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      #WrestlingWednesday: Hadley is first from Lapel to wrestle at state

      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.”

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

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

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Eiteljorge is kinda cool

      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

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

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Hunt ready for one last title run

      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.

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      #MondayMatness: Diaz brothers showing mat moves, smarts for Wheeler Bearcats

      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

      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

      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.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Sibling rivalry leads to Wilkerson's success

      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.”

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      #Mondaymatness: Portage seniors Rumph, McIntosh hoping to end prep careers in a big way

      Kris Rumph and Kasper McIntosh have become familiar faces on the IHSAA State Finals wrestling scene.
      The two Portage High School grapplers have been on the mats at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis a combined five times and both competed under the lights in — Rumph placing second at 138 pounds in 2017 and McIntosh second at 145 in 2016.
      Seniors Rumph and McIntosh are back at those same weights and preparing for what they hope will be plenty more success in their final high school state tournament series.
      Portage scored a meet-record 275 points and won the Duneland Athletic Conference tournament in its own gym Saturday, Jan. 13 with McIntosh taking the third DAC crown of his prep career and Rumph his second.
      Now, they are focused on getting ready for the Jan. 27 Griffith Sectional. The Hobart Regional is Feb. 3, East Chicago Semistate Feb. 10 and State Finals Feb. 16-17.
      Portage wrestlers are trained by seventh-year head coach Leroy Vega and his staff. Vega won individual state titles for the Indians in 1996 and 1997 and went on to be a three-time NCAA All-American at the University of Minnesota. 
      Vega sees special qualities in both Rumph and McIntosh.
      “Kris is very athletic,” says Vega. “He can do things that not many guys in our guys can do. 
      “His speed is unbelievable. You slow down the film to see ‘how did he do that?’”
      Rumph’s combination of speed and strength make it difficult for opponents to prepare for him.
      “You can’t train for his speed and his athleticism,” says Vega. “You don’t know what he’s capable of doing.
      “You can’t replicate that in the wrestling room. Nobody wrestles like him.”
      Vega asked McIntosh to open up his offense and he has done just that with point-producing results.
      “We had to make him realize that you are not going to win state title or be very successful with one move (which was the high crotch),” says Vega. “Kasper is just a hard worker. He’s going to take whatever it is to reach his goal. Whether it’s watching film or eating right, he is always striving to be the best.”
      McIntosh, who also finished fifth at the State Finals at 145 in 2017 and eighth at 138 in 2015, says it has been a process to diversify his attack.
      “It took a lot of time,” says McIntosh. “It’s been two steps forward and one step back.
      “I’ve slowly progressed. I’m getting pretty good. At first, it was just a high crotch. Now, I’m getting real good motion and wearing on a guy.
      “Putting that all together is working really well.”
      McIntosh, who first competed in a Calumet Township elementary tournament as a kindergartener, has placed in High School Nationals, Iowa Nationals, FloWrestling Nationals and Super 32, but there’s just something about competing for a state title.
      “The state tournament is the most-anticipated one,” says McIntosh.
      After high school, he will follow in Vega’s foot steps and study and wrestle at Minnesota. 
      “(Vega) was real helpful with the decision,” says McIntosh. “He told me to choose the school that is right for me.”
      McIntosh, an honor roll student with a 3.4 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, plans to major in electrical engineering.
      He comes from a big family. Keith and Teri McIntosh have seven children. There’s Keith, John, Brian, Shiann, Jason, Kasper and 3-year-old Liam. So far, Kasper is the only wrestler. 
      Wrestling — with its physicality and tenacity — can be a grind. 
      Vega and his staff help their athletes push past the pain.
      “We make sure the kids are tough,” says Vega. “They have to believe in their training.
      “When they are tired, they can go even further.”
      Some workouts can be very grueling. But there is a purpose.
      “There will be days in practice one guy will get beat on for 30 minutes by two guys,” says McIntosh. “You get to the point where you’re not wrestling, you’re surviving. If we can get through that, we can get through anything.
      “We break ourselves down and build ourselves back up. It shows us how far we can go.”
      Vega and his assistants build the wrestler back up and fill their heads with positive thoughts.
      “The mental part is huge,” says Vega. 
      Rumph, who also placed fourth at the State Finals at 132 in 2016, is all-in with that way of thinking.
      “If you’re not mentally tough, the sport is not for you,” says Rumph. “We push our bodies at practice to a level is insane. Most people are scared to go hard and get tired.”
      Rumph is motivated this season to do well for his parents. His mother, Donna McGee, has become his biggest fan since he reached high school and showed he was really serious about the sport. The nurse is always cheering for her “baby boy” — the only one who is still at home, following Briggs Rumph Jr., Jarred Rumph, Mikey Rumph and Kenny Williams.
      His father, Briggs Rumph Sr., died when Kris was 7. Before that, he told him to pick a sport and give it his all.
      “I’m pretty sure he’d be super happy seeing the stuff I’ve accomplished,” says Rumph, who was a Super 32 semifinalist last summer and competed in the Iowa Nationals the summer before that.
      Rumph likes to watch videos of elite wrestlers Jordan Burroughs and Nahshon Garrett.
      “I put it in my own little wrestling style,” says Rumph, who does have plans to wrestle in college but is not yet committed.


      #WrestlingWednesday: Coffman looking to continue Union County's success

      Liberty is a typical small Indiana town. People wave to each other as they cross paths at Woodruff’s Super Market or as they grab a top-notch burger from J’s Dairy Inn over on Union Street. As the saying goes, everyone knows everyone there.
      Small town living is great for a lot of things, but for a high school wrestler with big aspirations, it can present a lot of challenges.
      Tucker Coffman is a talented wrestler at Union County High School - a school of roughly 450 students located in Liberty. The team has lost 23 of its 25 matches this season. Currently the Patriots fill just seven weight classes. Coffman, a junior, knows how hard it is to succeed in wrestling at such a small school, but he also witnessed first hand that it can be done.
      Coffman remembers watching Union County wrestling in its prime. In 2009 the tiny school had not one, but two state champions in Cody Phillips and Michael Duckworth. Both wrestlers had phenomenal careers. Phillips was a two-time champion and Duckworth was runner-up twice and champion once.
      “I know them both,” Coffman said. “I’ve wrestled with them throughout the years. I’ve been in the room with Duckworth lately and Cody was always a real big influence on me. Cody was the top guy. He was the best wrestler we’ve had with two state titles. I remember when I was little it was my goal to be a wrestler like Cody.”
      In the room Coffman is the best wrestler on the team, hands down. Finding drill partners that can push him is a challenge first-year coach Dan Kelich had to come up with a game plan for.
      “During light drilling I rotate teammates with him,” Kelich said. “He’s one of the guys where we can let him wrestle anyone on our roster. He can wrestle the light guys, the middle weights and the heavier guys. We hope that gives him a good mix of working with guys that are quick, and guys that are strong.
      “But when it comes time to live wrestle, me or one of my assistants have to break out our shoes and go with him.”
      Coffman has seen success in high school, but has not punched his ticket to the state meet yet. As a freshman he lost to New Palestine senior Jared Timberman in the first round of the New Castle semistate, and then last year he fell to Frankton’s Cody Klettheimer at semistate.
      Coffman won the Spartan Classic as a freshman, beating current No. 3-ranked Jack Eiteljorge in the final. That match gave Coffman the confidence to know he belongs with the state’s elite.
      “That was one of my favorite matches of Tucker’s,” Kelich said. “He wrestled with a tenacity and won in dominating fashion. He showed what he’s capable of. That was one of the most exciting matches I’ve had the chance to sit in the corner and see.”
      Kelich says that Coffman is a hard worker who has really taken on a leadership role with the team.
      “I’m most proud of his leadership,” Kelich said. “We don’t win many team duals, but he’s taken ownership of this team. As a freshman we didn’t need him to do that, then last year he started to build into a leader. This year he is very good in that capacity.”
      Coffman feels that he belongs at the state meet. He recognizes his weaknesses and has been working to eliminate them. He not only has his focus on getting to state, he wants to win it.
      “He’s had success against some of the best guys in the state,” Kelich said. “He’s tasted what it’s like to beat them. Right now he’s hungry. He’s had that taste and now he wants the full meal, so to speak.”

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      #MondayMatness: Life off the mat has been tough, but New Haven senior Johnson is staying focused

      Jonyvan Johnson will tell you he’s “got a lot going on” in his life.
      The New Haven High School senior is among the best wrestlers in Indiana.
      Through the New Haven/Bill Kerbel Invitational Saturday, Jan. 6, Johnson is 28-1 for the 2017-18 season. 
      After a first-round bye, Johnson pinned three opponents to reign at 182 pounds at the Kerbel meet. He competed at 195 during the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals Dec. 23 in Fort Wayne.
      An IHSAA State Finals qualifier at 170 pounds as a junior, Johnson’s lone loss as a senior is a 4-2 decision against Northridge senior Conner Graber Nov. 27. Graber placed seventh in Indiana at 182 in 2017.
      “Things have been tough recently,” says Johnson of life away from the circle.
      On Sept. 18 — two months before the current wrestling season — Johnson lost stepfather Romauld Solomon to suicide.
      Since Jonyvan was about 7, Romauld was the main man in his life. 
      He’s the one who encouraged him to take up wrestle as a sixth grader. 
      “It hurts to see him go, but I’ve got to just focus on myself and keep pushing forward because that’s what he’d want me to do,” says Johnson. “I know what I want. I know what I’ve got to do to get there. So I’m going to just keep focused.”
      Reluctant about wrestling at the beginning, but encouraged by his stepfather, the young grappler won a Lutheran Schools Athletic Association championship during that first year on the mat.
      Johnson now shares a house with mother Jamie Solomon, cousins Mattie and Mason Johnson and friend Jordan McHaney. 
      Jonyvan says his mother adopted Mattie and Mason with their mother deceased and father in prison. McHaney was kicked out of his house.
      Back at New Haven, Jonyvan is Bulldogs captain.
      “I try to set the tone when it comes to discipline,” says Johnson. “It’s working hard in the room, being on-time — little things like that. It can make a big difference on the mat.”
      What makes Jonyvan Johnson so good?
      “His work ethic,” says James Linn, who is in his fifth season as New Haven head coach after 10 seasons as a Barry Humble assistant. “He’s very dedicated in the weight room. He’s extremely strong.”
      Linn looks at Johnson and sees few weaknesses.
      “He’s good on his feet,” says Linn. “He’s a good top wrestler. He’s able to hold people down when he needs to. He’s a good leg rider. He’s very explosive off the bottom. It’s hard to hold him down.”
      Senior 195-pounder Jaxson Savieo is Johnson’s primary workout partner. They push each other not only on the mat, but in the weight room, on the track during conditioning and in the classroom.
      “We love to work hard,” says Johnson of himself and Savieo. “We love to push each other hard. We love to compete.
      “We try to make each other better in everything we’re doing.”
      Since last season, Johnson has improved by putting in the practice room time and going to places like Virginia Beach and the Disney Duals.
      “I’ve definitely worked a lot on conditioning and getting my lungs right,” says Johnson. “I’ve also worked a lot on technique and getting little things right. Everyone has go-to moves in certain positions. I usually try to stick to those moves. If they don’t work, then I have other things I can go to.
      “My mindset is thinking I can win every match. It’s not being too cocky, but being confident about it.”
      Johnson says he plans to go to college and is undecided on his area of study or if he will continue to wrestle.
      But right now he is focused on finishing strong in his final high school season.

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Garcia has a new approach to his Junior year

      If Asa Garcia ever needed a nickname, perhaps The Fireman would be the most fitting.
      Sure, the Avon junior’s favorite wrestling move is the fireman’s carry - but that’s not the only reason for the nickname. Firemen are some of the bravest men on the planet. While most sane people run in the opposite direction of a fire, firefighters run towards it. Garcia is one of those that run toward the fire.
      A perfect example of this came a few weeks ago when Avon competed in the team state tournament. Garcia knew that he would have a gauntlet of top tier opponents in his path. He couldn’t wait for the challenge.
      Garcia, the top ranked wrestler in an absolutely stacked 126 pound class this year, beat two returning state champions and a fourth place finisher in team state. He dropped last year’s 120 pound champ, Cayden Rooks (now ranked No. 2 at 126 pounds) 3-1. He beat last year’s 113 pound champ Alec Viduya (ranked No. 3 at 126) 7-5 and he also knocked off fifth ranked Colin Poynter, who finished fourth at 120 last year, 3-2.
      “Asa was excited for the opportunity to get so many good matches at team state,” Avon coach Zach Errett said. “He was really looking at it as an opportunity more than anything. He knew he was going to get to wrestle and compete with some of the best kids in the state. That’s who he is. He looks to compete, always. I enjoy that about him. He wants to wrestle the best people.”
      Garcia said he approached team state with the mentality that it was going to make him a better wrestler, no matter what happened.
      “I knew the tournament would be tough,” Garcia said. “I’ve beaten those guys before, but I’ve also taken my lumps to some of them. You don’t know how well you’ll perform until you get out there and do it. Right now, wins and losses don’t matter anyway. If I took a loss or two, it wouldn’t have affected me. At the end of the day, the state tournament is when it really matters. Everything up until that point is practice.”
      Garcia won state as a freshman at 106 pounds. He came into that tournament with six losses, but emerged as the champ after pinning Warren Central senior Keyuan Murphy in just under two minutes.
      “Getting under the lights is an experience that’s tough to explain,” Garcia said. “You would think you’d be really nervous. But, everything just shuts down and you probably wrestle the best you’ve ever wrestled in your life.”
      This year Garcia is making great strides because his approach to practicing has changed. Instead of practicing to get down to weight, he’s practicing to get better.
      “Last year stung a little not winning (he placed third at 113),” Garcia said. “It was a tough season all around. I was cutting too much weight and it showed when things started to count. I was like 133 pounds during the week and I was cutting to 113. I wasn’t able to practice to get better, I was practicing to get the weight off. This year is much different. I’m able to maintain my weight and in practice I’m really able to focus on improving.”
      One of the keys to Garcia’s wrestling success is his ability to learn and expand his arsenal.
      “One of the things I really love about wrestling is when you get out of your comfort zone and do something you aren’t used to,” Garcia said. “It’s no secret my favorite move is the fireman’s carry - but I’ve been able to build a more elaborate offense because I worked on things I wasn’t comfortable doing. You have to work on them until you are comfortable with them.”
      Garcia’s top priority this year is to get back under the lights and to claim his second state title.
      “You think of getting under those lights all year long,” Garcia said. “You plan in your mind what your celebration would be like. You constantly think of how you want to wrestle and how you react when you win. But, all of that shuts down when you’re actually in the moment. You just have to let go and have fun.”
      As a team, Avon breaks down after every practice with a chant of “State Champs.” Garcia knows that after that, it’s his turn to run toward the fire.

      1913 1

      #MondayMatness: Donnie Crider has unique style

      It’s hard to miss Donnie Crider at a wrestling event.
      At 6-foot-7 and often wearing an orange T-shirt between bouts, the Harrison High School (West Lafayette) senior stands out from his opponents.
      But Crider is not just tall, he’s good enough that he went a combined 106-10 in his sophomore and junior seasons, qualifying for the IHSAA State Finals in 2016 and placing sixth in 2016 at 220 pounds.
      Crider, who weighed in at 238 at the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals in Fort Wayne where Harrison placed 10th, is enjoying a strong final prep go-round as a heavyweight.
      While Crider is upbeat and bringing a smile to his teammates’ faces off the mat, he’s all business inside the circle.
      “He’s aggressive and not afraid to get out there and be physical and take his shot,” says Harrison head coach Johnny Henry. “He sticks to his game plan.”
      More of a unorthodox kind of counter wrestler early in his high school career, Crider has simplified his attack to his best couple moves on top and on bottom.
      “He doesn’t try to go into funky scrambles,” says Henry, a former Benton Central High School and University of Indianapolis wrestler who took over leadership of the program this season after four years as a Raiders assistant. “We’re not trying to do 20 moves out there. He’s just matured.”
      Crider has heard the talk about his style.
      “Freshman and sophomore year, they thought I was funky because I used to roll around all the time,” says Crider. “Now, I’m more skilled.
      “(Scrambling is) not really effective when you hit semistate,” says Crider. “They’ll catch you. I’d rather pin them fast if I can.”
      The past two summers, Crider has gained experience while competing in the Disney Duals — earning Gold and Silver All-American accolades.
      During the high school campaign, Crider has really emphasized using his speed and finishing what he’s started.
      “I’m faster than most of the heavyweights that are out there,” says Crider. “I try to do my moves all the way through instead of stopping midway. I just keep driving.”
      To give Crider different looks, a number of different coaches and wrestlers grapple with him in practice. 
      While he’s trying to hone his set-ups and his shots and trying to get up from the referee’s position, Donnie is working against a lot lot of muscle and different body types.
      He regularly mixes it up with Harrison assistants Andy Cline, Kevin Elliott and Dustin Kult as well as bigger wrestlers like juniors Willy Alvarez and William Kern and sophomores Cade Borders, Seth Chrisman and Will Crider (his little brother).
      Donnie comes from a large family. At 25, Jordan is the oldest. At 5, Clinton is the youngest. Besides Donnie and Harrison 220-pounder Will, there’s also Brian Jr., Justin and Megan. 
      Father Brian is 6-3 and mother Michelle 6-foot, so Donnie gets his height honestly.
      Donnie also knows that an opponent can use it against him since he can be a large target for those seeking double-let takedowns and such.
      Each day in practice, he works on getting low — something he also knows from being a defensive lineman on the football field.
      “I make sure that when I’m in my stance I’m at their chin with my forehead,” says Crider. “I make sure I’m lower than them.”
      Donnie looks to study business and likely wrestle in college after highs school.
      How high he goes as a Harrison Raider will play out in the coming weeks. Harrison competes in the Sectional in Jan. 27, regional Feb. 3, semistate Feb.10 and State Finals Feb. 16-17.


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

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


      #WrestlingWednesday: North Posey goes from life support to Team State

      Four years ago North Posey wrestling was on life support and the school was considering pulling the plug. Now, with a new coach and a new attitude, the Vikings are about to compete for a team state title.
      North Posey had just four wrestlers five years ago. The community had grown accustomed to North Posey being a losing team, and the school was starting to question whether it was even worthwhile to keep the program alive.
      Then a former Mater Dei wrestler named Cody Moll stepped in and brought new life to the program. Now, in his fourth season at the helm of the Vikings, Moll has North Posey wrestling on the upswing.
      “The year before I got there, there were four wrestlers at the school,” Moll said. “During my interview they said that if I wasn’t hired, they were going to shut down the program.”
      Moll was asked what his goal for the team was.
      “I said I wanted to be better than we were the last year,” Moll said.
      In his first year Moll finished the year with 10 wrestlers, and 10 total victories. It wasn’t a good year, but it was a much improved season. One of the freshmen that year was Levi Miller, who qualified for the state tournament.
      “Levi came in and everyone knew he was supposed to be good,” Moll said. “But people saying you are good only gets you so far. He came in and proved it. We made him our captain as a freshman. We saw the drive he had and how hard he works.”
      One of the most difficult moments that first year, for Moll, was losing to Evansville Memorial 81-0. He had never experienced that side of a dominating performance before.
      “That was tough,” Moll said. “That was the first time I had ever been shut out on any team I was ever at. We won a lot at Mater Dei. I didn’t know what losing was like. But, this year we beat Memorial 46-21. It’s pretty amazing what we’ve been doing.”
      The Vikings won 21 matches in Moll’s second season, with 15 wrestlers. Last year the team won 23 matches and had 18 wrestlers. This year there are 25 kids on the wrestling team at the school of just under 500 students.
      “We talked about how we wanted to approach the team,” Moll said. “We knew we could make things fun and relatively easy and as a result get really good numbers. Or, we could treat every kid like they had state championship ability and go as hard as we could and really build good wrestlers. We chose the second option.”
      The North Posey practices are hard. They practice nearly three hours a day which includes a mix of running, drilling and live wrestling. The room is always hot and the coaches are always intense.
      “When Coach Moll came in, people were just used to laying down and getting beat,” Miller said. “I was very excited when he was hired. He told us early on that if we were just going to lay down for people, he didn’t want us on the team. That’s not his style. He doesn’t want you in the program unless you’re willing to work hard. This isn’t the old North Posey. Before the wrestlers were just about themselves, too. Now it’s all about the team.”
      Moll said changing the culture at North Posey was the biggest key to its recent success. He and assistant coach Sam Goebel (wrestled at Mater Dei and is legendary coach Mike Goebel's nephew), knew they had to change the culture before they’d ever have success.
      “Losing almost became OK,” Moll said. “We were in Mater Dei’s sectionals, in every sport. The culture just became that losing was the norm. But we came in and said we’re not going to just give up. We’re going to fight and battle. If we lose, we learn from it and do better the next time.
      “Many of our early losses was because we didn’t think we could win. The first couple of years kids were beat before the match because the singlet the opponents were wearing. We’re getting past that now. You have to look in the mirror and understand you’re working harder than these other schools. We are not pushovers. That environment is gone.”
      The Vikings placed fifth at team state last season, a finish they were not pleased with. With a deeper, more experienced team this year they are hoping to fare better.
      “We are going up there to win,” Moll said. “We wouldn’t go up for any other reason. We believe we belong and we believe we can compete with anyone.”
      Miller has that same mentality when talking about his goals. He said he won’t be satisfied with anything less than a state championship, individually. The coaches have instilled that drive in all of its wrestlers.
      North Posey will open pool play at team state against Frankton.

      2962 3 1

      #Mondaymatness: From Columbus to Culver, Bryant striving for success

      It didn’t take Manzona Bryant IV long to make an impact on Indiana high school wrestling.
      As a Culver Military Academy freshman, the grappler from Columbus, Ohio, placed sixth at 132 pounds at the 2016-17 IHSAA State Finals.
      Three weeks later, he took home the 145-pound title at the Indiana State Wrestling Association folkstyle tournament.
      Certified for at 132 but also competing at 138, he has been dominating opponents and dazzling mat audiences so far during the 2017-18 high school season.
      Bryant also continues to make his CMA teammates better with his infectious enthusiasm and athletic tenacity.
      “He’s charismatic,” says 10th-year Eagles head coach Matt Behling. “When he steps on that mat, he’s bringing it every single time. The best thing that’s happened for our team is that attitude is contagious. 
      “He’s helping to elevate the wrestling in our (practice) room. It’s been trickle-down effect. It’s been great.”
      The coaching staff, which also includes Andrew Basner, Josh Harper, Brandon James and Chris Prendergast, encourages Bryant to constantly push the pace and he takes that to heart.
      “They tell me to just be relentless on the mat and don’t stop,” says Bryant. “I always strive to get better. If I do something wrong, I always want to get back in the room and fix it.”
      Bryant produced the fastest pin of his high school career Saturday, Dec. 16 at Penn’s Henry Wilk Classic when he scored a fall in six seconds.
      “The clock said :06, I’d like to say it was :04 or :05,” says Bryant, who did achieve a four-second pin in junior high. “I usually use a ‘cowcatcher.’ I ‘bulldog’ and throw deep and go fast.”
      How deep is Bryant’s “bag of tricks”?
      “I usually stick to the basics,” says Bryant. “I hit the usual shots or a front headlock. But if I’m out there and I need to hit something, I’ve got it. I pull out the little sack.”
      Bryant, who carries the same name as his father, grandfather (who served in the U.S. Air Force) and great grandfather, began his competitive wrestling career at age 7.
      “I had a decent season and my mom accidentally signed me up for the Tournament of Champions in Columbus and I got sixth,” says Bryant. “My mom (Theresa) thought it was some local tournament at the convention center.”
      From there, Bryant enjoyed success at the local, state and national level. He won a title in Tulsa, Okla., as a sixth grader and was a two-time Ohio junior high state champion.
      Bryant is an only child.
      “Sometimes that’s a good thing,” says Bryant. “Other times, all your friends are gone and you’re at the house going ‘What do I do?’”
      As a wrestler, he gets the chance to be social and hang around with like-minded friends. 
      “I’m a people person,” says Bryant. “I like to hang out with people. That usually leads to doing more activities.”
      When those people are his wrestling teammates and coaches, they are often working on mat moves.
      But don’t be surprised to see the Hacky Sack make an appearance.
      “We find it interesting and fun. Our coaches like to get into it. Adam Davis is really good. It’s a good stress reliever. It calms you down and gets you ready.”
      Bryant’s regular workout partner is freshman Eli Pack, who also hails from Columbus, Ohio.
      “We’ve known each other for a long time,” says Manzona. “He was my workout partner in seventh and eighth grade. I told his parents about the wonderful opportunities (at Culver). We know each other so well. We know how to push each other. It’s kind of hard to describe.”
      Bryant describes what it was like at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the State Finals last Feb. 17-18.
      “On Friday night, I just concentrated and went into that match strong and positive,” says Bryant. “I took care of business that night. Going into the state tournament this year, I’m going to try to zero in on every match and take it like it could be my last one.”
      Bryant says he would have attended a private school if he would have gone to high school in Ohio. He enjoys the lessons in self-discipline he is learning at Culver.
      “I like it because it gives me organization,” says Bryant. “It helps me do the little things like make my bed, wake up on-time and to know where to be places and when.”
      Culver Academies — Culver Military Academy for boys and Culver Girls Academy — is loaded with athletic students. There are nearly 30 interscholastic sports at the private school for Grades 9-12. Students who are not with a sports team must work out three times a week. Culver has a state-of-the-art fitness center for that.
      “A lot of people are competitive,” says Bryant. “When we have unit games, you know everyone is going to fight.”
      Contests get fierce when dodgeball, basketball or Eagle Ball (a game similar to ultimate frisbee played with a football and targets) is played between units.
      The school has three battalions — Artillery, Infantry and Squadron. Bryant is in Battery C of the Artillery. He chose that battalion because they get to drive trucks during the various parade seasons.
      “That’s a nice little break instead of marching all the time,” says Bryant. “Sophomores also get the privilege of firing the cannon at parades, Reveille and retreat.”
      As a private school, students must qualify academically to get admitted.
      “Our kids are very respectful,” says Behling, who is also a Culver counselor. “They’re in this leadership system so they understand what it means to be a leader. 
      “We don’t deal with some of the issues that maybe some of the public schools are dealing with in terms of academics. I don’t think I’ve ever had a kid who’s been sat because he couldn’t handle the academics.”
      The school day contains four 85-minute class blocks and goes from 8:30 to 3:15 p.m. with wrestling practice from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
      Bryant’s favorite subject?
      “Latin II,” says Bryant of the course taught in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages & Cultures. “It’s interesting. A lot of our words come from Latin. It’s nice to see those when I’m studying a new vocabulary list or something like that.”
      Culver Academies requires students to take three years of foreign language. Next year, Bryant will take Latin III. As a senior, he has the choice of Advanced Placement Latin or pursuing an Honors in Language.
      A four-year school with students from all over the globe, Culver wrestling does not have a feeder program such a junior high or a club. 
      Some — like Bryant — come to campus with wrestling experiences. Others are brand new to the sport.
      “It comes down to having a really good coaching staff,” says Behling. “I’m not talking about myself. I’m talking about surrounding myself with good people. 
      “Wrestlers’ first one or two years, they’re struggling. After that, they come in and make a significant impact in our program.
      “If we’re blessed enough to have a kid that has wrestling experience, that’s great, too, because we can run with it. Kids know that if they come to Culver and they want to wrestle, they can have a real good wrestling experience.”
      The Eagles have been strong enough to qualify a few times for the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals (which happen this season Saturday, Dec. 23 at the Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne). 
      “Here’s where the frustration is: We were right in the vote for going to Team State for the third time,” says Behling. “We didn’t get the vote because the selection committee needed to know — and this is the only question they asked us — who are your eighth graders who are going to make a contribution to your team next year? I can’t answer that in the spring so I had no response.”
      CMA is the site of an ISWA/USA Wrestling Regional Training Center. Momentum for the sport really picked up after Daniel Young became the school’s first state wrestling champion in 2009. The Bloomoington, Ind., native went 48-0 as a Culver senior and then wrestled at West Point.
      “The school got excited about that,” says Behling. “An endowment was established for wrestling. That endowment has really helped us in the last eight years. Our wrestling room is up there as one of the tops in the state of Indiana.”
      That room is now occupied by the 2017-18 CMA Eagles.
      “When our lineup is set and we clear out a few injuries, we can be a pretty tough team,” says Behling. “We’re excited about the future.”
      That future includes a bundle of energy named Manzona Bryant.

      2919 4

      #WrestlingWednesday: Wrestling has opened many doors for Katie Kriebel

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

      1943 1

      #MondayMatness: Plymouth's Calhoun getting better everyday

      There’s only so much time to prepare.
      That is one of many lessons sophomore Graham Calhoun has learned while competing for veteran head coach Bob Read and his staff as part of the Plymouth High School wrestling program.
      After going 44-5 and placing seventh at the IHSAA State Finals as a freshman 138-pounder in 2016-17, Calhoun is off to a strong start to the 2017-18 season.
      “We don’t want to waste a second of practice,” says Read, an Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer and Billy Thom Award winner who has produced 33 state qualifiers. He was hired at his alma mater in 1978 as a science teacher and wrestling assistant. He took over the Rockies matmen in 1981 and has been in that post ever since.
      Calhoun is the most recent of Read’s 14 state meet placers and an athlete driven to improve.
      “Graham is the kind of kid who looks to get better,” says Reed. “If he wants to stand on the top of the podium, he’s got to get better than what he is right now. Senior Gavin Banks (Graham’s drill partner) knows the same thing.”
      Tim Roahrig (1987), Josh Hutchens (1993 and 1994) have won state titles with Read in their corners. Hutchens was also third in 1992.
      Other state placers on Read’s watch include David Shook (second in 1983), Gabe Lopez (fourth in 1983), Jason Rudd (sixth in 1992), Kyle Condon (eighth in 1994),  Matt Arvesen (fifth in 1999 and second in 2000), Dan Denaut (second in 1998), Damon Howe (fifth in 2010 and second in 2011) followed by Graham Calhoun in 2017.
      Says Graham of his daily workouts this season with Banks, “We go pretty hard in the room. We make each other better.”
      Graham has gotten bigger since last season and is certified at 152. 
      “I’ve filled out and grew a couple inches to 5-foot-9 1/2,” says Graham, who is focused this season on “trusting the process.” That means listening to his coaches as they push all Plymouth wrestlers toward constant improvement.
      “If it’s a Thursday or a Friday and I’m four or five pounds over, I can’t just use that practice to cut weight. I’ve got to get better.”
      Read, who was a state qualifier in his senior year at Plymouth (1973) and grappled four years at Western Michigan University, sees in Graham Calhoun a young man who is learning to operate with controlled intensity. 
      “He’s a pretty even-keeled kid — win or lose,” says Read. “He doesn’t like to lose. But the last two years when he gets a chance to face someone who beat him before he usually turns the tide.”
      Graham did just that against Munster’s Cody Crary last season. He lost to Crary at the Plymouth Super Dual then bested him in the East Chicago Semistate “ticket” round.
      “He’s a competitor,” says Read. “Sometimes it’s difficult to teach that to somebody. He doesn’t fear the fact that the kid has beaten him. He absorbs that challenge. It’s fun to watch him. He can get pretty intense in the midst of a match.”
      Curbing his emotions is something Graham has been working on.
      “I’ve been working on keeping composure the mat,” says Calhoun, who carries a 3.6 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale. “That’s helped a lot. I watch these college guys and no matter what the score is, no matter what the position is they’re always composed and in-control.
      “In wrestling, there’s a lot to get prepared for mentally and physically. Before a match, I put headphones on and clear everything out. I stay calm. I don’t get too fired up. I want to stay ready and mentally prepared. Sometimes I find myself getting too pumped up for a match. I look to find a good balance.”
      Graham has been in the sport since age 4.
      “My dad tried to get me to quit when I first started I was so bad,” says Graham, the youngest of Jim and Cammie Calhoun’s four sons (Kyle, Josh and Micah are older). “I got pinned every time I went on the mat. But I didn’t quit and I still liked it. 
      So Graham just stayed with it and kept getting better and did let the fact he was born with one kidney stop him.
      “It doesn’t really bother me,” says Graham. “I just can’t drink any dark pop or caffeine. I go for annual check-ups.”
      All his work helped Graham explode onto the high school wrestling scene a year ago and followed brother Micah’s lead all the way to the big stage in Indianapolis. Micah Calhoun was 43-4 and a state qualifier in 2017 as senior 160-pounder.
      “I’ve learned everything from him — spiritually, mentally, physically, wrestling-wise,” says Graham of Micah.
      The mat means a great deal to Graham. But it’s not the thing. There is his faith and his family.
      “Wrestling is a big part of my life, but Jesus is definitely the biggest part of my life,” says Graham. “I’m a Christian and I love Jesus with all my heart. I do everything to glorify Him.”
      Jim Calhoun,  a Rochester native, attended Central Bible College in Missouri and wrestled for the University of Missouri, is senior pastor at Word of Truth Plymouth.
      Read counts Jim and Micah Calhoun as volunteers on a coaching staff that features former Bremen High School head coach and former Bremen grappler Travis Meister.
      “I don’t even need to be in the room, I know the kids are going hard,” says Read. “Those guys have made it easy for me.
      “I seek that wise counsel that the Bible talks about. I try to surround myself with those guys and it’s paid off over the years.
      “I wish I could tell you every decision I’ve made wrestling-wise is a correct decision and that every kid I’ve coach I’ve treated fairly and uprightly. I’ve made mistakes all over the place. But I hope that in the years that I’ve coached I’ve poured into more people in a positive way.”
      In his decades of coaching, Read has had wrestlers live with him and his family, which includes wife Karen, daughters Lane and Cari and son Matt, a state qualifier wrestler for Plymouth in 2003. Read’s bailed wrestlers out of jail. He’s helped them deal with divorce and the loss of loved ones.
      “As a coach, it’s more than wrestling,” says Read. “For me and my staff, it’s a ministry. That’s why we get along so well.
      “My faith is really important to me.”
      Read keeps a list of people who have qualities or characteristics that he seeks when he needs help in life. 
      Using examples from the Bible, he looks for those who are like Paul (“somebody who is going to pour into you and teach you what it’s like to be the man of character”), Barnabas (“a guy who walks with people because they are in the same season in life”) and Timothy (“someone who you pour into”).
      His father James is one of those people on his list.
      “Not many men don’t have cracks some place,” says Read. “My dad is a man that doesn’t have cracks.”
      James Read, 89, are partners in a business — J.B. Fish. When Bob retired from the class room in 2014, he and his father started raising fish in a 14,000-gallon tank. At first, it was striped bass and now it’s tilapia.
      “We raise our own brood — from eggs to selling them live,” says Read. “They start out in aquariums, we move them along and they finish in larger tanks. We sell them at a pound 3/4 or bigger. It takes about 11 months to finish them out.”
      Read and his coaches show their wrestlers plenty of finishing moves and insist that everybody develops go-to maneuvers that they trust and can execute. 
      “When you’ve been at the sport as long as I have what happens is you see a go-to move for a bunch of kids,” says Read. “Then they develop counters and everybody is looking for that (move). They starred to fade away from that. That sits the archives for years then — all of a sudden — it starts coming back.
      “I’ll say ‘this is what we did years and years ago’ and bring out some old moves.”
      Why is it important to have a “bag of tricks”?
      “Not everybody has quick feet,” says Read. “I wrestled after college in a number of big tournaments and learned that I couldn’t move my feet fast enough to sprawl. But I could change levels and bump with my hips.”
      It’s a matter of identifying the wrestler’s capabilities.
      “I have a kid who’s extremely explosive so we’re going to give him stuff he can use,” says Read. “Most of are kids aren’t so we’ve got to come in tight and control things.
      “Our off-season and in-season weight program is important to us. We want to be strong enough that we can compete with people. We believe that if we’re not in great shape that we’re going to struggle so we work on being in great shape. Our kids know it and they work hard at it.”
      Like many teams are the state, Plymouth’s number are down a little bit.
      “I think it has something to do with where we’re at in society and it’s sad,” says Read. “It’s a great sport and there’s so many lessons to be learned.”
      Graham Calhoun continues to learn those learning those lessons.

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Frankton = Family

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


      #MondayMatness: Cartwright looking to punch his ticket to state

      Heavyweight wrestler Alex Cartwright was very close to representing LaVille High School at the IHSAA State Finals in 2016-17.
      An overtime loss in the East Chicago Semistate “ticket” round separated the big Lancer from appearing on the mats at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
      Cartwright took part in his first state tournament series as a sophomore and won the 285-pound title at the LaPorte Sectional, pinning his last two opponents. 
      He placed second at the Crown Point Regional, defaulting in the finals because of a neck injury.
      At East Chicago, he won his first match then lost in overtime to Merrillville’s Brandon Streck.
      “It was kind of a kick in the butt,” says Cartwright of the narrow defeat that denied him a trip to Indy. “I was wrestling kind of nervous. That’s when I learned you can’t let things get in your head. You’ve just got to go when it’s your time. It’s been kind of motivational. I’ve got my head right this year.”
      The best opponent he saw last season?
      Cartwright says it’s Chesterton’s Eli Pokorney, who he beat 7-5 at the Knox Super Dual. 
      Back for his junior season in 2017-18, Cartwright is ranked among Indiana’s top 285-pounders. He is currently No. 6.
      But he doesn’t dwell on it.
      “You never want to get ahead of yourself,” says Cartwright. “I just think of it as a number.”
      Alex is the “baby” in Clyde and Shirley’s family of eight. There are four boys and two girls. Alex’s brothers are Corian Correll, Chris Cartwright and Tom Cartwright. Their sisters are Lindsay Scott and Alison Cartwright.
      Alex first got interested in the sport by watching big bro Corian, participated as a sixth grader and then came back as a freshman heavyweight.
      Correll grappled at 195 for LaVille, graduating in 2016 and is now a part of the coaching staff.
      “He’s taught me a lot of about throwing and a lot about the basics, the necessities of wrestling,” says Alex of Corian.
      Learning throws from Corian and by attending a Greco-Roman camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center on the Northern Michigan University campus in Marquette, Mich., last summer (one of his opponents was Colton Schultz, who recently became the first American to win a cadet Greco-Roman world title in 20 years), Cartwright has added to his arsenal.
       While Corian does spar some with Cartwright (who tipped the scales at the season-opening Jimtown Super Dual Saturday, Dec. 2 at 275 pounds), it’s 220-pound junior Anthony Hatter that serves as his workout partner.
      “We do a lot of drilling,” says Hatter. “I teach him things and he helps me work with my moves.
      “He’s been working on technique and speed. There’s some quick heavyweights and he’s one of them.”
      Cartwright is a mobile big man.
      “I shoot and not a lot of heavyweights do,” says Cartwright. “It’s a mixture of speed and strength. It takes a lot of strength to get your shot fully in.”
      Cartwright remembers the words of former assistant coach Ronnie McCollough.
      “He taught to be more aggressive,” says Cartwright. “Even when you’re on bottom, you don’t sit. You’ve got to move. Just simple things that stick in my mind as a wrestler.”
      For his post-high school future, Cartwright is considering two diverse career possibilities.
      “I’m looking at going to Seattle for schooling in under-water welding or going local for marketing and business.
      “I’ve been looking into (under-water welding). It looks really enjoyable.”
      Cartwright has done dry-land welding in his agriculture power class at LaVille.
      Current Lancers head coach Sean Webb talks about Cartwright’s improvement on the mat.
      “His work ethic has been a lot better,” says Webb, who had been working as a wrestling official and stepped in to run the program when Mike Bottorff had to back off because of health issues. “He’s working really hard and figuring out how to beat the buys he lost to last year this year. He’s trying to do that now rather than later.”
      “He knows what he needs to do. Now I’ve just got to push him harder and harder to make sure he doesn’t go out in overtime and he finishes that match.”
      Webb, who wrestled for LaVille for four seasons, bumping up in weight each year from 103 to 112 to 119 to 125 for his senior season in 2011, stresses being in proper position then helps tailor a style for each of his athletes.
      “The one thing about wrestling is when you keep your stance and keep your hips set and ready to go — in position, as we like to call it — we can ready think about what kind of moves we can do.”
      Bottorff was head coach for 26 years. This past year, he suffered a stroke. Three weeks after leaving the hospital he contracted endocarditis, a blood disease that causes inflammation of the heart’s inner lining. He went for daily treatments for two months and then had a heart check. 
      Having received a mechanical valve in 2007. The next day he was at a wrestling meet. Three times that year, he had to have his heart shocked back into rhythm. 
      Ten year later, Bottorff went in for another heart procedure.
      “Now, I have two mechanical valves and it’s hard for me to get my strength back,” says Bottorff, who was at the Jimtown Super Dual. “I can’t lift over 20 pounds right now. I kneel down on the mat with the kids and I can’t get back up from that.
      “I just had to give it up. My health and seeing my grandkids is more important.”
      A 1970 LaVille graduate, Bottorff went to college to play basketball. He came back home and joined the football coaching staff at his alma mater when a need popped up in the wrestling program. He was eventually convinced to take it over.
      “For three years in a row, I said “no. I know nothing about it,” says Bottoff, who left coaching 16 dual-meet wins shy of 400. “I’ve been here ever since.”
      Under the advisement of his heart doctor and his wife of 16 years — Nancy — he is not supposed to get excited or stressed. He had his heart shocked back into rhythm two weeks ago.
      “I told the kids I’ll be here to watch them and root them on,” says Bottorff. “My wife says I’m allowed to do that but if she hears me yelling and screaming and getting upset over anything, she won’t let me do it anymore.”
      Bottorff enjoyed coaching so much because of the relationship he built with kids. He is hoping for big things from Cartwright.
      “He’s a kid you want on your team because he says ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir,’” says Bottorff. “If he does something wrong and you tell him about it, he says ‘OK.’ He never has an excuse. That goes for wrestling or anything. His mom and dad brought him up right. He’s a perfect kid.”
      Bottorff does wish Armstrong and Hatter would take to the gridiron.
      “I’ve twisted the arms of Armstrong and Hatter in attempt to get them to play football,” says Bottorff. “They’re two of the strongest kids in the school. 
      “LaVille is a small school and we need three-sport athletes. I do my best to try to talk them into it.”


      #WrestlingWednesday: Mappes Aiming for Gold

      Center Grove senior Gleason Mappes comes from a very tough family. His three brothers were all outstanding wrestlers and his dad was a state champion. But, his mom has taken more wrestlers to school then the rest of the family combined.
      “She is our team bus driver,” Center Grove coach Cale Hoover said. “She’s the toughest one in the family. She’s extremely competitive.”
      Gleason Mappes is the last in a long line of great wrestlers in his family. His dad, Donald, was a 1978 state champ at Roncalli. His brother Sean won state in 2012 for Center Grove. His oldest brother Shelby placed third in state and his brother Rhett is currently recovering from a knee injury, but is part of the University of Indianapolis wrestling team.
      “Gleason is the last of four very good wrestlers,” Center Grove coach Cale Hoover said. “I’ve coached them all. I’ve had at least one Mappes in the room for the 12 years I’ve been here.”
      Gleason has been able to learn from his family’s strengths. He’s a three-time state qualifier and a two time placer. He has finished fourth the past two seasons.
      “Coach tells me I have a little bit of the attributes of all my family,” Gleason said. “Sean was a very funky wrestler. I try to be funky like that. He also has naturally good hip position and I’ve tried to emulate that as well. Shelby was more of the type of wrestler that just wanted to go in and beat you up until you give in. He’s really good on his feet and good at riding. I’m working to be that good on my feet as well. All of them were mentally tough.”
      Mappes has worked on improving his takedown ability since last season.
      “My main goal is to make an offense that is dynamic and that can’t be stopped,” he said.
      Mappes says the biggest thing his family has taught him is that you move on, no matter what.
      “You don’t get hung up on things that happened,” Mappes said. “You keep moving on. You don’t dwell on those things because they will just hold you back. If you dwell on what you could have done, you aren’t going to go much further.”
      Coming from such a strong wrestling family, Gleason doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t wrestle. But, he hasn’t had the number of career matches that are normal for a wrestler of his caliber.
      “Gleason entered high school with less than 100 matches in his career,” Hoover said. “He wrestled three years in middle school and a handful of club matches. He was a short little fat kid, but you could tell he was gifted and that he had a lot of talent.”
      As a freshman Gleason had a rough season. He lost 20 matches that year. Gleason is the only wrestler in at least five years to lose 20 matches and make it to the state finals.
      Reaching state lit a fire under Gleason. He came out the next year with a 37-11 record and finished fourth at 160 pounds as a sophomore. Then, as a junior he was 41-3 and finished fourth at 160 pounds.
      “Gleason has a tremendous upward climb,” Hoover said. “I really have no idea where his ceiling is. He isn’t even close to it yet.”
      Mappes is hoping to be Center Grove’s first four-time state qualifier. Ultimately, he is wanting a chance to wrestle under the lights.
      “That’s my goal,” Mappes said. “I want to finish under the lights.”
      After high school Gleason is going to wrestle for the University of Indianapolis and he will study nursing. Losing him from the Center Grove room will be tough on the Trojan family, especially on coach Hoover.
      “I just feel so fortunate to coach him,” Hoover said. “When I first came here he was in first grade. I’ve known him most of his life. I know for sure I’ll be dominating their family for the wrestling Hall of Fame.”

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      #MondayMatness: Stroud leading Elkhart Central back to the top

      A willingness to work toward constant improvement has helped raise Elkhart Central High School’s wrestling profile on the bigger stage.
      The 2016-17 Blue Blazers forged an 11-5 dual-meet record, beat crosstown rival Elkhart Memorial in a dual meet for the first time in many years then raised an Elkhart Sectional team trophy for the first time in 28.
      With Nick Conner (285 pounds), Tykease Baker (160) and Xander Stroud (145) winning their respective weight classes Blue Blazers edged Northridge by two points. It was the ECHS program’s first sectional team title since 1989.
      The Blazers won the sectional with a come-from-behind pin victory in a consolation match. 
      “It takes a lot of team effort,” says Central head coach Zach Whickcar, now in his sixth season of leading the wrestling program at his alma mater. He grappled for four seasons, graduating in 2006. “Everybody needs to pull their weight.
      “We won sectional with 14 guys, but it was the 14 behind them were every bit as important. They needed someone to practice with.”
      “It’s been a total buy-in. We took 11 kids to the Jeff Jordan’s State Champ Camp (during the high school off-season). The kids genuinely like being around each other.
      “It’s consistency and being present that gets you to where you want to be.”
      While they want to win during the regular, everything the Blazers do is focused toward the postseason.
      “I’m always telling them that we want to be peaking at sectionals,” says Whickcar. “We want to put out a product that’s competitive. But we want to do what is best for the kids. We want to win a sectional (team title) and we want to do well (as individuals) in the state tournament.”
      Since Whickcar took over as head coach for the 2012-13 season (the Blazers were 2-16 in duals that year), Central has produced five IHSAA State Finals qualifiers — Johnny Tredway (eighth place at 160 pounds in 2013), Eliseo Guerra (sixth at 220 in both 2014 and 2015), Stroud (eighth at 145 in 2017) and Chaz Boyd (did not place at 138 in 2017).
      Whickcar calls Stroud a “mat junkie.”
      “He’s always wrestling,” says Whickcar of a grappler who regularly attends Indiana State Wrestling Association Regional Training Center sessions at Jimtown High School and Midwest Extreme Wrestling Club events at Penn High School besides going to places like Virginia Beach and the Iowa Nationals during the summer. “He takes advantage of those opportunities.”
      Stroud said competing in big tournaments has one effect and practicing against good wrestlers has a another.
      “The wrestling is done in the RTC’s,” says Stroud. “The tournaments help you with your mindset. It’s about not being worried about who you are facing and just working on your stuff. You wrestle like how you want to wrestle.
      “It’s just you wrestling that other kid.”
      Plenty of time in the circle has led to acute mat awareness for Stroud.
      “He has a real feel for what he needs to do,” says Whickcar. “Like all of our wrestlers, he is able to find a couple of good things he is good at and uses them. He has pretty good leg attacks. But he definitely can get better.”
      The wrestler talks about what mat awareness means to him.
      “Where I’m at on the mat and the moves I chose to make depends on where I’m at,” says Stroud. “If I’m we’re the outer edge of the mat and I’m on the inside part of the mat and he’s closer to the line, I might shoot him out to get him out-of-bounds to re-set my position to the center.”
      “Or maybe he has my leg, I’ll watch my position and step out so we can re-set and go back to the center.”
      A rule change this season also allows wrestlers to get pins outside the circle. Before they could get “back” points but not falls.
      “You still have to have a supporting part (of your body) inbounds,” says Stroud. “Now you can go for a pin instead of just getting points.
      “You have to really watch your position more now since you can get pinned out-of-bounds.”
      The current Central lineup features Sean Johnson (106), Eric Garcia (113), Brad Felder (120), Jacob Hess (126), Tony Lopez (132), Raul Martinez (138), Peyton Anderson or Austin Garcia (145), Nathan Dibley (152), Xander Stroud (160), Carlos Fortoso (170), Peterson Ngo (182), Alex Lucias (195), Omar Perez (220) and Nick Conner (285).
      Stroud, Conner, Lucias, Martinez, Perez and Ngo (back after wrestling for Central as a sophomore) are seniors leading the 2017-18 Blazers.
      “Those six seniors have busted their butt,” says Whickcar. “They love the sport.”
      Stroud, who is planning to study biomedical engineering in college and may wrestle at the next level, says he prefers to lead by example.
      “Omar Perez and Alex Lucias — They are pretty vocal,” says Stroud. “I only yell when I have to. 
      “Our team is pretty good about doing what they are supposed to (be doing). During the season, we do larger things. At the end of the season, we fine-tune things. That’s when you want to peak — at the end of the season.”
      The Blazers opened the 2017-18 varsity season Saturday, Nov. 25 by placing second to Central Noble at the Elkhart Central Turkey Duals.
      Before the New Year, the Blazers have home dual meets slated against Northridge Dec. 5 and Mishawaka Dec. 7. 
      Then comes  the Jim Nicholson Charger Invitational at Elkhart Memorial Dec. 9 and dual meets at Elkhart Memorial Dec. 12 and South Bend Adams Dec. 14 followed by the 32-team Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 29-30.
      Coming down the stretch of the regular season, there’s a dual at Penn Jan. 4, East Noble Invitational Jan. 6, Northern Indiana Conference meet Jan. 13 and dual at Jimtown Jan. 18.
      Besides Whickcar, ECHS wrestlers are pushed by a coaching staff with Central graduates Abe Que, Trevor Echartea and Zack Kurtz, Elkhart Memorial graduates Carson Sappington and Steven Vergonet and Concord graduate Brian Pfeil.

      4460 2

      #WrestlingWednesday: Viduya Brings Glory Back to Roncalli

      Roncalli freshman Alec Viduya knew what it would take to become a wrestling state champion. There’s hard work, dedication and all that jazz – but most importantly, he needed a perm.
      “Alec decided it was time to bring the perm back before the sectional this year,” Roncalli coach Wade McClurg said. “He was 15-0 in the state series with the perm, so the secret is in the hair.”
      Viduya won the 113 pound weight class, beating Jimtown’s No. 6-ranked Hunter Watt 7-4 in the finale.
      “He earned the nickname Goku (Dragonball Z reference) last summer,” McClurg said. “Goku is known for his work ethic and constantly striving to be the greatest warrior to protect the universe. Alec has crazy hair like Goku and he is always striving to be the best wrestler to protect the Southside Rebellion.”
      Viduya become Roncalli’s fourth state champion, and the first in 32 years since Chris Maxwell won in 1985. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his former coach Lance Ellis and become a four-time champion.
      “He was my coach for a long time, and I’d love to follow what he did,” Viduya said.
      Viduya certainly doesn’t lack confidence. The freshman tried not one, but two standing cradles in the finals match.
      “I know what I’m capable of,” Viduya said. “I knew that if I could lock that up I was getting back points.”
      Coach McClurg learned from his mentor, Carmel coach Ed Pendoski, that communication is the key to having a successful program. So McClurg held a meeting with Alec and his family at their kitchen table in July and discussed Alec’s goals.
      “Without hesitation he told me that he wanted to be a state champion as a freshman like his mentor Lance Ellis,” McClurg said. “That dialogue began when he was a youth wrestler and continued into the kitchen table conversation in July, and it’s still communicated on a daily basis.”
      Viduya dismantled several ranked opponents during his tournament run. He beat Warren Central’s No. 3-ranked Skylour Turner in the New Castle semistate final 15-4. He then beat #17 Kane Egli, No. 8 Jose Diaz and No. 1-ranked, returning state champion Asa Garcia leading up to the final match.
      “My Friday night match was one of the hardest because I had to make weight and maintain my weight,” Viduya said. “I was pretty tired. On Monday I was 122 pounds.”
      As is the case with almost every state champion, Viduya strives for excellence in practice.
      “I’ve had the privilege to have coached Alec since he was 8 years old,” McClurg said. “Alec has always taken his training very seriously and is passionate about wrestling. He is motivated by his absolute hatred of losing and has been that way since he was very young. That’s just how he is programmed. Alec is the ultimate competitor. He is confident in his abilities and he stays mentally strong in tough situations.”
      To many, Viduya seems very straight-laced and serious at all times. He is hyper-focused during tournaments and dual meets. But coach McClurg says he’s not always that way.
      “There is a misconception with some people who are not real familiar with Alec,” McClurg said. “Because they think he never smiles or talks. The people that really know Alec and see him every day in the hallways at Roncalli know that is certainly not the case. If I had to describe Alec in one word it would be ‘cool.’ Alec is one cool customer.”
      This summer Viduya plans to wrestle at Fargo in freestyle. His work to stay on the top of the championship ladder in high school is far from over. But, he feels that as long as he puts in the work, and keeps the perm, he should be ready.

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Bailey Seeking the Elusive Blue Ribbon

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

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