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#MondayMatness: A.J. latest in a long line of Fowlers piling up victories at Calumet
By STEVE KRAH
One family has had their hand raised in victory nearly 500 times while representing Calumet High School wrestling.
Brothers Artty (Class of 1991) and Ed Fowler (1992) grappled to victories for the Warriors then the next generation added to that total. Artty and Deanna Fowler’s five oldest sons — Nathan (2010), Noah (2014), Nick (2015), Kobe (2016) and A.J. (2019) — have all won for the Warriors, especially Nick and A.J.
With success in the IHSAA state tournament series, A.J. has a chance to pass Nick on the way to the top of the Calumet victory list. No. 1 is now held by 2010 130-pound state qualifier Mike Clark (143).
In a household full of wrestlers, A.J. found out he had to get tough just to protect himself.
“I’m as aggressive as a I can be,” says A.J. Fowler. “All my brothers beat me up when I was little.”
All the Fowlers have played football and wrestled for the Warriors. A.J. ran for more than 500 yards as a fullback and also played defensive end and outside linebacker last fall. He sees his collegiate path including business management classes and either wrestling or football.
“The two go hand-in-hand for success in both,” says Jim Wadkins, a 1980 Calumet graduate who grappled at 177 pounds for coach Rolland Beckham (who had been an NAIA All-American at Indiana State and coached at Calumet for 18 years) and has been on the wrestling coaching staff since 1984-85 (he was an assistant to Ken Stigall, who was placed third at 112 at the 1967 IHSAA State Finals) and head coach since 1990-91.
Known for close to a decade after reorganization as Calumet New Tech High School, the Gary-based school has about 600 students. That makes it one of Indiana’s smaller Class 3A schools.
“We’ve got a lot of two- and three-sport athletes at Calumet,” says Wadkins.
A.J. Fowler wrestled at 182 pounds as a freshman, 195 as a sophomore and junior and is at 220 as a senior. His resume includes two sectional titles, one regional crown, three semistate berths and a state qualifying appearance in 2018. He has a chance to join Butch Carpenter as four-time semistate qualifier for Calumet.
The Warriors are members of the Greater South Shore Conference and face a strong schedule which includes, in addition to the conference tournament, the Warsaw Invitational, Harvest Classic at Lake Central, Chris Traicoff Memorial Invitational at Calumet, Jeffersonville Classic, Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka and Lake County Championships. Chris Traicoff started the Calumet program in 1939. The program was shut down during World War II and beyond and Beckham helped bring it back with the help of AD and boys basketball coach Traicoff during the 1960’s. He died in 1989.
According to Wadkins, Lowell native George Belshaw introduced Traicoff to Indiana University coach Billy Thom and even though 1935 valedictorian Traicoff played basketball and never wrestled a match in at Calumet Township High School, he won an NCAA title for the Hoosiers in 1939. That same year, he came back to Calumet to start the program. Calumet’s modern state tournament path has led them through the Griffith Sectional, Hobart Regional and East Chicago Semsitate.
In other words, a lot of tough Region wrestlers.
“It’s pretty tough,” says Fowler of northwest Indiana grappling. “You never know what you’re going to get."
“You may get a guy who’s big, burly and knows about three moves but he’ll still go with you.”
Wadkins notes that most Region wrestlers in the upper weights are juniors and seniors and Fowler held his own as an underclassman. Fowler has honed his skills with senior 195-pounder Aaron Lizardi and senior 285-pounder Keiloun Martin being his regular workout partners. He also spars regularly with assistant coach Andy Trevino. A state champion at 140 for Calumet in 1991, he has assisted Wadkins for more than a decade.
“He’s an asset in our room,” says Wadkins of Trevino. “Coaching wrestling is a young man’s game. They’re able to get on the mat with the kids."
“We’ve been very fortunate. Calumet grads or those connections to the program have shown a lot of devotion and have been good about giving back.”
Alec Noworul (Class of 2014) and Lamberto Garcia 15 are giving back as middle school coaches who also help out at high school workouts.
A.J. gives knowledge to his younger teammates by showing them the many moves he knows.
“It’s kind of like a big brother system,” says A.J., who is also sometimes joined in practice by actual brothers Nathan and Noah. Sister Felicia is the oldest of the Fowler kids and the only girl. Wadkins says she might be the toughest. Youngest Kade (Class of 2026) has yet to get too involved in wrestling.
Like his older brothers, A.J.’s matches keep his mother on the move. “She still has anxiety,” says A.J. Fowler. “She has to walk around after every match.”
Calumet has competed this season with 22 wrestlers and filled most weight divisions, even when being undersized in some of them.
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#WrestlingWednesday: Three-sport athlete KJ Roudebush ready for the challenge
By JEREMY HINES
Most wrestling stories don’t begin like K.J. Roudebush’s did. Then again, most wrestlers aren’t wired quite like the three-sport star from Tipton, either.
Roudebush got into wrestling as a punishment, and because a household lamp was broken.
“It’s really a funny story,” the Tipton senior said. “I was in fifth grade and my oldest brother was in college so my middle brother and I were downstairs wrestling around. Right when dad got home from work we were still wrestling and my brother and I had gotten mad at each other and one of my mom’s lamps got broken. My dad wasn’t happy. He said if we wanted to continue wrestling at home, we were going to join the wrestling team. I went to the wrestling team and I just fell in love with it.”
Roudebush is currently ranked No. 10 in the state at 195 pounds. He lost in the ticket round last year at the New Castle semistate to current No. 1-ranked junior Silas Allred of Shenandoah.
Roudebush doesn’t make excuses for that loss.
“Silas is something special,” he said. “I went out on the mat and he just dominated me. I couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t tired or anything, he was just better than me.”
This season Roudebush wants to go one step further than he did last year. He wants to advance to the state tournament.
For Roudebush, wrestling is a part-time gig. Unlike most highly ranked Indiana wrestlers, Roudebush doesn’t wrestle in the offseason. Summers are for baseball and the fall is for his first love, football. Roudebush plays quarterback on Tipton’s offense and splits time between linebacker and defensive end on defense.
“K.J. is in the top 10 of his class,” Tipton coach Mark Barker said. “He’s such an intelligent guy and he’s a leader in every sport he does. To me, he’s one of those exceptional people that don’t come along that often. If he focused solely on wrestling, I really think it would be hard for anyone to beat him.
“But I like multi-sport athletes. The more sports you do the better you’ll become at all of them. That’s the way things have always been here at Tipton.”
Currently Tipton has just seven wrestlers. For Roudebush, that’s perfectly fine.
“Being on such a small team could really suck, but we get a lot more attention from the coaches,” Roudebush said. “Our individual time with the coaches is through the roof. We’ve never had a big team. I think the most I’ve seen here is 10 wrestlers. Because of that, we don’t win a lot of matches as a team, but when you look at our head-to-head and don’t count forfeits, we’ve won close to 40 duals. We also have a very close bond with each other. I wouldn’t trade that for a bigger program with more practice partners.”
The Tipton team has adopted a philosophy through necessity. The goal is for every wrestler in the lineup to pin their opponent. If they do that, they have a shot at winning dual meets.
“We know what we are up against going into the match,” Roudebush said. “Coach tells us we’re starting out down 24-0, or something like that. We know every single one of us have to pin in order for us to win. It’s awesome. All of a sudden, Bam! We pin everyone and pull off the surprise win. We love that challenge. When we get people on their backs, we keep them there.”
In practice Roudebush alternatese from wrestling with the team’s heavyweight, sophomore Nate Morgan to wrestling with their 145-pounder Blake Hicks.
“Nate is stronger than me and that makes me really focus on my technique,” Roudebush said. “Blake is a scrapper. He’s good on top and he can put the legs in. He has a mean crossface cradle and he’s tough. It helps me a lot getting to wrestle with guys with different body types and strengths.”
Roudebush beat Elwood’s Jalen Morgan last year 5-2 to claim the sectional title. Morgan reversed that decision in regional, winning 3-2. That put Morgan on the opposite side of the semistate bracket as Allred. Morgan advanced to the championship match, losing to Allred but still advancing to state. Roudebush was eliminated in the second round.
“I want to go one step further,” he said. “That’s all I’m worried about. We have a tough sectional. The regional is even harder and I think New Castle is arguably one of the most difficult semistates. My focus is on getting past the ticket round. I’m worried about each match in front of me because wrestling is a different kind of sport. Anyone can win. You have to be ready at all times.”
#MondayMatness: Talented Crown Point Bulldogs taking down foes with team-first mentality
By STEVE KRAH
It’s an approach that Bo Schembechler would have recognized. Wrestling requires one wrestler go into the circle for one-on-one competition. But in high school, that wrestler is part of a team.
At Crown Point, the Bulldogs are doing like the old University Michigan football coach said. It’s about “The Team. The Team. The Team.”
“We’ve really been preaching the team concept,” says Branden Lorek, who is in his third season as Crown Point head coach and 14th in the program. The graduate of Fenton High School in Bensenville, Ill., wrestled at the University of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. “This isn’t just about ‘I’ or ‘me.’ It’s about the team.”
With guidance from varsity assistants Bill Hawkins and Vince Sessa, each Dog knows their job before they step on the mat, whether it’s to rack up bonus points or at least save points for the team.
It’s an approach the wrestlers have come to embrace.
“It took a couple weeks, but now they’re seeing it on the scoreboard,” says Lorek. “We give them pretty specific instructions. This is what we need from you — nothing less.
“We have an amazing coaching staff that’s passionate about the sport,” says Lorek, who also counts Brennan Cosgrove as a volunteer assistant, Nick Bruno as junior varsity coach and Aaron Sessa as freshman coach.
It’s about setting a goal and knowing the expectation.
“Our goal is always to win the match,” says Lorek. “If things go sideways, this is what’s next and our kids understand that.”
After several years away, Crown Point competed in 40th Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 28-29 and placed fourth out of 32 teams.
“The Al Smith was a nice feather in our cap,” says Lorek. “Our team is just starting to come together.
“Our conditioning is better than ever.”
The Bulldogs had traditionally taken the Christmas break off from competition. Two years ago, Crown Point participated in the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals and placed 12th in Class 3A. Last season brought participation in the Connersville Spartan Classic and a first-place finish.
“We’ve found our holiday tournament home,” says Lorek of the Al Smith Classic. “We were happy with the competition and hospitality. And it’s only a two-hour drive.”
The team was bolstered by six placers at Mishawaka — freshman Jesse Mendez (first at 126 pounds), junior Riley Bettich (second at 120), sophomore Stephen Roberson (third at 106), senior Jake Burford (third at 145), freshman Nick Tattini (sixth at 113) and senior Ethan Potosky (seventh at 195).
Crown Point followed that up with a 36-25 Duneland Athletic Conference dual victory against Merrillville on Jan. 2. With wins, Mendez moved to 24-0, Bettich 23-1, Roberson 21-1, Buford 23-2 and Potosky 8-2. The Bulldogs visit Michigan City for another DAC dual Jan. 8. The DAC tournament is Jan. 12 at Michigan City.
Mendez won numerous folkstyle, freestyle and Greco-Roman titles as a middle schooler. Last summer, he competed in the USA Nationals and lost in the All-American round in both freestyle and Greco-Roman.
“It’s not a shock to us what Jesse’s doing (in high school),” says Lorek. “Jesse’s an extraordinary athlete and teammate. He’s done a great job of assimilating into the program. He listens. He’s good student. He does not get a big head. He’s always looking to get better.
“He’s not shy about his goal or vision for the season.”
Bettich’s first two high school seasons came at Lakeshore in Stevensville, Mich. Competing at 103 in Division 2, he was a state champion in 2018 and state runner-up in 2017.
Like Mendez, Bettich has traveled all over the country for folkstyle, freestyle and Greco-Roman events and the best opponents he can find. A strong student with a 3.5 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, Bettich has aspirations of wrestling in college.
“He’s been a great teammate and leader for us,” says Lorek of Bettich.
“We were happy to see him rise to the occasion and compete (at Al Smith, where he lost 7-2 to Center Grove junior Brayden Littell in the finals).”
Robertson is a transfer from Portage High School where he behind state champion Jacob Moran at 106 last season. The 2018-19 season marks Robertson’s first as a varsity starter.
“He’s doing phenomenal,” says Lorek. “He’s a smart kid and a good student. He’s quiet and works hard. He’s very coachable.
“We’re looking forward to see what he can do.”
Buford and Potosky came up through the ranks at Crown Point.
“Jake is having a great year,” says Lorek. “Where he ends up on the (State Finals) podium is up to him. The sky’s the limit for Jake. He’s a team leader, hard worker, good student and just a good person.
“(Potosky) is a loyal, loyal Crown Point wrestler. After an injury in the regional championship in football, he’s starting to get back into it. His older brother (Steven) was a state qualifier (at 220) in 2014. If Ethan can get down to state, we think he can be someone on the podium.”
The Duneland schedule is weighted toward the team concept with more points being awarded during the dual-meet position than the conference tournament.
Lorek says finishing high in the DAC and adding points to the athletic department in the all-sports trophy chase is point of pride at Crown Point.
“It teaches the kids that this is bigger than them,” says Lorek. “They are part of something special.
“Hopefully that teaches them a life lesson. They can be a leader or a part as long as they belong to something.”
#MondayMatness: Manchester’s Moore looking to make his move in senior season
By STEVE KRAH
Delton Moore has already accomplished a great deal during his athletic career at Manchester High School.
But the Squires senior wants to do more.
The featured running back on the Manchester football team in the fall, he ran and ran. He racked up 334 yards in a game against neighboring Wabash. He wound up with 1,701 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The early part of the season has been a transition in getting into wrestling shape.
“It’s never as easy as it would be from the outside looking in,” says Moore. “Wrestling condition is a whole different type of condition than football. Football is more strength training. Wrestling is more endurance training.”
On the wrestling mat, Moore carries a career mark of 111-28 and season record of 17-2 (his two losses are both to Rochester senior Zane Gilbreath) heading into the Jan. 5 East Noble Invitational. He was an IHSAA State Finals qualifier at 170 pounds in 2018. He earned Peru Sectional and Peru Regional titles as a 160-pound sophomore and placed third at the Fort Wayne Semistate as a junior. He has been in the varsity lineup since his freshmen year, starting out at 145 and moving up.
Competing this season at 170 (with some bouts at 182), Moore reached the 100-win mark during the Dec. 1 Wabash County Tournament.
All four of Randy and Jenny Moore’s boys — Clayton (Class of 2015), Quentin (2017), Delton (2019) and Ashton (2020) — have wrestled for Manchester.
Clayton Moore was a two-time state qualifier. Quentin Moore was a four-time semistate qualifier.
Delton’s usual workout partner has been 182-pounder sophomore Trescott Duffy.
“I try to pick the toughest,” says Moore. “He’s a hammer. He works really hard. I’m focusing on getting him ready for his next few years.
“He’s like a sponge. He soaks everything up.”
Younger brother Ashton, a 195-pounder, sometimes spars with Delton. Home on his break from Ancilla College, older sibling and Quentin has also drilled with Delton.
“I’ve been practicing pretty hard,” says Delton Moore. “I was looking a little slower and heavier on my feet so I’ve been working on our feet quite a bit and building the endurance.
“You can never have too good of endurance.”
Manchester head coach Byron Sweet cites Delton’s best qualities.
“He has a lot of athletic ability and is very explosive,” says Sweet.
“He’s one of those guys who work hard. He has great attendance at morning workouts.
“He does a lot of work in the weight room and extra time to get better.”
Those weight sessions have helped condition Delton’s body and mind.
“You start grinding in the morning and keep going,” says Moore.
“Calluses start building up.”
Sweet notes that Moore is pretty solid on his feet and has been competing this season with freshman 120-pounder Dylan Stroud for the team lead in takedowns.
Delton spends part of the school day at Heartland Career Center in Wabash and works part-time for Chad Lambright at C&C Machining in North Manchester. After graduation, Moore hopes to follow Lambright to a new operation in Plymouth.
Besides wrestling, football and machining, Delton has been involved in the Campus Life program with Youth for Christ throughout his high school days.
To not be consumed by sports, a rule in the Moore house allows the boys to be in no more than two until they are seniors. Delton plans to add track and field in the spring.
Sweet trains his high school wrestlers with a college mindset. He grappled at Manchester College (now Manchester University) 2005-08 and was an assistant to Spartans head coach Matt Burlingame, who is now an assistant to Sweet at Manchester High.
“We go for multiple takedowns to break (an opponent),” says Sweet. “We tell our kids to never be scared to let a kid up if you think you can take him down again.”
Burlingame wrestled at Virginia Tech. Quentin Moore brings his experience to the practice room as does Will Mikesell, who grappled for Sweet at North Miami High School.
Sweet was at North Miami for six years prior to Manchester High. He became an assistant to Jeremiah Maggert and then took over when Maggert left for Jimtown High School.
Sweet is a 2002 West Lafayette High School graduate. As a 152-pound senior, he lost to Mishawaka’s Jim Schultz in the “ticket” round at the Merrillville Semistate. Schultz went to state three times (qualifier at 152 in 2001, third at 152 in 2002, third at 160 in 2003).
The coach uses that as an example for his athletes. You can’t control the draw so wrestle the best you can at the previous level.
Sweet has had five state qualifiers during his career as a head coach — four in his six seasons at North Miami and Moore last winter at Manchester. North Miami’s Alan Mock went at 106 in 2012 and 113 in 2013, Levi McKee at 145 in 2013 and Evan Beach at 285 in 2015. With nine underclassmen in 2018-19, including 126-pound sophomore Elijah Burlingame, consistently in the lineup, Sweet has watched his Squires climb into the Class 1A team rankings. Manchester won Rochester’s John McKee Memorial Invitational Dec. 22.
Sweet doubles as junior high coach to help build the program from the younger levels.
“It’s important for the head coach to show he cares at every level,” says Sweet. “We want to make it where wrestling is one of the most solidly consistent sports at the school.
“We’re on the right track. We’ve just got to keep working.”
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#WrestlingWednesday: LIttell hungry to get his shot
By JEREMY HINES
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.”
#MondayMatness: After semistate run as junior, Hebron Hawks' Donovan aiming high in senior campaign
By STEVE KRAH
Ewan Donovan has made a bigger and bigger impact on the wrestling scene as the Hebron High School grappler has gotten bigger.
Now a 195-pound senior, he hopes to end his prep career in a big way.
“I’m really looking forward to the state series,” says Donovan, who among Indiana’s top-ranked grapplers in his weight class. “I really want to get going. I really want to make some noise.
“It’s the heart. I have a desire to be the best. I never want to settle for mediocrity. I push myself.”
Ryan and Shayne Donovan have four children — Heaven (20), Ewan (17), Myah (14) and Hadley (10).
Ewan is the line boy. He has been encouraged by his father in all that he does, including wrestling. Ryan Donovan was an assistant at Hebron when his son took up wrestling around the fifth grade.
“He always told me the best I can be in anything I do in life,” says Ewan Donovan of his father. “He’s been huge in my wrestling career.”
A four-year varsity competitor, Donvan was a 160-pounder as a freshman. He worked out and bumped up to 182 as a sophomore. Working even harder, he went to 195 as a junior.
Donovan has sweated with the trainers at Sports Medical Institute in the off-season to increase his power, speed and strength.
“They shaped me into a better athlete,” says Donovan. “I really couldn’t have done it without them.”
He also put in long sessions at Calumet-based Regional Wrestling Academy led by Alex Tsirtsis and practiced his moves around northwest Indiana.
“There’s definitely a special breed around The Region,” says Donovan.
“It’s a really good environment.
“I love the feeling of all the mat rooms around here.”
Donovan enjoyed a strong junior season, losing just two matches.
Unfortunately, one of those setbacks — against Calumet's A.J. Fowler — came in the “ticket round” at the Merrillville Semistate. Fowler has
moved up to 220 in 2018-19.
Donovan has wrestled bouts at 195 and 220 this season and was on-pace to become Hebron’s all-time victory leader, topping the 81 wins of 2014 graduate Giovanni Phan.
Hawks head coach Todd Adamczyk, who has Donovan in a weightlifting class, and has watched the biggest wrestller on the current squad add to his successes.
“He goes above and beyond and does all the extra things,” says Adamczyk, who is his 12th season in charge at Hebron. “Like most freshmen, he had a rough transition middle school to high school. But he made up for it the next couple years.
“He’s the whole package right now.”
Adamczyk’s advice has stuck with Donovan.
“He says you need to push yourself when you’re training,” says Donovan. “Your mind is telling you stop, but you have to push yourself to keep going.
“Wresting is definitely a lifestyle and it’s year-round and you have to be fully-committed. It teaches you life and about putting in the hard work and trying to be the best you can be at everything.”
That work ethic extends to the classroom for Donovan, who carries a grade-point average in the 3.7 range (on a 4.0 scale). His favorite subjects are History and English.
After high school, he hopes to continue his wrestling career while attending college as a double major for business and environmental. This will help him as he is next in line to run the family farm. The Donovans grow corn and soybean on more than 2,000 acres around Hebron. Hebron had wrestling for two years in the early ’80s then the program faded away. Adamczyk brought it back, first as a club sport, then two years with a junior varsity schedule. The first varsity season with 2009-10.
There were growing pains, but the Hawks have come a long way since then.
“When we first started, we asked ‘are we ever going to get there?,’” says Adamczyk. “We don’t fill every weight class. There’s only 320 kids in the school. We do the best with what we’ve got.”
Adamczyk wrestled at Hammond High School for head coaches Karl Deak and Bill Malkovich. His Hebron staff includes former Crown Point grappler Troy Bush (who is also middle school coach at Hebon) and Hebron grads Ryan Perez and Raul Fierro. Perez is also on the roster at Calumet College of St. Joseph.
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#WrestlingWednesday: Cornwell looking to finish on top
By JEREMY HINES
Kyle Cornwell was ready to give up wrestling for good. Almost every time he stepped on the mat, he would eventually watch his opponent have his hand raised in victory. The losses piled up, and the frustration mounted along with it.
“I’ve had some mental blocks in wrestling,” Cornwell said. “In sixth grade I was something like 1-26. I was so frustrated with myself. I didn’t think wrestling was for me. I really wanted to just throw in the towel.”
That’s when Cornwell got a little encouragement from his family and one of his closest friends.
“My dad (Jade Cornwell) and friend Jalen Morgan talked me into sticking with wrestling,” Kyle said. “Jalen told me we have to start training. We’re not going to get better without putting in the work. So, we started training. We trained and trained and trained. By my 8th grade year we went to a preseason national tournament in Iowa and Jalen finished third in his weight class and I won mine.”
That tournament success vaulted Cornwell’s wrestling career. He fell in love with the sport and is now ranked No. 1 in the state at 220 pounds and will wrestle for Indiana University next season. The Elwood senior’s training partner is still that same kid that told him in sixth grade to stick with wrestling. Morgan is ranked fourth at 182 pounds.
“Jalen and I have been friends since fourth grade,” Kyle said. “We wrestle every day at practice. He has more speed than I do, so that helps me, and I am stronger than him, so that helps him.”
Last season Cornwell finished fifth at 220 pounds. He was a state qualifier in the same weight class in 2017. He is happy to be ranked No. 1 this season.
“It’s really a relief to be ranked No. 1,” Cornwell said. “Yeah, you have a target on your back a little, but I’ve been ranked behind Mason Parris for a while and it’s nice to have that top spot now. You have to be confident to be that No. 1 guy or you are going to lose. You don’t go to a match with your head down. You know who you are and that you can beat anyone.”
Cornwell wrestled Parris last season in the New Castle semistate championship. That match didn’t work out well for Cornwell, as Parris pinned him in 1:14.
“It was a really good experience to wrestle Mason,” Cornwell said. “He’s one of the top kids in the nation. It opened my eyes to what I need to be like and what I need to be training for. It really helped me step up to that next level.”
Cornwell committed to improving in the offseason, with a focus on pushing the pace and scoring. His mission is to score as many takedowns and points as possible. He wrestled over 100 matches during the offseason and feels right now he’s at the best he’s ever been.
“Kyle has a funk to him that he’s been getting into for the last few years,” Elwood coach Fred Short said. “He likes to do the scrambling like they do in college. In high school it’s a little weird to see when you’re not used to it. He is a lot slicker now than he was last year. I think a lot of that is because of wrestling with Jalen and really having to be quick against him.”
Cornwell’s goals this season were to go undefeated and win a state championship.
Elwood, as a team, is down this season. The team had 10 wrestlers early on but are down a few since that time. Coach Short, who has been a wrestling coach in some capacity since the early 1980s, is retiring after this season.
#MondayMatness: South Bend Washington’s Forrest does not let missing limb slow him down
By STEVE KRAH
As South Bend Washington senior Ethan Forrest pinned his fourth opponent of the day and had his hand raised in victory, a roar rose up at Lake Central High School’s Harvest Classic.
“I could see my team jumping up and down,” says Forrest. “The whole place was insane.
“It was awesome.”
It was the most noise first-year Panthers head Cory Givens had heard at a high school wrestling tournament this side of the IHSAA State Finals.
“It was very exciting,” says Givens. “It was mind-blowing how loud it was. It was crazy.”
Forrest won the title at 182 pounds and was voted by coaches as the meet’s outstanding wrestler. A few years later, he went 4-1 at Washington’s Blood, Sweat & Tears Super Dual.
Putting in the sweat that it takes to excel in the circle and in life is what Forrest does.
Born without most of his left leg, Forrest just keeps pushing.
“He’s just like every other kid,” says Givens. “You wouldn’t know there’s anything different about him.”
Forrest does not see having one full leg as a setback.
“That’s all I know,” says Forrest, who put all he had into playing linebacker and defensive end on the football team, where Givens is the
defensive coordinator. “It’s a lot of foot work, reading plays and a lot of hand-eye coordination.”
Forrest also enjoys golf and plans to go out for track in the spring and run with the help of a blade prosthetic. He spends half of the school days building a house in Construction Trades II. He is a dairy clerk at the Martin’s Super Market on Mayflower Road in South Bend. Since he entered high school, his dream has been to pursue a career as an electrician.
Givens saw in Forrest someone to help guide the Panthers on the mat.
“Ethan’s a great kid,” says Givens. “He’s very athletic-looking and very intelligent. I selected him as a captain for how hard he works at practice and pushes everybody else. A captain to me is more than just a star on your jacket or a senior. It’s someone who I think will be a good leader — on and off the mat.
“I see those qualities in Ethan.”
Forrest has taken Givens’ advice to heart.
“You play like you practice,” says Forrest. “Practicing hard is going to get you where you want to go. Stay determined and focused on your goals.”
Forrest, a tri-captain with senior Dion Hall (152) and junior Todd Hardy (126/132), defines his leadership role.
“It’s keeping good team chemistry and making sure practice runs smoothly,” says Forrest. “I want to be an example for the rest of the team.”
Rules allow for him to use his prosthetic in competition if he weighs in with it. He chooses not to use it in meets, but he will wear it in practice when necessary.
“I put it on for my partner so he can get good looks, too,” says Forrest.
“That goes back to how he is a leader and his unselfishness,” says Givens.
Junior Anthony Frydrych (195) is Forrest’s primary workout partner.
“That extra weight and muscle makes me work a little bit harder,” says Forrest.
He stands 6-foot-1, but Forrest is about four feet off the ground in his wrestling stance.
“Because of my leg I can usually get a lot lower on my opponents,” says Forrest. “And there’s less for them to grab.”
Givens explains Forrest’s strengths, which includes upper-body power and a solid Fireman’s Carry.
“Ethan is very good at countering attacks,” says Givens. “He’s going to be a couple of feet lower than everybody else."
“Everybody seems to attack him differently. People aren’t sure how to go at him."
“He has a really good low center of gravity. He doesn’t have to hit that level change. He’s already at his level change. It’s a lot of watching (opponents) making mistakes.”
Ethan Edward Forrest II is the son of Ethan Forrest Sr. and April Hall. His father is a policeman. His sister is Emily Forrest, played volleyball at Washington and is now a sophomore at Indiana University South Bend. He has two younger brothers. Hockey player Austin Hanson is a freshman at South Bend John Adams High School. Phillip Northern is a seventh grader at LaSalle Academy in South Bend. His sport of choice is baseball.
Eric’s mother also works at the Mayflower Martin’s as does sister Emily and aunt Missy Olmstead. Grandmother Susan Hall and uncle Rich Holland are also employed by the company.
Emily Forrest is a former Washington wrestling manager and still attends matches to cheer and take photos along with Ethan’s mother.
Ethan came to wrestling as a Washington freshman. He was at 138 pounds that first year then put on size and muscle in the off-season working out with his father and uncle — bodybuilder and trainer Eric Forrest — and bumped up to 170 for his sophomore and junior seasons.
Givens is a 1999 graduate of John Glenn High School. He has long appreciated wrestling and renewed his love for the sport when his son was old enough to compete. Harryson Givens, 11, has been coached by his father since he was 5. Daughter Alora (8) is a constant at practices and meets.
Cory says wife Anne has become a wrestling convert. She didn’t like the sport at first, but can’t get enough of it now.
Glenn head wrestling coach Andy King convinced best friend Givens to coach at the junior high level.
“I wouldn’t be where I’m at without him,” says Givens of King.
A football coach for nearly 20 years with stops at Glenn, South Bend Clay and Washington, Givens was convinced to apply for the head wrestling coaching position when it came open at Washington.
“I’m not the most skill or knowledgeable guy in this sport,” says Givens, who counts Trey Newhouse and Jason “Gunny” Holechek as assistants. “But there’s a desire to do good things with these kids. We’re going to tackle this thing together.”
Washington has a smallish squad and placed 10th at the Harvest Classic while forfeiting six weight classes.
“To do that, it means we’re pinning guys,” says Givens.
The first thing Givens did when his hire was made official was contact Isaiah McWilliams, who was a three-time state placer for Washington (fourth in 2016, second in 2017 and second in 2018) and now a freshman on the Wabash College wrestling team.
“I can’t say enough good things about that kid,” says Givens of McWilliams, who came came to run practice during Thanksgiving break. “These kids don’t understand how important he is to the school and to the wrestling program.
“As an outsider, it’s mind-blowing how many spectacular athletes have walked through these halls.”
Ethan Forrest is working hard to make his mark on Washington mat history.
#WrestlingWednesday: Bellemy looking to make an impact in the Hoosier State
By JEREMY HINES
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.”
#MondayMatness: Marion’s Lee sets sights high in final prep mat season
By STEVE KRAH
Strength, speed and strategy have helped Victor Lee achieve success inside the wrestling circle.
Creativity and drive have allowed him to excel away from it.
The Marion grappler is hoping for even more mat achievements in his last high school go-round and a future filled with wrestling and film.
A state qualifier at 195 pounds in 2017-18, Lee is currently ranked among the top competitors at 220.
“I’m a naturally strong guy,” says Lee. “Speed is something I rely on most. I usually try to attack below the knee.”
Giants head coach Lonnie Johnson likes the way the 5-foot-11 Lee moves on the mat.
“He’s really mobile for a bigger guy,” says Johnson. “I want him to be a go-go-go guy and wear guys down. He’s in pretty good shape. I want him to pick up the pace a little.”
Lee has been working hard on his stance since last season. If he has a signature maneuver it would be his high crotch.
It’s what Ohio State University’s Kollin Moore used against University of Missouri’s J’den Cox.
“It’s a move to be feared,” says Lee, who started his wrestling career in sixth grade, grappled in the 215 class as a middle schooler and was at 195 his first three seasons of high school.
Gabe Watkins (285) and Corey Horne (152) have served as practice partners for Lee, each giving him a different look.
Lee has studied the methods of Cox, who was a bronze medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“He has a very strategic way of practicing and coming from different angles,” says Lee of Cox. “He tries to keep his attack percentage really high. He’s not real aggressive like (Arizona State’s Zahid) Valencia.
“He’s very technical. I try to emulate that. I use hand fighting to tire the other guy out and keep his head down so all he’s looking at is the mat.”
Johnson is a 1995 Marion graduate. He wrestled at 189 his first three seasons and 215 as a senior. He has coached in the Giants system for two decades and is in his third season as head coach.
The coach has offered advice that has stuck with Lee.
“He says to always be confident in my shots, be persistent and always finish through them,” says Lee of Johnson. “Last year, he sometimes got himself in a bind with 30 seconds to go. I want him to get up on guys 10-3 or 10-4 and then stick them.
“He reminds me of Darryn Scott (who was a two-time state qualifier and placed sixth in the 2010 State Finals at 189) with his strength and his speed. (Scott) would go at you. (Lee) sits back and tries to pick you apart.”
Lee won his first sectional title and qualified for his third regional in 2018. After reigning at the Oak Hill Sectional and qualifying for his third regional. He placed second to Maconaquah’s Aaron Sedwick at the Peru Regional then third at the Fort Wayne Semistate, his first appearance there.
“I was always trying to prove myself, says Lee, who lost 6-3 to West Noble’s Draven Rasler in the semistate semifinals. Rasler then was pinned by New Haven’s Jaxson Savieo in the finals.
Lee was pinned by New Albany’s Jaden Sonner in the first round at the State Finals, but got a taste of that big stage in Indianapolis.
“I won’t be blinded by all those fans,” says Lee, who plans to be back at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in February 2019. “I’ll be going to State with better confidence in my abilities.”
Besides his wrestling prowess, Lee is also a solid student.
“I’ve never had a teacher complain about him,” says Johnson. “I don’t have to worry about the attitude.
“When it comes to that he’s maintenance-free.”
Lee plans to major in drama and film and cinematography at Indiana University and hopes wrestling will also be a part of his college experience.
It’s the behind-the-scenes side of the arts that Lee appreciates most.
“I don’t do acting,” says Lee, who intends to take theater and drama classes at IU next summer. “I mostly direct and writing scripts for plays. I hope one day I can make movies.”
Lee has made a few small films on his own and has started an Instagram account with a friend that he can see leading to film production company.
Why the interest in film.
“Me and mom watched movies a lot together and it just stuck with me,” says Lee, who is the oldest of four adopted by single mother Rosalind Lee. Victor is 18, Zella 17, Levi 16 and Diamond 15.
Foster children at first, the four youngsters were allowed to choose their new first and middle names at the time of the adoption.
During his freshmen year, Javion Mack became Victor Lee.
“We try to make it easier on her,” says Victor of what he and his siblings do for their mother. “We do our chores and we all try to stay
out of the house so it’s not so cluttered.”
Levi is a 220-pound sophomore who came out for wrestling for the first time last season.
“He’s getting pretty decent at it,” says Victor of Levi. “I spar with him sometime then give him another partner so he can speed up.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Greenwood's Nick Willham looking for a trip to Bankers Life
By JEREMY HINES
Greenwood senior Nick Willham has won two wrestling sectional titles, been one win away from advancing to the state meet and is currently ranked No. 9 at 182 pounds – but he’s got a way to go before he can become the alpha dog at the family Christmas party.
That’s because Willham has three older cousins that have combined to qualify for the state meet 11 times, placed nine times and have a total record of 542-40. Willham’s cousins are Indiana legends Doug, Chad and Luke Welch.
“My cousins really got me started on wrestling,” Willham said. “I remember watching Luke at the state finals, and that got me going. I’ve learned so much from them. I’ve worked out with them in the summer and they have taught me everything from getting better on my feet, to my top and bottom game.”
Willham started wrestling in sixth grade. He has always had an athletic build and has excelled in sports – but things weren’t easy early on for the Greenwood grappler.
“My freshman year wasn’t too hot,” Willham said. “I was like 16-27. It was very discouraging having that losing record. I got beat up every day and when that happens you start to think you don’t want to do it anymore. It sucked. Instead of giving up, it motivated me to get better.”
Willham devoted more time to his wrestling after his rough freshman season. He worked in the offseason, went to tournaments and started developing more technique. It paid off.
As a sophomore Willham finished with a 37-12 record. He earned his first sectional championship and eventually advanced to semistate before he was beaten by Evansville Mater Dei’s phenom, Joe Lee.
Willham continued to improve his junior year. He finished 35-4, won sectional again, and this time made it to the ticket round at semistate before losing a 4-3 heartbreaker to Columbus East’s Andy Davidson.
So far this season Willham is 5-0 and is currently wrestling at 195 pounds.
“Nick has increased two weight classes every year,” Greenwood coach Jay Yates said. “We’ve cut him down a little every year. This year we’re letting him go. We’re letting him eat and letting him be strong.”
Willham has set his sights on a state title this year.
“I want to win everything,” he said. “Last year I scouted opponents a little bit, but that took the focus off of myself. This year I’m focusing on what I need to do. I am not scouting, I just want to wrestle my match.”
Coach Yates said Willham is a goofy kid that likes to joke around and have fun with the team. He gives the entire team nicknames, including the coaching staff.
“He calls me the bald eagle,” Yates said. “Obviously, because I’m bald. We have another coach named Rockwell, and Nick calls him the boulder. He even gave himself a nickname – ham.”
But, when it comes time to wrestle, Willham takes things much more seriously. He’s hoping the renewed focus and the hard work will continue to push him toward his ultimate goal – to win a state title, and possibly, be able to push his cousins around a little bit.
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#MondayMatness: O’Neill returns to Wabash, helps Apaches thrive
By STEVE KRAH
The second time around has been extra sweet for Jake O’Neill and the Wabash High School wrestling program.
O’Neil spent six seasons as Apaches head coach then four as an assistant at his alma mater — Ben Davis in Indianapolis — and is now in his second six as head coach at Wabash.
With the help of several folks, O’Neill and the Apaches have enjoyed a resurgence since he was drawn back to the northern part of Indiana.
“I like where this little school’s going,” says O’Neill. “I’m excited about it.”
“I love this community.”
Wabash has a population of about 10,000 and around 400 attend the high school.
This season, the Apaches will participate in the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals for the first time. Wabash will be in Class 1A for the Jan. 5 meet in Fort Wayne.
The Apaches’ varsity schedule also includes the Wabash County Invitational, Western Invitational, Whitko Invitational and duals with Maconaquah, Rochester, Lewis Cass, Eastbrook, Peru and Western.
“When you have rivalries and communities meet up it only only helps the sport grow,” says O’Neill. “We had a nice gym going against Maconaquah. It was a fun atmosphere.”
There are 27 wrestlers on the Wabash team.
“We have a really big sophomore group,” says O’Neill. “Quantity helps. Quality is what we’re looking for.”
In the mix are freshman Jared Brooks and sophomore R.J. Steg at 106 and 113, sophomore Ethan Higgins at 120, junior Braden Brooks at 126, junior Jaxon Barnett at 132, sophomore Anthony Long at 138, freshman Brayden Sickafus at 152, junior Traydon Goodwin at 152, sophomore Grant Carandante at 160, sophomore Justin Heckman and sophomore Bryson
Zapata at 170, senior Blake Wiser at 182, senior Luke Voirol at 195, sophomore Grant Warmuth at 220 and senior Justin Samons and junior Blake Price at 285.
Higgins and Braden Books competed in the off-season at the Freestyle and Greco-Roman Nationals in Fargo, N.D.
“They got to see guys who will be on the (IHSAA State Finals) podium at the end of the year,” says O’Neill. “Training with them all summer was definitely good for them.”
Carandante is O’Neill’s stepson. His other two children are freshman wrestler Kiersten O’Neill and sophomore basketball player Keegan O’Neill.
Upon his return to Wabash, O’Neill established the Apache Wrestling Club. It now has about 30 grapplers in grades K-6.
There are also about 20 sixth, seventh and eighth graders in the junior high program.
A wall was knocked down in the weight room to double the size of the Wabash wrestling room.
“We’re changing the culture here with the sport,” says O’Neill, who notes that the Apaches scored four points and were down to six wrestlers the season before his return. “The community is starting to see the hard work these young men and women are putting in.
“We want to continue to get kids up on that podium at Bankers Life and get kids up on our little wall of fame at school. We’ve got to aim big. That’s how I want my wrestlers thinking.”
Ross Haughn and Jimmy Olinger are coaching the elementary wrestlers and are part of a high school coaching staff which also includes Tyler Niccum, Jeremy Haupert and Isaac Ray. Ray wrestled at Hamilton Heights High School and at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., about 15 miles from Wabash.
“I have a solid relationship with Coach (Kevin) Lake (at Manchester U.),” says O’Neill. “I use my resources wisely with that.”
Chad Ulmer, who wrestled at Triton High School and Manchester U., has departed Wabash for Hendricks County, where he will serve as a probation officer and likely help coach wrestling at one of the area schools.
At Ben Davis, where O’Neill had graduated in 1995, he joined with then-Giants head coach Aaron Moss to have plenty of mat coaching success.
“We produced some pretty good wrestlers together,” says O’Neill.
O’Neill was dating a Wabash girl — Aimee — and decided to look for a job that would bring him back north. He took an interview at nearby Manchester High School.
By then, principal Jason Callahan had become superintendent of Wabash City Schools.
“(Callahan) made it happen,” says O’Neill of the former Daleville High School wrestling coach. “A job created (at Wabash) within a couple of weeks."
“He believed in me a bunch.”
Jake and Aimee O’Neill have been married for five years.
In his first tenure in town, O’Neill formed some key relationships like those with Peru coach Andy Hobbs and Northfield coach Bill Campbell (now retired).
“They put their arms around me and helped me,” says O’Neill. “I’m proud to call them mentors and friends.”
He’s also grateful to Pat Culp for her role in running tournaments at all levels around Indiana.
“She’s a blessing for everybody,” says O’Neill, who is an Indiana State Wrestling Association director for Cadets. “She encouraged us to host tournaments. She played a big rule in helping us grow this program.”
O’Neill admits that during his first tenure he was looking to go elsewhere. This time, he’s in it for the long haul.
“My first year back at Wabash, I started approaching it looking at the big picture and setting long-term goals with the program,” says O’Neill.
About that time, O’Neill discovered a move-in from North Carolina in his eighth grade physical education class.
Noah Cressell qualified for the IHSAA State Finals twice and placed third at 182 pounds in 2018 — Wabash’s first state placer since heavyweight Tim LaMar won a state title in 1999.
“That kid did a lot with helping this program grow,” says O’Neill of Cressell. “It was not just his wrestling, but his personality. He was a humble kid and everybody loved him. He was the poster boy for our program.”
Cressell is now on the team at North Dakota State University.
And the Wabash Apaches are back on the state wrestling map.
#WrestlingWednesday: Warren Central focusing on team
By JEREMY HINES
Warren Central wrestling coach Jim Tonte was watching a documentary on the life of South African Nelson Mandela. That documentary sparked a philosophical mantra that Tonte would use to help push his team-first mentality.
“We really adopted the term ‘Ubuntu’,” Tonte said. “To Mandela, it meant ‘I am because we are.’ Mandela talked about everyone sacrificing for the good of the people. South Africa found success because they worked together. It wasn’t about me, it was about us.”
Although wrestling is largely considered an individual sport, Tonte embraces the team aspect first and foremost. His teams have won four state titles (three with Perry Meridian and one with Warren Central). Individually, he has coached eight state champions.
With over 70 wrestlers in the program Tonte feels it is vitally important to stress the team-first mentality.
“A lot of people don’t understand or believe my philosophy,” Tonte said. “I believe in building a team and building depth. A lot say the team state isn’t as important as individual. They say you can just make one really good team. But that doesn’t make Indiana wrestling any better.
“I remember one year we got second in state and we had Nick Walpole, who was a state champion. Nick said he would trade that individual ring any day of the week and twice on Sunday for a team title. We are a family from the little kids on. You build your elementary, your middle school and you all support each other.
“I’m good at reenacting what other greats do. Mater Dei really had this same philosophy and year after year they would produce great teams because of it.”
This year Tonte is hoping his team lives up to their potential.
“From top to bottom we are as solid as we were in 2016,” Tonte said. “We aren’t as flashy as the 2016 team, but we’re as solid.”
The Warriors return three state qualifiers from last season. David Pierson finished fourth at 106, Antwaun Graves was fifth at 145 and Jarred Rowlett qualified at 132.
Four other returners were semistate qualifiers last year – Jevian Ross, Aundre Beatty, Brice Coleman and Aaron Taylor.
Sophomore Carlton Perry will likely be the Warriors’ 106-pounder. Perry is currently ranked No. 12. Pierson is ranked No. 4 at 113 pounds.
Senior Chris Stewart will be at 120 for the Warriors with Ross, a sophomore, filling the 126 varsity spot.
Ross was an All-American at the Disney Duals over the summer, just three weeks after a stray bullet came through his house, into his bedroom and struck him in the head.
“That was a freak, freak thing,” Tonte said.
Beatty, a junior, will fill the 132 spot with Rowlett, a senior, moving up to 138. Coleman will wrestle 145 for the Warriors.
Graves, at 152, is perhaps Warren’s most decorated grappler. He was a preseason national champ last season. He beat eventual state champion Jordan Slivka in the semistate and beat Kasper McIntosh, who now wrestles for the University of Minnesota, in the placement round at state.
“When Antwaun is on a roll he can beat anyone,” Tonte said. “He’s legitmate. He’s one of those kids that learns during a match. He’s very coachable. His freshman year at team state duals he had a kid named Joe Lee (Mater Dei). Lee only decisioned him. At the time, Antwaun was our JV kid. Can you imagine Joe Lee decisioning a JV kid, and at the end of the match Joe got called for stalling. I told Antwaun then that he can be a state champion.”
Graves is ranked No. 4.
Taylor will be Warren’s 160 pounder.
“He’s one of the most athletic kids I’ve ever coached,” Tonte said.
At 170 junior Damon McClane will look to make his mark in his first year as a varsity wrestler.
“Damon has been very successful during the offseason at all three levels,” Tonte said. “We’re hoping he will really surprise people this year. He was a JV guy for us last year.”
Senior James Dycus will wrestle at 182 for the Warriors with senior Nathan Bishop getting the 195 spot.
Warren’s 220 pounder and heavyweight will likely be filled by members of the state championship football team. Senior Carlos Mitchell will wrestle at 220 and either Dennis Hubbard or Alex Hernandez will fill the spot at heavyweight.
With such a large number of wrestlers, Tonte says there could be others that break into the lineup at some point in the season.
“We have guys like Jajuan Anderson as a back up at 145-152. He just All-Americaned at Iowa in the preseason nationals as a sophomore.”
Tonte said part of his strength as a coach is to emphasize to everyone that they have an important role on the team. That helps when there is so much competition for position spots.
“That’s my niche,” Tonte said. “We have to find ways for kids to stick around. If there is one thing in this sport that I’ve been pretty good at, it’s probably that. I try my best to keep kids around the program. Even the worst kid in the world is important to the program. We are going to have wrestle offs this week and we’ll have state caliber kids battling to stay in the lineup. But, in the end, they know it’s all about the team and they’ll do whatever they need to do to help the team win.”
#MondayMatness: Jimtown’s Gimson twins gearing up for senior season
By STEVE KRAH
The identical Gimson twins — Conner and Matt — return for their senior wrestling season for Jimtown High School in 2018-19.
Both brothers are two-time IHSAA State Finals qualifiers. Both stepped onto the State Finals podium last season — Conner placed fifth at 138 pounds and Matt eighth at 132.
Both Jimmies are back and looking to do even better in their last prep mat go-round. They will likely be in those same weight divisions.
After going 46-4 in 2017-18, Conner Gimson’s three-year career record stands at 123-21. Matt Gimson went 46-5 last season and is now 127-20. “They have a ceiling that’s still really high,” says Jimtown head coach Jeremiah Maggart of the Gimsons, who are the youngest of Scott and Sherry Gimson’s four children (Drew and Kylie are the oldest). “They’re successful because they wrestle really hard and do things strong.”
Both brothers honed their skills and got different looks by competing in out-of-state tournaments last spring and summer. Among those were individual and national duals in Virginia Beach, Va., and the Super 32 in North Carolina.
“They showed me a different way to wrestle so I have to think differently,” says Conner Gimson.
His approach on the mat has changed since the beginning of his high school days.
“Earlier in my career, I was thinking strength could win it all,” says Conner Gimson. “But you need both technique and strength.
“You have to have the dedication in practice everyday. You push yourself more today than you did yesterday to be a better wrestler later on.”
Matt Gimson is also taking the lessons he learned in the summer and applying them in the Jimtown practice room. To improve, he has grappled with Maggart, Conner, Hunter Watts and others.
“I thank everyone that’s helped me through the process,” says Matt Gimson. “I’m better at getting takedowns (compared to my early prep career). In the neutral position is what I’ve been working on from my freshman year to now.”
Repetition is the key.
“When you do something so much, you get used to it will become muscle memory,” says Matt Gimson. “That’s what I think has gotten better for me.”
Conner has witnessed an improvement in Matt, his older brother by 27 minutes.
“He’s gotten smarter, faster and stronger, too,” says Conner Gimson of his brother. “He can do a quick re-shot compared to some other people.”
Maggart says he is trying to get Conner to realize his potential.
“He can win big matches,” says Maggart. “Last year, he lost at the Charger Invitational (at Elkhart Memorial) and two matches at the Al Smith (Classic at Mishawaka).”
After that, Conner told his coach that he wanted to step up his game.
His work ethic increased and so did his focus on technique.
“We drilled everyday from the Al Smith to State,” says Maggart of Conner Gimson. “He worked really hard in positions he wasn’t good at.
A kid coming up and saying I want to do this is pretty awesome.
“He beat a lot of good kids from the regional on (including Elkhart Memorial’s Bryton Goering in the Elkhart Sectional and Fort Wayne Semistate finals as well as Central Noble’s Austin Moore in the regional final and Yorktown’s Colt Rutter in the semistate “ticket round,” Western’s Hunter Nottingham in the semistate semifinals and Culver Military’s Adam Davis is the fifth-place match at State).”
Matt Gimson’s first loss as a junior came to Indianapolis Cathedral’s Alex Mosconi in the Al Smith Classic finals.
“That didn’t faze him,” says Maggart. “Sometimes you lose a match or two and you’re kind of shaky on where you’re at.
“(Conner and Matt) stayed the course and listened to our coaching staff about getting them where they want to be — state place winners.”
Maggart has seen the twins excel with what appears to be natural strength. It might also come from a 6-foot-4 father and grappling against bigger kids at a younger age.
“Wrestling stronger kids made me who I am today,” says Conner Gimson.
Their coach has noticed that muscle in both twins.
“They are so strong,” says Maggart. “They are no live-in-the-weight room kids. When they grab on to you, you say that kid’s really strong for 130 pounds.”
Does it help to have many moves in your arsenal?
“It helps if you know a lot of things, but if you stick to the basics that will be the best,” says Conner Gimson. “The basics we talk about are high crotches, single-legs and doubles.”
Maggart notes that the Gimsons have improved technically a lot the last year and a half, but there is a comfort zone with certain moves. “I’m confident that I can get the stuff done if I do it my way,” says Conner Gimson.
Conner Gimson was once known for his spadles and Matt Gimson his cradles, but both have worked to diversify their attacks.
“I have to have other moves if that one doesn’t work,” says Matt Gimson.
Some wrestlers can become known for certain things. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can be stopped.
“If you do something well enough and hard enough, it doesn’t matter if they know it’s coming,” says Maggart. “You can’t be a one-trick pony and have one move. But if you have a couple of things and you do them well enough that no one can stop you, you’ll be OK.
“Jordan Burroughs is one of the best wrestlers in the world. Everyone in the world knows he shoots a double and he still scores on doubles on everybody.”
Not only are the brothers physically tough, there’s mental toughness there, too.
“Probably the biggest part of the sport that is unnoticed is how tough are you when things are tough?,” says Maggart. “Everybody’s going to eventually get in that spot. (The Gimsons) are tough. They’ll do whatever you ask them to do. They show up. They put a lot of time in.
“They’re always mentally in it.”
Both brothers plan to wrestle in college, but have not yet made commitments.
The Jimmies open the season with the Jimtown Super Dual Dec. 1. Some of the other competition include the Charger Invitational at Elkhart Memorial Dec. 8, the Henry Wilk Classic at Penn Dec. 15, a dual at NorthWood Dec. 18, the Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 28-29, the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals in Fort Wayne Jan. 5, a dual against Northridge Jan. 8, Northern Indiana Conference Tournament Jan. 12 and a dual against Edwardsburg (Mich.) Jan. 15.
#WrestlingWednesday: Cathedral ascends to the top once again
By JEREMY HINES
It was the moment Cathedral’s Jordan Slivka had dreamed about his whole life. He was about to wrestle under the lights at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse with a weight-class and the team state championship on the line.
“Earlier in the day I had told my coaches that I knew it was going to come down to me,” Slivka said. “I just had that feeling. That’s not a dig on my teammates, but I just knew it was going to come down to me. That’s what I wanted. If there was anyone in the state that I would want in that position, I’d choose me.”
Slivka battled for six minutes with Yorktown’s undefeated senior Christian Hunt. In the end, Slivka emerged victorious in the narrowest of margins - a 1-0 victory. That win gave Slivka his first state title and also clinched the championship for Cathedral.
The Irish outscored the field with a total of 108 points. Brownsburg finished with 100.5 followed by Columbus East with 98.5.
“We knew the score and we knew Brownsburg had two big guns left,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “Slivka told me not to worry about it, he was going to take care of it. He said he’s going to get it done. He’s one of the most mentally tough kids I know, and at the end he pulled it out.”
The Irish sent 10 wrestlers to the state meet. On Friday night, seven of those 10 won their match to guarantee a top eight finish.
“I said at the beginning that our goal was to win a state championship,” McGinley said. “The only way we were going to win was by committee. We did. We brought 10 to the finals and then had a great Friday night. We had seven place winners. We battled and we won the close ones. We pulled a lot out in the last seconds and ended up on top.”
In the tournament Cathedral won seven matches by two points or less.
Perhaps the most pivotal match of the tournament came at 138 pounds when Cathedral’s Zach Melloh took on Brownsburg’s Blake Mulkey.
The match went to the ultimate tie breaker, after a controversial stalling call on Mulkey. Melloh eventually won the match 3-2.
“That was two teams going at it right there,” McGinley said. “The thing about Zach Melloh, he’s always going to give us six minutes no matter what. He pushes the pace. Sometimes you are going to get a call, and sometimes you don’t. We got the call in this one and took advantage of it and scored when we needed to.”
Cathedral had four wrestlers reach the final. Alex Mosconi (132 pounds), Mellow (138) and Elliott Rodgers (152) all earned runner-up finishes. Slivka was the Irish’s lone champ.
Cathedral also got a third-place finish out of 106-pounder Logan Bailey and a fourth by Lukasz Walendzak (120). Jacob Obst (285) finished seventh. Caleb Oliver (113), Andrew Wilson (126) and Anthony Mosconi (160) lost in their respective Friday night matches.
“All year we knew we had a group of kids that are really tough to beat,” McGinley said. “We knew we would have our hands full in the finals. The guys we were taking on were all very quality guys and great wrestlers. We were able to pull one out, but for us, it was all about committee. Everyone scored points for us when we needed them.”
Another key to Cathedral’s success, according to Slivka, was the team’s swagger.
“My motto is ‘Learn to love it’,” Slivka said. “You have to have fun in this sport or you’ll start to hate it. That was really the main key. We went out there and had fun all day. We were confident and we had swagger. I’m not sure coach cared for it too much, but it kept us relaxed and ready to get the job done.”
The title was Cathedral’s second in wrestling. The Irish also won the team title in 2014. Next season seven of the 10 state qualifiers will return. Only Melloh, Anthony Mosconi and Obst are seniors.
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#MondayMatness: Yorktown’s McCormick has one last memorable go-round at State Finals
By STEVE KRAH
When Trent McCormick became head wrestling coach at Yorktown High School, he was a teenager leading teenagers.
Over the decades, McCormick turned the Tigers into a mat powerhouse.
In his 30 seasons, Yorktown sent many wrestlers to the State Finals in Indianapolis. Fifty-nine times, they headed back to Delaware County as state placers.
Six times, they were state champions — Ross Janey (285 in 2010), Devon Jackson (138 in 2012), Rhett Hiestand (160 in 2014), Brad Laughlin (160 in 2017), Brayden Curtis (106 in 2017 and 113 in 2018). McCormick, 50, has announced his retirement and he steps away as the leader of the program with a memorable last go-round at the State Finals.
“We were a small team this year,” said McCormick Saturday, Feb. 17 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “There were a lot of studs on the team. We always like to say, ‘Steel sharpens steel.’ It’s been a long, grueling season and to have four state placers and six state qualifiers, I was very proud of them.”
McCormick, a state champion at 185 for Delta in 1986 and an Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer, took his boys back to the State Finals after winning the 22nd sectional, 13th regional and eighth semistate of his career.
At Indy, junior Brayden Curtis (40-0) bested New Castle junior Andrew Black 6-0 in the finals to become a two-time state champion on McCormick’s watch.
“He knows how to plan and he knows how to coach us mentally and physically,” said Curtis of McCormick. “He’s a huge part of my success as well as (assistant) coach (Kenny) O’Brien.” Senior Christian Hunt (48-1) concluded his Yorktown career as a state runner-up at 145.
“It was a great honor to go out and represent my school,” said Hunt.
“I definitely wanted to come out with a first, but second isn’t too bad.”
“As a senior, I wanted to send Coach McCormick out on a positive note,” said McCormick. “I did absolutely the best I could.”
Senior Alex Barr (48-3) placed sixth at 132.
Senior Zach Todd (42-8) came in seventh at 106.
State qualifiers were junior Eric Hiestand (42-4) at 152 and sophomore Holden Parsons (39-6) at 285.
The Tigers finished seventh in the team standings. During McCormick’s run, Yorktown has been state runner-up twice and won four team state duals championships.
A lay coach for 18 years who transitioned into teaching and has been in the classroom for the past 12, McCormick said he plans to spend more time with loved ones. He also plans to travel and that means going to West Point, N.Y., to see son Cael McCormick wrestle for Army. Cael was a three-time state medalist at Yorktown.
“I’m going to spend some more time with the family and not so much time in the gymnasium,” said McCormick.
#WrestlingWednesday: Hadley is first from Lapel to wrestle at state
By JEREMY HINES
In middle school Harrison Hadley weighed 60 pounds but had to wrestle in the 75 pound weight class because that was the smallest class available. Today, he’s the big man on campus at Lapel High School.
Hadley, a junior 106-pounder for the Bulldogs, became the school’s first wrestler to ever reach the state finals when he defeated South Dearborn’s Eli Otto 13-5 in the ticket round of the New Castle semistate.
“I definitely feel like I’m the big man on campus right now,” Hadley said. “The elementary school made this big banner for me and everyone signed it. People are going up to me in the halls and around town telling me congratulations and wishing me luck. The school recognized me for advancing. It’s pretty cool right now.”
Lapel has been a school since before the 1870s. At first Lapel was a one-room school house, but over time the location has changed and school buildings have come and gone. The school’s history is one of the oldest in the state. To be the very first athlete to accomplish going to state is something first-year coach Jake Stilwell doesn’t believe has fully sunk in for Hadley yet.
“This is huge for Lapel wrestling,” Stilwell said. “There have only been five semistate qualifiers in school history. For our program, this is absolutely huge. The younger kids see that state isn’t something impossible now. They see it can be done.
“It’s never occurred here before and most people didn’t think it could happen. Now they see Harrison has done it, and it gives them hope. I don’t even know if Harrison has grasped what has happened. It will take a little time for this to all settle in.”
After Hadley won the ticket-round match he immediately wanted to watch film on the match to see what he could have done differently. That’s what he does every match, win or lose.
“I like to see what type of positions I exposed myself to,” Hadley said. “I look at how I could have improved. I look for things that will take me to the next level. I always critique myself, even if I tech fall or pin a kid.”
Stilwell wanted Hadley to take a moment to take in the importance of what he had accomplished at semistate.
“He was very excited when he won,” Stilwell said. “But when he came off the mat he likes to dive right into what just happened and look for ways to improve. We had to stop him and remind him about what he just accomplished. He was excited, but wasn’t showing that emotion. He was still just trying to think of what he could have done differently.”
According to Harrison, the person most excited after the ticket round was his mom, Sonya.
“She was crying and everything,” Hadley said. “She was telling me how proud she was of me. I’ve never really seen her like that. It was a great moment.”
Hadley enters the state tournament with a record of 39 wins and only three losses. Two of those losses came last week at semistate. Hadley fell to Perry Meridian’s Alex Cottey in the semifinal round, then lost to Warren Central’s David Pierson in the consolation match.
Hadley, who likes to race 600cc mini sprint cars in his free time, has wrestled 106 pounds his entire high school career. As a freshman he came into the season weighing just 99 pounds. He’s put on about five pounds per year, but is easily able to get down to weight for the wrestling season.
Hadley is hoping his victory could help the team. He says it’s great to go to state, but it would be much sweeter going there with teammates also competing.
“I see some schools take nine or 10 guys to state,” Hadley said. “I think that would be awesome. Just seeing Cathedral’s team and how well they did at semistate and the bond those guys have, it’s fun to watch.
“Our program has struggled. We have never been that strong. But, if we can start advancing more kids it will really help build things up.”
Last year Lapel had just eight wrestlers. This year there are 17 on the Bulldog roster.
“Lapel is a school that has some good athletes,” Stilwell said. “The challenge is to get those kids to go out for wrestling. I really think Harrison’s success is going to help with that.”
Hadley will take on Brownsburg freshman Kysen Montgomery (38-7) in the Friday night match.
“For me, wrestling is an escape from everything,” Hadley said. “It’s something that helps me focus on my goals. It helps me in life situations and helps build my character. Right now my major goal is to be able to wrestle in college.”
#MondayMatness: Jay County’s Hare, Winner stepping back on Indiana high school wrestling’s big stage
By STEVE KRAH
“We have two from the Patriots of Jay County!”
Gaven Hare and Mason Winner are back for their second appearance in the IHSAA State Finals “Parade of Champions.”
Once the pre-meet pageantry is over at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis Friday night, it’s time to get down to business for 220-pound senior Hare and 160-pounder Winner.
There’s no more “just happy to be here.”
Hare was a state qualifier at 220 as a junior. Winner placed seventh at 145 as a freshman.
This year, Hare’s postseason path has included runner-up finishes at the sectional and regional tournaments — both held at Jay County — and a championship at the Fort Wayne Semistate.
“This year, I know not to go in there content,” says Hare, who is 38-7 for 2017-18 and 120-44 for his prep career. “I have to stay hungry. “I’ve already lost two title matches (at sectional and regional). I know how bad it feels to lose. I’m not trying to have that feeling anymore.”
It was Hare’s first semistate title and Winner’s second straight (the sophomore also won sectional and regional in 2018).
Other Jay County semistate champions include Glenn Glogas (1982), Greg Garringer (1982), Eric Lemaster (1987), Geoff Glogas (1987), Larry Brown (1988), Casey Kenney (2008 and 2009), Drake Meska (2011) and Eric Hemmelgarn (2013 and 2014).
When Hare earned his semistate title, he impressed a number of people in the Memorial Coliseum crowd.
“I was getting feedback on both sides of the coin,” says fourth-year Patriots head coach Eric Myers. “I had at least 10 people come up to me afterward and say that he was one of their favorite wrestlers to watch.”
It’s obvious to his coach by the smile on his face that Hare is enjoying the challenges of wrestling.
“He likes to compete and have a good time,” says Myers. “Gaven is great for the sport. He makes it exciting out there.” Myers, a former Adams Central wrestler and South Adams head coach, is a seventh grade teacher and he first encountered Hare as a junior high student. It was in that seventh grade year that Andy Schmidt recruited the young man to the mats.
“He was really raw at first,” says Myers. “But he had this athleticism and this innate sense to compete and to win.”
As a freshman, Hare set his sights high and he won a challenge match to take a sport in the varsity lineup.
“He’s always set goals,” says Myers. “ I’m going to be here by such and such time and usually he’s achieved those goals.”
Myers has watched Hare experience some ups and downs in his senior season. He took two losses and narrowly avoided a third at the Carroll Super Dual and suffered setbacks against South Adams senior Isaiah Baumgartner in the sectional final and Adams Central senior Chandler Schumm in the regional championship match.
Those only served to re-focus him.
“He’s been pushing himself just a little harder than he did before,” says Myers. “He was banged up going into state tournament series so he backed off and that showed in his results.”
At semistate, Hare edged Baumgartner 5-4 in the semifinals and pinned Central Noble junior Levi Leffers in 1:58 in the finals.
A three-sport athlete, Hare is also a two-way lineman in football and right-handed pitcher in baseball. He has worked as an umpire and would like to explore coaching, something he has discussed with his Jay County head coaches — Myers in wrestling, Tim Millspaugh in football and Lea Selvey in baseball.
When he’s not playing school sports, he is likely competing with friends or family in basketball, wiffleball, bowling or something else.
“I’m a sports fanatic,” says Hare.
Between all his other sports, Hare has found time to make it to off-season open rooms and works out in practice with assistant coaches like Bryce Baumgartner, who placed seventh at 182 as a Bellmont senior in 2017.
“These older guys give me a good pounding,” says Hare. “They show me more technique and the moves that will get me through the tough matches.”
Myers has two paid assistants in Jeff Heller and Bruce Wood and three volunteers in Baugmgartner, Jon Winner and Chad Chowning. Bellmont graduate Heller was a Myers assistant at South Adams and is also his brother-in-law. Wood and Chowning are Jay Country graduates. Jon Winner is a former Monroe Central wrestler and the father of Mason.
The son of Molly Robbins and Zack Hare and middle sibling between Destiny Hare and Corbin Hare, Portland resident Gaven says he would like to pursue one or more sports in college.
As self-described academic slacker his first few years of high school, Hare pulled a 4.0 and 3.8 in the first two grading periods this school year.
“I’m trying to catch up,” says Hare, who has drawn some interest from college wrestling programs and will wait to see what unfolds this spring on the baseball diamond.
Winner, who is 44-2 on the season and 83-6 for his career, has been around wrestling almost non-stop since he was a second grader. He has traveled extensively with the Indiana Outlaws and trained with the best at CIA and Pride centers and attended Jeff Jordan’s camps.
“He’s a year-round grinder,” says Myers of Winner. “He immerses himself in the sport and so does his family.”
Winner, who topped Fort Wayne Bishop Luers senior Chandler Woenker 3-0 in the semistate finals, is always looking to make himself better.
That’s why he started running cross country in sixth grade.
“It’s whether you want to push yourself or not,” says Winner. “They say that wrestling is 90 percent mental. It’s whether you want do to it or not. You have to push yourself — in running or wrestling.”
Winner has a way of pushing himself and his opponent.
“He’s an in-your-face wrestler that will keep coming at you,” says Myers. “He’s got a quality that is hard to implant in kids. He’ll keep going until he gets what he wants. He’s hard-nosed and mentally tough.
“He has the confidence to keep going after it.” Mason also draws inspiration from his family. Jon and Kimberly Winner have three children — Mason, Mitchell and Mallory. Mitchell is a
freshman and also runs cross country. Fifth grader Mallory competes with the Jay County Wrestling Club and also plays softball.
The Winners are Ridgeville area farmers and have about 50 head of Charolais cattle between their property and that of Bill and Sandra Winner — Jon’s parents.
Both of Mason’s paternal grandparents were too ill to attend semistate.
“I’m wrestling with so much more emotion,” says Mason. “My grandpa has Alzheimer’s (disease). He’s my hero.
“It would mean so much to me to win a state title for him.”
Two Patriots — Geoff Glogas (98) and David Ferguson (105) — reached the top of the State Finals podium in 1987.
Jay County’s state placers:
• Glenn Glogas (second at 112 in 1981; second at 119 in 1982).
• Greg Garringer (fifth at 155 in 1982).
• Kurt VanSkyock (third at 145 in 1984; third at 155 in 1985)
• Larry Wilson (fourth at 167 in 1985).
• Geoff Glogas (state champion at 98 in 1987; fifth at 103 in 1988).
• David Ferguson (state champion at 105 in 1987).
• Shawn Jordan (sixth at 152 in 1997).
• James Myers (seventh at 125 in 1997).
• James Brewster (seventh at 215 in 1999).
• Casey Kenney (second at 103 in 2008).
• Eric Hemmelgarn (third at 285 in 2012; fifth at 285 in 2013; fourth
at 285 in 2014).
• Kyle Garringer (sixth at 195 in 2013).
• Andy Kohler (sixth at 182 in 2016).
#WrestlingWednesday: Eiteljorge is kinda cool
By JEREMY HINES
There’s cool, and then there’s Jack Eiteljorge cool.
The Carmel senior wrestler may even be too cool.
“Jack’s the guy I want to do my heart surgery because he’s as cool as a cucumber,” Greyhound coach Ed Pendoski said. “He doesn’t get rattled by anything. But, that’s one of the things we are trying to work on this year. I want him having emotion. We’ve talked to him about how sometimes you have to have emotion, whether it be positive or negative.”
Just how cool is Eiteljorge?
“He’s so cool that you could sit him down and tell him that someone just walked into his house and killed his dog, Bacon. His reply would be, ‘Oh, OK.’,” Pendoski said. “You could tell him that Taylor Swift is in the hot tub and wants to make out with him, and he’d say ‘Oh, OK’.”
Eiteljorge is currently ranked No. 2 in the state at 160 pounds. He is a three times sectional and regional champion, but he has never punched his ticket to state. Pendoski thinks opening up and getting a little emotional may be the edge that Eiteljorge needs to finally get to state - and possibly win.
“Going into this year, after the Super 32, we had just had two pretty bad losses,” Pendoski said. “We really started dialing in on our mental part. He’s done a good job reacting to that. The phrase we use a lot is that mental toughness is the ability to manage the thoughts in your head. We went back to that simple platform. We talked to him about getting excited. We said let’s get angry. Let’s be happy. Show something.”
The plan has worked. Eiteljorge is 33-2. He has pinned or tech falled all of his opponents in the state tournament except for one, and that match he won 18-8.
“I’ve been trying to show emotion,” Eiteljorge said. “Coach wants me to, and he has a lot of muscle so I listen to him. He feels that sometimes I’m like a robot on the mat. He wants me to just start having fun.
I’ve really been working on that part. It’s a big change from past years. Making myself be less methodical is the key. I have to go out there and make the matches fun.”
Eiteljorge isn’t one of the kids that found immediate success in the sport of wrestling. When he was young and just started going to CIA, Pendoski’s wrestling academy, he was the guy getting beat up on.
“Jack was in a group with some very, very good wrestlers,” Pendoski said. “He was the beginner. The partners he was with had been around for years and were winning championships. I think Jack went two or three months before he even scored a point. But, he was the guy that would stick around after practice and do pull-ups or pushups.”
Eventually he won his first club level state tournament. Pendoski says that was a turning point for him.
“That’s the day I knew this little ankle-biter would be OK one day,” Pendoski said. “It was nice to see a guy that started from the beginning, worked his tail off and then started to see the results.”
Eiteljorge lost in the first round of semistate his freshman year. As a sophomore and a junior he lost in the ticket round.
“This year my goal is to win state,” Eiteljorge said. “My goal is not just to get to state. But, I still know there will be a pressure on me to get past the ticket round. If I win that match, I’ll certainly feel a weight has been lifted.”
Eiteljorge isn’t one to talk about personal successes, he’s too cool to brag. But, he’s more than willing to gush about his teammates.
“I have really good teammates,” he said. “They are awesome. I love hanging out with them. Carmel’s team chemistry is what helps us be a top program. We are always improving. We have a casual, playful environment. We have fun. But when it’s time to get serious we focus and get the job done.”
Next season Eiteljorge will wrestle for the University of Indianapolis.
“The University of Indianapolis is going to be real happy with the product they are getting with Jack,” Pendoski said.
#MondayMatness: Goshen’s Flores puts it work to make one last state tournament run
By STEVE KRAH
A quiet leader continues to make noise for the Goshen High School wrestling program.
By scoring three first-period pins and earning a second straight Goshen Regional title GHS 106-pounder senior Fernando Flores heads to the Fort Wayne Semistate with a 2017-18 season record of 39-3.
At 145-26, “Nando” is No. 2 on Goshen’s all-time victory list.
Program No. 1 Andrew Yoder, who went 40-4 and placed fourth at the state meet as a senior in 1998, finished his prep mat career at 156-36.
“I like going out there and competing and having a good show for the fans,” says two-time Elkhart Sectional champion Flores when asked about his favorite part about wrestling. “I try to score as fast as I can.”
Fernando is one of Goshen’s captains. But his leadership style is not a vocal one.
“He’s a quiet kid,” says RedHawks head coach Jim Pickard. “But he leads by example. It’s his work ethic and what he produces.
“He does speak up when he needs to, but he’s really that example: ’Let’s do what Nando’s doing.’ You go and you work hard all the time.”
With its physicality, wrestling can be a grueling sport and pain is inevitable.
Flores pushes past it with plenty of support from his family, teammates and coaches.
Shawn Haley and Marquita Flores have four boys — Victor, Hector, Fernando and Ricky. Victor, a 152-pounder, was a Goshen senior in 2015, 126-pound Hector in 2016. Ricky, a 120-pounder, is younger than Fernando and was on the RedHawks team last season.
Fernando started his mat career as a sixth grader and chose wrestling over basketball when he got to high school. He was a semistate qualifier as a sophomore and a state qualifier as a junior.
Where has he improved most since last season?
“I’ve gotten better at getting off the bottom,” says Flores. “I’ve worked a lot on that. Last year, I had some trouble with it.
“I’ve also gotten more confident.”
That confidence has been helped by his coaches, including Jim Pickard and assistants Matt Katzer, Troy Pickard, Travis Pickard, Josh Abbs, Carl Creech, Gerardo Quiroz, Ben Schrock and Miguel Navarro, telling him that he could do well in the state tournament series if he performed to his capabilities.
“It was a whole experience for me,” says Flores of going to the State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I just want to go down there again.
What will it take to get back there?
“A lot of hard work and just putting in the time over the summer,” says Flores. “That’s a big difference for a lot of guys. Working over the summer, you get so much better coming into the next season.”
Some of Fernando’s favorite wrestlers are Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder and NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello — both at Ohio State University — and world and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs.
“I try to shoot a high crotch,” says Flores. “Tomasello is really good at those. I went to one of his camps. He showed us a whole bunch of set-ups and uses.”
Pickard has encouraged Flores to open up his offense in recent weeks.
“We don’t want to just do the same moves,” says Pickard, who is in his 25th season at Goshen. “Sooner or later, someone is going to shut down some of those moves. We’ve worked a little bit on some stuff he hasn’t done that much.
“You’ve got to have that second, third, fourth move.”
Pickard says moves must be practiced over and over again until they become muscle memory.
“We drill everyday and we drill multiple moves,” says Pickard. “We don’t just drill your favorite moves.
“You’ve got to be able to switch off. I tell kids all the time that by the time you think I should do this, it’s too late. You just have to do it.”
Pickard says Flores is beginning to get to the point where he can make the necessary on-the-fly changes.
“He’s getting there,” says Pickard. “It’s one-week-at-a-time, but I think he has what it takes to get where he wants to be in two weeks.
“He’s more committed than most. And he’s put in the time needed. He’s believing in himself. He’s focused and determined.”
While Flores has been a 106-pounder at state tournament time the past four seasons, he has competed at 113 and 120 this season.
Flores is still contemplating his future plans. He says he is considering college or joining the U.S. Air Force.
#WrestlingWednesday: Hunt ready for one last title run
BY JEREMY HINES
If it were all about heart, Bloomington South’s Noah Hunt would likely be a multiple time state champion. But, in life and on the wrestling mat, sometimes heart isn’t enough.
Hunt grew up around wrestling. He was naturally gifted in the sport and he spent many nights fine tuning his craft. But, in sixth grade, he decided he had enough. The love just wasn’t there like it used to be.
“I was burned out,” Hunt said. “I quit.”
Soon Hunt realized that quitting wasn’t part of his character. Being away from the sport showed him how much he actually loved it. Midway through the seventh grade season he returned to wrestling.
“I came back with a new mentality,” Hunt said. “I was ready to go. I was ready to get better than ever.”
Hunt pushed his body to the limits for the sport. His sophomore year that hard work started to pay dividends. He won sectional and regional and advanced to the Evansville semistate at 120 pounds. That’s when Hunt’s journey of pain, frustration and a quest for redemption began.
In the first round of the semistate Hunt hurt his knee. He was nine seconds into his match with Eastern’s Robbie Stein. Hunt shot in and grabbed Stein’s leg. As he was lifting it in the air to secure the single, he stepped wrong and twisted his knee. He knew he was in pain, but he continued to compete.
Hunt ended up winning that match in dominating fashion, 9-1. His knee did not feel right, and he knew it - but he had put too much work in to give up. If he was going to get to state, he had to wrestle through the pain and win the next match.
Hunt punched his ticket to state the next round, beating Center Grove’s Zak Siddiqui 12-1.
Hunt ended up finishing fourth at the semistate, winning two matches with a severely injured knee. He couldn’t wait to wrestle at state the next week. It was a dream come true for him - at least that’s what he thought.
The knee injury ended up being worse than Hunt expected. Doctors did an MRI and determined he had completely torn his ACL in his left knee. As much as he begged and pleaded to be able to wrestle at state, the doctors would not release him.
“It was a terrible feeling,” Hunt said. “I knew I could wrestle on it, and win. But I wasn’t allowed to.”
For Hunt, the road to recovery was a long, painful one. It took six months for him to be fully back to wrestling condition. He missed the entire summer of workouts. He knew while his competition was working on improving - he was working on getting back to the level he was previously.
Still, Hunt had a goal to return better than ever - and he did just that.
As a junior Hunt had more regular season losses than he did his sophomore year - but by tournament time he was clicking on all cylinders. He won the sectional and regional at 126 pounds. Then, at semistate, he defeated North Posey’s Cameron Fisher, Center Grove’s Peyton Pruett and Evansville Mater Dei’s Matt Lee in succession. He lost the semistate championship to Graham Rooks, 8-3.
Hunt won his Friday night match at state, guaranteeing him a placement in the top 8. He beat Ft. Wayne Carroll’s Joel Byman in that Friday night round, but then lost back-to-back matches to Michael DeLaPena and Jordan Slivka.
The only thing left for Hunt to wrestle for was seventh or eighth place. There was only one problem - he had hurt his right knee in the previous match. He recognized the feeling, it was almost the same as he had the year before.
He decided to wrestle anyway, knowing the pain he was in. This time around, Matt Lee won the match 6-3 - giving Hunt 8th place in the state.
A few days later he got the news that he had feared - he had torn his ACL. Six more months of recovery. Six more months of watching everyone else get better. Six more months off the mat.
“I just had to focus on what my ultimate goal was,” Hunt said. “I couldn’t feel sorry for myself. I knew I had to work in order to make the most of my senior year.”
Hunt’s mom, Melissa, didn’t want him wrestling again. She thought it wasn’t worth it.
“She was worried about me hurting myself again,” Hunt said. “I told her I’m sorry, but I have to do it. She wasn’t super thrilled, but she knew this was something I just had to do.”
This season Hunt is ranked No. 18 at 138 pounds. He is 32-3 and coming off a dominating sectional performance where he won the championship by eight points.
“A state title is pretty much his goal,” Bloomington South coach Mike Runyon said. “We set that goal early on in his career and despite everything he’s went through, that’s still his goal.”
Hunt has spent a full year of his high school life recovering from knee injuries. He said the hardest part of returning to the sport was getting his mat awareness back. Once he did that, he feels he’s ready to get the job done.
“I never had the thought that this isn’t worth it,” Hunt said. “All I see is wrestling, wrestling, wrestling. I’ve been pushing it as hard as I can. I’ve lost a few. But, if that’s what it takes to make my goals happen, then so be it. I’m there mentally and physically now. If I beat the kids ranked higher than me, some might think it’s an upset - but I won’t. I think I can wrestle with anyone and win.”
Bloomington South is a school rich in wrestling tradition. Pictures of past state champions line the wrestling room - a constant reminder of those that have claimed the state’s ultimate prize. Hunt says he looks at those pictures every day, and every day dreams his will be there as well. If so, perhaps no other wrestler in school history has had to overcome as much as he has to get that prize.
#MondayMatness: Diaz brothers showing mat moves, smarts for Wheeler Bearcats
By STEVE KRAH
The Diaz family was on the ground floor in building the wrestling program at Wheeler High School.
Now, two Diaz siblings are reaching for the heights during the 2017-18 IHSAA state tournament series.
At the Jan. 27 Crown Point Sectional, senior Jose Diaz Jr. placed second at 113 pounds and sophomore Giovanni Diaz finished first at 106. They both move on to the Feb. 3 Crown Point Regional.
“He’s very intelligent,” says third-year Wheeler head coach Robin Haddox of Jose Jr. “He knows the sport very well. He’s extremely fast. He’s strong. He’s got the whole package.”
A 106-pound Jose Jr. became Wheeler’s first State Finals qualifier in 2016. He placed eighth at 113 in 2017. Giovanni was an East Chicago Semistate qualifier at 106 in 2017.
Jose Jr. explains why he enjoys wrestling.
“It’s you and another person,” says Jose Jr. “You go out and show who you really are. It’s what you decide to put on the mat.
“Winning feels great. Every time I get my hand raised, it feels great and motivates me to keep going.”
Giovanni likes to be pushed to his limit — something that he gets with wrestling.
“I like everything about it,” says Giovanni. “Most days, we try to push ourselves even when it’s supposed to be a light day.
“You’ve got to have a certain mindset. If you want to achieve your goals, you’re going to have some toughness and think you’re going to break.”
While they sometimes drill with other wrestlers in practice, Jose Jr. and Giovanni often trade moves.
“It’s always close when we wrestle,” says Jose Jr. “It’s always fun.”
Says Giovanni, “sometimes it get a little rough, but we keep it under control.”
The Wheeler Bearcats officially hit the mats six years ago. Jose Jr. was a seventh grader. Giovanni was a fifth grader. Father Jose Sr. introduced the boys to the sport soon after they were born.
Jose Sr. wrestled at Taft High School in Chicago, placing fourth in the city championships — just one win from the Illinois State Finals — as a senior in 1999.
“I loved it,” says Jose Sr. of the sport. “Wrestling helped me stay out of trouble. That’s what it does for a lot of Chicago Public Schools kids.”
The elder Diaz and wife Patty moved their family to unincorporated Valparaiso near uncle Luis Del Valle.
“It was one of the best decisions we made,” says Jose Sr. “It’s a better than the life I lived.
“There have been a lot of opportunities for all of my kids (Jose Jr., Giovanni, third grader Aidan and second grader Emma).”
Jose Sr. knew he wanted his boys to wrestle and they began training at home, but he waited for them to commit to competition. When Jose Jr. was in third grade and Giovanni first grade, they joined the Boone Grove Wrestling Club as athletes and their father as a coach.
Then came the Wheeler Wrestling Club and the high school squad. Steadily the numbers have grown. This winter, the Bearcats filled nearly every weight class in most duals. The club has swelled to more than 40 wrestlers and the middle school team competed for its second season.
“Wheeler is not a dominant program yet, but we have guys who go down-state,” says Jose Sr., a construction contractor.
Jose Jr. likes the idea of leaving a legacy.
“I want to be remembered at this school as a good wrestler,” says Jose Jr. “When I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a role model. I was always shy. (Success in wrestling) helps me understand that I can be. It helped me with my confidence.”
Jose Jr. stays after high school practice each day to help younger club grapplers and is proud of what Bearcats wrestling has become.
“I love coaching the little kids and giving back to the community,” says Jose Jr. “With our numbers. our program has started getting 10 times better. Being part of this program means a lot to me.”
The Diaz boys will also leave their mark at Wheeler for his academic achievements.
Jose Jr. carries a 4.089 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and is on his way to making the Wheeler Academic Hall of Fame. Giovanni has a 4.105 GPA.
“Wheeler is great for academics,” says Jose Jr. “Teachers are always there for you.”
With about 500 students, the teacher-to-student ratio allows for one-on-one attention.
Jose Jr., a National Honor Society member, has been accepted at educationally-prestigious Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., where he will compete in NCAA Division I wrestling. He plans to study health science with the aim of becoming a physical therapist.
“It’s a perfect fit for Jose,” says Jose Sr., of Franklin & Marshall, where Mike Rogers in head wrestling coach. “It’s a small private school. The student-to-staff ratio is 9-to-1. The school has history. It’s like an Ivy League school. A degree from there opens up a lot of doors. You go to Franklin & Marshall for academics, not for wrestling.
“I get a good feeling, handing over my son. Jose has been coached by me. I’ve been his dad and his coach. It’s a big step. I wanted to make sure Jose goes into a program that fits him.”
Jose Jr. knows it will be transition.
“I’m nervous to not have (my father) in my corner,” says Jose Jr. “He’s been there since Day 1. He sees what I don’t see. He tells it straight on.
“I’m not always happy about it, but it helps me tremendously.”
The student half of student-athlete is important throughout the Wheeler wrestling program.
“This is the highest grade-point average team I’ve ever been involved with,” says Haddox, an industrial construction manager. “The majority of our kids are 3.0 or better. We have not had to worry about grades at all with any of our wrestlers.”
Haddox wrestled at Chesterton High School, where he graduated in 1981, and the University of Tennessee. After a time in Texas, he moved back to northwest Indiana and began helping with the Portage High School wrestling program before Wheeler came calling.
Besides Haddox and Jose Diaz Sr., the Bearcats are coached by Alex Bravo (former Valparaiso High School wrestler) and Yusef Mohmed (who has a background in mixed martial arts).
#WrestlingWednesday: Guerrier looking to go out on top
By JEREMY HINES
Kiave Guerrier isn’t your typical elite-level wrestler. He never went to camps growing up, or clinics. He didn’t wrestle in elementary school or middle school. He hates practicing. Yet going into sectionals he’s undefeated and ranked No. 5 in the state at 182 pounds.
“He’s basically self-made,” Guerrier’s Evansville Central coach Mike Lapadat said. “He’s really just a part-time wrestler.”
Guerrier’s wrestling story began four years ago when he was sitting in the school’s cafeteria eating lunch. Guerrier asked coach Lapadat how the wrestling team was going to be that season, and about an upcoming meet.
“I was telling him that we were going to have to forfeit at 195 pounds,” Lapadat said. “He asked me why we would forfeit, and I explained to him that we didn’t have anyone at that weight. He told me he could wrestle it. I told him that would be great, but he was going to have to start putting on weight.”
At the time, Guerrier weighed 170 pounds.
Guerrier’s very first match that freshman year came in a dual against one of the top programs in Kentucky -- Union County High School.
The match went several overtimes. Guerrier didn’t even know the rules of overtime. He ended up winning the match in sudden death.
“After that match I looked at our assistant coach and said that if Kiave doesn’t go to state in his career, we should be fired. I knew right then that this kid was special.”
Guerrier’s first love is football. He has verbally committed to the University of Indianapolis. He went out for wrestling just thinking it would help him with football. But, after that first match - he fell in love with the sport.
“That match got me hooked,” Guerrier said. “It was a lot of fun and that feeling just really stuck with me. I really liked the sport and wanted to continue with it. I started out not knowing much about it - but I’ve tried to learn quickly.”
For Guerrier, one of the hardest parts of wrestling is just making himself get up and go to practice each day.
“It was always a big struggle, especially early on,” Guerrier said. “The hardest part was getting to practice. But, once I made myself get there, it became easy.”
Despite his premium athletic ability, Guerrier didn’t see himself as a good wrestler early in his career.
“I thought I’d be average and it could help me with football,” he said. “Then I started to push myself in practice. I’d do extra work on weekends and sometimes even after meets. Still, I would have never guessed that going into sectionals I would be a No. 1 seed and undefeated.”
Now Guerrier’s goals are more lofty. He wants a state championship and feels he is completely capable of getting it.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “If I keep working, I know I can win.”
Last season Guerrier lost in the ticket round of the Evansville semistate to No. 1 ranked Nathan Walton. The score was 1-0.
“Kiave has a very high wrestling IQ,” Lapadat said. “He can watch a move on video and then bring it to the mat. He picks up things very quickly. He studies teh sport. He knows everyone he is going to wrestle and he watches matches on them to study them.”
Before wrestling, Guerrier had never competed in an individual sport.
“Wrestling was the first sport that if I messed up, it was only because of me,” he said. “It’s one-on-one and there are no excuses. On the mat I know what I need to do, and how I want to do it.”
Outside of wrestling Guerrier enjoys nature and working in the communities challenger baseball and track programs.
“I have a lot of fun working with the kids in the challenger sports,” he said. “Some people aren’t as blessed as others, and I really love helping them out and making them laugh and watching them have fun. It’s very rewarding.”
Guerrier wants to study engineering in college. He does not plan on wrestling past high school.
“Knowing my career is almost over is sad,” Guerrier said. “I fell in love with the sport. Wrestling is tough to like, but once you fall in love with it, you’re hooked for life.”
#MondayMatness: It’s a family wrestling affair at Northridge for Grabers, Evelers and Hooleys
By STEVE KRAH
Cousins Conner Graber and Owen Eveler were born into a wrestling family.
Every time the Northridge High School seniors step on the mat, they have a small army of relatives clad in green and gold enthusiastically cheering them on.
“It’s a huge factor,” says Owen of the family appreciation for the sport. “It’s been bred in us since we were young.
“You can definitely pick out the Northridge crowd.”
Such is also the case for sophomore Oliver Eveler, junior Adam Hooley and freshman Logan Hooley. They also part of the second generation in a clan that loves its wrestling.
“They are the loudest fans,” says Northridge head coach Eric Highley. “But they’re not malicious or inappropriate. They’re always encouraging. They’re a great family.”
In the Raider rooting section, there’s first-generation mat mavens Scott Graber (NHS Class of 1982) and his brothers Jeff (NHS Class of 1984) and Ted (Class of 1986) and sister Tonya (Graber) Eveler (NHS Class of 1988).
Tonya is married to Mark Eveler (Goshen Class of ’85) and they are parents to Owen, Oliver and seventh-grade grappler Sydney.
Scott, Jeff and Ted were all semistate qualifiers as Raiders. Pull out the 1982 Shield yearbook, turn to page 56 and there’s a photo of Scott Graber pinning an opponent.
Jared Graber (NHS Class of 2007) and Drew Graber (NHS of 2009) are Scott’s sons. Drew was a three-time State Finals qualifier and finished second twice (171 in 2008 and 182 in 2009) while winning 117 career matches. He is now Northridge assistant coach.
Ted and Rolonda (Hooley) Graber (NHS Class of 1989) are parents to Conner. Rolonda’s brothers Brad Hooley (NHS Class of 1982) and Allen Hooley (NHS Class of 1985) were also wrestlers.
Adam Hooley is the son of Brad and Logan the offspring of Allen.
“It helps me to compete, trying to be one of the best in my family,” says Adam Hooley, who remembers watching cousin Drew Graber’s drive on video. “We talk about future matches and previous matches (at family gatherings) and how we can get better.”
Logan Hooley has soaked up a lot of knowledge from his cousins.
“I’ve learned a lot by watching them,” says Logan, who began wrestling as a seventh grader. “It helped me understand it more.”
Oliver Eveler has also felt the love.
“It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, at the end of the day you always have your family behind you,” says Oliver.
At those family outings, there’s plenty of friendly smack talk, especially among the second generation.
And at some point, it becomes more than talk.
“There always seems to be a wrestling match until something gets broken and then we’ve got to shut it down,” says Ted Graber, who has a wrestling mat in his basement as does Mark Eveler.
Heading into the Elkhart Sectional, 182-pounder Conner Graber is 34-1 on the 2017-18 season and 132-21 for his career. Only Steve Zimmerman (NHS Class of 1995) with 138 and Ross Powell (NHS Class of 1997) with 133 rank ahead of him on Northridge’s all-time wrestling victory list.
Conner won a single-season school record 44 matches and placed seventh at the IHSAA State Finals at 182 in 2016-17.
Conner Graber’s secret sauce?
“It’s just a good work ethic,” says Conner, the 2018 Northern Lakes Conference champion at 182. “Weightlifting is a big part of it and working all my moves in practice and building up my endurance.”
In matches, Conner heeds his coach’s advice to have a plan, be fast and work the angles. He grappled at 160 as a freshman, moved to 182 as a sophomore and has been in that class ever since, though he has bumped up to 195 a few times this season to see better competition.
Drew Graber came back to the program knowing he would get a chance to help his cousins and that includes Conner Graber.
“Every year he’s had more drive to open and wants to learn more and get better,” says Drew of Conner. “With success came some confidence and some open-mindedness with some moves. This year, he’s a completely different wrestler than last year. He’s scoring more points.
“Seniors are often very set in their ways. But Conner has been very flexible with technique and trying stuff.
“As a coaching staff, we model that continued growth with all of our wrestlers.”
Two of his notable victories were 4-2 decisions against New Haven senior Jonyvan Johnson and Indiana Creek senior Grant Goforth. His lone loss is a 5-4 decision against Wabash senior Noah Cressell.
Owen Eveler (145) goes into the sectional at 33-4 this season and 116-29 in his career.
“I’ve improved my mat skills this season — top and bottom,” says Owen, who placed third in the NLC at 145. “My neutral’s always been there.”
Ted Graber credits Mark Eveler for getting the Raider Wrestling Club going about a decade ago.
“He’s been very instrumental,” says Ted of Mark. “He has touch a lot of lives.”
Conner Graber has seen the fruits of the Raider Wrestling Club’s labor.
“That helped a ton,” says Conner. “We expanded on everything we had already talked about and done in a limited capacity at Fairfield.”
When Conner Graber and Owen Eveler were kindergartners and before Northridge had its own club, they went to Fairfield High School to participate in the Talon Wrestling Club run by Dan Glogouski and Jesse Espinoza.
Ron Kratzer was head coach for the Raiders from 1975-88 and coached Scott, Jeff and Ted Graber. Kratzer was followed by Tom Fudge, Mark Hofer, Mike Wickersham, Scott Giddens, Joe Solis and Shawn Puckett.
Since 2013, Highley has headed the program. His current assistants beside Drew Graber are Puckett, Jeff Howe and Mike Price.
“Northridge is blessed in many ways with their coaching,” says Ted Graber. “The parents are very appreciative.”
Highley is grateful for the support shown not only by the Grabers, Evelers and Hooleys, but all the dads and moms.
“We’ve got all these parents that have been involved with it for a long time. They understand what’s going on. They understand the sacrifices their sons have to make.”
There is a big banner in the Northridge practice room that reads: You Get What You Earn.
“If they are willing to go in and put in all that sacrifice, all that time and all that hard work, then they are earning their chance to achieve what they want to achieve,” says Highley. “They are going to see the results.
“If you want to be lazy, that’s fine. But you’re probably not going to go as far as you want to go.”
#WrestlingWednesday: Sibling rivalry leads to Wilkerson's success
By JEREMY HINES
There are times when things get so heated in the wrestling room at Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville that brothers Chase and Chris Wilkerson have to be seperated. Like most brothers, they hate to lose to each other. When they practice together, things can start to get a little testy.
Those moments certainly aren’t the norm. Chase, a junior and Chris, a sophomore are each other’s biggest fans. They practice together, condition together and talk strategy together. When one brother is struggling, the other is there to pick him up.
“They really have a neat dynamic,” Marauder coach Chad Masters said. “Every big match, they are both on the sidelines coaching each other. They are both the first one there to congratulate each other. They console each other after tough losses. They are two of the best kids I’ve ever met. They are the type of people you want in the room and you know they’ll be successful in whatever they do.”
This year Chase is ranked No. 11 in the state at 120 pounds and is ranked fourth in the New Castle semistate. Chris is not state ranked, but is No. 6 in the New Castle semistate at 132 pounds.
Before his last middle school season started, Chris weighed 170 pounds. He had always wrestled the bigger guys due to his size. But, when he started really focusing on improving, he started to get in better shape as well. He wrestled at 145 pounds by the end of his eighth grade season. Then, in high school, he got down to 132 pounds and he maintained that weight all summer long. This is his second season at that weight class.
Last season ended in trying fashion for Chris. He was the No. 2 seed in the Warren Central sectional. He won his first two matches then ran into senior Tim Wright. During that match Wright’s head slammed into Chris’s face. The force from the blow knocked a tooth out of Chris’s mouth, and caused other damage. He had to injury default out of the tournament and go to the hospital immediately. That injury ended his freshman campaign.
“That was the worst feeling in my life,” Chris said. “Just hearing that I couldn’t continue. It was the first time I had cried in years. It was awful knowing that all the hard work I had put in, and nobody was going to see that pay off.”
That’s when Chase stepped in.
“Chase helped me to cope with knowing I was out,” Chris said. “He was telling me to bounce back harder. He told me to work harder. And, he did the same. Seeing him work as hard as he did started pushing me to get better as well.”
Chase lost to New Castle’s Trevor Ragle in the first round of semistate 4-1. Ragle went on to advance to the state tournament. Before the Ragle match, Chase had fallen short against other ranked guys as well.
“This year started out the same way,” Masters said. “He wrestled Zane Standridge and lost in the last 20 seconds. He knew he could wrestle the ranked guys, but he wasn’t sure he was able to beat them. It seemed like every time something would go wrong and he’d lost the match at the end.”
The turning point for Chase came 14 days after the Standridge match. Chase was wrestling a familiar foe, Greenfield’s Gavin Rose. The two were once practice partners at Mt. Vernon, but Rose left for the neighboring Greenfield school. He had defeated Wilkerson in the past, but this time was different.
Chase scored four points on two reversals to beat Rose 4-2. That match showed Chase he could win the big match.
“That was a big turning point with Chase,” Masters said. “It showed Chase that he could not only wrestle with these guys, he could beat them. It showed he could beat anyone.”
The two wrestled again Saturday in the championship of the Hoosier Heritage Conference tournament. The match went to triple overtime before Rose pulled off the 2-0 victory.
Chris also had a big match in the HHC tournament. He was taking on Yorktown’s Alex Barr, the No. 1 seed in the 132 pound weight class. With 10 seconds left in the match Barr had a 1-0 lead and was on top of Chris. That’s when Chris made his move, he scored an escape point and Barr fell toward the out of bounds line. When Chris saw Barr down, he dove at his legs and was awarded the takedown to go up 3-2 with three seconds left. On the restart he let Barr up to secure the 3-2 win.
“I couldn’t contain my emotions,” Chris said. “I had to let it out. That was such a crazy match and I was just so excited to win it.”
The brothers have very different styles on the mat. Chase likes to go for the takedowns and be aggressive offensively. Chris is a patient wrestler who minimizes his mistakes.
Both brothers have a goal to reach the state tournament.
“I definitely think I should go to state this year,” Chase said. “It’s going to be rough for sure, but I feel like I can make it.”
One of the keys to getting to state might just be having a sibling to push you. It’s working for the Wilkerson brothers right now.
“Having a brother is definitely an advantage,” Chase said. “You grow up beating the crap out of each other. But, whenever you need someone to work with - we are there for each other and we want each other to succeed. When he does well, I feel as good as if I had done well myself.”