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      #WrestlingWednesday: Fulks ready for his first trip to Bankers Life

      Last Saturday when Jordan Fulks pinned Terre Haute South Vigo’s Moses Hamm in the ticket round of the Evansville semistate, he did something that hasn’t been done by a Boonville wrestler in 13 years. He advanced to the state tournament.
      “The last guy to make it to state from our school was Sam Derosett,” Fulks said. “He coached me when I was in middle school.”
      Fulks, a junior, is currently ranked No. 5 at 152 pounds. He is 43-1 on the year with his lone loss coming in the semistate championship to No. 4-ranked Logan Boe.
      “Jordan is scrappy wrestler,” Boonville co-coach Dustin Wilke said. “He’s a good wrestler on his feet. He moves his hands and feet very well. He has a lot of pins and racks up a lot of points.”
      Last season Fulks finished the year with a 36-2 mark. He lost in the first round of semistate.
      “I had a knee injury last year that really set me back a few months,” Fulks said. “It became a motivation thing, I guess. I advanced to semistate with a knee injury and that really inspired me because I knew if I could make it that far, hurt, then when I got better I could go even further.”
      Fulks is a year-around wrestler. It’s the only sport he participates in.
      “He’s got a real drive to be successful in wrestling,” Wilke said. “I’ve known him for several years. He was in our youth feeder program. He was on our travel team. I helped coach him in middle school. When he was getting a little older, I asked him what he wants to be – and he said a state champion. He asked what he needs to do to make that happen. He’s always looking for insight and he’s always trying to improve.”
      Fulks believes his best attribute in wrestling is his confidence.
      “I’m a confident wrestler,” he said. “I go out there and I’m confident in my moves and that I can hit them. I never go out thinking I can win every match, but I think I am going to wrestle my match, every time.”
      Friday night Fulks will go up against Huntington North’s No. 12-ranked Cody McCune (36-2). Both wrestlers are looking to place for the first time at state. McCune advanced last year, but did not place.

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      #MondayMatness: ‘Compete’ mantra leads Western Panthers to mat success

      When the “Parade of Champions” begins circling the mats at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis Friday, Feb. 21, the Western Panthers will be well-represented.
      Coming off the program’s second semistate team championship and first since 1994, Western will have senior Hunter Cottingham (42-2 at 132 pounds), juniors Braydon Erb (42-3 at 285) and Anthony Martin (39-3 at 106) and sophomore Hayden Shepherd (39-5 at 138) competing on Indiana high school wrestling’s biggest stage.
      Shepherd placed second at the Fort Wayne Semistate and the other third finished third.
      Seven of eight Western wrestlers at the semistate were first-round winners and Cottingham, Erb, Martin and Shepherd won in the “ticket round” to give the Panthers 53 of their meet-winning 72 points.
      “I think we picked up a few bonus points along the way,” says Western head coach Chad Shepherd. “It was a group effort for sure.”
      Shepherd says his team is especially strong at the lower weights.
      “I’ve said a couple of times this year that not that we’d beat them all, but there’s not a team in Indiana that I’d be afraid to wrestle from 106 to 138 because we’re pretty good,” says Shepherd. “Our guys go out and compete and they work hard.”
      Shepherd, a Western graduate, explains his philosophy.
      “Basically, my thing is go out and compete, don’t take anything for granted,” says Shepherd. “Win the matches you should win and along the way maybe pick off a couple that maybe you shouldn’t win.
      “The guys buy into that.”
      Cottingham is now a four-time state qualifier and is looking to get past the first round for the first time.
      Shepherd was a state champion at 135 in 1991 and went to Indianapolis after placing third at semistate and stressed that to Cottingham.
      “It can be done,” says Shepherd. “We need to get through that first night and get on the podium.”
      Cottingham likes to be aggressive.
      “If I can get to my offense, I don’t think too many people can stop me.” says Cottingham. “I’ve just got to find my rhythm.”
      “Right now it’s survive and advance. I have to keep fighting.”
      Western won the 2A title at the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals in 2018-19 and placed third in 2019-20.
      “Our team was definitely different this year,” says Cottingham. “Our main core group of guys stuck together and some freshmen came in and helped us this year. We’ve progressed into a pretty solid team.”
      Cottingham and Hayden Shepherd are regular drill partners.
      “We push each other around,” says Cottingham.
      Shepherd says Erb is still getting acclimated in grappling with wrestlers closer to the 285 limit.
      “He’s at 250,” says Shepherd of Erb. “For a heavyweight, that’s not huge. He’s probably the smallest heavyweight that go through (the Fort Wayne Semistate) weight-wise.”
      “Braydon can wrestle with those guys.”
      Erb says this year’s squad excelled more in the tournament format.
      “We can really get on teams and win them,” says Erb, who tumbles in the practice room with assistant coach Tommy Skinner and occasionally with brother Braxton Erb (Western Class of 2017).
      Martin experienced his first wrestling season as a freshman and has been varsity the past two seasons. He was semistate qualifier in 2019and lost in a quick first-round pin.
      “Anthony probably put in as much work as any of them over the summer between open workouts, the weight room and going to tournaments,” says Shepherd. “It paid off.”
      Martin assesses his strengths.
      “I’m a lot stronger than most of the 106-pounders I wrestle,” says Martin. “I’m pretty fast. I’m better at staying on my feet and getting takedowns.”
      Martin says the coaching staff tells him to stay mentally strong through his matches and to “keep wrestling.”
      Martin’s regular workout partners are juniors Aidan Belt (120) and Justin Brantley (126), who were also semistate qualifiers along with senior Chandler Ciscell (126) and freshman M.J. Norman (182).
      “(Belt and Brantley) are always pushing me,” says Martin. “There’s a real good middle schooler — (eighth grader) Tanner Tishner. He just won middle school state (at 95 pounds). He’s not very big, but his technique is crazy. He pushes me a lot, too.”
      Hayden Shepherd is the coach’s son.
      “For him to make it to the State Finals in his first two years is pretty good,” says Chad Shepherd.
      Hayden Shepherd is impressed with his team.
      “We’ve got some really good dudes – guys who go out there and get us some bonus points and win us some matches,” says the younger Shepherd.
      Finishing well is the coach’s advice that echoes in Hayden’s ears.
      “Win the third period,” says Shepherd. “If you win the third period, it’s likely you’ll win the match.”
      What does State Week look like for the Western Panthers?
      “We’re going to focus on getting our weight down, keeping our conditioning and we will work on a few things we should have done (at semistate),” says Shepherd. “We’re not going to reinvent the wheel. We got to the State Finals wrestling certain way and that’s how we’re going to wrestle.”

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      #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.”


      #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.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Gilbert's big dream will not be deterred

      For as long as Sullivan freshman Lane Gilbert can remember he has dreamed about having his hand raised at the Indiana High School wrestling state championships.
      He’s done more than dream about it. As a young kid he would go into the wrestling room at Sullivan High School and act out having his hand raised. It didn’t matter that nobody else was around him. In his imaginary scenario he always emerged victorious. No obstacle stood in his way. No opponent could beat him. He was the champ. That dream would never be taken away.
      The dream was much different than real life for Gilbert. In real life, he has had far more hardships than one kid should experience. He’s overcome situations that would break others. Through it all, he’s come out stronger.
      To get a clear picture of just how tough Lane Gilbert is, it is important to dive into his uncomfortable past.
      Gilbert’s mother, Rachel, became Indiana’s first female sectional champion in wrestling. She won the 103-pound class in the North Knox sectional in 2002. Rachel was going places in life. News agencies had reported on her wrestling journey, because at the time, female wrestlers were still very new in the state. She had some colleges showing interest in her.
      But Rachel began facing a more formidable opponent than anyone she went up against on the mat. She started battling an addiction with drugs. Lane’s father had his own battles with drug addiction.
      For Lane’s father, that addiction would eventually lead to a prison sentence.
      Young Lane didn’t want to miss an opportunity to visit his dad, even if that meant going to the prison any time he could.
      “Lane worshipped his dad,” Lane’s wrestling coach and grandfather Roy Monroe said. “Lane never failed to go see him. He always wanted to see him.”
      Tragically, Lane’s father developed cancer while in prison and ultimately died due to the disease.
      “That was really rough on Lane for a while,” Rachel said. “His dad was a drug addict for a long time and Lane always held out hope that one day he would get better. Once he got sick, that was probably the hardest thing. Lane stayed strong through the whole thing.”
      At nine-years-old Lane did something no kid his age should ever have to do. He stood up in front during his dad’s funeral and sang a special song.
      “I don’t know how he did it,” Monroe said. “That’s almost an impossible thing to get through, and he did it. He toughed it out.”
      That’s what Lane always does. He toughs things out. He toughed it out when his mom was having her struggles. He toughed it out seeing his dad in prison, and then watching as cancer slowly took its toll. He toughed it out when his uncle Jordan, who had taught Lane quite a bit about wrestling, died in a fiery car crash. No matter what life threw at Lane, he toughs it out.
      Perhaps he gets his fighting spirit from his grandfather. Roy has been a major part of Sullivan wrestling for over 30 years. He’s watched his daughter struggle with drug addiction. He lost his son in that tragic car accident. He’s experienced heartache and he remained the rock Lane needed in his life. Lane could always stay the night at Roy’s house. He could always get the right words from his grandpa. And, on the wrestling mat, he could look to Grandpa Roy for direction as well.
      “He’s my role model,” Lane said. “He’s nice to everyone. He’s a good coach. He’s all the things you can think of if you were to make the perfect person – that would be how I describe him.”
      But Lane’s toughness also comes from his mom.
      In a time when people frowned on girls wrestling against boys, she held her ground. In fact, she and Roy had to go to the Sullivan school board to even get approved to wrestle back in her high school days.
      Later, as has already been alluded to, Rachel battled a fierce drug addiction. But, for Lane’s sake – and for her sake, she fought through and emerged victorious. She is currently a Dean’s List student working to become a nurse.
      “I am so proud of her,” Roy said. “I’ve been a counselor. I’ve went into the jails and counselled drug addicts. I’ve seen them come in and out of addiction. The real truth is, only about one percent of drug addicts make it to where she is now. It’s so hard to overcome, but she’s done it. And she’s a great mom.”
      She is also very, very protective of Lane and worries almost to a fault about the decisions he makes in his own life.
      “After having made the decisions at a young age that I made, I saw first-hand what can happen and how quickly everything can just spiral out of control,” Rachel said. “One mistake and everything can be gone. I have that fear in the back of my mind that he’s of the age and he could make the wrong choices. I’m almost too hard on him, but I am terrified because I know what can happen and I keep my eye on him. I do trust him. He’s seen what can happen and how bad things can get.”
      Lane knows when his mom tells him to keep on the straight and narrow, it’s because she cares.
      “I have so much respect for my mom,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from her.”
      One thing Lane has learned is to never doubt himself. This summer when he was a third alternate for the Pan-American games, he let doubt creep into his psyche. After the first two qualifiers couldn’t attend the games, Lane got the call to participate. But, going into the event, he felt like he really didn’t belong.
      Boy was he wrong. Lane went undefeated in both freestyle and Greco-Roman. News of his success quickly spread throughout the town of 6,500 people. When he arrived home, he was given a police escort through the streets.
      “Oh my gosh,” Rachel said. “The town put on this whole show when he returned. The police and emergency vehicles all met up on the north end of town. He had no idea it was going to happen. There were fans from all over our town and they all followed him to the high school. It was so cool. He was so surprised.”
      Currently Gilbert is 28-1 on the season and ranked No. 5 at 113 pounds. He has carried the confidence he developed during the Pan-American games over to the season. Now he knows he belongs. Now he knows that dream he played through his head so many times growing up isn’t just a dream – it’s an attainable goal.
      “I’ve been coaching at Sullivan for 13 years as head coach and I’ve been there 30 years as an assistant,” Monroe said. “I’ve never seen anything like him. I look at Lane, with his skills and what he’s been through, and I just know that adversity isn’t a problem anymore. He can do whatever he sets his mind to do.”
      As for Rachel, well, she says nowadays she’s just like any other wrestler’s mom.
      “I’m still up in the stands screaming my head off,” she said. “But when I’m shouting, at least I know which moves to shout. The other moms look at me and ask what they should be yelling.”

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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: Farrell prepping for and trip to Bankers Life

      Last year, when J.D. Farrell was a junior at Fishers High School, he saw that a German foreign exchange student was struggling understanding her math assignments and he knew he had to help her.
      “She was struggling with translating her math work and I helped her,” Farrell said. “She didn’t have many friends and I wanted to be there for her to help with that as well.”
      That’s what Farrell does. He helps others. He helps his teammates in wrestling understand how to do certain moves. He helps them know what it takes to be successful on the mat.
      He also takes a certified nursing assistant (CNA) class and frequently goes to nursing homes to help the elderly. One day he plans to go into the medical field.
      “I see people that maybe are struggling, or are less fortunate, and I want to help them any way I can,” Farrell said. “In the wrestling room I don’t just want to improve myself, I want to make everyone better. Outside of wrestling I see others struggle and I feel I’m called to help them. My heart pulls me toward them. God put those people in my life for a reason.”
      As nice, polite and helpful as Farrell is off the mat – don’t expect mercy from him on it. He is currently 29-1 this season and ranked No. 4 at 195 pounds. His lone loss came at the hands of returning state champion Silas Allred. Last season he qualified for the state tourney but lost a hard-fought match in the opening session and didn’t place.
      “I use my length to my advantage,” Farrell said. “I’m very offensive with my attacks. I look at my opponent’s attacks and plan to not give up anything to them. My goal is to not give anything to my opponent or ever let the ref decide the outcome of a close match.”
      Allred, the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the class, feeds through the same New Castle semistate as Farrell. Before the season Farrell had the choice of going up a weight to avoid Silas, but that’s not what he wanted to do.
      “I see Silas as an opportunity,” Farrell said. “If I see him in semistate, I wouldn’t have to face him early in the state tournament. He is very technical and a great wrestler. When I wrestled him earlier this season, I was not satisfied with how I did. I got to know him pretty well at CIA and he’s a great guy.”
      Farrell is a third-generation wrestler. His grandfather wrestled and loved the sport. His dad, Brent finished second in the state during his high school career and his uncle, Brad, was a fifth-place finisher.
      “Wrestling is in my family,” Farrell said. “My grandpa liked wrestling a lot and then my uncle and dad started and they saw a lot of success. My brother, Crew Farrell, is in middle school and he’s kicking butt right now.”
      Fishers’ coach Frank Ingalls sees Farrell wrestling under the lights in the state finals.
      “I’m expecting him to make it to the championship match,” Ingalls said. “He’s 29-1 right now with something like 22 falls. When we need him to bump up to 220, he still gets the job done and usually gets us six point.
      “J.D. is a good Christian kid. He’s good in school. He’s a good leader. He does everything you ask him to do and he works hard in the offseason as well.”
      During the offseason Farrell wrestled in many big tournaments, but he didn’t go to the Super 32. Instead, he hopped on a plane and traveled to Germany. As it turns out, Farrell finally got the nerve to ask that girl who was struggling with her math homework to be his girlfriend. He asked her toward the end of her stay in America, and she said yes.
      “The long-distance relationship is tough,” Farrell said. “But I was glad I missed the Super 32 to go see her. It gave me the break I needed in wrestling, because I had been pushing so hard. When I came back I was ready to get back at it.”
      Now, like so many other high school athletes, Farrell has his goal set at making it to the state finals.
      “I have gone to the finals with my dad for as long as I can remember, and now I want to close my high school career out by wrestling there myself,” he said.

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      #MondayMatness: After missing a junior season, Peru’s Sturgill focused for last high school go-round

      Trey Sturgill can hear his coach’s words of advice ringing in his ears.
      “He’s always told me to never live with regret,” says Sturgill, a 113-pound senior competing for Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer Andy Hobbs at Peru High School. “I’m
      determined. I’m driven. My job is to get the job done and be the best person I can be.”
      Sturgill, who Hobbs likes to call “Pancake” after a mat move of the same name, says he excels from the top position.
      “I’m a dog on top,” says Sturgill. “I like to get the pins.”
      So far, 65 of 96 career victories have come by fall. Sturgill (30-3 in 2019-20) won the 113 title at the Three Rivers Conference meet Saturday, Jan. 25 at Maconaquah.
      “He’s got a pretty good skill set,” says Hobbs of Sturgill. “He’s very savvy.”
      Sturgill missed all of junior season with an injury he can trace back to the freshmen-sophomore state when he was a freshmen. He continued to wrestle through his sophomore year, qualifying for the 2018 IHSAA State Finals at 106.
      “I really wanted to make my state run,” says Sturgill.
      The pain got to be too much and examination revealed Trey had four torn tendons and a broken shoulder. He them fixed and began physical therapy.
      “I wanted to be stronger for my senior season,” says Sturgill, who was cleared to wrestle the week after the 2019 State Finals. His off-season included meets in Michigan and Ohio. “My shoulder is doing fantastic right now.”
      Sturgill has multiple workout partners at Peru from 106 to 138.
      “We have a pretty open room,” says Sturgill. “Each kid’s different. It helps me with my defense and what to look for in a real match.”
      Trey is not the first member of his family to step into the circle.
      His father, Bill Sturgill, wrestled for Northfield High School and was a semistate qualifier.
      Trey was hooked on the sport when Bill took his youngest boy to a Peru Wrestling Club event at 3.
      Brother Peyton Sturgill, who graduated from Peru in 2016, was a two-time state qualifier. Half brother Kane Rockenbaugh (Peru Class of 2013) was a semistate qualifier. Mother Rana has been there to cheer them on.
      Peyton Sturgill is on his way to earning his college degree and becoming a math teacher. Trey Sturgill has sights set on teaching high school physical education.
      “I’m still deciding on wrestling (in college),” says Trey. “We’ll see how this season goes.”
      Away from wrestling, Sturgill likes to play disc golf at courses in Peru or Wabash.
      “I like getting out and enjoying the fresh air and nature and being with my buddies,” says Sturgill.
      Hobbs, a Tipton High School graduate, is in his 34th season as a wrestling coach and 25th season as head coach at Peru.
      “I’ve enjoyed every year of it,” says Hobbs, who has 453 dual meet victories and leads a Tigers program with the motto is “ No Magic, Just Hard Work!!!.”
      The veteran coach teaches his grapplers to “never walk past a piece of trash on the ground” and to “be humble enough to prepare and bold enough to compete with the very best!”
      “You control what you can control and don’t worry about the other guys,” says Hobbs, who has produced 41 state finalists — 39 at Peru and two while coaching at Princeton. “You drop the hammer and take more shots.“
      “Those are the ways you have success in the sport.”
      Hobbs, who is also a health teacher, believes in having and following a plan.
      “We’re specific with everything,” says Hobbs. “With nutrition, we avoid process sugar and drink a lot of water.
      “We get sleep, wash hands and wear hat and a coat. Everybody’s got to
      learn that curve.”
      Hobbs’ coaching staff features Daric Fuller (two-time state qualifer), Zak Leffel (two-time state qualifier), Colin Quin (two-time sectional two-time sectional champion), Jordan Rader (three-time state qualifier and 2018 state runner-uo at 170), Kegan Kern (four-time semistate qualifier and Al Smith Classic finalist) and Chris McKinney (conference and sectional champion). Fuller (history), Leffel (math), Quin (P.E.) and McKinney (chemistry and physics) are teachers. Rader is an Indiana University student. U.S. Air Force vet Kern is Miami County Sheriff. Kern owns his own law firm. McKinney served two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army.


      #WrestlingWednesday: Dunasky looking to be the Golden Eagles' first state qualifier

      Guerin Catholic has had a wrestling program for 15 years. Senior Jeff Dunasky is hoping to finally give the program its first state qualifier.
      Dunasky has already accomplished many firsts for the Golden Eagles. He’s the first sectional champion the school has had in wrestling. He’s the first two-time sectional champion. He’s the first Circle City Conference champion. But, being the first state qualifier would be the icing on the cake for the Guerin senior.
      “I want to do something nobody else has ever done from our school,” Dunasky said. “It would mean so much to me. It would be the reward for all the hard work I’ve put in. All the weight cutting. All the grinding out of hard tournaments. But it wouldn’t just be for me. It would be an accomplishment for my coaches and my practice partners as well. It would be something for the whole school.”
      Last season Dunasky fell just short of earning a trip to Banker’s Life Fieldhouse for the state finals. He lost in the ticket round of the New Castle semistate to Warren Central’s Antwaun Graves.
      “Last year when Jeff lost in the ticket round, the next Monday he was back in the room hungry to get better,” Guerin coach Andrew Fleenor said. “We watched the state finals the next week and then he wrestled at the Indy Nationals that next weekend. He went everywhere during the offseason. He made Team Indiana. He went to Fargo. He did the Disney Duals. He wrestled several places with the Indiana Outlaws. We were in Brownsburg’s room quite a bit. He trained a lot at Carmel USA with Coach Pendoski. He pushed himself to get better.”
      On the mat Dunasky likes to push the pace. He is a takedown artist and has great conditioning. That has helped him climb to the No. 9 spot in the 145 rankings this season.
      “He’s quick,” Fleenor said. “He pushes the pace. He has over 500 takedowns in four years. He’s really good on his feet.”
      Dunasky agrees with his coach’s assessment.
      “I would describe myself as fast-paced and a little bit funky,” Dunasky said. “I am comfortable in awkward situations and I like to use that to my advantage. I go hard and enjoy pushing the pace.”
      Dunasky’s favorite wrestling moment in his career so far was winning his first sectional title two years ago.
      “That was our school’s first sectional title,” Dunasky said. “It was a big moment for us. It was very memorable. I had people in the school and in the community congratulating me and saying they were proud of me. That really fired me up to get better. I feel like positive reinforcement leads to positive results. That’s why I really started pushing myself even harder.”
      In the wrestling room Dunasky often times acts as another coach in the room, helping the younger wrestlers understand moves and wrestling philosophy.
      “He definitely fills the leadership role on our team,” Fleenor said. “It’s like having another coach in the room. The team follows his lead, for sure. Without a doubt he sets the tone for our team.”
      In addition to chasing the dream of being a state qualifier, Dunasky wants to leave his legacy at Guerin Catholic. He says his faith is the most important thing, but he also wants people to know that hard work can pay off.
      “Jeff will be the most decorated wrestler to ever come through our program,” Fleenor said. “He will leave a legacy that other kids will strive for. He’s 114-32. He’s a two-time section champ, three time regional qualifier, two-time semistate qualifier. He won the Mooresville Holiday tournament twice. He’s our first ever conference champion and he won the Robert Porter Invite in Chicago this year.”
      Off the mat Dunasky likes to dabble in many things. He enjoys playing video games, rock climbing and even ice skating.
      “There are a lot of things to life outside of wrestling and I like to explore all those things,” he said.
      When it comes to his future, he plans on going to college although he’s not certain if he will wrestle or not. He does want to stay involved in the sport. Like is the case with his hobbies, he also has several interests for his possible career. He has considered agriculture, criminal law or even something in technology.
      “I have a lot of interests and it’s really hard to narrow those down.


      #MondayMatness: ‘Aha moment’ propels Valparaiso’s Kwiatkowski

      Colin Kwiatkowski has experienced highs and lows on the wrestling mat and the Valparaiso High School junior says he is better for it. As a 160-pound freshman, Kwiatkowski went into the Vikings varsity lineup and faced a schedule that includes the tough Duneland Athletic Conference and more.
      “It was an eye opener,” says Kwiatkowski. “My freshmen years wasn’t the greatest year. My sophomore year, I started beating kids and realized I can actually do something with wrestling.”
      “It was an aha moment. I can go far in this sport.”
      Kwiatkowski placed first at the LaPorte Sectional, second at the Crown Regional and third at the East Chicago Semistate and qualified for the IHSAA State Finals as a 170-pound sophomore, finishing 32-9.
      Not making it to the second day fueled Kwiatkowski’s off-season and has fed his desire during the 2019-20 campaign.
      “Losing Friday night (at the State Finals), it hurts,” says third-year Valparaiso head coach Jake Plesac. “It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. He has used it as something to learn from.”
      “He took the loss hard. He came in this summer willing to work hard.”
      Valparaiso has a young squad this season with many underclassmen in varsity roles.
      “I’m helping them,” says Kwiatkowski. “I know what they’re going through. My freshmen year was the same thing. You have to get through the ups and downs.”
      With a young squad of 25, including freshmen who came up through the rejuvenated Valparaiso Viking Wrestling Club, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson middle schools, Kwiatkowski finds himself throwing kids into the varsity that could use some more experience at the junior varsity level.
      “We all want to get better,” says Plesac. “Sometimes you have to take your lumps to do that.”
      “Our goal for us is grow them as young adults and better wrestlers along the way.”
      Last fall, Kwiatkowski was a starting linebacker and backup quarterback for the 2019 Class 5A state runners-up.
      “That experience in football was like no other,” says Kwiatkowski. “It was really fun.
      “But there’s big difference between football shape and wrestling shape. (In wrestling), you’re going all-out as hard as you can the whole time.”
      He performed on the gridiron around 195 pounds.
      “It met with (Plesac) before went to state,” says Kwiatkowski. “We came to the decision that I’d be wrestling at 182. Last year, I did a lot of cutting weight. It took a big toll on my body. This years, I’m more energized with more strength and I’m quicker.”
      Kwiatkowski has been eating mostly vegetables with some lean meats like chicken.
      “That stuff has helped,” says Kwiatkowski. “I’ve felt better since I’ve been on the diet.”
      Where does Kwiatkowski shine brightest on the mat?
      “Defense,” says Kwiatkowski. “That’s what I’m best at. I need to work more at my offense.”
      “My coaches always emphasize that I need to take more shots. I agree with them.”
      While several different VHS grapplers practice with Kwiatkowski to give him different looks, his main workout partner is 195-pound sophomore Pierce Pine.
      “We want to hardest training we can give him,” says Plesac. “If all else fails a coach will jump in and try to give him the better workout.”
      Plesac describes Kwiatkowski as a pure wrestler with raw athleticism.
      “He’s relentless neutral to top to bottom. He’s a big move guy. He’s known for his throws. It makes him really dangerous. He executes (throws) more than anybody I’ve ever seen in my coaching career.”
      “He has great hips and is able to use his body in a way that has made throws successful.”
      Kwiatkowski, who is 31-1 this season and coming off a runner-up finish at the DAC meet, says he sometimes relies on his physical gifts more than his moves.
      “My athleticism gets me out of situations where I could be using technique or other things to get out of,” says Kwiatkowski. shooting is the side of offense I need to get more out of. I need to be quicker on my feet.
      “Those throws aren’t always going to be there.”
      Then there’s the Colin Kwiatkowski, the person.
      “The thing that makes him special is his humble personality off the mat,” says Plesac. “He’s polite to anyone and everyone. He’s a leader  in the school. He’s a quiet kid.”
      “When he speaks people listen. That’s what he does for our team. We’re glad he’s taken on more of a leadership role this year.”
      There are 25 athletes on a squad coached by Plesac (a former Hobart wrestler and Purdue University graduate), Eric Ledbetter and Irving Hernandez.
      One of the younger Vikings is Colin’s brother, Dylan Kwiatkowski. He broke his arm during the football season and just recently was able to compete in wrestling in a dual against Portage.
      “He did very well,” says Colin. “He’s my buddy when it comes to everything.”
      Michael and Miranda Kwiatkowski have three children — Colin, Dylan and Brooklyn. The little sister is a seventh grader at Ben Franklin Middle School and is a volleyball player.
      Colin Kwiatkowski says he would like to wrestle in college or attend Indiana University to study business. His current favorite school subject is science.
      “I’ve always found that interesting,” says Kwiatkowski.
      As a sophomore, he was a peer tutor. During his study hall, he helped special education students, eating lunch with them and a football teammate and working with them on their assignments.
      “Next year I’m going to do that again,” says Kwiatkowski. “I had a lot of fun doing that.”
      Valparaiso has one more home dual meet (Jan. 22 against Crown Point) before the state tournament series.

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Filipovich looking to be Lutheran's first state qualifier

      When it’s time to step on the mat “Flip” flips the switch and goes to work. When the match is done, he flips back to being one of the nicest guys around.
      Sure, Indianapolis Lutheran junior Hayden Filipovich got his nickname, in part, because of his last name. But those who know the 182-pounder best knows he can turn into a monster when he’s wrestling.
      “We call him Flip,” Lutheran coach Greg Hughes said. “He certainly flips the switch on the mat. He is one of those magical kids that can go toe-to-toe with anyone. He’s relentless. He’s fearless. But, as soon as the match is over, he’s a class act. He’s a great kid, a smart, personable kid and a great leader with an infectious personality.”
      Filipovich is currently ranked No. 9 in the 182-pound class. Last year he advanced to the ticket round of the New Castle semistate before falling to J.D. Farrell of Fishers 5-2. That match has fueled Filipovich to push harder this year.
      “He wishes he had that ticket round match back,” Hughes said. “It came down to who was going to have that edge. I think he approached that match differently than normal. We have really focused on treating every match the same this year – whether it be a big match or an insignificant one. We don’t want him holding it back and playing safe this year. Every match he needs to go in and just let it rip. This year he puts his foot on the line and goes. All year we’ve focused on this.”
      Filipovich worked out all summer with that loss in mind.
      “I made a lot of mistakes in the ticket round match,” he said. “I had a lot of nerves going. But, it motivated me to get better and push harder.”
      Lutheran is one of the smallest schools in the state. There are just at 250 students in the high school, and about half of those are male. Still, the wrestling team has 15 guys this season. They still struggle to fill a roster and, being in Marion County, they wrestle elite programs like Perry Meridian, Cathedral and Warren Central.
      The school didn’t even have a wrestling program until Hughes started it five years ago.
      “I always loved the sport of wrestling,” Hughes said. “Then God blessed me with three sons. We were looking at options for high school. Lutheran really stood out as our best choice, but they didn’t have a wrestling program. I told the school that I wanted to go there but we needed wrestling. They allowed me to start the program. Now, the kids on this team are like my sons on the mat. We have two state-ranked wrestlers. I keep saying we’re the No. 1 small school program in Marion County.
      “After five years we have had some good accomplishments. It’s a true wrestling story. You win some and lose some, but we see how far we’ve come and how far we want to go.”
      Leading the charge this season is Filipovich. The junior is used to success. He was the starting center and linebacker for the state runner-up football team and he has carried that winning attitude to the mat.
      “One of my favorite stories about Flip happened about a year ago,” Hughes said. “I was pushing the kids pretty hard. We were running sprints at the end of a very tough practice. The kids were dragging. The sprints were slowing down. I told the kids to give me just two more. Then Flip pops up and says ‘That’s it? We need to do more. I have to be six-minute ready. Let’s go.’ He was pushing us to coach harder because he knew what he wanted to accomplish.”
      Filipovich has lofty goals this season.
      “Just like every other kid growing up wrestling in Indiana, I want to be a state champion,” he said. “It’s always been a dream of mine.”
      Filipovich is undecided in what he wants to pursue in college. He’s leaning toward exercise science but admits he hasn’t made his mind up yet. Right now he’s focused on wrestling.

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      #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.

      2689 2 4

      #WrestlingWednesday: Irick back bigger and better

      Hamilton Southeastern senior Andrew Irick suffered a devastating knee injury in the spring of his junior year. It might have been the best thing for him.
      Irick knew, because of the injury (he tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus), he wouldn’t be able to remain in the 220-pound weight class. He also knew he needed to get stronger, but he couldn’t do much with his legs in the weight room due to the surgery on his knee and the recovery time needed. So, he started working upper body. Weight gain wasn’t an issue because he was planning to bump up to heavyweight for his senior season.
      “He probably put on 55 pounds,” HSE coach Nick Brobst said. “He’s a totally rebuilt athlete now. His wrestling reflects that. He’s bigger, way, way stronger and way more aggressive with his attacks. Wrestling in the heavyweight division makes him look even faster. He’s a much, much improved wrestler over what he was last year.”
      Last season Irick was no slouch. He had his best season of his career, ultimately finishing fourth at state.
      Irick started out as a freshman in the 182-pound class. He then moved up to 195 as a sophomore and 220 as a junior. Those early weight class competitions forced Irick to get better on his feet. That has ultimately helped him now that he’s in the heavyweight class.
      Irick’s older brother Matt wrestled for Indiana University. His other brother, Spencer, wrestles for IU now. Matt worked a lot with Andrew to help him on his feet and with takedowns. That has transformed Irick’s attack on the mat.
      “He has got a lot more aggressive on his feet,” Brobst said. “We used to joke that he wrestled using what we called the ‘Irick stall’ where he would do anything and everything to make a match last forever. Last year he started developing his own gas tank and now he doesn’t want the matches to go that long.
      “He still has that heavyweight mentality to a tee,” Brobst said. “Last year he won on Friday night at state. At weigh-ins Saturday morning his teammate was eating yogurt, fruit and a granola bar. Andrew is there eating a bag of leftover Halloween candy. He said ‘this is what I do. Leave the process alone.’ “
      Irick is currently ranked No. 2 in the state in the 285-pound class. He’s ranked just below Brownsburg’s returning state champion Dorian Keys. The two could potentially wrestle in 10 days at the Hoosier Crossroads Conference tournament.
      “Conference is important,” Irick said. “But ultimately my goal is to win a state championship and that’s the bigger picture for me right now. I want to be at my best come tournament time.”
      According to coach Brobst, Andrew goes through a whole gamut of emotions before he wrestles.
      “Andrew is probably the first kid I’ve coached in 10 years that’s just never serious,” Brobst said. “He’s a complete goofball everywhere he goes. But come meet time, he goes through this process. He’s nervous at first. Then he starts doubting himself and thinking he can’t beat the other guy. Then he decides he’s going to go out and kick that guy’s butt. Something clicks and he’s ready to go. It’s like that every match.”
      Irick is in the top 10 percent of his class academically. He has a 4.27 GPA and plans to follow in his brothers’ footsteps and wrestle at Indiana University next season. He will study biology or chemistry with the goal of becoming a doctor.
      Like wrestling, becoming a doctor runs in the family. Both of Irick’s parents are doctors, his grandfather is a doctor, his uncle is a doctor and both of his brothers are studying to be doctors.
      “It’s hard to see him as a doctor, knowing him as an 18-year old,” Brobst said. “But I have no doubt that he will be. He might go into a field where he works with kids. He’s extremely good with kids. My son is a kindergartener and thinks Andrew walks on water.”
      Irick is focused on getting back to state this year and potentially making is way to the championship match.
      “The atmosphere at state is just indescribable,” Irick said. “I can’t wait to get back there.”

      2025 1

      #MondayMatness: Getting better all the time drives Norwell 220-pounder Gray

      Each time Cale Gray steps on a wrestling mat he wants to be better than the last.
      The Norwell High School senior wants constant feedback.
      The 220-pound Gray stays after workouts to consult with Knights head coach John Johnson, going over moves and studying film.
      “He tries to be a student of the sport,” says Johnson, who has coached Gray since the sixth grade. “After every match he wants to breakdown how he wrestled. I don’t find a lot of guys like that.
      “He really tries to improve technically all the time.”
      With four pins in as many matches, Gray (18-0 so far in 2019-20) helped Norwell place fifth in Class 2A at the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Duals in Fort Wayne.
      The Knights went 3-1, losing 44-32 to Western then beating West Vigo 51-21, Wawasee 46-27 and Oak Hill 36-33.
      Asked his best quality as an athlete and Gray replies that is his willingness to take instruction.
      “It’s my ability to listen to my coaches and take in information that they give me,” says Gray. “It’s constructive criticism. I take it into account.
      “Coach Johnson always critiques me on my feet and he wants me to be more heavy-handed. I’m pretty light with my hands. I don’t use them enough. Whenever he critiques me, I’ll ask him to work with me after practice.”
      Gray grappled at 170 as freshman, 182 as a sophomore and 195 as a junior.
      “I’d like to think I was a bit under the radar,” says Gray. “No one knew my name.”
      That started to change when he placed second at the Jay County Sectional and Jay County Regional and third at the Fort Wayne Semistate, avenging sectional and regional championship losses to Jay County’s Chandler Chapman.
      Gray then placed sixth in his first appearance at the IHSAA State Finals in Indianapolis and finished the 2018-19 season at 31-7.
      “Last year I was definitely predictable,” says Gray. “I had a good set-up and it got me pretty far on my feet. But when I got to the semistate and state that didn’t really work.
      “I was kind of a one trick pony.”
      This season, Gray has been helping Johnson to diversify his attack from his feet.
      “We’ve worked this year on being able to attack both the trail leg and the lead leg,” says Johnson. “He’s a big, strong guy and super athletic for his size. He can do multiple things. It’s just doing them.”
      “I’ve seen him hit probably three of four (Granby Rolls) already this year and you just don’t typically see a lot of big boys doing that.”
      Gray is fond of an expression that sums up his approach.
      “I like to be a jack of all trades and master of none, but it’s better than being a master of only one,” says Gray. “If I have only one thing to go to and it doesn’t work, I don’t have much to go off of.”
      “I try embrace every aspect of wrestling except legs. I try to pick up things and know what to do in match situations.”
      Gray long ago fell in love with weight training and even worked out with a strength coach in Colorado last summer.
      That continued when he got back to Indiana and before his final season of high school football (he was an all-Northeast Eight Conference defensive end for the second straight year and also played fullback).
      “When I was on my own time, I’d lift every day of the week I could and I’d eat like five to seven meals a day to get bulking,” says Gray.
      “When football started coming around, I didn’t have as much time to eat those meals or lift. We only lifted three times a week and I’d have time to eat three of four meals a day.”
      Gray, who also did some folkstyle wrestling in the off-season, got up to 235 pounds but was unable to pack on more weight and it was decided he would wrestle at 220 for Norwell instead of 285.
      As Gray has gone up in weight, he has noticed a difference in styles.
      “220’s do a lot more power ties and slide-bys and they move around for a snap single,” says Gray. “Hand-fighting is something I need to get better at.”
      Gray hopes to wrestle in college and study exercise science and kinesiology. He has gotten attention from smaller collegiate programs.
      “I only placed sixth last year (at the State Finals),” says Gray. “My goal is to become a state champion.
      “Hopefully, those D-I’s will take notice at that point.”
      Cale is supported by his family. He is the son of Mike and Tracy Gray and Chris and Danny Droke. His has and older brother (Dylan) and a twin sister (Cassidy).
      Before the IHSAA state tournament series (sectional Feb. 1, regional Feb. 8, semistate Feb. 15 and State Finals Feb. 21-22), the Knights has a home dual against Leo Jan. 14, the Garrett Invitational Jan. 18, a road dual against South Adams Jan. 22 and the Northeast Eight Tournament at New Haven Jan. 25.
      Johnson, who is in his fourth season leading the high school program, has watched Gray come a long way.
      “Cale was a very average middle school wrestler,” says Johnson. “Even as a freshman, he was OK.”
      Like with many successful wrestlers, something clicked and Gray became really committed to mat game.
      “Once they start to buy in, there’s no ceiling for them,” says Johnson of the mentality he shares with his athletes. “At the end of the day it takes sacrifice.
      “I don’t care if it’s your weight and staying after practice to watch because this is what’s going to make you stand out.”
      The coach says shortcuts won’t help you get there.
      “Make them beat you because they’re a better wrestler, not because you cheated yourself,” says Johnson.
      For those dedicated like Gray, Johnson says wrestling is with them all the time.
      “It really becomes a lifestyle that you have to buy into — some kids do it well and some really battle with it,” says Johnson. “That’s why wrestling is really the best preparation for just being an adult.
      “I always make it about more than wrestling because it really is. I want to teach them about real life. Get to practice on time. Little things like that.”
      Wrestlers who are late for practice at Norwell know they have running and/or suicides in front of them.
      “If you’re going to commit to something, let’s do it well and be reliable,” says Johnson. “I want to make these young men ready to hit the adult world and be responsible and productive.”

      2869 1

      #MondayMatness: Schammert, Padilla brothers part of Hobart wrestling culture

      Hobart High School head wrestling coach Jason Cook talks about these four markers along the “Brick Road.”
      Cook says the culture of Brickies wrestling is built on overcoming obstacles.
      “You don’t get better until you have to overcome challenges,” says Cook. “I’m not going to wait for things to knock me down. I’m going to look for challenges. In life, it takes a lot longer. You can’t do it on a wrestling mat.”
      Cook admits that he’s not a patient man and wants to see constant improvement.
      “I’m a teacher and a coach and I get to watch people improve all the time,” says Cook, who teaches English and is his second season of guiding Hobart’s wrestling program.
      Four Brickies who are working to overcome adversity and excel are brothers Nathan and Trevor Schammert and Cristian and Ruben Padilla. All four competed Dec. 27-28 in the 42nd annual Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka. Sophomore Trevor Schammert (113 pounds) came in second in his weight class and improved to 20-1 on the 2019 season. Sophomore Ruben Padilla (11-4) placed seventh at 120. Senior Nathan Schammert (17-5) came in eighth at 126. Junior Cristian Padilla grappled on Day 1 at 132. The Brickies placed seventh in the 32-team event.
      Cook, who is in his second season leading the Brickies, sees similarities in the brothers. But they are really four distinctive personalities with their own mat approaches.
      The coach describes Nathan Schammert — the oldest son of Mike and Darcy Schammert — as “a kid who’s going to find his own way to win matches.”
      “He’s definitely got the funk,” says Cook of Nathan. “I don’t think anybody’s looking forward to him as a matchup.
      “When Option A doesn’t work, he’s got about 15 other things he can do.”
      Cook notes that he was one of the smaller wrestlers on the mat as a senior and has steadily grown as he career has progressed.
      “Now that he’s the athlete he is, he can hit some explosiveness things,” says Cook of Nathan.
      Nathan says its work ethic and all the time spent since he was just beginning school and competing with the Hobart Wrestling Club that has helped get him to where he is now.
      Mike Schammert is a former Brickies wrestler and he gives his sons mat advice.
      “He tells us to be ourselves on and off the mat,” says Nathan Schammert. “I just go out there and let it fly. I don’t hold back.”
      About the time Nathan hit junior high, he started developing his funkiness. He has his favorites, but not really a go-to move.
      “People really don’t expect me to do the things I do,” says Nathan Schammert. “I just go out there and do what feels right. If I feel something, I hit it right away. I don’t wait, I just go.”
      “I just used to to my advantage.”
      Nathan Schammert enjoys showing the way to teammates — freshman and cousin Devin Wible (120) among them.
      “I definitely consider myself a leader,” says Nathan. “I just try to set a really good example and be the best role model I can in the (practice) room. I want the younger ones to learn from me — my mistakes and my strengths.”
      Hobart went 11-3 and advanced to the IHSAA Class 4A northern semistate in football. Seven defensive starters — safety Nathan Schammert, deep back Hayden Homoky, lineman Alex Pickett and linebackers Bobby Babcock, Mark Mummey, Cameron Smith and Tyler Turley — are on the Brickies wrestling team this winter.
      “That defense was something to watch,” says Cook. “It was amazing.”
      Nathan Schammert makes the correlation between the mat and the gridiron.
      “Wrestling helps me in football,” says Nathan. “I have to make (football) plays on the fly, too. A double-legged a lot of guys (on tackles).”
      Cook says Trevor Schammert is especially good at working his way out of difficult situations.
      “He sure is solid with his positioning,” says Cook of Trevor. “He hasn’t made a mistake in any position this year.
      “He is going to make you fight your way through every position.”
      Trevor says his style is not as funky as his older brother.
      “I’m more technical,” says Trevor. “I’m more of a chain wrestler. I hit move after move and don’t stop. At practice, all I focus on is repetition. Building that muscle memory for when I need it."
      “I’m good at a certain set (of moves) and hit those really good.”
      Trevor Schammert does not believe in taking days off.
      “I’m always pushing myself to the wall,” says Trevor. “I look at my goals every year and how far I want to make it in the state run and be a state placer.
      “I’m never satisfied with anything. I always want to improve and get better with everything.”
      Both Schammerts were in the varsity lineup for the Brickies boys golf team last spring with Nathan averaging 84 for 18 holes and playing as the No. 1 player on a squad that played its home matches at River Pointe Country Club in Hobart.
      “There’s no strong connection (between wrestling and golf), but there is the mental aspect,” says Nathan. “(Golf) can break you sometimes.”
      Cook has had Cristian Padilla in class for two years and coached him in wrestling.
      “He’s super thoughtful and super quiet,” says Cook of Cristian. “At least when I’m around him. He’s not a real vocal guy. He leads by example.
      “Everything he’s doing is with intention.”
      Cristian says he enjoys the challenge of wrestling and getting better with each match and workout.
      “I get support from coaches (Cook, Zack Johansen, Brian Wesley and Steve Balash) and my dad (Al Padilla),” says Cristian. “My coaches know I don’t make many mistakes. I’m setting coach with each practice so I I can improve since the last time I competed.
      “We’re always working out away from the school with dad.”
      Cristian and Ruben’s mother is Michelle Ramos. Older siblings are two older brothers - Al Padilla (who wrestled for Merrillville High school), J.P. Padilla (who played soccer at Merrillville) and Yazi Padilla (who played volleyball at Hobart). The youngest Padillas are twins Bella (who competes with the Merrillville wrestling Club) and Julian.
      Cook says the biggest difference in Cristian and Ruben is that Ruben will stir the pot a little bit.
      “(Ruben’s) a little bit of an instigator,” says Cook. “Ruben will say stuff to his drill partner. Cristian is silently working all the time. Ruben Padilla describes his approach.
      “I like to push people when I wrestle them,” says Ruben. “I push the pace."
      “I use my quickness to my advantage. A lot of guys I face are stronger than me.”
      At the same time, he is grounded.
      “I stay humble,” says Ruben. “I respect all of my opponents. These are things that wrestling taught me.”
      The Padilla brothers also play baseball. They split time between junior varsity and varsity last spring — Cristian as an outfielder and right-handed pitcher and Cristian as a middle infielder. In the summer, Cristian played travel ball with Highland while Cristian was with the Schererville Shockers.
      “(Baseball) helps with working as a team,” says Cristian. “Like with our dual meets.”
      Ruben takes lessons learned on the mat and applies them on the diamond.
      “Wrestling helps me be better at baseball,” says Ruben. “It’s things like toughness and being humble.”
      Cook is a 2002 graduate of Valparaiso High School. His senior year was the last year as Vikings head coach for his father and Indiana Wrestling Hall of Famer John Cook, who amassed a dual-meet mark of 361-112 from 1977-2002 with 35 state qualifiers.
      Jason Cook, who went on to wrestle at Purdue University, said he benefited in high school from having his father serving as director of the High School Division of National Wrestling Coaches Association (which he did from 2002-2010) because he was among the first wrestlers to be introduced each year to new rules changes.
      The younger Cook was familiar with Hobart wrestling from a young age because he often went against those kids at club meets. Later, he saw them in Duneland Athletic Conference meets.
      While the Brickies are no longer in the DAC (they are now Northwest Crossroads Conference members), the schedule still includes all but Michigan City from the Duneland. Hobart sees Lake County rival Crown Point in a dual meet on Friday, Jan. 7. The Brickies faced Merrillville in the Pirates’ Tom Cameron Invitational and saw Chesterton, Lake Central and Valparaiso in the Hobart Super Duals, Portage in Lake Central’s Harvest Classic and LaPorte at Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic.
      “It’s a stepping stone to the second half of the season,” says Cook of the Al Smith Classic. “Holes in your game will be exposed and it will be really obvious what we need to work on or you can get a big confidence boost if we see what works.”
      The Lake County tournament is Jan. 11 at Hanover Central. The Northwest Crossroads tournament is Jan. 18 at Lowell.
      The IHSAA tournament series for Hobart includes the Portage Sectional Feb. 1, Hobart Regional Feb. 8, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 15 and State Finals Feb. 21-22 in Indianapolis.

      2915 5

      #WrestlingWednesday: The Floyds Knobs three amigos

      In a town that literally gets its name for being tough and rugged, the Three Amigos personify what Floyds Knobs is all about.
      Floyd Central High School, located in Floyds Knobs, is the home of wrestlers Gavinn Alstott, J. Conway and Jonathan Kervin. The trio is known around town as the Three Amigos, primarily for their success on the wrestling mat. They are tough wrestlers that like to grind out wins and be physical. One wouldn’t expect anything less from a Floyds Knobs resident.
      Floyds Knobs is named after the Knobstone Escarpment located there (and Colonel Davis Floyd). The Knobstone is the most rugged terrain in Indiana. It has steep hills which are commonly referred to as knobs.
      As for the Three Amigos – all three qualified for state last season. Alstott finished fourth and Kervin sixth. This year, all three are ranked in the top 10 in their weight classes.
      “The Three Amigos is a term we coined last year and started calling them that,” Floyd Central coach Brandon Sisson said. “I don’t think they mind it. They all three work together and have pushed each other to get better.”
      Kervin is the only senior in the trio. He is currently ranked No. 2 at 152 pounds. Last season Kervin finished with a 39-4 record. He won sectional and regional and eventually finished sixth at state in the 145-pound class.
      “Jonathan is a really tough wrestler,” Sisson said. “He wrestles hard for all six minutes. He works really closely with is uncle, former two-time state champion Cooper Samuels. Those two have worked together for the past five years and it has really benefited Jonathan.”
      Kervin’s goal this season is to win a state title.
      “My style is sort of dynamic,” Kervin said. “I like to be a little deranged. I use my length. Last year I felt like I wrestled poorly at state. I didn’t do my normal workout to get ready. I want to get back and show what I can really do.”
      Alstott, a junior, finished 42-4 last season. He was a sectional and regional champ and ended up third in the Evansville semistate and would later place fourth at state.
      “Gavinn is a grinder,” Sisson said. “He gets out there, gets in your face and pushes the pace non-stop. He’s very business-like on the mat and in the practice room. I’m not ever going to have to see if he’s just messing around. When it’s time to work, it’s time to work. No matter what he does, he puts his head down and goes to work.”
      Alstott’s uncle, Craig Alstott, was Floyd Central’s first ever four-time state qualifier. Craig never placed at the state meet, however.
      “I think Gavinn got the monkey off his back a little by placing last year,” Sisson said. “But he has his sights set significantly higher this year.”
      Off the mat, Gavinn is an excellent student and has been a team leader since his freshman season.
      “He’s a really good kid,” Sisson said. “He gets good grades and is good to the other kids. Even as a freshman I thought of him as a team leader. He’s just a phenomenal kid.”
      Conway is the quietest in the group. He had a not-so-quiet season last year, however. Conway went 23-4 on the year and claimed a sectional and a regional title. He finished runner-up in semistate but lost on Friday night at the state tournament.
      “He’s a really, really quiet kid,” Sisson said. “I don’t think I heard him say anything at all his freshman year. Now as a sophomore he’s coming out of his shell a little bit. On the mat he’s more open. He is already at 130 takedowns in just 18 matches this season. He’s full throttle. You let him go, and he goes.”
      Sisson is pleased with his team this season and hopes the Three Amigos will help lead them to great things.
      “There are years where you have a lot of talent, but also a lot of drama,” Sisson said. “Then there are years where you don’t have any drama, but you don’t really have any talent either. This year, I really feel like we have a lot of talent and no drama. I’m lucky this year.”

      3546 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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      #MondayMatness: Isiah, Sam latest to shine as part of Prairie Heights’ Levitz legacy

      There are some names that are synonymous with certain sports at particular schools.
      Levitz is tied to wrestling at Prairie Heights High School near Brushy Prairie in LaGrange County, Indiana.
      The family has long enjoyed mat success for the Panthers.
      It started with Dan Levitz, who went 58-21 and graduated in 1989.
      Second brother John Levitz (1994) went 133-17 and was a state qualifier at 125 in 1992 and placed fourth at state at 140 in 1994.
      Third brother Mike Levitz (1996) enjoyed a 144-18 career and placed third at 145 in 1996.
      Doug Levitz (2015) posted a 165-33 mark and was a state qualifier at 145 in 2015.
      Jed Levitz (2018) went 178-31 and was a state qualifier at 160 in both 2016 and 2018.
      Doug and Jed are the sons of John Levitz.
      Two brothers — senior Isiah and sophomore Sam — are the two oldest sons of Mike Levitz and part of the family legacy. Youngest brother Matt Levitz is a 105-pound eighth grader.
      “I was destined to become a wrestler,” says Isiah Levitz. “But the being good part, that’s more of the own person’s work and how much they put into the sport.
      “Just because we’re Levitzes doesn’t always mean we’re going to be good. We still have to put in our work.”
      Isiah Levitz (121-31) was a sectional and regional champion and placed sixth at the IHSAA State Finals at 152 pounds in 2018-19 and has been competing in 2019-20 at 160. He is currently 10-0.
      “I’m getting better,” says Isiah Levitz. “I just need to work on being crisp, getting to my moves and working my offense. It’s more of a mindset thing for me more than anything physical.”
      While some wrestlers have a teammate they drill with on steady basis, Isiah tends to work out with many Panthers in the practice room.
      “I try to get my hands on everybody,” says Isiah Levitz. “I have a variety of different partners and I see a variety of different positions.”
      Sam Levitz (31-4 for his career) was a sectional champion at 120 in 2018-19. Competing at 138, he is 6-2 so far in 2019-20.
      Isiah Levitz and Zeke Rowdon (Class of 2019) have been Sam’s primary workout partners.
      “They bring speed, agility and a lot of strength,” says Sam Levitz.
      “I’ve been watching my brother. I do what he does. I’m more on the quick side and I’m decently strong. I consider myself to be better neutral or on bottom.”
      Isiah says Sam benefits from his position in the lineage.
      “He’s got a lot of people behind him,” says Isiah Levitz. “He gets the experience of not being the first one in the family to try and be a test subject. “He’s going to be a lot more refined. He’s got a lot of experience.”
      Isiah first competed in wrestling around age 5, but it was later that he really took to the sport.
      “It didn’t stick that I loved the sport until about sixth or seventh grade,” says Isiah Levitz. “I started to  believe this is for me. I started putting in the work and started getting better.”
      Along the way, he also started becoming a leader. But not the loud kind.
      “I don’t use my vocals a lot,” says Isiah Levitz. “I lead by example and my team follows because they respect me quite a bit.”
      Mike Levitz says he and Isiah have spent much of his high school career focusing on winning close matches.
      “He’s not got the surprise factor the family’s known for,” says Mike Levitz of Isiah. “My nephews were always pinners."
      “(Isiah’s) not a great pinner. He’s just a solid all-around wrestler. He gives it everything he’s got on and off the mat."
      “Isiah has come leaps and bounds the last three or four years. He’s worked his tail off.”
      Brett Smith is in his ninth season as head coach at Prairie Heights. His assistants include Mike Levitz, John Levitz, Lee Fry, Craig Hoyer, Dylan Forbes and Van Barroquillo.
      “A lot of my coaches have told me to just believe in myself and have confidence,” says Isiah Levitz. “That’s really helped me with my offensive skills. I used to be pretty timid on the mat. Now I’m really aggressive because I believe in my own moves.”
      The coaching advice that sticks with Sam?
      “Be the best in everything you do and try your hardest,” says Sam Levitz.
      Isiah impacts current and future Prairie Heights grapplers with his example and willingness to take them along for the ride and passing along to them what he already knows.
      “He’s been around it long enough,” says Smith. “He knows what it takes to get better."
      “He’s not afraid to pull extra kids in with him because once he leaves there’s going to be some foot marks there to replace and to walk in.”
      The example also extends to the class room. Isiah is a regular on the honor roll and has been academic all-state.
      Mother Abby Levitz is a nurse practitioner in LaGrange. Isiah (surgeon) and Sam (radiologist) say they are both considering careers in the medical field.
      “I want to spend the rest of my life helping people,” says Isiah.
      If he has to pick a favorite school subject Isiah says he would choose chemistry.
      A 1997 Prairie Heights graduate, Smith has long known about the Levitz connection.
      “They have just been a staple,” says Smith. “They’re hard workers.”
      From working for their parents’ tree service to bailing hay to wrestling, the older Levitz boys “put their nose to the grindstone” and that’s carried over to the next generation.
      “You never hear them complain about anything,” says Smith of Isiah and Sam Levitz. “They’re some of the hardest workers we’ve seen."
      “If you try to get through being average, you’re going to be average or below average. If you’re working 50 percent then you’re going to get out 50 percent.”
      When Smith took over the high school program, he invited John Levitz and Mike Levitz to join the coaching staff and the Panther Wrestling Club was established.
      Mike Levitz asked former Panthers head coach Fry to come back.
      “He’s all in,” says Mike Levitz. “He’s a godsend, Coach Fry.
      “He makes you want to be better. He truly is one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around. The kids love him. He gets the most out of them."
      “I’m very thankful that he came back in and joined the group.”
      Fry, an Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer, will be part of the inaugural Prairie Heights High School Athletic Hall of Fame class to be honored at halftime of the Angola-Prairie Heights varsity boys game game on Jan. 10.
      Among those also going into the Hall is Terry Levitz. The 1971 PHHS graduate was a standout running back and still holds four football records at the school. He also played basketball, baseball and ran track. He is a third cousin to Isiah and Sam Levitz. Terry’s father and Mike’s grandfather are brothers.
      Prairie Heights is scheduled to return to the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne Jan. 4. The Panthers placed second in Class 1A in 2014-15, won the 1A title in 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 and placed second in 2018-19.
      Some other highlights on the Panthers’ schedule include the New Haven Super 10 Dec. 21, Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 27-28, Northeast Corner Conference Championships Jan. 25 at West Noble, IHSAA Westview Sectional Feb. 1, IHSAA Goshen Regional Feb. 8, IHSAA Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 15 and IHSAA State Finals Feb. 21-22.
      “We’ve had a pretty strong run the last five or six years,” says Mike Levitz. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Going once, going twice, you're pinned by Freije

      It is said that a good auctioneer can almost hypnotize bidders into spending money. The seemingly random words used by the auctioneer are well rehearsed and designed to lull bidders into opening the pocketbooks and splurging on the products presented before them. Auctioneers talk fast – and that too has a purpose. The speedy delivery gives a sense of urgency to the bidders. If they don’t act now – they may miss out on that item they just have to have. A good auctioneer demands the attention of the room and can quickly have the audience doing exactly what they want them to.
      Indianapolis Roncalli senior Tyce Freije is a good auctioneer. In fact, he’s the best at his young age. And, just like he does on the auction block – Freije dazzles audiences on the wrestling mats as well.
      Freije is currently ranked No. 6 in the state at 152 pounds. He is a two-time state placer and is coming off a season where he finished fourth at 138 pounds. Off the mat he is the reigning International Junior Auctioneer champion.
      “I’m a fourth-generation auctioneer,” Freije said. “My grandpa and my dad both have an auctioneering business right by my house. We host an auction at least once a month. We sell everything from cars to tractors, lawn mowers, antiques, toys and guns. I really enjoy it and I will be pursuing it in my future.”
      Freije excels at whatever he does. He’s a stellar student, a good leader, he is an experienced member of the 4H community in addition to wrestling and auctioneering.
      “Everything the kid touches he works at it until he beats it or becomes the best,” Roncalli coach Wade McClurg said. “He’s very business-like and mature in his approach, whether it’s in auctioneering, wrestling, his faith, showing pigs, school, etc. He’s a winner and the ultimate competitor in everything he does.”
      Freije’s wrestling style is an in-your face, I’m coming at you, try to stop me approach. He’s physical and strong. He’s also tough. As a sophomore he broke his hand and refused to have surgery because he didn’t want to miss the entire season. He didn’t get to wrestle until the sectional, but he ended up making it to the ticket round of semistate before losing to eventual state runner-up Alex Mosconi.
      “Tyce loves the fight and is a super tough guy,” McClurg said. “He’s a strong and physical wrestler that goes at a high pace and has a big motor. He’s especially passionate about his wrestling. He enjoys the process of a training cycle and improving his game.”
      Freije’s goal this season is to become a state champion. He wrestles with Alec Viduya, a former state champ, in the Roncalli room often. In fact, the two recently wrestled in their inter-squad match and Viduya won in triple overtime. The two are able to push each other in practice, which in turn helps them during matches against other opponents.
      Freije credits his family for a lot of the attributes that make him the person he is. He learn auctioneering from his family and he says he also comes from a family of wrestlers. His uncle, Bob Freije, wrestled and coached at Brownsburg.
      “My parents have taught me growing up that I have to earn everything I want,” Freije said. “If I want success, I have to earn it. I have to work harder than everyone else to have a shot at it. They really drilled that mentality into my head, and I know that’s why I’ve been able to find success in things. I am willing to work to achieve my goals.”
      Freije also tries to help younger wrestlers understand that if you want results, you have to put in the work.
      “He’s an exceptional leader for our program,” McClurg said. “He does things the hard way which is the right way.”
      After high school Freije plans to attend college and wrestle, but he hasn’t decided where yet. He also plans to go into the family auctioneering business.


      #MondayMatness: Youngest Fiechter William looking to make noise in final season for Southern Wells

      For the better part of the past two decades, high school wrestlers in the Fiechter family have been regularly getting their hands raised in victory while wearing Southern Wells colors.
      Five Fiechter brothers — Vince (Class of 2004), Troy (2009), Darin (2010), Benjamin (2013) and William (2020) have accounted for more than 600 mat triumphs.
      All have eclipsed the 100-victory mark and rank among the winningest wrestlers in Raider history.
      Four have represented Southern Wells at the IHSAA State Finals.
      Vince Fiechter (118-18) placed fourth at 125 pounds in 2004.
      Darin Fiechter (134-28) was a state qualifier at 130 in 2010.
      Benjamin Fiechter (135-20) was state qualifier at both 126 in 2012 and 132 in 2013.
      William Fiechter (117-21) was a state qualifier at 138 in 2019, losing an 11-10 overtime match in the first round.
      “State was shock for sure,” says Fiechter. “Looking back, it was good for me. I learned to never take anything for granted. If I would have placed last year, there wouldn’t be as much fire or motivation to really push hard this year."
      “I’ve definitely got a fire under me and I’m working hard because I want to get over that Friday night match.”
      Troy Fiechter (121-28) was a four-time semistate qualifier.
      In addition, William set the school record with 92 takedowns in 2018-19 and ranks high in career takedowns as well as season and career wins.
      “There’s a 15-year age gap between my oldest brother Vince and me,” says William. “(My brothers) were really good at teaching me. They did not force their techniques on me. I think I’ve picked up something from every single one of them. They’ve always pushed me to be a hard worker."
      “They’ve always made me understand that there’s way more in life than wrestling. But wrestling can definitely help me out in life.”
      The youngest Fiechter is back for his senior season in 2019-20 and competing at 145. Through the Dec. 7 Wabash County championships, William is 11-0 for the 2019-20 season. He went 5-0 in the county meet at Northfield with four pins and a major decision.
      What William appreciates about wrestling is its individuality.
      “I can be my own person,” says William Fiechter. “I get what I put in. I enjoy the challenge of it."
      “I definitely have a lot of people around me who push me to be a better man and a better wrestler. There’s also a lot of motivation knowing that wrestling will help me later in life. It definitely makes you tougher.”
      Fiechter regularly works out in the practice room with friends he grew up with, including Jed Perry, Josh Beeks and Jacob Duncan.
      How do they help each other get better?
      “Just knowing that we can’t let up every single day,” says Fiechter.
      “Even if you don’t feel like wrestling, those are the days you probably become a better wrestler."
      “You have a practice partner who’s going to push you no matter what.”
      Southern Wells head coach Ryan Landis has been working with the Class of 2020 since they were fifth graders.
      “This is a special group of seniors,” says Landis. “They’ve stuck together. They push each other to get better. It’s a real fun group to coach.”
      Fiechter, who has competed some with the Adams Central club and as an independent in the high school off-season, offers a scouting report on himself.
      “Being around the sport quite a bit has helped my technique,” says Fiechter. “I’m definitely not as aggressive as I should be probably. I’m trying to learn a little more aggression. I’m pretty quick so that helps.”
      Pondering his future, William is considering college or perhaps becoming an entrepreneur.
      “I’d like to end up on the farm someday,” says Fiechter.
      The hands of the Fiechters have also been kept busy farming. The family, which is led by former wrestler and 1981 Adams Central High School graduate Lynn Fiechter (a state runner-up at 112 in 1980) and wife Ronda, works around 5,000 acres — mostly corn and soybeans with some swine.
      The closest town to the farm is Keystone. Southern Wells High School is near Poneto.
      Summer days might find the Fiechters boating or water skiing. The Fiechters are also a musical family and have recorded CD’s of their favorite gospel songs. William plays the guitar and ukulele.
      “Mom and dad are very good singers and passed down to some of us kids,” says Fiechter. “We were blessed with the ability that we should sing. It’s something we enjoy. It brings us closer together.”
      Fiechter appreciates Landis for showing him the way both off and on the mat.
      “The example he’s set has had a big impact on me,” says Fiechter. “He has this saying: Be brave when you’re scared; Be strong when you’re weak; Be humble when you’re victorious. That’s one that’s stuck with me.”
      Landis, a 2000 Southern Wells graduate, was an assistant for his first three years after high school and has been Raiders head coach since 2004.
      “I don’t know where that came from,” says Landis of the saying. “But it’s something we’ve adopted these last three or four years.
      “It’s awesome. It’s great. It’s what wrestling is about. It’s about finding that last bit of strength in your body when you don’t think you can do it. It’s about being humble when you are victorious, knowing that if you don’t keep working hard somebody’s going to come up and kick your butt.”
      Landis has coached all of the Fiechter brothers.
      “The personality is all completely different,” says Landis of the Fiechters. “But the No. 1 characteristic is that they’re the hardest-working kids in the room. Growing up on the farm, they just work hard in everything they do."
      “William is the most down-to-earth kid you’ll ever talk to. As much success as William has had on the mat, he’s a kid that you still have to pump confidence into him. He’s very humble. He’s very hard-working. He’s fun to be around.”
      Landis sees William as a solid mat technician.
      “He’s very fundamentally-sound,” says Landis. “He’s not a wild, crazy scrambler. Everything’s cautious and in position. He’s hard to score on. A couple takedowns and an escape and he’s in control of the match.”
      There are several key dates on the South Wells calendar. Besides the Wabash County Championships Dec. 7 at Northfield, there’s the Allen County Athletic Conference Duals Dec. 13-14, Connersville Spartan Classic Dec. 27-28, ACAC Championships Jan. 24 at Woodlan, Jay County Sectional Feb. 1, Jay County Regional Feb. 8, Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 15 and State Finals Feb. 21-22.

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Chundi excels on the mat and in the classroom

      Carmel senior Suhas Chundi isn’t one to brag about his accomplishments – and there is plenty to brag about. His GPA is astronomical. His SAT score was close to perfection. He doesn’t want either of those actual numbers published because it’s just not something he thinks needs attention.
      Chundi isn’t just gifted in the classroom though – he’s also a superb wrestler with state championship aspirations.
      Last season Chundi placed fourth at 106 pounds. He enters the 2019-2020 campaign as the No. 2 ranked 113 pounder in the state – but has already made weight at 106.
      Chundi’s success in academics, and in wrestling comes from his work ethic.
      “Academics and wrestling are a lot alike,” Chundi said. “I was born with a little bit of natural intelligence, but I’m not any Rain Man genius or anything. I had to put in the dedication, figure out what to do and follow the plan. It helped me be successful.
      “Wrestling is the same way. I don’t have a lot of natural talent, but I listen to my coaches, try to learn what they are telling me and follow their plan.”
      On the academic side Chundi spent the summer preparing for the Biology Olympiad. Out of over 2,000 applicants, the top 20 are chosen to go to the Biology camp. In that camp there are days of learning, doing labs and taking tests. At the end there is over nine hours of testing and the top four students get selected to represent the United States in the Biology Olympiad. Chundi was one of those top four and went on to place 25th in the world at the event in Hungary.
      “I think saying he’s insanely smart is an understatement,” Carmel wrestling coach Ed Pendoski said. “I’ve coached guys that have went to Northwestern, Cornell and the Navy Academy. But Chundi is on a different level. He’s applied to Harvard, Cornell, Stanford and a school that’s part of Northwestern that you have to apply to just to see if you can get the admissions application.
      “I asked the head of our science department if the Biology Olympiad was a big deal. He said it is ‘out of your mind big,’ and said that it will set his plate forever.”
      Pendoski had one bit of advice for Chundi as he left for the Biology competition.
      “I told him if the guy from Poland finishes higher than him, don’t bother coming home,” the coach said jokingly.
      Last season Chundi had 15 losses but come tournament time he was clicking on all cylinders. He won sectional and regional, got runner-up in the New Castle semistate and eventually placed fourth in state at 106 pounds.
      “I want to be a state champion this year,” Chundi said. “But I also want to share the podium with most of my teammates. I want Carmel to become a wrestling school this year.”
      Chundi is one of the team leaders for the Greyhounds – which is unusual for a guy competing in the smallest weight class.
      Chundi is 5-2, 106 pounds but Pendoski said the team listens to him.
      “He’s a lot of fun to be around,” Pendoski said. “He has a huge personality inside of the wrestling room. He really does a good job of leading by example.”
      This season Chundi will be one of the rare seniors at 106, which Pendoski hopes will help him have a strength and maturity advantage over the field.
      “He’s a late bloomer,” Pendoski said. “He’s really trying to elevate his game this year.”
      Chundi’s parents moved to the United States from India two years before he was born. He visits India frequently and really enjoys the trips.
      “Things are more rugged in India,” Chundi said. “It’s fun getting a taste of that culture and being able to visit family.”
      The Carmel senior has proven he can succeed on the mat, or in the classroom. He’s also an outstanding teammate, according to Pendoski.
      “I really can’t think of a better example of an ultimate teammate,” Pendoski said. “From helping give a guy a ride, to community service, to cutting weight – he does it all. When his career ends in February, Suhas Chundi will be on to bigger and better things and will excel at whatever he does.”

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      #MondayMatness: Leo’s Heath embraces the brotherhood, grind of wrestling

      Bolstered by the bond of teammates and the backing of family and coaches, Ian Heath continues to give it his all on the high school wrestling mat.
      The 132-pound junior at Leo enjoys workouts and meets with about a dozen other Lions, appreciates all the support from his parents and sister and gets guidance from a staff led by a seasoned head coach.
      “Everything you do is for your team and for your family,” says Heath.
      “We’ve got a small team. We’re super close and would do anything for each other. It makes you want to wrestle harder when you do it for guys you’ve bonded with. I really enjoy how close we are.
      “It’s like a big group of brothers.”
      Ian is the son of Shane and Kelli Heath and the older brother of Anna. Shane is Fort Wayne Police Department detective and former Norwell High School wrestler, Kelli a DeKalb County probation officer and Anna a Leo eighth grader.
      “They’ve supported me through everything,” says Ian. “Me and my dad have been on so many road trips. My mom has stayed up so many late nights washing clothes. My little sister helps clean mats at the high school.
      “It’s a family effort for sure.”
      Rod Williams is in his 30th season of coaching high school wrestling in Indiana. It’s his fifth in charge at Leo. He was head coach at East Noble and Norwell and before that an assistant at his alma mater — DeKalb (Class of 1986).
      Among his East Noble grapplers was Taylor March, who won 163 matches with a state titles, two runners-up and a third-place finish. Danny Irwin, who is now head coach at West Liberty (W.Va.) University, wrestled for Williams at Norwell.
      Danny’s brother, Matt Irwin, was in junior high when Williams led the Knights program and went on to win a state title.
      Williams wrestled for Logansport and head coach Joe Patacsil then moved to DeKalb as a senior and worked with head coach Russ Smith. He grappled at Manchester College for head coach Tom Jarman.
      “I was blessed with outstanding coaches,” says Williams, who is assisted this season at Leo by Chad Lothamer, Tad Davis and son Logan Williams.
      Heath says Rod Williams trains wrestlers to defeat the best.
      “You work to beat the top 1 percent and you’ll beat everybody else anyways,” says Heath. “We focus at Leo on proper technique that’s going to beat the best guys.”
      Heath and his mat brothers take that message of being relentless to heart.
      “(Williams) preaches that to the team,” says Heath. “That’s what we try to live by at Leo.
      “It comes back to wrestling hard the whole time."
      “It’s not about doing just enough to win. That’s not what Coach Williams wants.”
      What Williams appreciates about Heath is his willingness to always give his best effort.
      “Everybody wants to be a champion,” says Williams. “Very few people are willing to pay the price. (Heath’s) motor never stops."
      “We always say we want to be extremely stubborn on our feet, relentless on top and explosive on bottom. He never stops wrestling.”
      As for Heath’s place on the team, his head coach sees him as a leader with his work ethic.
      “He leads by example,” says Williams. “He’s very encouraging of the other guys."
      “A lot of the other wrestlers feed off his intensity.”
      Heath had his first mat experiences in first grade, but really began to take the sport seriously in middle school. He has traveled extensively since then and competed with coach Bryan Bailey the Indiana Outlaws Wrestling Club and trained with coach Kevin English and Elite Athletic Club among others.
      “In the off-season, we travel everywhere,” says Heath. “It’s a different practice every night."
      “(English) told me to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and embrace the whole grind of the sport.”
      Spending so much time in so many different wrestling environments has taught Heath many ways to attack and defend.
      “I really enjoy new technique,” says Heath. “When it comes down to it,
      I have my fundamentals I stick to.
      “But I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve.”
      Heath went 41-6 as a Leo freshman and was a qualifier for the IHSAA State Finals at 120. As a sophomore, he went 44-3 and placed fifth at 126. He is off to a 5-0 start as a junior.
      At 90-9, Heath is No. 2 on the all-time victory list at Leo. With nearly two seasons left in his prep career, he seems sure to go well past 2007 graduate Chad Friend (112-13) for No. 1.
      “It’s not as important to me as getting as good as I can,” says Heath.
      “I’m not chasing records."
      “I have a passion and love for the sport. Everyday I go to practice I get to do what I love."
      “It makes it easier to get through the tough times.”
      His regular workout partners are senior Clayton Jackson (138) and junior Jacob Veatch (126) as well as Logan Williams.
      Jackson and Veatch present contrasting styles.
      “Clay is very fundamental,” says Heath. “He has very good defense. He stays in good position all the time.
      “If I’m going to score on him, it has to be perfect technique.”
      Jackson and senior Tom Busch (285) serve as team captains. Heath describes Veatch as “super funky” and flexible.
      “I have to be even more fundamental (against Veatch),” says Heath. “I have to finish quick and start if I’m going to finish the takedown on Jake."
      “I’ve got great partners.”
      The Leo schedule includes the New Haven Super 10 on Dec. 21, the North Montgomery Holiday Tournament Dec. 27-28 (duals on Friday and individual format on Saturday) and the Class 2A Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals. Four of eight Northeast Eight Conference schools — Leo, Bellmont, Columbia City and Norwell— will compete.
      “Everything you do is working toward the middle of February,” says Heath. “I take every match one match at a time. But State’s always on my mind."
      “There’s nothing compares to being on the floor at Bankers Life.”
      Heath has already experienced what it’s like on Friday night of the State Finals with the Parade of Champions leading up to first-round matches.
      “We’re all in the (Indiana) Pacers practice gym and it’s quiet,” says Heath. “You know in about 20 minutes it’s ‘go time.’ (Wrestlers are) getting their mind right before they step out there."
      “One of the coolest things I’ve got to experience is that walk.”
      He has the chance to make the walk a couple more times before heading off to college where he hopes to continue as a wrestler.
      While their time together at Leo has not been that long, the coach and the athlete actually met several years ago.
      A Herff Jones salesman, Williams was introduced to Heath when he was a toddler and around the Norwell program where Ian’s aunt was then a manager.
      One day when Williams had the Heisman Trophy with him, he and Ian posed with it for a photo.
      The youngster told the coach he was going to be a wrestler.
      “I’d like to coach him some day,” says the coach’s reply.
      All these years later, it is happening.
      “Ian is a great young man,” says Williams. “It’s an honor to coach him.”

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      #MondayMatness: From deaf slave to Warsaw wrestler, Linky has taken quite a journey

      Real adversity meets opportunity.
      That’s the story of Jacob Linky.
      The wrestling room at Warsaw Community High School is filled with pulsing music and coaches barking instructions as more than three dozen Tigers get after it.
      One wrestler — junior Linky — goes through the workout, rehearsing his moves with his workout partner, cranking out pull-ups and running laps around the room.
      But without the sounds heard by the others.
      Linky lives in a world that is mostly silent.
      Without his cochlear implants, Linky can’t hear much of anything.
      There was one incident where smoke alarms went off all over the house where Jacob now resides with Nrian and Brenda Linky. It was 3 a.m.
      “Jacob slept through the alarm,” says Brian Linky, Jacob’s legal guardian. “I woke him in the morning.”
      The young man was not born deaf.
      Now 18, Jacob was about 5 and in native Africa — Lake Volta, Ghana, to be exact — when he lost his hearing at the hands of his father.
      “We were slaves,” says Jacob, speaking of his early childhood through interpreter Rebecca Black. “We helped my dad in his fishing business.
      “I didn’t used to be deaf. My dad hit by head a whole bunch. That’s how I became the way I am.”
      His father demanded that young Jacob dive into very deep waters full of dangerous creatures.
      “I felt a pop in my ears,” says Jacob. “I was a kid.”
      His native language was Twi, but he didn’t hear much that after his hearing was gone.
      Growing up the second oldest of seven children, Jacob has a brother who was born to another family, rejected and traded to his father.
      It was a life that is difficult to imagine for those in the U.S.
      “My mom didn’t do anything wrong,” says Jacob. “She fed me.”
      Wanting the best for Jacob, his mother placed him in an orphanage. He eventually came to live in Warsaw when he was adopted by Andy and Dawn Marie Bass and began attending the fifth grade at Jefferson Elementary in Warsaw. He received hearing aids and then implants.
      “I’m thankful the Basses adopted me and brought me here,” says Jacob.
      “I now live with the Linky family.”
      Following grade school, Jacob went on to Edgewood Middle School in Warsaw and was introduced to wrestling.
      “I knew nothing (about the sport),” says Jacob. “I played around.”
      Drive and athletic prowess allow Jacob to excel on the high school mat.
      “At times his feisty side comes out because of that past,” says Warsaw head coach Kris Hueber. “He’s channeled it well and we’ve been able to harness well most of the time.
      “He has days where he is cranky and fired up, You know that he’s drawing from stuff that no one else has.”
      After missing his freshmen season, Jacob made an impact with the Tigers as a 145-pound sophomore, advancing to the East Chicago Semistate.
      “This year, I’d like to go all the way to State,” says Jacob, who spent the summer pumping iron and continues to eat a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables and protein while packing more muscle on a  5-foot-7, 160-pound frame.
      “(Jacob) fell in love with the weight room,” says Hueber. “There is not much on him that is not muscular. He’s one of those guys with his energy level he needs to be active. As an athlete, he is a remarkably gifted human being. He’s able to do things no one else in the room can do. Between strength, balance and agility, he is uniquely gifted.”
      Ask Jacob what his best quality is as a wrestler and says speed. His quickness and and strength come into play in the practice room with larger practice partners — 170-pound Brandon Estepp, 182-pound junior Mario Cortes and 195-pound senior Brock Hueber.
      “I don’t like to wrestle light persons,” says Jacob. “It makes me work hard to wrestle the big guys.”
      Warsaw opened the 2019-20 season Saturday with the Warsaw Invitational and Jacob went 5-0 with four pins.
      Sign language and lip-reading help him navigate life as a teenager and athlete. When Jacob wrestles, Black circles the mat to maintain eye contact and relay information to him.
      “She always looks where my head is,” says Jacob. “She always gets sweaty.”
      Who gets sweatier during a match? “Me,” says Jacob, thrusting a thumb at his chest. “I’m a harder worker.”
      Black has been around Jacob since he was in eighth grade.
      “I feel privileged to be involved in his life,” says Black. “He’s an amazing person. He just is.”
      Hueber has come to appreciate that Jacob has the ability to be both competitive and light-hearted.
      “He’s ornery still, but in a good way,” says Hueber. “He has not been able to out-grow being a kid. I love that.”
      While Jacob’s background and circumstance are different than his Tiger mates, Hueber says he’s “just one of the guys.”
      “(They) don’t treat him differently in any way,” says Hueber. “They love being around him because of his charisma and personality. He’s a really great teammate.”
      Hueber says working with Jacob has helped others recognize their influence.
      “They might be able to goof off for two minutes and snap right back,” says Hueber. “If (Jacob) misses one line of communication, there’s a lot that he’s got to recover from.”
      This means that workout partners need to be focused and attentive as well — not just for themselves but to also help Jacob. Hueber notes that Jacob has to concentrate and keep focused on his interpreter in class (his current favorite class in English and he is looking forward to Building Trades in the future) and practice.
      “There are probably times when he’s looking for a break,” says Hueber.
      “He’s on and he’s full-wired all day. That’s taxing mentally for sure.”
      Brian Linky works in payment processing at PayProTec in Warsaw and Brenda Linky is the special needs coordinator for Warsaw Community Schools. The Linkys have two sons who played basketball at Warsaw — Zack (now 28 and living in Calfiornia) and Ben (now 22 and attending Indiana University).
      Taking in Jacob means they have a teenager in the house again.
      “He’s been nothing but polite,” says Brian Linky. “He’s hard-working around the house (mowing the lawn, making his bed, walking the dog and cooking his own meals). He has friends over. He’s very happy.”
      As for the future, Jacob is considering joining the football team next year (he has never played the sport). He turns 19 in May.
      A brother, Christian, lives in Virginia and communicates with Jacob and family in Africa through text.
      “We’re going to save up so we can visit our parents in Africa,” says Jacob.
      Right now, he is doing life as an Indiana teenager and wrestling is a big part of it.
      Real adversity meets opportunity.

      18683 1 4

      #WrestlingWednesday: Cathedral comes up clutch in the finals

      “You’re still in this. It’s not over.”
      Elliott Rodgers kept hearing those words coming from his corner Saturday night in the championship match of the 152-pound weight class at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.
      With under a minute to go in the match Rodgers trailed Greenfield’s Cooper Noehre 7-4. Rodgers was wrestling for an individual title and a chance to all but secure a team title for the Irish.
      “It was nerve wracking,” Rodgers said. “It’s scary to be trailing like that. I don’t like it. But, you just have to think if you win, you win. If you lose, you lose. The coaches are in my corner yelling that it’s not over. That kept me going.”
      Rodgers earned an escape point to cut Noehre’s lead to 7-5. Then, with under 10 seconds remaining, he earned a takedown to tie the score and force overtime. It was the third overtime meeting this season between the two rivals.
      This time Rodgers pulled out a move he has been working on in practice but hadn’t shown Noehre yet – an inside trip. The move worked, and Rodgers won the match. The victory gave him his first state title and helped Cathedral win its second team title in as many years.
      “Elliott just grinded it out,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “He was down points but he didn’t panic and he battled back. He didn’t just do it in the finals, he grinded out wins in the quarterfinals and on Friday night.”
      Rodger’s teammate, senior Jordan Slivka sealed the team championship for the Irish in the next match.
      Slivka took on Portage’s No. 1-ranked Donnell Washington Jr. in the 160-pound championship. Washington beat Slivka 8-3 during the regular season and appeared on his way to beating him again in the final.
      Washington took Slivka down early in the match and then cut him (gave him a free escape). Washington continued his dominance for most of the first two periods. Then, in the final minute of the match, Slivka came alive. The Ohio University commit scored seven points in the final minute to win the match 12-7.
      That victory ensured no other team could catch the Irish in points. Slivka won his first individual state championship last season, and coincidentally, that victory also sealed the team title for the Irish.
      “This title felt better than last year’s,” Slivka said. “My goal wasn’t to be the best wrestler at Cathedral. I didn’t think I could ever accomplish that with guys like Blake Rypel and Lance Ellis. But no other Cathedral team has won two titles, and I wanted to be able to say I was the best team captain.”
      Slivka’s wrestling shirt has the word “clutch” on the back of it – one that coach McGinley feels is appropriate for the senior.
      “He comes through when people count him out,” McGinley said. “Washington is extremely, extremely talented and tough. He was on us that first period. We just wanted to stay close and ride it out. Slivka never lost faith and he pulled out that win.”
      Going into the final Cathedral looked to be in great shape to claim the team title. The Irish had four wrestling for weight-class championships and a small lead in the team standings. But things got a little dicey in the early goings.
      Irish freshman sensation Zeke Seltzer lost the 113 pound final to returning state champion, No. 1-ranked senior Jacob Moran of Portage 3-0. Then Cathedral’s Alex Mosconi fell to No. 1-ranked Matt Lee, 5-2 in the 145-pound final.
      When Avon’s Asa Garcia earned a pin over Roncalli’s Alec Viduya in the 132 pound final, suddenly things got interesting. Avon still had Carson Brewer to wrestle at 182 pounds. Brewer was the heavy favorite in the match, and if he pinned his opponent, Avon had a chance to take the team title.
      That’s when Rodgers and Slivka stepped up and won back-to-back matches to eliminate that possibility.
      “If we polled everyone they would have probably said we were an underdog in three of the matches and probably a push in the fourth,” McGinley said. “We knew the odds were against us, and we just needed someone who was going to step up and pull it through.”
      In all, Cathedral sent five wrestlers to the state tournament. Rodgers and Slivka won their weight classes. Seltzer and Mosconi placed second and Lukasz Walendzak finished 8th at 126.

      11806 1

      #MondayMatness: Crown Point’s Mendez runs table as a freshman

      Jesse Mendez had a “blast” in punctuating his freshmen wrestling season at Crown Point High School with a 2019 IHSAA title.
      The 126-pounder started off his finals match with a “blast double” takedown and went on to a 6-0 win against Avon junior Raymond Rioux to cap a 42-0 season.
      Mendez reigned in a stacked weight division. He pinned Western freshman Hayden Shepherd in 1:02 Friday and Mt. Vernon (Fortville) senior Chase Wilkerson in 3:58 in the quarterfinals before earning a 13-4 major decision against Jimtown senior Hunter Watts in the semifinals.
      “He’s a tough wrestler and a tough opponent to get by,” said Mendez of Watts, who was a champion at 120 in 2018, runner-up at 113 in 2017 and sixth at 106 in 2016.
      Rioux, who had placed third at 120 in 2018 and sixth at 106 in 2017, beat Yorktown senior Brayden Curtis 3-1 in the semifinals. Curtis was a champion at 113 in 2018 and at 106 in 2017 after finishing seventh at 106 in 2016.
      And yet Mendez was dominant. How did that happen?
      “I work hard in the (practice) room,” said Mendez. “My coaches and I are always trying to get to my attacks more often. I just trust in what they’ve been teaching me and it’s been working.”
      Bulldogs coach Branden Lorek has been impressed with the ability and work ethic of Mendez.
      “He’s got all the attributes — he’s fast, strong, physical, smart,” says Lorek. “He listens very well. He’s very coachable and a student of the sport.
      “He’s the first guy in the room and the last guy to leave. For a freshman, he’s not afraid to speak up and pick guys up. He’s a welcome
      While there plenty of eyes on him at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and on television, Mendez was not intimidated.
      “I’ve been wrestling in big tournaments my whole life,” said Mendez, 15. “I’ve been in tight situations in front of big crowds.
      “I think I thrive off of it.”
      Mendez is confident in his abilities.
      “If I wrestle my match I can beat anybody,” said Mendez. “If I get my attacks going, there’s nobody who can stop me.
      “I think I can really open kids up a lot. I’m really good at moving my feet and my hands.”
      As his head coach puts it, Mendez wants to “be the hero.”
      “He wants to go out and get bonus points and do whatever he can for the team,” said Lorek. “If we bump him up a weight class, he has no problem doing that. If we need him to wrestle for a major, he’ll get the job done.”
      Around 7 or 8, Mendez put aside his other sports and focused on the mat. He hooked up with the Region Wrestling Academy.
      “Those coaches are great,” said Mendez, who grew up in the Lake Central district before moving to Crown Point in middle school. Hector and Monica Mendez have three children — Payton, Jesse and Lyla.
      “My family’s really important to me,” said Jesse. “They sacrifice a lot for me.”
      There won’t be much time spent basking in his state title for Mendez. After a brief break, he’s going to start working again to get ready for meets like the FloNationals, Iowa Folkstyle Nationals, World Team Trials, Super 32, Fargo and Who’s No. 1?.
      In other words, the wrestling world will be hearing more from Jesse Mendez.

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