
Scott, Jeff and Ted were all semistate qualifiers as Raiders. Pull out the 1982 Shield yearbook, turn to page 56 and there’s a photo of Scott Graber pinning an opponent.
Jared Graber (NHS Class of 2007) and Drew Graber (NHS of 2009) are Scott’s sons. Drew was a three-time State Finals qualifier and finished second twice (171 in 2008 and 182 in 2009) while winning 117 career matches. He is now Northridge assistant coach.
Ted and Rolonda (Hooley) Graber (NHS Class of 1989) are parents to Conner. Rolonda’s brothers Brad Hooley (NHS Class of 1982) and Allen Hooley (NHS Class of 1985) were also wrestlers.
Adam Hooley is the son of Brad and Logan the offspring of Allen.
“It helps me to compete, trying to be one of the best in my family,” says Adam Hooley, who remembers watching cousin Drew Graber’s drive on video. “We talk about future matches and previous matches (at family gatherings) and how we can get better.”
Logan Hooley has soaked up a lot of knowledge from his cousins.
“I’ve learned a lot by watching them,” says Logan, who began wrestling as a seventh grader. “It helped me understand it more.”
Oliver Eveler has also felt the love.
“It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, at the end of the day you always have your family behind you,” says Oliver.
At those family outings, there’s plenty of friendly smack talk, especially among the second generation.
And at some point, it becomes more than talk.
“There always seems to be a wrestling match until something gets broken and then we’ve got to shut it down,” says Ted Graber, who has a wrestling mat in his basement as does Mark Eveler.
Heading into the Elkhart Sectional, 182-pounder Conner Graber is 34-1 on the 2017-18 season and 132-21 for his career. Only Steve Zimmerman (NHS Class of 1995) with 138 and Ross Powell (NHS Class of 1997) with 133 rank ahead of him on Northridge’s all-time wrestling victory list.
Conner won a single-season school record 44 matches and placed seventh at the IHSAA State Finals at 182 in 2016-17.
Conner Graber’s secret sauce?
“It’s just a good work ethic,” says Conner, the 2018 Northern Lakes Conference champion at 182. “Weightlifting is a big part of it and working all my moves in practice and building up my endurance.”
In matches, Conner heeds his coach’s advice to have a plan, be fast and work the angles. He grappled at 160 as a freshman, moved to 182 as a sophomore and has been in that class ever since, though he has bumped up to 195 a few times this season to see better competition.
Drew Graber came back to the program knowing he would get a chance to help his cousins and that includes Conner Graber.
“Every year he’s had more drive to open and wants to learn more and get better,” says Drew of Conner. “With success came some confidence and some open-mindedness with some moves. This year, he’s a completely different wrestler than last year. He’s scoring more points.
“Seniors are often very set in their ways. But Conner has been very flexible with technique and trying stuff.
“As a coaching staff, we model that continued growth with all of our wrestlers.”
Two of his notable victories were 4-2 decisions against New Haven senior Jonyvan Johnson and Indiana Creek senior Grant Goforth. His lone loss is a 5-4 decision against Wabash senior Noah Cressell.
Owen Eveler (145) goes into the sectional at 33-4 this season and 116-29 in his career.
“I’ve improved my mat skills this season — top and bottom,” says Owen, who placed third in the NLC at 145. “My neutral’s always been there.”
Ted Graber credits Mark Eveler for getting the Raider Wrestling Club going about a decade ago.
“He’s been very instrumental,” says Ted of Mark. “He has touch a lot of lives.”
Conner Graber has seen the fruits of the Raider Wrestling Club’s labor.
“That helped a ton,” says Conner. “We expanded on everything we had already talked about and done in a limited capacity at Fairfield.”
When Conner Graber and Owen Eveler were kindergartners and before Northridge had its own club, they went to Fairfield High School to participate in the Talon Wrestling Club run by Dan Glogouski and Jesse Espinoza.
Ron Kratzer was head coach for the Raiders from 1975-88 and coached Scott, Jeff and Ted Graber. Kratzer was followed by Tom Fudge, Mark Hofer, Mike Wickersham, Scott Giddens, Joe Solis and Shawn Puckett.
Since 2013, Highley has headed the program. His current assistants beside Drew Graber are Puckett, Jeff Howe and Mike Price.
“Northridge is blessed in many ways with their coaching,” says Ted Graber. “The parents are very appreciative.”
Highley is grateful for the support shown not only by the Grabers, Evelers and Hooleys, but all the dads and moms.
“We’ve got all these parents that have been involved with it for a long time. They understand what’s going on. They understand the sacrifices their sons have to make.”
There is a big banner in the Northridge practice room that reads: You Get What You Earn.
“If they are willing to go in and put in all that sacrifice, all that time and all that hard work, then they are earning their chance to achieve what they want to achieve,” says Highley. “They are going to see the results.
“If you want to be lazy, that’s fine. But you’re probably not going to go as far as you want to go.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Sibling rivalry leads to Wilkerson's success
By JEREMY HINES
There are times when things get so heated in the wrestling room at Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville that brothers Chase and Chris Wilkerson have to be seperated. Like most brothers, they hate to lose to each other. When they practice together, things can start to get a little testy.
Those moments certainly aren’t the norm. Chase, a junior and Chris, a sophomore are each other’s biggest fans. They practice together, condition together and talk strategy together. When one brother is struggling, the other is there to pick him up.
“They really have a neat dynamic,” Marauder coach Chad Masters said. “Every big match, they are both on the sidelines coaching each other. They are both the first one there to congratulate each other. They console each other after tough losses. They are two of the best kids I’ve ever met. They are the type of people you want in the room and you know they’ll be successful in whatever they do.”
This year Chase is ranked No. 11 in the state at 120 pounds and is ranked fourth in the New Castle semistate. Chris is not state ranked, but is No. 6 in the New Castle semistate at 132 pounds.
Before his last middle school season started, Chris weighed 170 pounds. He had always wrestled the bigger guys due to his size. But, when he started really focusing on improving, he started to get in better shape as well. He wrestled at 145 pounds by the end of his eighth grade season. Then, in high school, he got down to 132 pounds and he maintained that weight all summer long. This is his second season at that weight class.
Last season ended in trying fashion for Chris. He was the No. 2 seed in the Warren Central sectional. He won his first two matches then ran into senior Tim Wright. During that match Wright’s head slammed into Chris’s face. The force from the blow knocked a tooth out of Chris’s mouth, and caused other damage. He had to injury default out of the tournament and go to the hospital immediately. That injury ended his freshman campaign.
“That was the worst feeling in my life,” Chris said. “Just hearing that I couldn’t continue. It was the first time I had cried in years. It was awful knowing that all the hard work I had put in, and nobody was going to see that pay off.”
That’s when Chase stepped in.
“Chase helped me to cope with knowing I was out,” Chris said. “He was telling me to bounce back harder. He told me to work harder. And, he did the same. Seeing him work as hard as he did started pushing me to get better as well.”
Chase lost to New Castle’s Trevor Ragle in the first round of semistate 4-1. Ragle went on to advance to the state tournament. Before the Ragle match, Chase had fallen short against other ranked guys as well.
“This year started out the same way,” Masters said. “He wrestled Zane Standridge and lost in the last 20 seconds. He knew he could wrestle the ranked guys, but he wasn’t sure he was able to beat them. It seemed like every time something would go wrong and he’d lost the match at the end.”
The turning point for Chase came 14 days after the Standridge match. Chase was wrestling a familiar foe, Greenfield’s Gavin Rose. The two were once practice partners at Mt. Vernon, but Rose left for the neighboring Greenfield school. He had defeated Wilkerson in the past, but this time was different.
Chase scored four points on two reversals to beat Rose 4-2. That match showed Chase he could win the big match.
“That was a big turning point with Chase,” Masters said. “It showed Chase that he could not only wrestle with these guys, he could beat them. It showed he could beat anyone.”
The two wrestled again Saturday in the championship of the Hoosier Heritage Conference tournament. The match went to triple overtime before Rose pulled off the 2-0 victory.
Chris also had a big match in the HHC tournament. He was taking on Yorktown’s Alex Barr, the No. 1 seed in the 132 pound weight class. With 10 seconds left in the match Barr had a 1-0 lead and was on top of Chris. That’s when Chris made his move, he scored an escape point and Barr fell toward the out of bounds line. When Chris saw Barr down, he dove at his legs and was awarded the takedown to go up 3-2 with three seconds left. On the restart he let Barr up to secure the 3-2 win.
“I couldn’t contain my emotions,” Chris said. “I had to let it out. That was such a crazy match and I was just so excited to win it.”
The brothers have very different styles on the mat. Chase likes to go for the takedowns and be aggressive offensively. Chris is a patient wrestler who minimizes his mistakes.
Both brothers have a goal to reach the state tournament.
“I definitely think I should go to state this year,” Chase said. “It’s going to be rough for sure, but I feel like I can make it.”
One of the keys to getting to state might just be having a sibling to push you. It’s working for the Wilkerson brothers right now.
“Having a brother is definitely an advantage,” Chase said. “You grow up beating the crap out of each other. But, whenever you need someone to work with - we are there for each other and we want each other to succeed. When he does well, I feel as good as if I had done well myself.”
#Mondaymatness: Portage seniors Rumph, McIntosh hoping to end prep careers in a big way
By STEVE KRAH
Kris Rumph and Kasper McIntosh have become familiar faces on the IHSAA State Finals wrestling scene.
The two Portage High School grapplers have been on the mats at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis a combined five times and both competed under the lights in — Rumph placing second at 138 pounds in 2017 and McIntosh second at 145 in 2016.
Seniors Rumph and McIntosh are back at those same weights and preparing for what they hope will be plenty more success in their final high school state tournament series.
Portage scored a meet-record 275 points and won the Duneland Athletic Conference tournament in its own gym Saturday, Jan. 13 with McIntosh taking the third DAC crown of his prep career and Rumph his second.
Now, they are focused on getting ready for the Jan. 27 Griffith Sectional. The Hobart Regional is Feb. 3, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 10 and State Finals Feb. 16-17.
Portage wrestlers are trained by seventh-year head coach Leroy Vega and his staff. Vega won individual state titles for the Indians in 1996 and 1997 and went on to be a three-time NCAA All-American at the University of Minnesota.
Vega sees special qualities in both Rumph and McIntosh.
“Kris is very athletic,” says Vega. “He can do things that not many guys in our guys can do.
“His speed is unbelievable. You slow down the film to see ‘how did he do that?’”
Rumph’s combination of speed and strength make it difficult for opponents to prepare for him.
“You can’t train for his speed and his athleticism,” says Vega. “You don’t know what he’s capable of doing.
“You can’t replicate that in the wrestling room. Nobody wrestles like him.”
Vega asked McIntosh to open up his offense and he has done just that with point-producing results.
“We had to make him realize that you are not going to win state title or be very successful with one move (which was the high crotch),” says Vega. “Kasper is just a hard worker. He’s going to take whatever it is to reach his goal. Whether it’s watching film or eating right, he is always striving to be the best.”
McIntosh, who also finished fifth at the State Finals at 145 in 2017 and eighth at 138 in 2015, says it has been a process to diversify his attack.
“It took a lot of time,” says McIntosh. “It’s been two steps forward and one step back.
“I’ve slowly progressed. I’m getting pretty good. At first, it was just a high crotch. Now, I’m getting real good motion and wearing on a guy.
“Putting that all together is working really well.”
McIntosh, who first competed in a Calumet Township elementary tournament as a kindergartener, has placed in High School Nationals, Iowa Nationals, FloWrestling Nationals and Super 32, but there’s just something about competing for a state title.
“The state tournament is the most-anticipated one,” says McIntosh.
After high school, he will follow in Vega’s foot steps and study and wrestle at Minnesota.
“(Vega) was real helpful with the decision,” says McIntosh. “He told me to choose the school that is right for me.”
McIntosh, an honor roll student with a 3.4 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, plans to major in electrical engineering.
He comes from a big family. Keith and Teri McIntosh have seven children. There’s Keith, John, Brian, Shiann, Jason, Kasper and 3-year-old Liam. So far, Kasper is the only wrestler.
Wrestling — with its physicality and tenacity — can be a grind.
Vega and his staff help their athletes push past the pain.
“We make sure the kids are tough,” says Vega. “They have to believe in their training.
“When they are tired, they can go even further.”
Some workouts can be very grueling. But there is a purpose.
“There will be days in practice one guy will get beat on for 30 minutes by two guys,” says McIntosh. “You get to the point where you’re not wrestling, you’re surviving. If we can get through that, we can get through anything.
“We break ourselves down and build ourselves back up. It shows us how far we can go.”
Vega and his assistants build the wrestler back up and fill their heads with positive thoughts.
“The mental part is huge,” says Vega.
Rumph, who also placed fourth at the State Finals at 132 in 2016, is all-in with that way of thinking.
“If you’re not mentally tough, the sport is not for you,” says Rumph. “We push our bodies at practice to a level is insane. Most people are scared to go hard and get tired.”
Rumph is motivated this season to do well for his parents. His mother, Donna McGee, has become his biggest fan since he reached high school and showed he was really serious about the sport. The nurse is always cheering for her “baby boy” — the only one who is still at home, following Briggs Rumph Jr., Jarred Rumph, Mikey Rumph and Kenny Williams.
His father, Briggs Rumph Sr., died when Kris was 7. Before that, he told him to pick a sport and give it his all.
“I’m pretty sure he’d be super happy seeing the stuff I’ve accomplished,” says Rumph, who was a Super 32 semifinalist last summer and competed in the Iowa Nationals the summer before that.
Rumph likes to watch videos of elite wrestlers Jordan Burroughs and Nahshon Garrett.
“I put it in my own little wrestling style,” says Rumph, who does have plans to wrestle in college but is not yet committed.
#WrestlingWednesday: Coffman looking to continue Union County's success
By JEREMY HINES
Liberty is a typical small Indiana town. People wave to each other as they cross paths at Woodruff’s Super Market or as they grab a top-notch burger from J’s Dairy Inn over on Union Street. As the saying goes, everyone knows everyone there.
Small town living is great for a lot of things, but for a high school wrestler with big aspirations, it can present a lot of challenges.
Tucker Coffman is a talented wrestler at Union County High School - a school of roughly 450 students located in Liberty. The team has lost 23 of its 25 matches this season. Currently the Patriots fill just seven weight classes. Coffman, a junior, knows how hard it is to succeed in wrestling at such a small school, but he also witnessed first hand that it can be done.
Coffman remembers watching Union County wrestling in its prime. In 2009 the tiny school had not one, but two state champions in Cody Phillips and Michael Duckworth. Both wrestlers had phenomenal careers. Phillips was a two-time champion and Duckworth was runner-up twice and champion once.
“I know them both,” Coffman said. “I’ve wrestled with them throughout the years. I’ve been in the room with Duckworth lately and Cody was always a real big influence on me. Cody was the top guy. He was the best wrestler we’ve had with two state titles. I remember when I was little it was my goal to be a wrestler like Cody.”
In the room Coffman is the best wrestler on the team, hands down. Finding drill partners that can push him is a challenge first-year coach Dan Kelich had to come up with a game plan for.
“During light drilling I rotate teammates with him,” Kelich said. “He’s one of the guys where we can let him wrestle anyone on our roster. He can wrestle the light guys, the middle weights and the heavier guys. We hope that gives him a good mix of working with guys that are quick, and guys that are strong.
“But when it comes time to live wrestle, me or one of my assistants have to break out our shoes and go with him.”
Coffman has seen success in high school, but has not punched his ticket to the state meet yet. As a freshman he lost to New Palestine senior Jared Timberman in the first round of the New Castle semistate, and then last year he fell to Frankton’s Cody Klettheimer at semistate.
Coffman won the Spartan Classic as a freshman, beating current No. 3-ranked Jack Eiteljorge in the final. That match gave Coffman the confidence to know he belongs with the state’s elite.
“That was one of my favorite matches of Tucker’s,” Kelich said. “He wrestled with a tenacity and won in dominating fashion. He showed what he’s capable of. That was one of the most exciting matches I’ve had the chance to sit in the corner and see.”
Kelich says that Coffman is a hard worker who has really taken on a leadership role with the team.
“I’m most proud of his leadership,” Kelich said. “We don’t win many team duals, but he’s taken ownership of this team. As a freshman we didn’t need him to do that, then last year he started to build into a leader. This year he is very good in that capacity.”
Coffman feels that he belongs at the state meet. He recognizes his weaknesses and has been working to eliminate them. He not only has his focus on getting to state, he wants to win it.
“He’s had success against some of the best guys in the state,” Kelich said. “He’s tasted what it’s like to beat them. Right now he’s hungry. He’s had that taste and now he wants the full meal, so to speak.”
#MondayMatness: Life off the mat has been tough, but New Haven senior Johnson is staying focused
By STEVE KRAH
Jonyvan Johnson will tell you he’s “got a lot going on” in his life.
The New Haven High School senior is among the best wrestlers in Indiana.
Through the New Haven/Bill Kerbel Invitational Saturday, Jan. 6, Johnson is 28-1 for the 2017-18 season.
After a first-round bye, Johnson pinned three opponents to reign at 182 pounds at the Kerbel meet. He competed at 195 during the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals Dec. 23 in Fort Wayne.
An IHSAA State Finals qualifier at 170 pounds as a junior, Johnson’s lone loss as a senior is a 4-2 decision against Northridge senior Conner Graber Nov. 27. Graber placed seventh in Indiana at 182 in 2017.
“Things have been tough recently,” says Johnson of life away from the circle.
On Sept. 18 — two months before the current wrestling season — Johnson lost stepfather Romauld Solomon to suicide.
Since Jonyvan was about 7, Romauld was the main man in his life.
He’s the one who encouraged him to take up wrestle as a sixth grader.
“It hurts to see him go, but I’ve got to just focus on myself and keep pushing forward because that’s what he’d want me to do,” says Johnson. “I know what I want. I know what I’ve got to do to get there. So I’m going to just keep focused.”
Reluctant about wrestling at the beginning, but encouraged by his stepfather, the young grappler won a Lutheran Schools Athletic Association championship during that first year on the mat.
Johnson now shares a house with mother Jamie Solomon, cousins Mattie and Mason Johnson and friend Jordan McHaney.
Jonyvan says his mother adopted Mattie and Mason with their mother deceased and father in prison. McHaney was kicked out of his house.
Back at New Haven, Jonyvan is Bulldogs captain.
“I try to set the tone when it comes to discipline,” says Johnson. “It’s working hard in the room, being on-time — little things like that. It can make a big difference on the mat.”
What makes Jonyvan Johnson so good?
“His work ethic,” says James Linn, who is in his fifth season as New Haven head coach after 10 seasons as a Barry Humble assistant. “He’s very dedicated in the weight room. He’s extremely strong.”
Linn looks at Johnson and sees few weaknesses.
“He’s good on his feet,” says Linn. “He’s a good top wrestler. He’s able to hold people down when he needs to. He’s a good leg rider. He’s very explosive off the bottom. It’s hard to hold him down.”
Senior 195-pounder Jaxson Savieo is Johnson’s primary workout partner. They push each other not only on the mat, but in the weight room, on the track during conditioning and in the classroom.
“We love to work hard,” says Johnson of himself and Savieo. “We love to push each other hard. We love to compete.
“We try to make each other better in everything we’re doing.”
Since last season, Johnson has improved by putting in the practice room time and going to places like Virginia Beach and the Disney Duals.
“I’ve definitely worked a lot on conditioning and getting my lungs right,” says Johnson. “I’ve also worked a lot on technique and getting little things right. Everyone has go-to moves in certain positions. I usually try to stick to those moves. If they don’t work, then I have other things I can go to.
“My mindset is thinking I can win every match. It’s not being too cocky, but being confident about it.”
Johnson says he plans to go to college and is undecided on his area of study or if he will continue to wrestle.
But right now he is focused on finishing strong in his final high school season.