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      3655 1

      #WrestlingWednesday: Frankton = Family

      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
      Frankton wrestling coach Courtney Duncan walked in on the first day of practice carrying something a little bit unusual. The Frankton wrestling coach wasn’t holding a whistle, or uniforms. He was holding index cards. He passed one out to each kid in the room and told them to write down why they came out for wrestling.
      When Duncan read the answers, he knew he had a pretty special team.
      “Almost every kid put that they wrestle because it builds family and relationships,” Duncan said. “I didn’t have the kids put their names on the card, but that told me right then and there that they get it. It’s not about wins and losses. It’s about trusting each other and being loyal to each other.”
      Frankton, a small school of 480 students just north of Anderson, had one of the best Class A teams in the state last year. Coach Duncan really thought that they could have fared well at the team state tournament, but they did not get an invite. This year, that has changed. Frankton will be one of the teams competing for the Class A title.
      “We are really excited about team state,” Duncan said. “This is where we wanted to get as a team. We thought we had a chance last year, but this year we’re going in hoping to prove we belong. We have more kids out than we’ve probably ever had. The kids are excited and they all really look forward to the tournament.”
      One of Frankton’s hammers is junior 170 pounder Cody Klettheimer. Last season Klettheimer was one of two Frankton grapplers to advance to the individual state tournament.
      “We are looking forward to team state,” Klettheimer said. “Our goal is to win it. But we also think we can win our sectional, regional and maybe even our semistate.”
      That isn’t out of the realm of possibilities for Frankton. The team has four returning wrestlers who advanced to at least the ticket round of semistate last year. Klettheimer and senior David Delph advanced to state. Senior Dru Berkebile lost in the ticket round at semistate as did junior Cole Baker.
      The Eagles have other wrestlers, like senior Grant Geisinger, that are hoping to do well in the tourney this year. Geisinger lost to Cathedral’s Elliott Rodgers on a last second takedown in the opening round of regional. Rodgers went on to place fourth in state.
      “Grant has really developed,” Duncan said. “He has had a taste of success now, and he’s ready to make a run.”
      Frankton has the luxury of depth this year, something the school hasn’t really ever had before. There were over 30 kids go out for the team.
      “I have options this year,” Duncan said. “We are able to move kids around. We are able to make strategic lineup decisions. We have backups at just about every spot in our lineup.”
      Another major team strength is the bond the wrestlers have.
      “We all love being around each other,” Klettheimer said. “We know what we want to get to, and we push each other to the limit in the room. Even drilling we are starting to go 100 percent on everything. And, when we’re not wrestling, we are all hanging out together. We’ve became very close.”
      Frankton has improved its strength of schedule over the last several years, hoping it will create better wresters.
      “Our kids believe,” Duncan said. “They believe in each other, and they believe in themselves. We have a tough schedule, but it doesn’t matter what size school you come from, you still put your wrestling shoes on the same way. We are realizing by facing these larger, stronger schools, we can compete with anyone.”
      Klettheimer said the team’s motto is “Take No Prisoners.” The Eagles are good, and they want to prove it. Team state can’t come fast enough for this tight knit group.
      “We’re ready to see what we can accomplish,” Duncan said. “I think we can do something pretty special.”

      3570 1 4

      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Prechtel working finish on top

      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
       
      Jeb Prechtel was the first Jasper wrestler to call the school’s new coach, Alex Lee last season. He wanted to see who would be teaching him for the next few years.
       
      So, Prechtel gave Lee a call and asked if they could practice together.
       
      “I kind of wanted to see if I could beat up on him,” Prechtel joked.
       
      The coach and the student wrestled that first day and Lee scored a few takedowns on the young grappler. Prechtel wanted to learn how he got those takedowns and how he could stop them in the future.
       
      “He called me that night and was asking what he was doing wrong and what he needed to do better,” Lee said. “He expects to beat everyone. He doesn’t care if you’re the coach or Jordan Burroughs. He expects to win. I knew right then this was a special wrestler. It bothered him that he didn’t know some things and he stayed up trying to figure them out. Once you tell him, you don’t have to tell him again. He’s is a very good learner.
       
      Prechtel is currently ranked No. 3 in the state at 160 pounds. The senior is undefeated at 30-0. And, almost shockingly, he is coming off of his very first sectional championship last week.
       
      Prechtel is almost the poster child for bad tournament luck throughout his career.
       
      In his freshman season he ran into a very talented Gavinn Alstott in the Southridge sectional final. He fell to Alstott and then, for the next two seasons, he lost to eventual state champion J Conway in the sectional finals.
       
      “Winning a sectional actually felt really good,” Prechtel said. “Having J Conway in sectional the last two years has really be a learning experience for me. I have learned how to take losses early in the post season. Now I’m wrestling with a lot more confidence.”
       
      Prechtel has one goal this year – a state title.
       
      “Jeb is determined,” Lee said. “He works tirelessly. I’m fully confident that he will reach his goal. I really expect to see him wrestling under the lights.”
       
      According to Lee, Prechtel is a student of the sport. He soaks up as much wrestling knowledge as he possibly can and he’s a relentless worker.
       
      Despite his work ethic and hunger for wrestling knowledge, Prechtel had a weakness he didn’t know how to overcome. He almost feared close matches.
       
      “I’ve dealt with a lot of mental battles in my wrestling career,” Prechtel said. “I lost in semistate one year by one point. I was always scared of one-point matches. That was something I’ve tried very hard to overcome. It was a mental block with me.”
       
      So Prechtel talked with his coaches in high school and his coaches at Maurer Coughlin Wrestling Club. He desperately sought answers to how he could overcome his mental block with those one-point matches.
       
      “I told them, I just don’t know how to fix this,” Prechtel said. “I’ve lost my two most important matches of my career by a point. I don’t know how to overcome this.
       
      “So they told me that I’m going to have one point matches. They said I have to go out there and just know that I trained harder than the other guy and I worked harder than he did. I have to have the confidence in those close matches that I am the better wrestler and I am going to win.”
       
      So, this year he’s had that mindset in every match he’s wrestled. He said he treats every match as if it’s the state championship.
       
      “Every match I’m zero and zero and I’m wrestling for a championship,” he said. “This year I have a totally different mindset. It started at the end of the offseason. I’m more confident. In my mind, I know I outwork anyone. I can push myself further than I have before.”
       
      Lee knows that the sky is the limit for Prechtel because of the amount of work he is willing to put in.
       
      “He’s been a captain of this team for three years,” Lee said. “He’s an awesome leader. He leads verbally. He leads by example. He works harder than anyone I have ever coached.”
       
      When he’s not wrestling, Prechtel enjoys hunting, fishing and snow skiing. He plans to wrestle in college and study business management, but he is currently undecided on where he will go.
       

      3520 1

      #WrestlingWednesday: Van Horn looking to corral a state title

      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
       
      Burk Van Horn remembers being with his dad and brothers driving down the highway on their way to Nebraska, and seeing several cars trying to get their attention. Turns out, Van Horn had accidentally left the gates open on the family’s cattle trailer they were hauling, and some of the cattle was walking toward the opening.
       
      “The cows were just about to jump out when we stopped,” Van Horn said. “We had stopped to eat and I checked on the cattle, but forgot to close the gates.”
       
      Van Horn is a little more careful these days, both with cattle and on the wrestling mat. He’s currently ranked No. 2 at 160 pounds. He started the season out ranked No. 1 at 170 pounds and later moved to 160 and was given the top ranking there, before the latest polls had Evansville Mater Dei’s Joe Lee moving up to 160 and claiming the top spot.
       
      The Franklin Community senior has had a stellar career in high school, but it wasn’t until last season that he really stepped up his game. As a freshman Van Horn advanced to semistate. As a sophomore he was defeated in the first round of regional. But, as a junior, he not only made it to the state tournament – he wrestled his way under the lights at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. Van Horn lost a 3-0 heartbreaker in the state finals match to two-time champ Jacob Covaciu.
       
      “My sophomore year I had a bad match at regionals,” Van Horn said. “But that helped me to become better and motivate myself more. I started to break down matches more. That loss was a setback, but it made me want to go further.
       
      “Then, last year when I saw my draw at state, I really felt like I could get under the lights. Just getting there wasn’t my goal. I wanted to win, not get second.”
       
      Franklin coach Bob Hasseman said losing in regional as a sophomore was a turning point in Van Horn’s career.
       
      “It was a crappy match and things happened that was a little out of his control with the officiating,” Hasseman said. “At that time, when something didn’t go his way, Burk could get a little discombobulated. But since that time, and probably because of that time, he has learned to keep on rolling and to take the good with the bad. He’s going to make mistakes. He’s going to get bad calls. That’s wrestling. But he has to stay focused and keep wrestling and not make a grave error when he’s frustrated.”
       
      Van Horn has mixed emotions about the rankings this year. He likes the fact that he was ranked No. 1 at two different classes. He likes that he has a target on his back and a lot of guys are trying to knock him off. But he doesn’t like when kids get intimidated just because of his ranking.
       
      “I’ve still got a lot of room to improve before I can become a state champ,” he said. “I’m just another kid out there wrestling. There are sometimes I wish I wasn’t ranked because a lot of kids won’t wrestle me. Or, if they do wrestle, some of them just roll to their backs like little girls instead of at least putting up a fight. But it is fun walking onto the mat and knowing that you’re the man.”
       
      Van Horn has made weight once at 160, but plans to go back to 170. At this point, he’s not sure where he will wrestle in the tournament.
       
      “I’m going to do whatever is best for the team,” he said.
       
      Burk started wrestling about the time he learned to walk. He has two older brothers that were state qualifiers.
       
      “Burk is quite a bit bigger than his brothers were,” Franklin coach Bob Hasseman said. “He’s got the size and he’s very talented. His whole family seems to be just genetically strong. He has good hips and is very rarely out of position on the mat. His body build also helps him tremendously.”
       
      Burk is the epitome of being country strong. His daily routine of wrestling and then going home and working with the cattle and his show pigs has helped him develop a habit of hard working.
       
      “I show pigs and cattle year around,” Burk said. “It’s a lot of hard work. If you want to win in the show ring, or in wrestling, you have to be willing to put in the hard work.”
       
      Van Horn is hoping all his hard work produces an end result of a state championship this season.

      3516 3

      #WrestlingWednesday: The Man Behind the Mic, Kevin Whitehead

      Brought to you by EI Sports
       
      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
       
      Thirty-two years ago a spur of the moment idea by Kevin Whitehead resulted in a monumental change to the Indiana high school wrestling state finals.
       
      Back then, Whitehead was a table helper at the finals. He had filled in occasionally on the microphone, announcing some matches for Homer Hawkins, the main announcer at the time. Whitehead thought something was missing going in to the finals. So, he grabbed a notebook and a pencil and went on the mat asking each wrestler for information about themselves.
       
      "I was interested in finding out a little more about the kids," Whitehead said. "So I went kid-to-kid and asked them what year they were in school, what their records were, how many falls they had and such."
       
      At the time, all of the wrestlers in the championship round were lined up across the mat and everyone's name was announced along with their opponent. The two would run across the mat and shake hands. That was it.
       
      But now that Whitehead had all of this extra information scribbled down in his notebook, Hawkins asked if he would like to announce introductions.
       
      "After I announced everyone, Homer looked at me with a smile and told me to keep the microphone and announce the championships," Whitehead said. "I haven't given it up since."
       
      Now the introductions of the finalists are a large part of the finals. Whitehead announces each wrestler, and reads off their list of wrestling accomplishments as the wrestler joins his coaches under a spotlight. After one wrestler is announced, the spotlight moves to his opponent across the mat. Then, the two wrestlers meet at center circle and shake hands.
       
      Whitehead has been the announcer at the state finals since 1984. He lives in Kentucky, but looks forward each year to his annual trip to Indianapolis for the finals.
       
      During his time as the announcer for the finals, Whitehead said he has witnessed major changes in the state format.
       
      "The tournament has gotten bigger in just about every way it can," Whitehead said. "There were fewer wrestlers when I started. When I first got involved the tournament had just expanded. When I was in school there were 12 weights and four wrestlers in each weight. There were 24 semifinal matches and that gave you the finalists and the consolations. After 48 matches, it was over.
       
      "Now we hit match 48 by about 7:30 on Friday night."
       
      Whitehead remembers when the finals moved to Market Square Arena and when the Friday night sessions were added. He has watched as the talent level in Indiana has gotten better, and interest in the sport has greatly increased.
       
      "Wrestling has really grown in the state in terms of the caliber of wrestling, the number of matches, the fan interest and the amount of schools that are represented," Whitehead said. "Right now it sort of gets taken for granted that we have guys wrestling for, or going to wrestle for schools like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska and Penn State. That was unheard of not so many years ago. You might have one or two outstanding guys that would break the mold, but the quality of wrestling has increased multi-fold and that's very gratifying. That is the driving force as to why there were 33,000 people going there and watching it this year."
       
      Whitehead has announced over 8,000 matches in his long career. He doesn't have a favorite match, but said the atmosphere this year at the state finals was great. He misses the old scoring system for the team title, and believes that created a big interest throughout the tournament.
       
      That was what separated the great sessions from the average sessions," Whitehead said. "The team race was great when you had a few teams battling for the team title. That really hasn't happened since we went to the new format."
       
      One of Whitehead's best memories from the finals came in the 80s. The weather was exceptionally bad and the finals got bumped from Market Square to the New Castle Fieldhouse.
       
      "They had to wrestle it all on one day," Whitehead said. "It started early and ran late. The crowd was huge and New Castle was absolutely packed. When it was over, we all knew we can through a tough time with the weather for wrestling. We had this sense of community afterwards."
       
      As far as announcing, Whitehead said when he calls out for the wrestlers to clear the mat for the second time, that's when things start to get serious. He says he doesn't have any go-to catch phrases from behind the microphone, but he does love the unique names. He prints the finals brackets off as soon as they are available and practices how he will say the names.
       
      Whitehead wrestled for Franklin Central in the early 1970s. He never got past regional but was a Marion County runner-up and a sectional runner-up.
       
      He retired from the Kroger Corporation after a long career spent in packaging development. He lives in Louisville now and spends time golfing with his son when he gets a chance, working around the house and tending to his vinyl record collection.
       
      "I have a 45 vinyl collection with about 3,000 records," Whitehead said. "I started collecting in the 60s, but I really started in earnest when I found a great Goodwill Store near Indiana State University. At the time, vinyl was junk. But now it's very collectible."
       
      Whitehead said he has no intentions of quitting his announcing gig at the state finals. He plans on announcing for as long as he's allowed to do so.

      3493 1

      #MondayMatness: Current Adams Central team keeping up BAGUBAs tradition

      By STEVE KRAH
      stvkrh905@gmail.com
      When you grow up in the Adams Central Community Schools district and are inclined toward the wrestling mat, you begin dreaming about grappling for Adams Central Junior-Senior High School.
      AC calls its athletic teams the Flying Jets. The wrestling team also goes by the acronym adopted by original head coach Barry Humble (1970-71 to 1990-91) — BAGUBA (Brutally  Aggressive  Guys  Uninhibited By  Adversity).
       “It just means when you step on the mat, you have have a mindset of toughness, hard-nosed, gritty, tough wrestler,” says fifth-year Adams Central head coach Tony Currie. “You’re not going to back down and you’re not going to quit.”
      AC wrestlers are taught to be mentally as well as physically strong. “Wrestling’s a tough sport,” says Currie. “It rarely goes just like you want it. You have to have that strong mind.
      “We ask them to control the controllable — focus on you and what you can control.”
      Senior 132-pounder Logan Mosser, a state qualifier at 120 in 2018, explains it.
      “You have to stay focused on your goals and fight through it,” says Mosser, whose brother Anthony wrestled for AC and graduated in 2017 as a two-time state qualifier (113 in 2015 and 132 in 2017). “Remember why you’re there.”
      Currie competed at the IHSAA State Finals his last three seasons wearing a singlet for the BAGUBAs — qualifier at 140 pounds in 1993, second at 145 in 1994 and third at 151 in 1995.
      Since Jack Bersch in 1977, AC has produced 78 state qualifiers through 2018. The Jets have had at least one state qualifier every season except one. Troy Roe was a state champion at 105 in 1985. Besides Currie, Lynn Fletcher (112 in 1980), Ray Ashley (119 in 1984), Mark Griffiths (125 in 1990) and Andy Bertsch (135 in 1996) have been state runners-up. Adams Central has qualified for every Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals and won the 2018-19 Class 1A title in Fort Wayne, besting Prairie Heights 35-32 in the finals.
      “It was a total team effort,” says Currie of AC’s third IHSWCA State Duals championship (the Jets also reigned in 2013 and 2015). “At the 1A level, every roster has three or four top-end guys. But it’s the depth. If you can run out a solid kid at every weight class, you can do well.”
      Eighteen BAGUBAs competed for Adams Central and helped the team win four duals. Logan Mosser went 4-0 at 132, senior Jashawn Berlanga 3-0 at 220 and 1-0 at 285 and junior Paul Faurote 2-0 at 160 and 2-0 at 170. Fourteen others won at least one match.
      Why have the Jets enjoyed success?
      “A big part of that would be our coaches,” says Mosser. “All have good knowledge to spread around.”
      Currie is assisted by Bobby Perry, Doug Linthicum and Doug Schultz. Volunteers include Hunter Bates, Aden Feasel, Brian Jordan and Zeke Schultz.
      “(Currie) preaches hard about working hard in the practice room,” says Mosser. “It’s paying off on the mat.”
      Parker Bates (170) credits experience for helping with this season’s accomplishments.
      “We get really good senior leadership,” says Bates, one of 11 members of the Class of 2019 and the younger brother of 2016 graduate Hunter Bates (who placed eighth in the state at 152 as a senior and grappled two seasons at Wabash College). “They’ve grown up through the (Jet Wrestling Club, which currently includes about 75 pre-kindergarten through fifth grade).
      “They’ve seen upperclassmen succeed and that’s what they want to do. They don’t want to be the ones to let the town and community down. We wrestle as much for our fans and hometown as we do for our team. Our fans travel really well. It helps us a lot. It picks up the intensity and gets us more hyped-up for matches.”
      Adams Central edged Jay County to win Allen County Athletic Conference tournament title. Weight class champions for the BAGUBAs were Mosser (33-1) at 132, senior Logan Macklin (20-3) at 145, Bates (26-1) at 170 and Berlanga (30-3) at 220.
      AC’s IHSAA state tournament series path includes the Jan. 26 Jay County Sectional, Feb. 2 Jay County Regional and Feb. 9 Fort Wayne Semistate prior to the Feb. 15-16 State Finals.

      3480 4 1

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

      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
       
      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.

      3470 10

      #WrestlingWednesday: Eiteljorge is kinda cool

      By JEREMY HINES
      thehines7@gmail.com
      There’s cool, and then there’s Jack Eiteljorge cool.
      The Carmel senior wrestler may even be too cool.
      “Jack’s the guy I want to do my heart surgery because he’s as cool as a cucumber,” Greyhound coach Ed Pendoski said. “He doesn’t get rattled by anything. But, that’s one of the things we are trying to work on this year. I want him having emotion. We’ve talked to him about how sometimes you have to have emotion, whether it be positive or negative.”
      Just how cool is Eiteljorge?
      “He’s so cool that you could sit him down and tell him that someone just walked into his house and killed his dog, Bacon. His reply would be, ‘Oh, OK.’,” Pendoski said. “You could tell him that Taylor Swift is in the hot tub and wants to make out with him, and he’d say ‘Oh, OK’.”
      Eiteljorge is currently ranked No. 2 in the state at 160 pounds. He is a three times sectional and regional champion, but he has never punched his ticket to state. Pendoski thinks opening up and getting a little emotional may be the edge that Eiteljorge needs to finally get to state - and possibly win.
      “Going into this year, after the Super 32, we had just had two pretty bad losses,” Pendoski said. “We really started dialing in on our mental part. He’s done a good job reacting to that. The phrase we use a lot is that mental toughness is the ability to manage the thoughts in your head. We went back to that simple platform. We talked to him about getting excited. We said let’s get angry. Let’s be happy. Show something.”
      The plan has worked. Eiteljorge is 33-2. He has pinned or tech falled all of his opponents in the state tournament except for one, and that match he won 18-8.
      “I’ve been trying to show emotion,” Eiteljorge said. “Coach wants me to, and he has a lot of muscle so I listen to him. He feels that sometimes I’m like a robot on the mat. He wants me to just start having fun.
      I’ve really been working on that part. It’s a big change from past years. Making myself be less methodical is the key. I have to go out there and make the matches fun.”
      Eiteljorge isn’t one of the kids that found immediate success in the sport of wrestling. When he was young and just started going to CIA, Pendoski’s wrestling academy, he was the guy getting beat up on.
      “Jack was in a group with some very, very good wrestlers,” Pendoski said. “He was the beginner. The partners he was with had been around for years and were winning championships. I think Jack went two or three months before he even scored a point. But, he was the guy that would stick around after practice and do pull-ups or pushups.”
      Eventually he won his first club level state tournament. Pendoski says that was a turning point for him.
      “That’s the day I knew this little ankle-biter would be OK one day,” Pendoski said. “It was nice to see a guy that started from the beginning, worked his tail off and then started to see the results.”
      Eiteljorge lost in the first round of semistate his freshman year. As a sophomore and a junior he lost in the ticket round.
      “This year my goal is to win state,” Eiteljorge said. “My goal is not just to get to state. But, I still know there will be a pressure on me to get past the ticket round. If I win that match, I’ll certainly feel a weight has been lifted.”
      Eiteljorge isn’t one to talk about personal successes, he’s too cool to brag. But, he’s more than willing to gush about his teammates.
      “I have really good teammates,” he said. “They are awesome. I love hanging out with them. Carmel’s team chemistry is what helps us be a top program. We are always improving. We have a casual, playful environment. We have fun. But when it’s time to get serious we focus and get the job done.”
      Next season Eiteljorge will wrestle for the University of Indianapolis.
      “The University of Indianapolis is going to be real happy with the product they are getting with Jack,” Pendoski said.

      3470 3 5

      #WrestlingWednesday with Jeremy Hines: Johnson peaking at the right time

      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
       
      Brandon Johnson is proof that it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish that counts.
       
      As a freshman 220-pounder, Johnson’s start certainly wasn’t pretty. The Lawrence North grappler entered sectionals with a 4-9 record, with three of his wins coming via forfeits. There were only five wrestlers total in his weight class that year in the Arsenal Tech sectional. Johnson was the only one not to advance to regional. In the two matches he wrestled, he was pinned twice.
       
      Johnson’s miserable first high school season could have broken most athletes.  To go on the mat time and time again and to lose almost every match starts to mess with one’s psyche.
       
      Johnson isn’t like some athletes, however. He didn’t put his head down and throw in the towel. He became obsessed with getting better.
       
      “After his freshman year Brandon absolutely worked his tail off,” Lawrence North coach Jacob Aven said. “He went to every tournament possible. He went to CIA. He did ever extra club practice he could.”
       
      That work led to some improvement by his sophomore season. Johnson finished the year with a 17-18 record. He lost in the first round of regional.
       
      As a junior, Johnson has had more success than failure. It’s his first year with a winning record. He placed third in sectional, then followed that up with a third-place finish in the Pendleton Heights regional. For the first time in his career, Johnson qualified for semistate. Going into semistate Johnson was 36-4 on the year and actually climbed his way up to a No. 10 ranking spot.
       
      Then came the greatest weekend of wrestling in Johnson’s career. He shocked many in attendance Saturday by not only qualifying for state, but by winning the New Castle semistate.
       
      “He was just locked in all day,” Aven said. “It’s hard to imagine, thinking back to that freshman year that he would be going into the state tournament as a semistate champion. But he has things you can’t coach. He has heart and he clearly wanted to get better.”
       
      Johnson is proof that in wrestling, hard work can pay off. He dedicated himself to the sport. When he lost, he learned. When he won, he studied what made him successful.
       
      “I’ve practiced a whole lot,” Johnson said. “I’ve went to camps and tournaments. I’ve trained as hard as I can. I’ve always made sure I’ve wrestled kids that are better than me. I’ve wrestled my coaches. It’s been a very difficult journey. The only thing I do is wrestle.”
       
      Johnson’s semistate performance started with a 16-1 technical fall victory over North Vermillion junior Aidan Hinchee. In the ticket round Johnson beat Franklin Central’s Talan Humphrey 17-7.
       
      That set up a semifinal match against No. 4-ranked Austin Hastings of Noblesville. Hastings had already beaten Johnson twice this season – and in convincing fashion. The first meeting Hastings pinned the Wildcat in just 28 seconds. The second time the two wrestled Hastings won by major decision, 14-6.
       
      This time, however, Johnson was different. He was having the tournament of his life and he would not be denied a trip to the championship. Johnson won the match 9-2.
       
      That set up a finals showdown against Mt. Vernon’s Devin Kendrex. Like Hastings, the No. 7-ranked Kendrex had beaten Johnson twice already this season.
       
      “After Brandon qualified for state I told him the job wasn’t over,” Aven said. “I told him that my junior year I qualified for state and then after that I was just happy to be there and I ended up placing fourth. I pulled him aside and said hey, the job’s not finished. If you want to do something at state it’s going to be a lot easier if you go in as a semistate champion. We said to wrestle hard, and to keep moving forward.”
       
      Johnson was ready to finish the job. He did just that. He defeated Kendrex 5-3 to claim the semistate title.
       
      “I think this weekend was a real eye opener to where he can be,” Aven said. “I’m hoping he has a deep run in the tournament and then puts the same work back in next year. We will get to see how great he can really be.”
       
      Johnson’s journey hasn’t been easy. There have been a lot of road blocks in the way. But he didn’t give up and now he has a semistate championship to show for it.
       
      “During practice you have those little moments where you don’t know if you want to go on,” Johnson said. “But you do. You power through. You feel like you want to give up but you just keep going. That’s wrestling. Wrestling has given me that mentality. You truly can accomplish something if you put in the work.”

      3435 1 6

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

      By STEVE KRAH
      stvkrh905@gmail.com
       
      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.

      3430

      #MondayMatness: Red Finishes Stellar Career

      By STEVE KRAH
      stvkrh905@gmail.com
      It was one of the most highly-anticipated championship matches in the 78 years of the IHSAA State Finals.
      There was a buzz around the Indiana wrestling community for months.
      On Saturday, Feb. 20, before 12,602 leather-lunged fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis, New Palestine’s Chad Red and Evansville Mater Dei’s Nick Lee — ranked No. 1 and 2 in the nation and holding four previous state titles between them — stepped under the lights with the 132-pound title on the line.
      Here they were, what long-time State Finals public address announcer Kevin Whitehead called “two of the finest high school wrestlers on the planet.”
      The crowd and the television audience was treated to a tussle between the two Big Ten Conference-bound grapplers.
      Red had never lost a match as a high schooler and yet he found himself behind 4-0 early in the match. He cradled his way back into the lead and wound up with his hand being raised after a 6-5 victory.
      “I just feel like I wrestled through that match calmly and, other than giving up that four. I wrestled pretty good,” Red said. “(Lee’s quick 4-0 lead) definitely caught me off-guard. I noticed I had to move a lot more. Once I started moving a little more, I started changing the momentum of the match. Once I locked up that cradle, I started changing the momentum of the match and the crowd got a little more quiet. It was back to us wrestling. I had to control the lead.”
      The New Pal Dragon sprinted off at 183-0 with state titles at 106, 120, 126 and 132.
      Red is only the third Indiana high schooler to go unbeaten throughout his career and the ninth four-time IHSAA state champion, joining Crown Point’s Jason Tsirtsis (2009-12), Griffith’s Angel Escobedo (2002-05) and Alex Tsirtsis (2001-04), Mater Dei’s Blake Maurer (2001-04), Indianapolis Cathedral’s Lance Ellis (1986-89), South Bend Central’s Howard Fisher (1949-52), Muncie Central’s Willard Duffy (1930-33) and Bloomington’s Estil Ritter (1924-27).
      Lee, who was at the top of the podium at 132 in 2015 and third at 126 in 2014, finished his junior season at 16-1.
      He’s been on big stages and won championships all around the country, but Saturday in Indianapolis was special.
      “This is crazy,” Red said. “This is one of my favorites, if THE best.”
      Ellis, the first Indiana grappler to run the table, was there to present Red with his medal and later reflected on the moment.
      “That was good for our sport, good for Indiana wrestling,” Ellis said. “What Chad Red did is amazing. He’s put himself in the record book as probably the greatest high school wrestler in Indiana history.”
      What makes Red so good?
      “A lot of things,” Ellis said. “It’s the time he puts in on the mat, the dedication, athleticism, just the will to win. He’s just a phenomenal wrestler. The bond he has with his dad (Chad Red Sr.) is special. Once you start winning, it becomes contagious.”
      But what it boils down to for Ellis is that Red has what it takes to go into an early deficit, in front of a huge crowd with many rooting against him and still dig deep and come out on top.
      “It comes down to mental toughness,” Ellis said. “And you’ve got to give (Nick) Lee all the credit in the world. For him to go after Red and challenge himself says a lot about him. Most people would do that. No one would do that. He’s a competitor.”
      Ellis said as impressive as the showdown was now, it will be even more important years from now when Red and Lee can look back on even bigger titles at the national and international levels.
      What did Lee think about the experience?
      “You don’t get to wrestle the best kid in the country all the time,” Lee said. “You don’t take it for granted. You go out there and give it 100 percent. The hype is the hype. There’s always hype every year in every weight class. The opportunity to wrestler somebody with that many great credentials is just exciting for me.”
      The moves that built the 4-0 lead?
      “An inside tie to a Fireman’s (Carry) and I got him to his back, so two (points) for a takedown and two for a near fall,” Lee said. “You can’t panic when you get down and he didn’t panic and he took the lead. That’s something you can admire in wrestlers at this level. They’re always in the match no matter what the score is.”
      Red will take his talents to the college mat at Nebraska while Lee has committed to Penn State.
      Who knows, but these two could meet again many times in the future?
      As for the immediate future for Red, he does not plan to be back in the wrestling room on Monday.
      “I’m going to take a long time off,” Red said. “I’m about the chill-ax right now, kick my feet up and sit back.”
      But Red will be back in the spotlight again soon enough when he takes on the Pennsylvania 132-pound champion March 26 at the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic.

      3409 1

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

      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
       
      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.

      3393 2

      #WrestlingWednesday: Avon's Band of Brothers leading the way

      By JEREMY HINES
      thehines7@gmail.com
      The Avon wrestling team knows exactly where to look for inspiration as the season winds down and the state tournament draws near. The Orioles look to their own past.
      Avon has learned first hand how wild and unpredictable the tournament can be. Wrestlers on the team have proven that it doesn’t matter if you win sectional, or regional. It doesn’t matter if you take some losses during the regular season. What matters most is surviving and advancing.
      Avon senior Asa Garcia has epitomized that philosophy in his stellar career.
      As a freshman Garcia lost to Ty Mills of rival Brownsburg in the sectional championship. Mills went on to beat him again in the regional, and then handed him a 5-0 loss in the semistate final. At state, however, Garcia was the one standing at the end. Mills lost to Warren Central’s Keyuan Murphy 9-2 in the semifinal round. Garcia pinned Murphy in the state championship to claim his first title.
      Garcia had a fantastic sophomore year - winning sectional, regional and semistate, but he fell just short of his goal of back-to-back state titles, losing to eventual champion Alex Viduya in the state semifinal round. Garcia finished third that season.
      As a junior Garcia again lost to Mills in sectional (2-0) and regional (5-1). In the semistate Columbus East’s Cayden Rooks handed Mills a semifinal defeat (1-0) and then dealt Garcia a loss in the semistate championship (3-1). But, like his freshman year, Garcia learned from his losses.
      In the state finals Garcia ran through an absolute gauntlet of wrestling phenoms. He took out Beech Grove’s Ethan Smiley. He then faced Mills, who had dealt him so many previous losses. This time Garcia came out victorious 8-1. 
      In the championship, Garcia would once again take on Rooks - who had just beat him the week before. This time Garcia won the match 3-2 to claim his second title.
      “Asa is really the heart and soul of our team,” Avon coach Zach Errett said. “As he goes, so does the team. He’s not afraid of losing. That’s really a quality that a lot of our guys have. You have to learn from your losses, and Asa has really shown he can do that.”
      This year Avon has seven state-ranked wrestlers in the lineup. Garcia is No. 1 at 132 pounds this season and senior teammate Carson Brewer is ranked No. 1 at 182 pounds.
      Asa’s younger brother, Blaze, a freshman, is currently ranked No. 12 at 106 for the Orioles. Sophomore Tyler Conley is ranked No. 10 at 120 and his older brother Nathan Conley (12) is ranked No. 4 at 152.
      Junior Raymond Rioux is currently ranked No. 7 at 126. Sophomore Jaden Reynolds rounds out the ranked wrestlers for Avon, at No. 10 in he 138 pound weight class.
      “Asa, Nathan and Carson really lead the way for us,” Errett said. “They are great leaders and they work hard. That shows the other kids what’s expected and what needs to be done in order to have success.”
      Avon has three sets of brothers on the team in the Garcias, the Conleys and Jaden and Trae Reynolds. Trae, a senior, is injured and will miss the remainder of the season.
      “Trae had been ranked for most of the year,” Errett said. “Then at team state he dislocated his elbow and is out for the year. I feel terrible for him. The type of kid he is, he will probably be first team academic all-state. He had either the highest or the second highest GPA in all of the juniors and seniors last year. He’s a phenomenal young man. He’s a hard worker. His senior year ended in the wrong way, but he still comes in the room and helps coach. He’s trying to help his teammates anyway he can. He’s been an awesome kid.”
      For the last few years Avon has finished just behind Brownsburg in sectional and regional standings. The Orioles are hoping this year they can pull off the upset.
      “Our goal is to win the IHSAA state title,” Errett said. “We know in order to do that we have to have a lot of things go right for us. In this sport, that’s unpredictable. But, we really feel we have a chance if everyone is wrestling their best.”

      3384 4

      #WrestlingWednesday: Perry Meridian's Billerman bothersome to coaches and opponents

      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
       
      Perry Meridian wrestling coach Matt Schoettle stands in front of his team of grapplers with a goal in mind. He wants to teach them a technique that will help the young men become better wrestlers and gain an advantage over their opponents. But, as he teaches, a voice resonates from within the team. It’s senior Toby Billerman and he’s smirking as he tells the coach that the moves he’s teaching simply won’t work.
       
      It's not that the technique actually won’t work – it’s just that Billerman has a knack for getting under Schoettle’s skin a little.
       
      “He’s kind of a smart ass,” Schoettle said.
       
      Billerman agrees.
       
      “He calls me that in practice too,” Billerman said. “I always give him a hard time. I mess with him some when he’s showing moves.”
       
      Although Billerman likes to keep the room loose and have fun, he’s a very serious wrestler. Almost to a fault.
       
      Over the summer Billerman put in so much work on the mat that Schoettle went to him and told him he needed to try and take some breaks.
       
      “His dedication and commitment are unique,” Schoettle said. “Over the summer I thought he wrestled too much. He’s been doing that for years. He just loves to practice and compete.”
       
      Billerman defends his workload by saying it’s something he loves to do.
       
      “Coach tells me all the time that I do too much,” Billerman said. “I tell him it’s OK. It’s a sport I love to do. I realized toward the end of the summer that I was doing way too much, and I tried to take a few breaks to relax and hang out with my friends. But even then, I was thinking about wrestling. It’s what I love to do.”
       
      That work ethic has led to an enormous amount of success on the mat for the 120-pound senior. Billerman is currently ranked No. 3 in his weight class. Last year he finished second in the same weight and as a sophomore he finished third at 106 pounds. This year he’s hoping to walk away with a state championship.
       
      Winning state is never easy, but the 120-pound class is loaded. There are 13 former state qualifiers in the top 20. LaPorte senior Ashton Jackson is currently sitting on top of the hill. Jackson is a two-time state champion, winning 106 in 2021 and 113 last season.
       
      Right behind Jackson in the rankings is returning 106-pound state champ Jake Hockaday, a sophomore from Brownsburg. There are other proven winners in the weight class as well, like Sullivan senior Lane Gilbert (ranked No. 8). Gilbert has placed the past three seasons, with his best finish coming in 2021 when he placed third at 120 pounds. Other 120 pounders, such as Kokomo junior Jalen May, Evansville Mater Dei sophomore Isaiah Schaefer, Delta junior Neal Mosier, Western junior Tanner Tishner, Columbus East senior Liam Krueger and Center Grove sophomore Eddie Goss have all placed in state before as well.
       
      “Ashton Jackson has to be the favorite right now,” Schoettle said. “He beat Toby a few years ago in the semis. But I would never count Toby out. He can beat anyone.”
       
      Billerman’s practice partner in the Perry Meridian room is senior Kenton Morton. Morton is ranked No. 16 at 132 pounds and is a two-time state qualifier.
       
      “They have been wrestling together for the last 13 years,” Schoettle said.
       
      Although winning an individual title is a major goal for Billerman, he would also love to win the Team State title.  The Falcons have a very solid squad with five ranked wrestlers in the lineup. In addition to Billerman and Morton, Hruai Liam, Zach Huckaby and Andy Warren are all ranked in their respective weight classes.
       
      After team state, Billerman and company will shift their focus to the individual tournament.
       
      “I just want to go into the tournament and have fun,” Billerman said. “I want to wrestle hard. I want to compete. And, from there, whatever happens, happens.”
       
      After high school Billerman will wrestle at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He is currently considering studying nursing but admits that might change.
       
      “Toby is a slick wrestler on the mat,” Schoettle said. “He’s got great technique and he is pretty physical. No doubt he’s a team leader and has been for a while. But he’s also a great kid. A great student and he never gets in trouble. He’s a very good role model for the younger guys.”
       

      3376

      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: From Rivals to Training Partners

      Brought to you by EI Sports
       

      By JEREMY HINES
      jerhines@cinergymetro.net
       
      East Noble seniors Connor Knapp and Garrett Pepple weren’t exactly friends their freshman year. In fact, they didn’t even like each other much.
       
      The two were competing for the same varsity spot at 106 pounds. It was a position they both wanted badly. Ultimately, Knapp won the weight class and Pepple spent most of the season on the junior varsity squad. Knapp went on to qualify for state as a freshman.
       
      “My goal going into my freshman year was to qualify for state,” Pepple said. “I wanted to have a good record, too. But we had a solid team and I only weighed about 100 pounds. I had multiple chances to earn a spot. Connor and I wrestled off once, and he beat me. Then I went up to 113 pounds and I won the spot, until our 120 pounder dropped down and took it from me.
       
      “When you compete for a spot with someone it’s hard to be close friends. There was a little hate between us.”
       
      The next year, things changed. Knapp moved up to 113 pounds and Pepple stayed at 106. The two were no longer competing for the same spot, and they started to become friends.
       
      That season Pepple made a huge stride. He went from a JV wrestler the year before, to finishing second in the state as a sophomore. Knapp placed 4th.
       
      “At first we didn’t really talk much at all,” Knapp said. “But the next year we started to become friends. We started training together. Now he’s like my brother.”
       
      The two seniors began pushing each other to get better. Pepple is considered a very good top wrestler, and Knapp needed work on bottom. Pepple’s top work helped.
       
      “Garrett is really good on top,” Knapp said. “A lot of the stuff he does is what some of the top guys I go up against are going to do. He gives me a good idea of how to counter things. Pretty much in every position there are certain things he can do that normal wrestlers wouldn’t have the confidence to do. We both have our advantages and that helps push both of us.”
       
      As juniors Pepple placed second at 113 pounds. Knapp finished third at 120.
       
      “After finishing second my sophomore year I was happy with that,” Pepple said. “Maybe I was even a little complacent. But my junior year, my goal was a state championship and nothing else. Placing second still haunts me. I don’t want it to happen again.”
       
      Pepple says he has been much more focused this season. He is the No. 1 ranked 113 pounder in the state.
       
      “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of what it could be like to win a state championship,” Pepple said. “My dream, my goal is to be a state champ. That’s all I can think about. I’ve visualized myself winning so many times. I walk around my room just thinking about it for hours. I have even planned my celebration if I win. It won’t be anything cocky, but I’ll definitely celebrate if I can win it.”
       
      Both wrestlers are pushing each other to get better in the room. East Noble has had only one state champion before. Pepple and Knapp wants to change that.
       
      “Iron sharpens iron,” Pepple said. “It’s great to have such a tough drill partner who is going to push you to be your best.”
       
      Outside of school Knapp loves to draw action pictures. It’s a talent not many know about. He is also an elementary school teaching assistant. He works one-on-one with children, and he said it’s something he absolutely loves doing. As far as the future, he is still trying to decide what he wants to do.
       
      “I’m trying to decide on whether I want to wrestle in college or not,” Knapp said. “I’d like to be a Force Recon Marine. I’ve dreamed about that my whole life. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Now I think, why not – I have the tools.”
       
      Pepple plans to attend Indiana University where he wants to wrestle. He is either going into the medical field, business or education.
       
      Pepple says the biggest turning point so far in his career was when he shattered his lower leg playing sharks and minnows in practice before his freshman season. He broke two bones, and had to have multiple screws put in along with a metal plate to stabilize it.
      “I didn’t know if I’d ever wrestle again,” he said. “But I worked hard and came back. That showed me I can overcome anything.”
       
      Both wrestlers are hoping they can overcome all of the obstacles the state tournament presents, and stand together as state champions.
       
      If you have a #WrestlingWednesday idea, please contact Jeremy Hines at jerhines@cinergymetro.net.

      3361 2

      #WrestlingWednesday: Bellemy looking to make an impact in the Hoosier State

      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
      LeVon Bellemy isn’t running – he’s surviving.
      He’s surviving a life growing up in one of the most dangerous parts of the country, Davenport, Iowa – part of the notorious Quad City area. He’s surviving a life where his family either ends up in prison or shot – and sometimes both. He’s surviving, because that’s what he does.
      He’s not running, he’s fighting. He’s fighting to show a person can overcome circumstance. He’s fighting to show there is hope. Sometimes the greatest warriors are the ones that can travel the more difficult road and escape their demons. That’s what Bellemy is doing – and that’s how he ended up in Ellettsville, population 6,677.
      When asked what he is trying to overcome, Bellemy says simply “everything.”
      Bellemy’s story is a unique one. His athletic ability has saved him time and time again back in Davenport, as has the guidance of family, particularly his uncle Clyde Mayfield. Uncle Clyde gave LeVona job in his health food store – and he made sure LeVon knew the value of hard work and discipline. Under Clyde’s direction, Bellemy excelled in school and athletics.
      In Davenport, with a crime rate 116 percent higher than the national average, hard work and discipline wasn’t quite enough. When LeVon's brother was shot in May, something had to change. That’s when his cousin, Pauli Escebedo stepped in and offered Bellemy an escape. LeVon moved to Ellettsville to live with Pauli and her husband, Indiana wrestling coach Angel Escebedo.
      “They have been great to me,” Bellemy said. “Angel is a good guy who is trying to better me. He lets me know what I’m doing wrong and right.”
      When Bellemy moved to Indiana, sports were an afterthought.
      “I was focused on getting out of there and finding something better,” he said. “Things got hectic at home, and very bad for me there. I wasn’t worried about football or wrestling. I was worried about getting out.”
      Bellemy has made an immediate impact on Edgewood High School. As a star running back he rushed for over 1,700 yards and scored 27 touchdowns this season. Edgewood improved from 3-7 last year and 1-9 the year before that to finish with a record of 8-4 in 2018.    
      “I can’t think of a more opposite place for LeVon to land,” Edgewood wrestling coach Greg Ratliff said. “He’s going from Davenport to Ellettsville. It is a small town. Everyone knows everyone else. The second LeVon got here the rumors started swirling about who he was. Everyone wanted to meet the new guy.
      “Both the wrestling and the football team got to know him quickly and made him feel at home. We let him know that here, he is family. He has fit in extremely quickly.”
      Football is Bellemy’s first love. He’s getting Division I college looks and plans to play at the next level. But, Bellemy is also a gifted wrestler.
      Bellemy wrestled as a freshman in Iowa, but then decided to try his hand at basketball as a sophomore.
      “I hated basketball,” he said. “I knew I had to go back to wrestling. Wrestling is football without the ball. It helps you so much with football, as far as mentally and physically. Mentally you are the toughest kid on the block if you wrestle. Wrestling gets your mind right. It teaches you not to give up. Physically, with the double leg and the driving through people, it helps you tackle and run over people.”
      Bellemy returned to the mat for his junior season. He ended up placing seventh in Iowa’s biggest class in the state tournament.
      “My goal in Indiana is to win state,” Bellemy said. “That’s my only goal in wrestling. I’ve been doing my research. I’ve been studying the competition.”
      Ratliff can see that happening.
      “He is a pure dynamite athlete, honestly,” Ratliff said. “I got to see a little bit of him wrestling this summer. Sometimes I was thinking, man, this kid is wrestling against LeVon well, but then I would look at the scoreboard and see LeVon would be up 10 points or more. He’s explosive. I’m yelling for him to just get an escape before a period ends, and before you know it he’s getting a reversal and nearfall points.”
      Daily life in Ellettsville is a lot different than what Bellemy was used to in Davenport.
      “The thing to do here is to sit in the IGA grocery store parking lot and talk,” he said. “That’s really the main thing we do. We sit in that parking lot for hours and talk. In the summer we will go swimming, but other than that – that’s all we do.
      “Ellettsville is a small town. There is a big difference with the people and how they act. It’s a whole new atmosphere. There are no negatives around here.”
      But, for as much as LeVon needed Edgewood, Edgewood has needed LeVon.
      “He gets along with everyone here,” Ratliff said. “He can talk to anyone. He talks to the athletes, the band students and those not involved with anything. He is a positive influence on everyone he comes in contact with. He’s a hard worker and others see that. They see how he can overcome anything and be a success. That motivates everyone.”
      LeVon didn’t run away from Davenport because he feared the fight. In fact, his family talked him into leaving because they knew that’s exactly what he would want to do – fight for his family. His family told him that to win the fight, he had to get away.
      “I feel like I have to succeed,” Bellemy said. “I know the situation my family at home is still in. My only way out is through school and sports. It drives me every single day. I have nothing to do but find the best way to provide for my family and fight for them.”

      3350 3

      #WrestlingWednesday: Hall is back for more as a sophomore

      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
      In a town named after the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora, a new wrestling star is rising in the south east corner of Indiana.
      South Dearborn sophomore Bryer Hall was a relative unknown last season. He put together a successful freshman season, and by the end of the year had worked his way up to No. 16 in the state rankings at 126 pounds. When the state tournament rolled around, people started to take notice of the newcomer.
      Hall rolled through his sectional as a freshman, winning every match by pin. He was just as dominant in the Richmond regional. He won his first round with a pin in just over a minute. In the second round he took on ranked senior Trevor Ragle (47-4) and pinned him in just 1:09. Then, in the final he went up against another talented wrestler in Centerville freshman Gabe Phillips, who is currently undefeated on the year and ranked No. 5 at 138. Just a little over two minutes into the match Hall injured Phillips shoulder, and Phillips was unable to go on. That injury ended the season for Phillips.
      Then, to start out the semistate, Hall injured another wrestler with almost the same move. It wasn’t anything intentional, but the injuries rattled Hall.
      “I didn’t want to hurt anyone,” Hall said. “It was upsetting that I ruined someone’s season and they could have went pretty far in the tournament. I thought it would be tough to go back and use the move because I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. But once I started wrestling again, instincts just took over and I had to get that thought out of my mind.”
      Hall won his ticket round semistate match 16-8 and then secured his biggest victory of his young career. He defeated former state champion Alec Viduya 11-5 to advance to the semistate championship.
      “We were hopeful that Bryer could get to state as a freshman,” South Deaerborn coach George Gardner said. “But we thought it might be a long shot when he had to go up against returning state champion Alec Viduya. But Bryer really took it to him in that match and handled that match much better than I thought he would.”
      Hall didn’t have enough in the tank to defeat Ethan Smiley in the final, who cruised to an 11-2 victory.
      Hall ended up placing sixth in state. He had wins over Kyle Lawson and Brycen Denny, but lost big to Cayden Rooks (tech fall) and Christian Meija (17-5).
      This season Hall is hoping to not have those big letdowns.
      “He ran out of gas in the semistate,” Gardner said. “Hopefully that won’t happen again.
      This year Hall is undefeated. He has stepped on the mat 33 times and each time had his hand raised in victory. He has moved up three weight classes and is currently ranked No. 2 at 145 pounds.
      “It felt pretty good to get noticed in the rankings for my hard work,” Hall said.
      Hall’s style of wrestling is difficult for others to scout. He calls himself a funky wrestler.
      “I am hard to figure out,” Hall said. “I’m just naturally funky. I move where my hips feel they should go.”
      That funkiness is especially helpful in scramble situations.
      “Bryer is a tremendous scrambler,” Gardner said. “He doesn’t have a signature takedown. He just makes things happen. He’s really hard to scout because he doesn’t do the same thing very often.”
      Hall could potentially see Warren Central’s Antwaun Graves in the New Castle semistate semifinal. If so, that is a match that could be particularly interesting. Hall won the regular season battle 4-3.
      “Anything can happen Saturday,” Gardner said. “He has to go out and wrestle his best each match.”
       
      Hall said his biggest wrestling accomplishment so far was placing fourth at Fargo over the summer at 138 pounds. He is hoping to top that with a state title this year.
      “My goal is to go undefeated and win state,” Hall said. “Last year I was nervous. This year I’m coming in a lot more confident.”
       

      3313

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

      By STEVE KRAH
      stvkrh905@gmail.com
       
      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.

      3310 2

      #MondayMatness: Hobart's Black persists through adversity

      By STEVE KRAH
      stvkrh905@gmail.com
      Brendan Black has learned to deal with adversity during his many years on the mat and it’s made him a better wrestler.
      Now a Hobart High School senior, Black was introduced to the sport at 3.
      In his third season of competition, he made it to the freestyle state finals.
      “I completely got my butt whipped,” Black, the Indiana University verbal commit, said. “It was bad.”
      By third grade, Black placed third at the same tournament and has ascended from there.
      Even the rare setbacks have helped him.
      “Every time I’ve gotten a bad loss, it’s made me want to work harder and get better,” Black said. “When I lost to (Griffith’s) Jeremiah Reitz my sophomore year, I can tell that every time I lost to him, I was back in the gym right after the tournament. I did not take a break. I was so mad at myself.”
      So Black got back at it, drilling his moves, lifting weights and building up his cardiovascular system.
      “As long as I’m getting something in, I feel that is bettering me,” Black said. “As a senior, I’ve gotten a lot stronger and I’ve just been putting in the work. If I lose right now it’s not going to affect me. It’ll show me where I need to put work in.”
      A two-time freestyle state champion, Black said that kind of wrestling has made him better in positioning.
      “(Freestyle) helps me on my feet,” Black said. “I’ve always been a good wrestler on top and bottom. On my feet was my downfall.
      “In freestyle, if you don’t turn them within 10 seconds, they put you right up to your feet.”
      The athlete who has added muscle definition since last winter has already been on the IHSAA State Finals mats three times, placing third at 132 at a junior in 2016, qualifying at 120 as a sophomore in 2015 and finishing eighth at 120 as a freshman in 2014.
      Among his key wins in 2016-17 are a pin of Merrillville junior Griggs and decisions against Bloomington South sophomore Derek Blubaugh and Portage junior Kris Rumph.
      Black went into Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic ranked No. 1 in Indiana at 138. An injury caused him to forfeit in the semifinals and he was held out of the recent Lake County Tournament at Hanover Central. He is expected to be back for the Brickies in the postseason.
      Hobart head coach Alex Ramos, an Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer, sees Black as both tenacious and savvy as a wrestler.
      “He never gives up,” Ramos said. “He goes out there knowing he’s going to be in a six-minute fight and he treats it like that every time.
      “I don’t think he undervalues any opponent. He’s always got his head in the right place.”
      Scrapping in practice each day with teammates and coaches up to 170 pounds, Black has stood up to many mat challenges.
      “Getting beat down does make you better,” Ramos said. “You’ve got to see where your limit is and figure out how to push past it. I think (Brendan) tries that every day.
      “He pushes himself to that limit so he can become a better wrestler, a better person.”
      Black, an honor roll student, is still searching for a college. He wants to pursue a degree in construction management with the goal of owning his own construction company.
      He has served as an apprentice to his uncle and is currently interning on the construction crew at Hobart Middle School.
      “I can’t sit behind a desk all day,” Black said. “I want to work with my hands and out doing something. Construction’s the way to go for me.”
      The current Hobart High team is built from a foundation started in the Hobart Wrestling Club — annually one of the biggest wrestling organization in Indiana — around second or third grade.
      “They figure it out early,” Ramos said. “They don’t come back if they don’t enjoy it. So we find those wrestlers that really love the sport.
      “There’s excitement. We started elementary duals this year.”
      A psychology teacher at Hobart, Ramos believes that he and his assistants should serve as role models for their wrestlers and wants his young athletes to learn life lessons.
      “If I can learn from the classroom and take it out on the mat, I will,” Ramos said. “I can promise you that.”
      Ramos, who takes over the lead roll on the Hobart coaching staff from IHSWCA Hall of Famer Steve Balash, was a two-time state champion (119 in 1999 and 125 in 2000) for the Brickies and held school records for pins (143) and wins (148) at the start of 2016-17. Ramos wrestled two seasons at Purdue University.
      Expectations are always set high at Hobart — higher than the athlete even thinks they can achieve.
      “One thing we always preach in our program that it’s not just about on the mat,” Ramos said. “Wrestling is one of the most transferable sports. What you learn in the room — to never give up, find your breaking point and push past it.”

      3309

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

      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
       
      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.

      3306 1

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

      By STEVE KRAH
      stvkrh905@gmail.com
      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.”

      3291 1

      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Bane Building Upon Last Year's Success

      Brought to you by EI Sports
       

       
      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
       
      In a matter of seconds, Richmond’s Alston Bane caught the attention of the Indiana wrestling community.
       
      Last season Bane entered the state tournament as a relative unknown. He was ranked 18th at the time of the tournament. He advanced to state with a fourth place finish in the New Castle semistate, a tournament in which he was pinned by Trent Pruitt and he lost a decision to Evan Smiley.
       
      His Friday night draw didn’t seem favorable. He had to go up against the No. 2-ranked grappler in the 145 pound weight class in Yorktown’s Cael McCormick. But Bane loved the draw.
       
      “I had wrestled Cael several times when we were younger,” Bane said. “He beat me in Greco each time, but anytime we wrestled and I could touch his legs, I beat him. So I had a lot of confidence going up against him.”
       
      Bane ended up scoring a last-second takedown with his signature dump move to beat McCormick 4-3.
       
      He wasn’t done quite yet. He went on to knock off No. 5-ranked Blake Jourdan and then avenged two earlier losses to Smiley, the No. 4-ranked guy in the weight class, to take third at state.
       
      Bane’s only loss at Banker’s Life Arena was to eventual state champion Jacob Covaciu in a close 4-2 affair.
       
      Bane’s third place finish was better than anyone else from the New Castle semistate in that weight class.
       
      Now, a year later, a lot more people know about Alston Bane. He has bumped up to the 160-pound weight class where he is currently ranked No. 2 behind only Covaciu.
       
      “People knew me before the state tournament last year,” Bane said. “But I never really got a lot of recognition. A lot of people didn’t see me as a threat. Now this year I have a little bit more of a target on my back.”
       
      Last season there was a question as to whether Bane would even be able to wrestle in the state tournament. He tore the meniscus in his knee and had to miss the North Central Conference tournament.
       
      “That was very tough on me, mentally,” Bane said. “I knew as soon as it happened what it was. It was my third time doing it. I tore the meniscus once on my left knee and it was the second time on my right knee. I couldn’t walk. I was crying as I was sitting on the trainer’s bench and then my dad (Richmond coach Jeremy Bane) came over and when he saw me he started tearing up, too.”
       
      Bane knew he had to force himself to recover, and quickly if he wanted any shot at wrestling come sectional time.
       
      “I really worked hard and pushed to get my leg where I could walk on it and get stability,” Bane said. “I sat out of the NCC meet, but mentally I knew I just had to push through the pain and get my strength back.”
       
      The recovery process, and then his dramatic run through the state tournament have helped Bane to be much more confident this season. He believes that’s the biggest difference for him between last year and this year.
       
      “My confidence has improved a lot,” he said. “That is a huge factor for me. I really feel now, especially after state last year, that I can wrestle with anyone.”
       
      Coach Bane can see the change as well.
       
      “The big thing for Alston now is his confidence and his belief in himself,” Jeremy Bane said.
       
      Alston grew up wrestling with some of Indiana’s elite wrestlers. He and Chad Red are good friends dating back to when they were in elementary school wrestling tournaments together. Jeremy and Chad Red Sr., coached together at Red Cobra and Lawrence Central.
       
      “We have some of the kids that we coached that are really good at the high school level now,” Jeremy said. “Alston grew up with Chad, Brayton Lee, Blake Rypel and a few others. They are all very successful now.”
       
      Bane, a junior, recently won his 100th match. It was one of several goals he has for himself, which culminates in winning a state championship.
       
      Eventually Bane would like to wrestle in college. He’s a two-sport athlete who stands out on the football field for the Red Devil defense.
       
      As a sophomore Bane recorded 67 tackles and had eight interceptions. This season he moved to strong safety and finished with 88 tackles and an interception.
       
      “I’ve talked to a lot of college coaches and I’ve went to so many wrestling camps,” Alston said. “Coaches make it clear that they really like kids that play multiple sports. I love being competitive and football helps me do that, and plus it’s a lot of fun to play.”
       
      Bane finds himself having to alter his style slightly to deal with the stronger opponents he is facing this year in the 160-pound class. He tries to utilize his technique and speed more than relying on his strength.
       
      “He has unbelievable grip strength though,” coach Bane said. “He isn’t going to get outmuscled by many guys.”
       
      Coach Bane says that guys wrestle Alston differently this season, now that they know more about him.
       
      “We see a lot of the better wrestlers wrestling Alston with a more defensive approach,” Jeremy said. “They try to take away his offense and they look for certain moves. But he has several ways to score the takedown and he’s been pretty successful.”
      Bane is currently undefeated on the season. His closest match came in the New Castle Invitational against Lawrenceburg’s No. 7-ranked Jake Ruberg. Bane won the contest 4-3 in double overtime.
       
      “We have almost identical styles,” Bane said. “So those matches are very close.”
       
      Bane is currently wrestling in Spartan Classic at Connersville. This is a tournament he has never won. He was third as a freshman and lost last year to Evan Smiley.

      3278 3

      #MondayMatness: Hildebrandts Working Towards the Top of the Podium

      By STEVE KRAH
      stvkrh905@gmail.com
       
      A bond shared between siblings is a big part of why they are among the top wrestlers in their realm — big sister at the national and international level and little brother near the top of the high school pinnacle.
       
      Sarah Hildebrandt, 22, is a member of Team USA and trying to earn a spot for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The 2011 Penn High School graduate, just completed a national team training camp in Iowa City, Iowa, the site of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling on April 9-10. She is among those going for spots at 53 kg (116.8 pounds).
       
      Drew Hildebrandt, 18, is coming off a runner-up IHSAA State Finals finish at 113 pounds and a key role in Penn’s 2014-15 team state championship. Now a senior, the Central Michigan University-bound grappler is currently ranked No. 1 in his weight class in Indiana at 120 and was just named MVP of the Northern Indiana Conference for the NIC team champions.
       
      Sarah will have an overseas tour and a few tournaments leading up to the Olympic Trials. One is scheduled for the weekend of the IHSAA State Finals, Feb. 19-20, in Indianapolis.
       
      “Yo! I’m not going to that,” Sarah stated emphatically while visiting family for the holidays and watching her brother compete during break from training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. “I’ve got to see my little brother.”
       
      Sarah, who got to coach from the corner at Mishawaka High School while her bro won an Al Smith Classic title in late December, is close to all her family members (Chris and Nancy have four children — Cory, Sarah, Amy and Drew).
       
      But the lofty wrestling goals and shared mat experiences have brought Sarah and Drew even closer.
      “We keep in touch (texts and phone calls etc.),” Sarah said. “We send each other silly stuff all the time. But before a competition, he will say, ‘I love you. You’re a beast.’ Drew knows I can do this. He’s been in this position. He trains with me. He knows me.
       
      “I love to hear from him . He’ll say, ‘Sarah, you’ve got this. Keep going.’ At the end of the tournament, he’ll say ‘I’m so proud of you.’”
       
      Through training and listening, Drew has benefitted from Sarah’s experience as a top grappler at King University and with the national team.
       
      Drew has adopted Sarah’s front headlock and slide-by to his bag of tricks.
       
      “People say, ‘you have a nasty slide-by’ and I say, ‘I learned it from my sister,’” Drew said.
       
      As a wrestler elementary school, Drew would get almost sick from anxiety before every match. With plenty of time in the spotlight since, that is no longer an issue.
       
      But Drew and Sarah do have anxious moments.
       
      “When she’s wrestling, I’m twice as nervous as when I’m wrestling and when I’m wrestling, she’s twice as nervous,” Drew said.
       
      On breaks from the national team — like the one in December — Sarah came into the practice room and shared her knowledge with all the Kingsmen, including head coach Brad Harper and his staff.
       
      “With the moves she shows us, she really focuses on the little things,” Drew said. “It’s more about the neutral position since she really doesn’t do bottom of top.”
       
      Harper, who started at Penn the same season as Sarah in 2007-08, appreciates the technician that she has become.
       
      “I told her back then that if she was going compete against boys, her technique and positioning had to be perfect,” Harper said. “She has taken that to heart. It has shown. She has even taken it to the next level.”
       
      Harper, a former standout at Mishawaka High School and Purdue University who has continued to coach Sarah past her high school days, said attention to detail is what she will need to have to earn a spot for Rio.
       
      “It’s about a lot of reps and a lot of practice and knowing you’re ready,” Harper said. “It’s hitting things over and over and over. That makes her makes her a great technician. She realizes her weaknesses and strengths.”
       
      Sarah said its her perfectionist tendencies that help her make adjustments and gives her confidence on the mat.
       
      “I love to just drill,” Sarah said. “Everybody knows I have a headlock and everybody knows I have a slide-by. Everyone in the country knows and people on the other side of the world know. But they don’t know the corrections I am making.”
       
      Sarah has also worked on her quickness.
       
      “I am a very heavy-footed wrestler,” Sarah said. “I’ve really focused on moving my feet, elevating the pace and moving in and out. The first time I executed it, people came up to me and said, ‘wow! you look like a different wrestler.’”
       
      Making Sarah and other Penn athletes better wrestlers is what Harper strives to do, not only with the teaching of technique, but with his encouragement.
       
      “That’s my secret sauce, it’s all about motivation,” Harper said. “I try to keep them focused on the ultimate goal.”
       
      With his current Penn grapplers — like Drew — that goal is individual and team championships.
      For Sarah, it’s an Olympic dream.
       
      Harper, who was in Las Vegas on a Friday night when Sarah qualified for the Olympic Trials and with his Penn team the next morning for a tournament in early December, likes to send motivational quotes.
       
      A recent one to the Hildebrandts came from legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
       
      The quote read: “It’s not the will to win that matters — everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”
       
      The Harpers know Sarah as an athlete, but are very close with the whole Hildebrandt family. Sarah, best friend and national team training partner Jenna (Burkert) Lowry and others could be seen with Brad and wife Christina’s daughter and son — Mackenzie, 2, and Deuel, 5 months — at the Al Smith Classic.
       
      As a motivator and accountability partner, Harper watches film of Sarah and gives pointers. He talks to her about her diet (she has gone down a weight class), her training and her mental game.
       
      “We talk everyday,” Sarah said. “He’ll ask me, ‘have you visualized today?’”
       
      Dropping down to 53 kg (about four pounds lighter than her previous class and her lowest weight since high school), Sarah made a total change to her routine.
       
      “I took the cut very, very seriously,” Sarah said. “I probably started three months out. I complete changed my diet, my cardio and my lifting.”
       
      She continued with wrestling workouts five days a week (twice a day three times) and went from 20 to 40 minutes of running on the treadmill and a sauna session each day.
       
      Then a funny thing happened.
       
      “The day of weigh-in, I was being nice to people. It was a whole new experience,” Sarah said. “(When cutting weight,) I can get a little cranky. I love being down at the other weight. I feel like I can move better.”
       
      While running back in northern Indiana, she noticed how training at 6,000 feet above sea level in Colorado helps.
       
      “I was running 2 to 3 mph faster here,” Sarah said.
       
      It has been quite a run for the Hildebrandts and that run still has miles to go.
       
      Here is a link to a previous story on Sarah Hildebrandt
       
      http://www.elkharttruth.com/sports/2010/02/11/Prep-Wrestling-Hildebrandt-winning-matches-breaking-ground.html

      3266 1

      #MondayMatness: Shawn Streck Won't Stop Working

      By STEVE KRAH
      stvkrh905@gmail.com
      Shawn Streck has gotten used to climbing to the top of the podium.
      Streck (@S_streck95 on Twitter) was a junior high state champion in Indiana as a seventh grader. As a Merrillville High School junior, he went 46-0 and reigned among Indiana High School Athletic Association heavyweights, pinning Richmond senior Nathon Trawick in the finals.
      As a sophomore, Streck placed third in the state. He was seventh as a freshman. He has been a heavyweight his whole high school career.
      Now bound for Purdue University for both wrestling and football, Streck likes the view from on high and the 6-foot-3, 270-pounder wants to keep that vantage point.
      So he keeps working as he keeps bulldozing opponents at the start of his senior season.
      Advice from Merrillville coach David Maldonado rings in Streck’s ears.
      “He says if you don’t always look to get better, you’re going to get beat,” Streck said during a break at the LaPorte Invitational where he helped the Pirates go 5-0 on Saturday, Dec. 5. “I just think about that everyday. If I don’t get better, someone’s going to catch up to me and I’m not going to be at the top anymore.
      “Don’t look past anybody and keep working.”
      With his credentials, Streck is likely to get the best every opponent has to give.
      “I’m sure there is a target on my back, but I don’t think about that and just go out and wrestle my match,” Streck said.
      Maldonado reminds Streck that there are other heavyweights in Indiana with plenty of ability so he needs to stay humble and keep improving.
      “He’s got to stay humble,” Maldonado said. “He’s had success for so long. If he doesn’t continue to work, someone is going to catch him. It’s about staying focused and staying grounded.”
      That means that Streck, who moves more like a 160-pounder than a heavyweight, keeps working on his shots, changing levels, heavy hands, conditioning and his ability to break down an opponent.
      While Streck is a good enough student that he plans to major in biology at Purdue with sights on a future career in the medical field, he also has the smarts on the mat.
      “He’s got a real good wrestling IQ,” Maldonado said. “He knows what to do in certain positions. That’s huge, especially in high school athletics. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
      “He’s very coachable. I can tell him what he needs to do and he does it.”
      Maldonado said it will be Streck’s work ethic that helps him tackle tasks like being a college student plus a two-sport athlete on the NCAA Division I level.
      Early in the recruiting process, Streck built a relationship with wrestling and football staffs in Boiler Nation. He will also have a long-time friend with similar goals as a roommate.
      Penn senior Kobe Woods, the IHSAA 220-pound champion as a junior in 2014-15, plans to wrestle and may also play football at Purdue. Streck and Woods have known each other throughout high school and have been Team Indiana teammates.
      On the football field for Merrillville this fall, Streck spent his fourth season as a defensive tackle. He also filled a need for the Class 6A Pirates (7-5) when he also played center on offense.
      Streck said he prefers the defensive side of the ball.
      “On defense, you can get there and get nasty and make big plays,” Streck said.
      Streck likes to be a playmaker.
      He likes to make things happen.
      He lives the view from he top.

      3236 4

      #WrestlingWednesday: Wrestling has opened many doors for Katie Kriebel

      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
       
      In 1994 Indiana female wrestling was in its extreme infancy. So when Katie (Downing) Kriebel and her dad met with Pendleton coach Dave Cloud about joining the high school team – she was a little nervous.
       
      Coach Cloud told her dad that he had never had a female wrestler before.
       
      “Dad told him that he had never had a daughter that wanted to wrestle before, either,” Kriebel said. “So, he told him that they were in the same boat.”
       
      Cloud agreed to let her wrestle. That would be the start of many firsts for coach Cloud where Kreibel was involved.
       
      Kriebel was a good athlete. She played softball and trained in Judo. In fact, it was her love of Judo that got her curious about wrestling.
       
      “I trained with the boys in Judo,” Kriebel said. “It wasn’t a big deal in Judo. But, I noticed that a lot of boys that didn’t know any Judo at all, that were wrestlers, came over and were very good right off the bat. I decided I needed to learn wrestling, too.”
       
      She wasn’t quite prepared for the rigors of the sport as a high school freshman. In her very first practice she threw up during conditioning. She didn’t want to appear weak, so right after she vomited she started to run. She made it through the first practice, and won over some of the guys who were questioning her toughness.
       
      “That first week of wrestling was the first time in my life that I had tried something and didn’t know whether I could do it or not,” Kriebel said. “I was hooked. Once I made it through the first week and I knew I wasn’t going to die, I loved it. I loved the challenge of it.”
       
      Kriebel didn’t fare well early on – but she was battling more than just her opponent across the mat. Her first match was a junior varsity contest. When she walked out on the mat the opposing team and their parents were laughing noticeably at her.
       
      “I didn’t like that,” Kriebel said. “But I was too nervous to really care. I ended up catching the kid with a head and arm that came from Judo and winning that match. Then everyone was laughing at him. I remember it not being fun at all because of everyone else’s reactions.”
       
      Kreibel didn’t like that people made fun of her, but she also couldn’t stand the fact that the person she was wrestling would get ridiculed too.
       
      “I came from a time when you had to pick your battles,” Kriebel said. “I definitely had every sort of response you could imagine. Some moms and dads were concerned for my safety. Some were concerned because they didn’t teach their boys to hurt girls. They were worried about touching and that sort of thing, too. But most of those issues really got resolved on their own once they started seeing me as a wrestler.”
       
      Kreibel said that by her senior year, some of her biggest critics had become her biggest fans.
      “I never intended to be a pioneer,” Kriebel said. “I didn’t have a mission for equality or rights or girl power or anything like that. I just loved wrestling. Even if it was my mission – I figured out that actions speak a lot louder than words. I could talk about why I deserved to wrestle, or I could just go out and double leg a kid and show them.”
       
      Kriebel finished with a .500 record in high school. She made varsity as a senior and placed third in sectional in a time when only the top two went on to regional.
       
      “Katie just had this toughness about her,” coach Cloud said. “At first I was concerned about her safety, but she quickly dispelled that. She was really, really tough. She got smashed a few times, but she always got back up.”
       
      In fact, Kriebel was so tough she didn’t care who she wrestled or how good they were. She would face anyone.
       
      “Katie had grit and determination,” Cloud said. “We had a wrestler win state, Donny Sands, and when we had challenges she challenged him. Nobody else dared challenge Donny. But she had a lot of courage and heart. He beat her, but she didn’t back down.”
       
      Kriebel’s senior year was the first year girls had a National tournament – and she won it.
       
      She went on to qualify for the junior world team her freshman year of college and placed second. That was the first year the US took a full women’s team with a coach and paid for everything. Kriebel later won the first Women’s World Cup.
       
      She took bronze in 2005 and 2007 at the World Championships and was eventually an alternate for the 2008 Olympics.
       
      “Wrestling gave me the opportunity to see 22 different countries,” Kriebel said. “It was pretty great to see how big the world actually is, but some things in the wrestling room is the same no matter where you’re at.”
       
      Kriebel never dreamed she would return to her roots in Pendleton. She coached a year at Oklahoma City University and then moved to California without any plans to return to this side of the Mississippi river. Then, Eric Kriebel, a longtime assistant coach at Pendleton passed away unexpectedly. She returned home and ended up starting a summer wrestling club in Pendleton in his name. She wanted to keep his legacy alive.
       
      She married Jay Kriebel, Eric’s nephew and the two have two girls, Camryn, 3 and Clara, eight months old.
       
      Kriebel is the varsity assistant coach at Pendleton now. She sits beside the very coach who doubted whether she could make it as a wrestler back in 1994 when Katie and her dad approached him.
       
      “Katie has had a lot of firsts for me,” Cloud said. “She was my first assistant coach to start dating another coach. She was my first assistant coach to marry another coach. She was my first coach to go into labor during a match.”
       
      Cloud said that Kreibel was coaching a match three years ago when she started having back spasms. That night he got a text that just said “I’m going to have a baby now.”
       
      Kriebel has juggled the life of a coach and a parent for three years now. She demonstrated moves to the team while she was pregnant, and even carried Camryn in a baby sling while coaching at the New Castle semistate.
       
      “Wrestling is all Camyrn has known,” Kriebel said. “I coached while I was pregnant with her. I showed front headlocks when she was in my belly, and she was literally on top of kids’ heads. She has never not known wrestling. She even calls the guys on the team ‘her guys’. “
       
      Kriebel is going to let her kids decide for themselves if they want to wrestle or not. She loves the sport, but she also wants what’s best for them.
       
      “I could really talk about wrestling for hours,” Kriebel said. “It’s honest. It’s very honest. You can’t b.s. very much in wrestling. If you have grit and perseverance, integrity and pride and you are willing to put a lot of work in without getting a lot back, then eventually you will be rewarded. It takes so much. You earn your spot. You earn everything.”
       
      Her passion for the sport is infectious. Pendleton now has nine girls on the team and is hoping to have 15 next season.
       
      “That’s sure a big change from where I started,” Cloud said. “But that’s great. I believe wrestling is the greatest sport in the world, so why wouldn’t you want girls doing it too?”

      3223 6 1

      #WrestlingWednesday: LIttell hungry to get his shot

      By JEREMY HINES
      Thehines7@gmail.com
      Brayden Littell’s high school wrestling career hasn’t exactly gone as planned. The junior has just one loss in high school, a one-point defeat at the hands of two-time state champion Asa Garcia. He has defeated another Indiana state champion, twice. Yet, Littell has yet to wrestle a single state tournament match.
      Littell grew up wrestling in the Center Grove school district. He wrestled with the Trojans in elementary school and middle school. As a freshman, however, he enrolled at Perry Meridian.
      During that freshman season Littell defeated Roncalli’s Alex Viduya twice. Viduya went on to claim the state championship at 113 pounds. Littell never made it to the tournament. He had a falling out with the Perry Meridian team and transferred back to Center Grove, mid-season. The transfer rules forced him to sit out the rest of the season.
      “There wasn’t too much going on with my situation at Perry Meridian,” Littell said. “I guess you could say it was more of some pet peeve type of stuff. The Perry program is great, but the way the practices and the program went, I didn’t think it was what was right for me and my family.”
      When the IHSAA ruled Littell ineligible for the remainder of his freshman season, he took the news pretty hard. He sat in the stands and watched Viduya, a guy he had beaten twice that season, claim the state title.
      “That was painful,” Littell said. “I’ll be honest, I cried a lot. I wanted Alex to win it though. If I wasn’t out there, he’s the guy I was cheering for.”
      Things went from bad to worse for Littell his sophomore year. He suffered a knee injury playing youth football (tore his ACL) when he was in elementary school. It always bothered him, but he was able to wrestle with it. By his sophomore year the knee started hurting so badly he couldn’t wrestle. He went to his doctor and was told that not only was his ACL torn, so was his MCL and he had damage to his meniscus. He would need a season-ending surgery.
      “I felt defeated when I found that out,” Littell said. “First I lost my freshman season and then I was told I wouldn’t be able to wrestle as a sophomore either. I thought I’d be able to push myself and get back in time for the tournament, but my doctors didn’t want that.”
      For two years Littell has been hungry to showcase what he can do on the mat. For two years he watched others have the success he felt could and should be his. Two years of physical and mental pain escalated to a boiling point in the young wrestler, and now, as a junior he’s able to unleash on his opponents. He is currently 17-0 on the season and ranked No. 1 at 120 pounds. He has pinned every wrestler he has faced up to this point.
      “Braydon is a special type of athlete,” Center Grove coach Maurice Swain said. “He has a combination of speed, power and great technique that you just don’t see in most high school athletes. And, he loves the sport. His speed is off the charges. His power is off the charts.”
      Littell is the type of wrestler that lives for the big moments. He gets excited when he gets to wrestle the better opponents. He will likely get the chance to see Crown Point’s No. 3-ranked junior Riley Bettich at the Al Smth tournament.
      “I’m super excited to wrestle him,” Littell said. “I’m pumped for it.”
      More so, he’s excited for the chance to show Indiana what he has to offer on the mat.
      “I feel, for sure, like I have something to prove to the state,” Littell said. “I feel people sort of forgot about me. I want to show them what I can do. I’m hungry. Sitting out two years and watching others go on to have success has just forced me to work harder. It motivates me.”
      Littell isn’t alone. Coach Swain is also excited to showcase his star junior.
      “We think the world of Brayden here,” Swain said. “I think he’s just a special athlete. I’m excited to see him compete and excited for the state of Indiana that has heard his name but not got a chance to see him wrestle. I’m excited for them to see what he can do.”

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