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      #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.

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      #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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      #MondayMatness: A strong student in more ways than one, Eastern's Ellis heads to State Finals

      Evan Ellis is studious in more ways than one.
      The unbeaten heavyweight wrestler from Eastern High School in Greentown is a student of the sport.
      “I watch 20 hours of FloWrestling a week,” Ellis said. “I’m watching the Big Ten. I’m watching different things. I’ve just infatuated myself with (wrestling).”
      After placing eighth in 2015 and third in 2016 at 220, Ellis has has qualified for his third straight IHSAA State Finals (he drew 28-8 senior Brendan Sutton of Jennings County in the first round at 285 on Friday, Feb. 17 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis).
      No. 2-ranked Ellis (44-0) is one of three unbeatens in the 285-pound class. South Bend Washington junior Isaiah McWilliams (50-0 and ranked No. 1) and Mt. Vernon senior Wade Ripple (49-0 and ranked No. 3) are the others.
      After bowing out 3-2 in the “ticket” round at the Fort Wayne Semistate as a freshman, Ellis started pouring it on, not only during the high school season, but in the summers. He placed second in the Cadet Folkstyle Nationals in 2014 and second at the NHSCA Sophomore Nationals, fourth at the Junior Folkstyle Nationals and eighth and the Super 32 in 2015.
      But Ellis is also an exceptional student in the scholastic sense as evidenced by his being accepted to Ivy League school Brown University in Providence, R.I. He plans to wrestle for the Bears beginning in 2017-18.
      According to U.S. News & World Report, Brown has one of the lowest acceptance rates of colleges and universities in the country. It was 9 percent in 2015.
      “They were the very first school to send me a letter,” Ellis said. “We were preparing for the Super 32 my sophomore year, they sent a letter just wanted to ‘Hi! We see want you’ve done. We see you’re academic all-state. Then they just went away for awhile.”
      As the sophomore and junior years went by, Ellis got better and better in his wrestling and his academics and Brown became persistent in its recruit of the big Comet who enjoys his Advanced Placement curriculum at Eastern.
      “Finally, we got an official visit set up,” Ellis said. “I just love in out there. It’s a great atmosphere for learning, but the wrestling team has a lot of special things going on as well.”
      Led by head coach Todd Beckerman, Brown is part of the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association.
      What made Ellis better on the mat?
      “I had to change my lifestyle,” Ellis said. “If this is really what I wanted to do, I had to make changes. I was good for our area and I was decent for our state. But I just wanted to pursue it deeper. I had a burning sensation to just be dominant.”
      Ellis decided to give up football and track and focus on wrestling.
      “I consumed myself with it,” Ellis said. “It was hard. I had to give up a lot. But I knew I wanted to be the guy and it was going to take a lot of work.”
      Ellis cut fast food out of his diet, even in the off-season.
      “My family even changed with me,” Ellis said of father Rodney, mother Amy and sister Olivia. “We went with organic and no hormones. They spent that extra money for me to eat like this. I’ve been lifting (weights) all the time.
      “In the summer, it’s hot. You just want to lie around the house and play some Xbox. But I got up at 6 a.m. and worked out.”
      Ellis is thankful for a family that has traveled all over the country while he pursued his wrestling dreams.
      “They’ve spent a fortune,” Ellis said. “We’ve been from border and border. Without their sacrifice, there’s no way I’d be where I am. They just wanted to give me the opportunity to be the best I could be.
      “It’s a whole new level of confidence. I’ve been in so much time in the off-season. I’m just anxious to get out there and dominate.”
      Ellis is coached by an Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer in Bob Jarrett. He is in his eighth season at Eastern. He spent 24 years at Western in nearby Russiaville and came out of retirement after an eight-year hiatus.
      “He’s just a kid that’s put in the time and effort,” Jarrett said of Ellis. “He’s been doing it since grade school.
      “I think he’s good enough to win it all (at the State Finals), but that doesn’t mean he can’t be beat. He works extremely hard . He had a great attitude and he’s a smart kid, obviously.”
      Jarrett said that Ellis, who weighs around 240 pounds, has succeed as a bigger wrestler because from a young age he has been willing to work some moves usually employed by smaller grapplers.
      “We’ve worked on wrestling moves while other heavyweights have just kind of leaned on each other,” Jarrett said. “They push and shove. He was doing little-guy moves and it’s really helped him in the long run.”

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      WrestlingWednesday: Shenandoah Not a Fly By Night Program

      When Gary Black Jr. interviewed for the head wrestling coach at Shenandoah, his goals were clear. He didn’t want to maintain the status quo for the Raiders. He wasn’t content with getting a few kids through to semistate. He wanted to put Shenandoah on the wrestling map, and he wanted the small Henry County school to compete, and win against the state’s best programs.
      His vision for the program landed him the job, and now, seven years later, he has done exactly what he said he would.
      Shenandoah won the school’s first sectional two weeks ago. The Raiders dominated larger schools such as New Castle and Richmond in the process.
      Last week the Raiders fell 1.5 points shy of winning the school’s first regional title.
      “We had to get a mentality change,” Black said. “We had to understand the physicality of wrestling. We reached out to the elementary school. We implemented a club to get young kids invested in the sport at an early age. It took us a few years, but when we had an opening for the middle school job and I had John Slivka and my dad (Gary) take over, we really started developing our feeder system.”
      Shenandoah has seven wrestlers competing at the New Castle semistate Saturday. Sophomores A.J. Black (106) and Dallas Pugsley (126), senior Ryan Surguy (138) and freshman Silas Allred (170) were all Richmond regional champions. Sophomore Hayden Lohrey (132) lost a close match to undefeated Cainan Schaefer in the championship round. Josh Gee (senior, 160) lost to No. 2-ranked Alston Bane 1-0 in the championship and sophomore Jake Webster placed fourth in the 152-pound class.
      The Raider success story is one of heartache, determination and a coach that refuses to give up on his kids.
      The Heartache
      Coach Black’s younger brother Levi was perhaps the most talented grappler on the Raider team. He had an insane dedication to the sport and a work ethic that was unrivaled. Levi was well liked by everyone he came in contact with. But, despite all the positives he had going for him, Levi struggled with a mental illness that eventually led him to take his own life, at the high school, in November of 2015.
      The death rocked the tiny Shenandoah community, as well as much of the surrounding area. Levi’s funeral brought together wrestlers from around the state. Many wrestlers, such as Bane at Richmond, have shown support of the Black family and helped raised awareness of mental illness by having a green streak (symbolic of Levi’s fight with the disease) dyed in his hair.
      The Shenandoah team needed strength during this time. They needed someone to help them cope with the emotional gravity of the situation. The Black family was there to provide it.
      “Both coaches (Gary Jr. and Sr.) are my heroes,” Gee said. “After all they went through, they still took care of us – even over themselves. Through their pain they never let us down. They helped us cope and really turned us into a wrestling brotherhood. We are a family.”
      For Gary Jr., he knew he needed to find a way to honor Levi, yet move forward.
      “The last 16 months have been a huge learning curve for a lot of us,” Black said. “Not only are you dealing with the daily grind of being a wrestler at a high level, but these kids already battle a lot of things daily. That was one more added struggle for all of us. There are days for me, my dad and I‘m sure the kids – being at that exact same place where everything happened – that make it very difficult. All of our lives have been changed.”
      The Determination
      Last year A.J. Black, Levi and Gary Jr’s youngest brother, tried doing everything he could to honor Levi. At times, the pressure got to him. He didn’t want to let his family down. When he lost in the ticket round to go to state, you could see that built up emotion boil over as tears streamed down his face.
      “The weight of trying to accomplish a goal for the memory of his brother took its toll on A.J. and just mentally wore him down,” coach Black said. “We talked about it. He had to make a shift in how he honors his brother. He needs to start doing things for himself.
      “I ask him before every match, who he is wrestling for. He now will say ‘Me’ and then give me a hug and go wrestle. He still honors Levi, but by working his hardest and doing his best. That’s all Levi would have wanted.”
      The hard work mantra extends past A.J. To a man, the Raiders pride themselves on outworking other teams. The guys have bought into the system and have dedicated their summers to the sport.
      “Levi was the hardest worker in the room,” A.J. said. “Everyone wants to make him proud by working as hard as they can, every day.”
      Take Allred for example. He is a 14-year old freshman that won’t turn 15 until May 28. He’s wrestling in one of the most physically demanding classes (170). Yet he’s undefeated.
      “We believe success is a mindset,” Allred said. “I constantly train and constantly push myself to get better. If you want to be the best, you have to work to be the best. You can get better, or worse every single day.”
      Surguy and Gee are two examples of the dividends of that work ethic.
      As a sophomore Gee was pinned by Bane in the sectional final in 36 seconds. Last year he lost 5-1 to Bane in the sectional final. This year, Gee has dropped two matches to Bane, but both were by the score of 1-0.
      Surguy is another senior that struggled early, but has blossomed due to the work he puts in. This year Surguy is 42-2 with a sectional and regional title.
      The Coach
      Gary has built the Raider program to be one of the state’s best. The Raiders finished No. 2 in the Class A team state, and have higher aspirations down the road.
      For Gary, the key to success has been making the wrestlers buy into the fact that the only way to improve, is to outwork the opposition. He also makes sure the wrestlers feel like a family.
      “We see each other at our worst, and we see each other at our best,” said Allred, who has a 4.0 GPA and is ranked third in his class. “When one of us has a down day, the rest of us try and pick him up. This is more than a wrestling team. We’re all friends. We’re all brothers.”
      The leader of the Raider family is undoubtedly the young coach Black. His passion for the team is evident in every match he coaches.
      “On Sundays I’m exhausted,” Black said “It’s hard for me to be on the sideline when I just want to go to war with them. I don’t want to be the general just telling them to go into battle. I want to battle with them. I’ll be the intense guy on the sideline.
      “I want these kids to win as bad as they do. I get extremely emotionally involved in their success. I’d like to think they appreciate it, even though I look ridiculous. I love wrestling and I love watching those kids compete.”
      Last year only Lohrey punched his ticket to the state meet for the Raiders. This year Shenandoah has high hopes to have more than one kid represented. They know how hard the road is to get to state, but they’ve prepared themselves to complete the journey – just like a young coach interviewing for his first head coaching job seven years ago said they would.

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      #MondayMatness: Central Noble making presence known as small-school mat program

      Mighty in achievement if not mighty in size.
      That describes Central Noble High School’s wrestling program. The Cougars went 15-8 in 2016-17 dual meets and earned the school’s first sectional runner-up finish, trailing perennial powerhouse Prairie Heights at Westview while sending 10 to the Goshen Regional, where the squad finished 10th and advanced two to the Feb. 11 Fort Wayne Semistate.
      In December, Central Noble placed eighth in the Indiana High School Wrestling Association Team State Duals. The school was there for the second time in three seasons. If not for a disappointing day at the 2015 sectional, the Cougars might have gone three straight years.
      “(Team State Duals) gives us a chance as smaller schools to showcase ourselves. Getting 10 underclassmen to regional (in 2016-17), we’re in pretty good shape to go back again,” says Central Noble head coach Chuck Fleshman, the 1989 CNHS graduate who has served in various capacities in the program for 27 years (among those he’s coached are current Center Grove head coach Cale Hoover). “We talk about that. I’m an honest coach. We don’t have a state champion on our team. We’re not at that level. But I’ve got a couple who might medal (at the State Finals) if they put that work in.”
      Watching his wrestlers at the high school and junior high at the past few years, Fleshman knew the Cougars could be pretty good.
      “We’ve been seeing this coming,” says Fleshman. “I’ve got a lot of kids that put in the time in the off-season.
      “That’s a positive.”
      Instead of just one or two, about a half dozen wrestlers spent last summer at tournaments and in training. This at a small school where eight of 21 wrestlers are three-sport athletes.
      “It’s hard to focus on wrestling like some of the bigger schools,” says Fleshman, who counts Josh Dull, Randy Handshoe, Jonathan Pearson, Andrew Pyle and Tyler Rimmel as assistant coaches. “I’ve got a good group. They’re buying into what we’re coaching and teaching.”
      It’s all about the discipline to make weight through Thanksgiving and Christmas and beyond and all the grueling workouts in Central Noble’s three-tiered converted cafeteria of a wrestling room that make the Cougars a success inside the circle.
      When you are among the smaller schools on the scene, depth is a rarity.
      Even schools with a considerably higher enrollment than the just over 400 of Central Noble struggles to fill all 14 weight classes.
      While the Cougars did not have a 106-pounder for most of the season, there was plenty of competition in the wrestling room for many other varsity spots.
      “This is first year I’ve ever had 21 kids,” says Fleshman. “Some of these older kids better watch out, they’ve got freshmen there to push them.
      “We’ve got a group of kids who have worked and want to work.”
      Those grapplers include:
      • Sophomore Tanner Schoeff (sectional champion, third at regional and a semistate qualifier at 113).
      • Junior Ray Clay (third in sectional and regional qualifier at 120).
      • Junior Austin Moore (sectional and regional champion and a semistate qualifier at 132).
      • Sophomore Jadon Crisp (sectional runner-up and regional qualifier at 138).
      • Junior Tadd Owen (third in sectional and regional qualifier at 152).
      • Junior Connor Mooney (sectional runner-up and regional qualifier at 160).
      • Freshman Austin McCullough (fourth in sectional and regional qualifier at 170).
      • Junior Jordan Winebrenner (fourth in sectional regional qualifier at 195).
      • Sophomore Levi Leffers (sectional runner-up and regional qualifier at 220).
      • Junior Jesse Sade (fourth in sectional and regional qualifier at 285).
      Sophomore Giran Kunkel might well have been in the mix after going 33-4 as a freshman, but he suffered an ACL injury before the season and did not get to compete.

      2404 3

      #WrestlingWednesday: Sellmer looking to punch his ticket to state

      Tristan Sellmer is a wrestling junkie.
      When Sellmer isn’t training on the physical aspects of the sport, the Floyd Central junior is learning the mental side. He spends time each day watching film or studying new moves. He is hoping his knowledge of the sport, and his strong work ethic, will help him reach the Indiana High School state finals this season.
      “Tristan Sellmer eats and breathes wrestling,” Floyd Central coach Brandon Sisson said. “He loves it. He’s always studying film. He also seeks out the best wrestlers and wants to go against them.”
      Sellmer has had a lot of success in his high school career. To date, he is a three-time sectional champion and two-time regional champ. His tournament trail has ended the last two years at the Evansville semistate.
      As a freshman Sellmer won regional, but then received an unfortunate draw when Paul Konrath injury defaulted in the Castle regional. Sellmer then had to face Konrath in the first round, and lost 12-2.
      Sellmer was close to punching his ticket to state as a sophomore. He won his first round semistate matchup, but then lost a heart breaker to Avon’s Nathan Conley 3-2.
      “Not making it to state eats at me every single day,” Sellmer said. “It makes me train more and more. Every chance I get I am training or watching technique videos. I stay occupied completely with wrestling now.”
      Sellmer doesn’t play any other sports, and he says he doesn’t have a hobby. Wrestling and his grades are his only passions right now.
      This season Sellmer has faced five of the top 15-ranked grapplers in his 138-pound weight class. He’s won all but one of those matches. Sellmer, ranked No. 4 currently, lost to No. 3-ranked Kris Rumph 3-2 in overtime. He has beaten No. 2-ranked Zach Melloh, No. 5-ranked Conley, No. 8-ranked Jake Schoenegge and No. 14-ranked Derek Blubaugh.
      Sellmer’s Floyd Central team claimed its 28th sectional title this season. The school has won sectional 28 out of its 49 years in existence. The Highlanders had 13 advance to regional with five sectional champions.
      Johnathan Kervin, Devon Stikes, Ty Sorg, Bradley Philpot and Sellmer were the sectional title winners.
      “This is one of my more talented teams,” Sisson said. “But they are also one of the most fun and coachable teams I have had. There isn’t any negative energy in the room.”
      Sellmer is one of the kids that pushes his teammates to get better. He has put a lot of work in during the offseason. He’s went to several national tournaments and feels that’s really what has helped him get to the level he is wrestling at today.
      After high school Selmer would like to wrestle in college and eventually get a degree in accounting. He loves numbers, and they come easy for him he says. Right now he has not decided where he will attend.

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      #MondayMatness: Hobart's Black persists through adversity

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

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Jacob Gray focusing on the basics to get to the top

      There is an episode of ‘Malcom In the Middle’ where a few teenagers pick on an elderly man and then run away from him. As they run, they taunt the man – knowing they are much younger and faster than he is. The old man is persistent though. He never stops moving forward. Eventually, much to the surprise of the teens, he catches up to them and beats the tar out of them.
      Delta’s Jacob Gray is a lot like that old man. He’s not slow, by any means, but he is relentless. He’s always pressing forward. Every time an opponent looks up, Gray’s massive 182 pound frame is right in front of them.
      “Jacob is a meat and potatoes kind of wrestler,” Delta coach Gary Schleissman said. “He’s not fancy. He doesn’t do funk. He’s straight forward and relentless. He sticks to the basics, and he does them very well. He wrestles smart and doesn’t waste any movement. He’s always been that way.”
      Gray has 141 varsity victories and only 11 losses. As a freshman he lost in the ticket round at semistate. His sophomore year he lost just twice, both in the state finals. He ended up placing sixth that year. Last year Gray went 37-3 and lost Friday night at state.
      This season Gray is 28-2. Both of his losses came at the hands of the state’s No. 1-ranked 182 pounder, Nathan Walton. The first time the two wrestled Walton won 5-2. Gray narrowed the gap the next time they squared off – losing by just one point, 1-0.
      “Those losses have made me want to work harder,” Gray said. “You just think of how close the matches have been, and how a takedown, a reversal or something could have changed the outcome.”
      Gray, who has never been pinned in high school, has made it a point this season to attack more.
      “I am pressing the action a lot more,” Gray said. “I started noticing how in harder matches I was getting a little fatigued. Now that I’m trying to put up more points, I’m not getting as tired. I feel like it has helped me get in better shape.”
      One of Gray’s physical attributes that has helped him on the mat is his ridiculous hand strength.
      “His hand strength is absolutely crazy,” Schleissman said. “When I wrestle around with him in the room, it really hit me how strong his hands were last season. He’d grab a hold of my wrist and – holy crap”
      Gray is fueled by competing at a school with a rich wrestling history. Delta is fourth on Indiana’s all-time team state championships list with five. The school, located on the outskirts of Muncie, has had 13 individual champions. The list of individual champs include: Tim Klingensmith (1970), Chris Campbell (1981), Don Heintzelman (1981), Greg Gadbury (1981), David Palmer (1981, 1982), John Ginther (1983, 1984), Ron Riggin (1984), David Locke (1984), Craig Campbell (1985), Trent McCormick (1986), Jeff Tuttle (1987), Craig Locke (1990) and Eric Kerkhof (1994, 1996).
      “I want to be one of those guys you think about when you think of Delta wrestling,” Gray said. “Our coaches, teachers and a lot of people in our community talk about how good we were. All of my friends’ dads talk about the glory days. I see the pictures on the wall every day of all of our state champions, and I know I can be our next one.”
      Gray got his wrestling start at the Muncie Pal Club. According to coach Schleissman, the Pal Club was a place where “a bunch of rough neck kids would go in and beat the crap out of each other every day.”
      Bryce Baumgartner, Sage Coy, Luke Schleissman and Gray were a few of the wrestlers that emerged from the Pal Club.
      Despite his success on the mat, Gray isn’t one to brag on himself.
      “Jacob is just a great kid,” Schleissman said. “He’s very humble and very quiet. He’s polite and everyone respects him. I have watched him wrestle since he was very young. He’s my go to kid in practice. After this year, I’m really going to miss him.”
      After high school he plans to wrestle in college, but has not decided where he wants to go or what he wants to study. Right now he’s focusing on getting to the top rung of the podium at Banker’s Life in February. Jacob wants to go out on top – like all senior wrestlers.

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      #MondayMatness: Merrillville is more than about creating championships

      Merrillville High School has enjoyed many championships in David Maldonado's 15 years as head wrestling coach.
      Since that first season in 2002-03, the Pirates have appeared in the IHSAA Team State Finals three times (2006, 2007 and 2008) and won 12 sectionals, seven regionals and four semistates as a team.
      Merrillville has had three top-three places for the Coaches Cup (team score at individual state tournament) on Maldonado's watch with a third in 2005, second in 2006 and third in 2007.
      There have been nine individual state title-takers ” junior Wesley English at 145 in 2005, senior Javier Salas at 119 in 2006, senior Dexter Latimore at heavyweight in 2006, senior Jamal Lawrence at 145 in 2007, sophomore Bobby Stevenson at 170 in 2013, junior Jacob Covaciu at 145 in 2015, junior Shawn Streck at heavyweight in 2015, senior Jacob Covaciu at 160 in 2016 and senior Shawn Streck at heavyweight in 2016.
      Latimore (heavyweight) and Lawrence (145) were senior national champions in 2006 and 2007, respectively.
      Streck (Purdue) and Covaciu (Wisconsin) moved on the college wrestling.
      The number of state qualifiers during Maldonado's time at Merrillville is 68.
      Including his time at Noll, Maldonado went into the 2016-17 season with a dual-meet record of 301-86, including 261-46 with the Pirates.
      But that's not the only way to define success for Maldonado, himself a state champion at 130 as a junior in 1993 and state runner-up at 135 as a senior in 1994 at East Chicago Central.
      David Maldonado, a member of the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame as an individual (along with brother Billy) and as part of the famed Maldonado family (six of David's uncles and several cousins, sons and nephews have been or are wrestlers), gets as much satisfaction for the relationships built and life lessons taught as the crisply-executed headlocks and underhooks.
      For the Merrillville coaching staff, which also features Gene Bierman, Bobby Joe Maldonado, Paul Maldonado, Tim Maldonado, Joe Atria and Tom Kelly, wrestling does not only build character, it reveals it.
      We work every match to get better, Maldonado said. That's all the matters. As long as we do that, everything else will take care of itself. The medals, awards stand, all that stuff takes care of itself.
      For some kids, it happens sooner. For some kids, it happens later.
      Years ago, Maldonado got into the habit of addressing each of his wrestlers immediately after their match.
      It could be a high-five, a word of encouragement or a constructive criticism. He wants the wrestler ” and the wrestler's parents ” to know that he cares.
      A son to parents born in Mexico who teaches Spanish at Merrillville, Maldonado also builds these relationships in the classroom.
      We're all in this together, Maldonado said. Let's communicate. Some coaches and teachers are afraid to call home and talk to parents. I'm not.
      Maldonado, who was also a folkstyle senior nationals champion as a high schooler and then placed third twice and second once in the Big 12 Conference while grappling for Iowa State University and placing second at two more freestyle nationals, takes time every week to talk with parents.
      It's a lesson he learned from his coach at Iowa State ” Bobby Douglas, a former NCAA champion and Olympian.
      Those little things that coaches do to help, Maldonado said. More than anything else, you need to build that relationship with kids. I always feel like we had a successful season because of those relationships and getting better.
      It's about being better at everything ” a better athlete, a better wrestler, a better person.
      Maldonado knows that teenagers can see right through you if you are not genuine. But show that genuine caring and by season's end, they'll be willing to run through a wall for you.
      But the relationships start long high school for many wrestlers. Maldonado is there at kids wrestling club practices and meets and knows them long before they put on a purple singlet for MHS.
      Maldonado also tries to enjoy the ride and wants those around him to do the same.
      He knows that wrestling season can be a grind and it's easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment.
      We need to just be grateful for having the opportunity and cherish it no matter how it turns out, Maldonado said. At the end of the year, there's only going to be one happy kid per weight class or one happy coach.
      At the end of the day, you've still got to be able to look at yourself in the mirror.

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Ruberg has overcome more than opponents on the mat

      Lawrenceburg’s Jake Ruberg has battled some of Indiana’s best wrestlers, and more often than not has emerged victorious. But Ruberg’s true adversary isn’t an opponent standing across from him on the mat. No, for Ruberg, the demons he has wrestled in his own mind are far more vicious and formidable than any opponent could ever be.
      Ruberg emerged on the state scene four years ago. He was a little-known freshman wrestling for a small school a stone’s throw away from the Ohio state line. He won sectional and regional that year and eventually advanced to state. He lost just twice as a freshman, once to eventual champion Tommy Cash 2-1 in semistate, and then to Jacob Covaciu in the first round of state.
      Ruberg had sat at the table of the state’s wrestling elite. He developed a taste for that success and became obsessed with getting back there. He stepped on the mat 10 times that sophomore season, and all 10 times he emerged victorious. He was well on his way back to Indiana’s pinnacle – the state finals.
      Ruberg injured his shoulder during football, and thought he would be able to wrestle. But wrestling can be a cruel mistress at times. Ruberg realized that his shoulder needed more time to heal, and that he would have to stop wrestling for the remainder of the season. That injury led to a dark time for Ruberg, one where he would eventually be hospitalized because of a deep depression.
      “I’ve had to deal with some pretty tough stuff,” Ruberg said. “I became very depressed after my shoulder injury and I was in the hospital for a while. It was at the same time that Shenandoah’s Levi Black committed suicide after dealing with a mental illness. I was shocked to see that another kid was having some of the same issues I was having. I knew I had to come out of it.”
      Ruberg made the decision to talk about his issues. He went to therapy. He talked to Levi’s parents and brother (Shenandoah head coach Gary Black). By talking about it, he was starting to get better. He also realized that there might be other kids out there going through similar struggles. So, he made himself available to talk to them.
      “I wanted to make sure I was there for people,” Ruberg said. “Nobody should battle that alone. Mental illnesses are tough. I’ve been dealing with them since I was little. It’s something you have to work out. You can’t just fix yourself in a day. You have to have outlets and people you can talk to. My outlet is wrestling and working out. If I’m feeling bad, I go lift or work out on the mat. Everyone has to find their own outlet to get their mind clear.”
      Ruberg didn’t advance to state as a junior. He lost in the ticket round to Noah Warren in the New Castle semistate. The loss hurt, but Ruberg has learned to deal with the negative emotions and turn them into a positive.
      That was evident this football season. The Tigers advanced to the state championship game, eventually getting second. Ruberg was named the Class 3A Mental Attitude Award winner.
      “Jake is a born leader,” Lawrenceburg coach Mark Kirchgassner said. “He’s been a leader on our wrestling team for four years. He’s a leader on the football field. He’s just a leader in everything he does.
      “With Jake there have been ups and downs. But he has really taken positive steps. He’s done vigils with people battling depression. He’s taken kids under his wings. He helps people along the process and he’s been very open with it to other kids. It takes a lot of courage for a high school guy to tell people that he battles depression.”
      Ruberg is hoping this senior campaign ends with him on the podium at the state meet. He is currently ranked No. 10 at 170 pounds. He has a lost twice this year, once to No. 2-ranked Tanner Webster 3-2, and the other time he was pinned by No. 9-ranked Kameron Fuller.
      “My goal is to win state, and I expect to be in the top three at least,” Ruberg said.
      Ruberg has the luxury of being in the same room with three other highly skilled wrestlers in the upper weights. Nationally ranked Mason Parris is at 220. Jonah Rolfes (ranked No. 5 in the New Castle semistate) is at 182 pounds and Sam Tibbets is at 195 pounds.
      “We are fortunate for a small school to have four guys of that caliber that can battle every day in practice,” Kirchgassner said. “They are really able to push each other.”
      Ruberg loves the success his small school has had recently in wrestling.
      “People try and tell me how much better the Ohio tournament is,” Ruberg said. “I know they have great wrestlers. But we have a tournament where a school of 600 people gets to compete against a school of 6,000. Your ability really shines. You know you are one of the top 16 when you make it to state. If you win, there is no doubt that you are the best. I do wish we had wrestle backs though.”
      After high school Ruberg will wrestle for the University of Indianapolis. He chose Indianapolis because he wanted to remain close to home, and he really liked the coaching staff.
      “Their coach is very down to earth,” Ruberg said. “He will talk to you about anything. He’ll check up with you on the weekends and see how you’re doing. I just really like their program.”
      Ruberg plans to go into nursing. He had people help him when he was at his lowest point, and now he wants to make a career out of helping others.
      “My advice to anyone that might be struggling is to find someone that will listen to you,” Ruberg said. “Find someone you can open up to. Always keep going. There might be bad times, but something greater is always right around the corner.”


      #MondayMatness: Carroll's Byman setting an example on and off the mat

      Joel Byman is an example for current and future wrestlers at Carroll High School in Fort Wayne.
      Not only is the senior 126-pounder a fine grappler for the Tim Sloffer-coached “Super Chargers,” he is ranked No. 1 in a class of about 500 and has been accepted to Harvard University.
      Byman has never gotten a B in his life.
      “I once got an A-minus,” Byman said. “Calculus is a lot of fun and I enjoy (Advanced Placement) Spanish.”
      He looks forward to the rigorous academics of the Ivy League.
      “It opens so many doors for the future,” Byman said. “I’ll probably study economics. I want to get a degree I can use to get into another country. My ultimate goal is to be a missionary or pastor overseas.”
      While he is not planning to wrestle at Harvard at this point, Byman does not rule out continuing his mat career should it become an option.
      When he’s not wrestling or helping a teammate with his studies, Byman might be playing the trumpet in the Carroll jazz band or the piano at church.
      Sloffer, who is in his first season as Carroll head coach but involved with the program since his elementary school days, is proud to say that Chargers wrestling is “sending good characters, good men out into the world” and Byman is a prime example.
      “He’s a leader in everything he does,” Sloffer said. “He leads by example. He excels in everything that he does.
      “I would never bet against him.”
      While they all won’t be at the top of their class or go on to Harvard, Sloffer said Byman is leaving a legacy for his younger teammates and future Chargers.
      “I think the kids see that,” Sloffer said. “Our juniors (who will be seniors next year) will remember what these seniors did and Joel’s the biggest part of that. We have a group of seniors (including Stone Davidson, Lucas Hook, Jessie Lawson, Tristan Lerch, Tyler McKeever and Travis Sloffer ) which have done a nice job this year.
      What does Byman do best on the mat?
      “I’m pretty good on top with keeping control, especially in tight matches,” Byman said. “I’ve got to give all the credit to my Savior, Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t be anywhere without Him. Also, my family and my teammates (junior Grant Byman is also a Carroll wrestler), the way they encourage me is just awesome.”
      Byman was one of 11 Carroll wrestlers to qualify for the 2016 Fort Wayne Semistate and got better in the off-season at the Disney Duals in Florida.
      He’s having a solid senior season for a squad which spent the Christmas holiday break by placing eighth in Class 3A at the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals in Fort Wayne (up from 12th the year before) and fifth at the 32-team Al Smith Classic in Mishawaka (up from 10th).
      “We’ve progressed each year,” Byman said. “We want to take our team to another level and set an example for future years.”
      Coach Sloffer agrees with that assessment.
      “Things are really starting to look up for us,” Sloffer said of a high school program which is supported by the Carroll Wrestling Club, which includes grapplers from Arcola, Cedar Canyon, Eel River, Hickory Center, Huntertown, Oak View and Perry Hill elementaries as well as Carroll and Maple Creek middle schools plus high schoolers. “It’s just been a big effort from a lot of people, really for generations.
      “We’re just trying to make a better program and get the parents involved.”
      Carroll, who counts Sloffer, Joe Caprino, Kyle Wood, Logan Lee and Justin Smith on the coaching staff, has earned six straight sectional and four consecutive regional championships and is seeking its first semistate team crown.
      Crowds at Fort Wayne’s Memorial Coliseum Expo Center and Mishawaka’s “Cave” impressed Byman.
      “It’s crazy to see how many people are supporting wrestling and are excited about it,” Byman said. “It’s awesome.”
      Byman said a typical Carroll practice includes plenty of live wrestling.
      “That’s really helped us get in shape,” Byman said.
      Sloffer said Byman was attracted to wrestling as a Carroll Middle School eighth grader because of the challenge it presented.
      “Wrestling is the toughest sport there is,” Sloffer said. “Even if he has a loss, he’s not one you have to worry about. He’s going to come back and get re-focused.
      “Wrestling will be a part of who he is.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Alec White embraces changes

      A lot has changed in the wrestling room at New Palestine High School over the course of a year. The Dragons have a new coach and a lot younger team. But one thing remains the same – Alec White is still a hammer in the New Pal lineup.
      White, a senior, is a three-time state qualifier. He placed fourth as a freshman at 106 pounds. As a sophomore he qualified for state at 113 pounds and then returned as a junior in the same weight class and took sixth. This year White is the No. 5-ranked grappler at 126.
      “Alec is just cool,” first-year New Palestine wrestling coach Alex Johns said. “If I were to describe him, that’s the first thing you notice. He’s cool. This year he has taken a different approach. He’s very intelligent and he has a game plan for each match. He’s more laid back this year than he has been in the past. He’s enjoying the ride instead of worrying about the results.”
      Last season New Palestine was loaded with talent. At the top of that list was Chad Red Jr., who finished his high school career as one of the most decorated wrestlers in Indiana history. Red was undefeated in high school, winning four state titles in the process.
      Red wasn’t the only talented senior on last year’s squad. Jared Timberman was ranked in the top three most of the year at 145 pounds. Cameron Diep and Eugene Starks were also very good wrestlers for the Dragons.
      In addition to losing those quality seniors, coach Chad Red Sr., also resigned at the end of the season.
      This year New Palestine has a young lineup and a first-year coach.
      “Last year we always expected to win, team-wise” White said. “This year we’re looking at it as a long process. Each and every person on the team has to trust the process and continue to get better. Obviously we have individual goals as well. Mine are set very high. Other people on the team have different goals that are attainable.”
      Coach Johns is enjoying his first season at the helm of the Dragons. He wrestled for the University of Indianapolis and was later a graduate assistant there. He hopes to instill some of the core values of a college wrestler into his high school team.
      “We are young and inexperienced this year,” Johns said. “But the future looks bright for us for the next several years.”
      White was very disappointed with his sixth-place finish last season. White lost to Warren Central’s Skylour Turner in the Shelbyville sectional final 2-1, but then reversed that decision a week later in regional action, beating Turner 5-3 in the final. White and Turner were on opposite sides of the bracket at the New Castle semistate, but Cathedral’s Jordan Slivka beat Turner 7-3. White then beat Slivka 4-3 to win the semistate championship.
      White won his first round at state, but lost the next round 6-2 to Geoffery Davis. Davis then lost to Slivka in the third-fourth place match. White lost to his tourney nemesis, Turner, 3-2 in the fifth and sixth place match.
      “I was upset with my finish,” White said. “I thought I had a great opportunity to get under the lights. The draw didn’t matter to me. I felt like I was one of the best in the weight class, but someone beat me. That happens in wrestling. I’ve turned the page. I don’t like focusing on last year. I’m a different wrestler now.
      “I’ve been chasing a state title ever since I can remember. That’s been my goal ever since I first saw a state finals when I was about three years old. I saw two kids wrestling under the lights and everyone watching them. I knew someday I wanted that to be me.”
      White feels he has improved over the course of the year.
      “I’ve improved in every aspect,” he said. “My mental toughness, my wrestling ability and my knowledge has really improved. And I hope I continue to improve. I don’t think I’ve peaked. My best days are certainly ahead of me.”
      The Purdue Boilermakers are hoping that is true. White will wrestle for Purdue next season.

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      #MondayMatness: Lowell 126-pounder Cummings latest 'face of the program'

      Tested regularly by the best from the Calumet Region and the state, Colton Cummings has become Lowell High School wrestling’s latest “face of the program.”
      Cummings has gotten plenty of attention as a two-time IHSAA state champion (at 106 pounds as a sophomore in 2015 and 113 as a junior in 2016) and three-time State Finals performer (he was a qualifier at 106 as a freshman in 2014).
      “I’m a fighter,” Cummings said. “I’ll just keep coming at you no matter what. I’ve been taught that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
      He knows that he came into the 2016-17 season with the proverbial target on his back and he does not back down from that.
      “If you’re on top, you’ve always got to have a target,” Cummings said. “If you don’t have a target, you’re not doing your job correctly.”
      His off-season training included sessions with CIA and Region wrestling academies.
      “You’ve got to put in the work,” Cummings said. “The Region’s pretty solid.”
      Now a 126-pounder and a verbal commit to West Point, Cummings spent the early portions of this season ranked No. 1 in Indiana. Among his wins are a pin of Prairie Heights senior Riley Rasler and a decision against Bellmont senior Jon Becker.
      Cummings dropped to No. 3 after losing 4-2 to Columbus East junior Graham Rooks in the finals of Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic. Cummings was trying to become the fourth four-time Al Smith champion in 40 years after 2016 Lowell graduate Drew Hughes became the third four-time winner a year ago.
      Hughes, now a Michigan State University, was a four-time state placer for the Lowell Red Devils (second at 120 in 2013, fifth at 138 in 2014, first at 160 in 2015 and first at 170 in 2016).
      “We have been very, very fortunate in our program for the last five years now to have Hughes come through and have Colton come through,” Lowell head coach Bobby Howard said. “I talk to the kids all the time about how much they need to take advantage of that. They get to be around him everyday and watch how he practices, watch how he goes about his business at tournaments. That’s huge.”
      Wanting to get the most out of his wrestlers, Howard aims for them to peak at the right time. As the postseason approaches, Lowell workouts are intense but short. The focus is placed on rest, recovery and nutrition.
      “I’ve been fortunate enough the last couple years to hit the peak at a good time,” Howard said. “I don’t know if there’s some luck involved, but we’re going to continue doing what we have been doing.”
      Howard, who enjoyed plenty of mat success himself (winning three national titles by age 8, two Al Smith Classic crowns, placing fifth at senior nationals and finishing fifth at 112 and first at 119 in the IHSAA State Finals for Lowell in 1999 and 2000), said with hard work and following the instruction of the coaching staff, his up-and-coming Red Devils could be the next Hughes or Cummings.
      “That’s the carrot we dangle,” Howard, a coach for 11 years, said. “That’s what we tell them, ‘who’s going to be next?’ ‘Who’s going to be the next face of this program?
      “Right now it’s Colton.”
      Cummings is sure someone is up for the challenge. Perhaps sophomore Andres Moreno or freshman Shawn Hollis or a non-ranked Red Devil?
      “We have a great team this year,” Cummings said. “We have plenty of people who could come up and take Drew and my spot easily.”
      Like many wrestlers, Cummings came to the sport as a young kid.
      It didn’t go that smoothly for him.
      “I was so small I wrestled up like five weight classes and I was getting creamed,” Cummings said. “I said, ‘I’m done.’ I got talked back into it in sixth grade. I’ve been going from there.”
      What makes Cummings so good?
      “He’s just an all-around tough kid,” Howard said. “When he was younger he wrestled with older kids. They didn’t take it easy on him.
      “He’s got a motor that very few people can keep up with.”
      Cummings regularly works out with assistant coach Cameryn Brady, a two-time Division II All-American at the University of Indianapolis. Brady is about 40 pounds heavier than Cummings.
      Growing up in the woods around Lowell, Cummings said he would like to study biology and environmental science in college. It looks like he will be doing that on the “Banks of the Hudson” in New York at the United States Military Academy (West Point).
      “It’s one of the more prestigious schools in the country,” Cummings said. “It’s kind of an honor to go there.”


      #WrestlingWednesday: Penola makes his mark after impressive Al Smith

      Two years ago Thomas Penola didn’t crack Zionsville’s varsity lineup. Last year he had a mediocre season, going 24-13. A week ago he entered the prestigious Al Smith Classic as an unranked, unseeded junior competing in arguably the toughest weight class in the tournament.
      Now, just a week later, Penola’s career has taken a drastic turn. He won the Al Smith at 170 pounds, beating four ranked wrestlers in the process. When the new state rankings came out this week, Penola had one of the biggest jumps in the ranking’s history. He went from not being in the top 16, to his current rank of No. 3.
      “I was really surprised when I saw the rankings,” Penola said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I had beaten some good guys at the Al Smith, but I generally don’t even look at rankings. I just listen to my coaches and go out and wrestle.”
      Penola’s coaches are perhaps the ones surprised the least about his sudden rise into the state’s wrestling spotlight.
      “Thomas has had a great year,” Zionsville coach Jared Williams said. “We knew going into the Al Smith, with the competition that was going to be there at that weight, that we’d have a chance to see where he stood. I thought he could win it. I really thought that, going in, he’s there with anyone.”
      Penola knocked off No. 16 ranked Jordan Rader (14-2) in the opening round of the Al Smith. He later defeated Mike Edwards (10-5), No. 10 ranked Jared Swank (19-2), No. 9 ranked Tavonte Malone (24-1) and No. 5-ranked Zack Fattore (15-2) to win the championship.
      Penola is currently 20-1 on the season. Both he, and his coaches, point to his vigorous off-season training as the reason for his success this season.
      “For me, the biggest difference was that I stopped playing football and focused on wrestling,” Penola said. “The coaches I have been working with are great. They helped me focus on working on my feet. I went to camps, I worked out at CIA. I got to wrestle some guys that have really pushed me. Before this summer my weakness was wrestling on my feet. Now, I’d say, it’s my biggest strength.”
      Coach Williams credits Penola’s work ethic and desire for the turnaround.
      “I really thought last year that he would make a big jump,” Williams said. “I don’t think quitting football really had anything to do with it other than he came into our season healthy. He had one of his knees worked on last year and missed all of freestyle and folkstyle season. He felt behind and really wanted to focus on wrestling during the fall. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to stop playing football. If you want to make a big jump, it can happen in the spring and summer.
      “Thomas is hyper focused, and that’s why he is where he is today.”
      This year Penola’s goal is to place high at the state meet. He acknowledged that it won’t come easy. He is focusing on each match he wrestles and knows he can’t get to the point where he overlooks anyone.
      “I see what happens with him in the room,” Williams said. “I can feel it when I wrestle with him. He’s up there with anyone. He has that state-placing potential. But we’ve talked, and he has a lot of things that have to improve for him to be in a state title conversation. But he’s going the things he needs to do.
      “He’s as coachable as any person I’ve ever had. He takes in everything we, as a coaching staff, tell him. If we say we need something to happen, he’ll do everything in his power to make it happen. He does everything right, from nutrition, to rest to working hard in the weight room. He’s a leader for our team. And, the reason he loves wrestling is because he knows it’s a sport that rewards those that work the hardest.”
      Penola also credits having teammates that push him in the room as a reason for his success.
      “Guys like Sam Gobeyn, Matt Wertz and Josue Hill all have the same mind set and are improving because of their work and the way they push each other,” Williams said.
      Outside of wrestling Penola loves to hang out with his family, which includes two sisters and five brothers. He enjoys watching football and wrestling. And, he says, he loves eating when it isn’t wrestling season.


      #MondayMatness: Curtis and Laughlin lead tough Yorktown team

      Yorktown won its third Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals Class 2A title in five years two days before Christmas in Fort Wayne.
      Among those leading the Tigers were senior Brad Laughlin and sophomore Brayden Curtis.
      Both are ranked No. 1 as individuals — Laughlin at 160 and Curtis at 106. Curtis competed at 113 for Tigers coach Trent McCormick at the IHSWCA State Duals.
      Laughlin’s career mat resume includes three trips to the IHSAA State Finals — he was a qualifier at 120 as a freshman, fifth-place finisher at 138 as a sophomore and took third place at 145 as a junior.
      Curtis wound up seventh among 106-pounders at the 2016 State Finals.
      McCormick, who is in his 29th season at Yorktown with more than 500 dual victories, 92 state qualifiers, 50 state placers and three state champions (heavyweight Ross Janney in 2010, 138-pounder Devon Jackson in 2012 and 160-pounder Rhett Hiestand in 2014), explains what makes Laughlin and Curtis special.
      For West Point-bound Laughlin, it’s his willingness to do whatever it takes to get better. He takes very little time away from the mat or weight room during the year.
      “He’s got a great work ethic,” McCormick said of Laughlin. “He’s put a lot of time in during the off-season.”
      Until this year, Laughlin and Cael McCormick (Trent’s son and the fifth-place finisher at 152 at the 2016 IHSAA State Finals) were primary drill partners for about six or seven years.
      “They sharpened each other’s edge in the practice room,” Trent McCormick said.
      Laughlin is a student of the sport and studies FloWrestling video of himself and others and incorporates it into his system.
      And this Tiger likes to pounce.
      “I love to attack,” Laughlin said. “I think that’s one of my strongest suits. I attack, get takedowns and put points up on the board.”
      Laughlin, who placed fourth in the Super 32 Challenge in Greensboro, N.C., in October, signed to wrestle at Army — fittingly — on Veterans Day.
      He chose West Point because he likes the idea of fighting with “boots on the ground.”
      “On the ground with a rifle, that’s something that appealed to me,” Laughlin, a Yorktown team captain, said.
      Having Army wrestling in his future has benefitted his high school team and his senior season.
      “He knows he’s wrestling at the next level,” Trent McCormick said. “He’s shifted his training to more of a collegiate style. That helps him now, whether it’s being aggressive or proper positioning and those kinds of things.”
      McCormick enjoyed wrestling success himself at Delta High School (at 185, he placed fourth at the State Finals as a junior for team state champions in 1985 and first as a senior to team state runners-up in 1986; he went 35-1 that final prep season) and remembers what teammate David Palmer (state champ at 167 in 1981 and 177 in 1982) always used to say: “You can either hate drilling or hate losing.”
      Yorktown practices are drill-heavy and McCormick sees Brayden Curtis as someone who’s benefitted from hard work and daily challenges from teammates.
      “You have to have good drill partners if you want to be good,” McCormick said. “Everyday he’s wrestling Josh Stepehson. Zachary Todd and sometimes his own brother (junior Xavier Curtis), Brayden will wrestle anyone in the room if you ask him to. He just wants to get better everyday.”
      Brayden has been using his older brother as a wrestling role model for years.
      “It started in eighth grade,” Brayden Curtis said. “I saw my brother have success and I just wanted to be great like him.
      “He’s a real good counter to me because he’s tall and lanky and I’m very short and stocky. I have a little bit of quickness.”
      While being ranked No. 1 might be flattering, Curtis. Laughlin and McCormick are quick not to place too much stock in it.
      “It’s not something I’m too concerned about,” Laughlin said. “I just want to go out there and compete. Rankings are made for the fans.”
      “At the end of the day, it’s just a ranking. I just want to improve from last year when I got seventh (at the IHSAA State Finals),” Brayden Curtis said. “I just want to be satisfied with what I do.”
      Getting people talking about the sport is never a bad thing, but there’s more to it than that.
      “It’s always nice to see your name in lights, a little recognition for the work you’ve put in,” McCormick said. “(Being ranked) doesn’t mean anything when you step on the mat. You’ve got to take care of business.”
      But Yorktown wrestling, which was IHSAA state runners-up in 2010 and 2013 and third in 2014, is not only about the business of wrestling.
      McCormick and his coaching staff wants their young Tigers to go on to be productive members of society.
      “We try to use wrestling to instill life skills into our kids,” McCormick said. “We talk about these things all the time — say please and thank you, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, do good things in life. don’t always make the easy choice, make the right choice. It’s all those things that kids need to hear these days.”


      #WrestlingWednesday: No Dull Ending to This Season

      Terre Haute North has never had a wrestler reach the championship match in the state tournament. Thomas Dull is hoping to change that this season.
      Dull has been a solid wrestler throughout his career, but when he took the time between his sophomore and junior season to work on expanding his offensive attacks – the rewards were almost immediate. Last year, as a junior, Dull advanced to the state tournament for the first time in his career, and ended up finishing fifth.
      Dull was defeated in the sectional and regional championships last season by Jacob Hendrich, but Dull was able to win the final meeting between the two in the third place match at semistate. Dull pinned Hendrich in that match. Dull went on to place fifth at state.
      “My defining moment came between my sophomore and junior year,” Dull said. “That’s when things really started to click for me. Things started to really work. I became more aggressive and I think that was able to make me turn a corner.”
      The most notable difference came in Dull’s offensive attack options. He was a three-time ISWA Greco-Roman state champion and relied heavily on his arsenal of throws to win folkstyle matches. He understood that he was going to have to open things up and work on his leg attacks to be able to beat the top tier wrestlers in the state.
      “Thomas really had a reputation as a thrower,” Patriots coach Mark Frisz said. “You get to the higher levels, and you have to have more of an attack. So he has opened up his offense. That really showed last year during the state tournament.”
      Dull, like many successful wrestlers, believes the key to success lies in hard work. That work ethic helped him on the football field this year when he earned all-conference and honorable mention all-state as a linebacker.
      Despite playing football at a very high level, Dull didn’t want to fall behind in wrestling. So he often conditioned on his own for wrestling after a football practice.
      “I tried to stay in wrestling shape,” Dull said. “I ran. I worked on hand fighting. I have wrestling mats at my house so I’d get them out and work on them. A few times I even took them to the city park to work out in the fresh air. People probably thought we were weird for doing that, but I loved it. It was different than being in a wrestling room.”
      Last year’s trip to the state meet motivated Dull to get back this season.
      “Going to state was the best experience I’ve ever had with wrestling,” Dull said. “There isn’t anything comparable to it in Indiana. I am definitely not satisfied though. I want first. After doing what I did last year, I know I can shoot for the top now.”
      Coach Frisz is also hoping to get back to state – and for the first time in his 27-year coaching career, he’d like to get a wrestler under the lights.
      “I haven’t had a state champion,” Frisz said. “I hope to find out what it’s like. I go to state every year and watch the kids under the lights. Having that feature match, around that big crowd is amazing. It would be a dream come true for Tomas, and for me and our program. It certainly would be a special moment.”
      Dull fell in love with wrestling when his dad, Larry, took him to a match between Terre Haute North and Terre Haute South when he was five years old. Larry had wrestled for Jay County in the 80s where he injured his knee and had to miss his senior season. His workout partner, Larry Brown, finished third in 1988 at heavyweight.
      Thomas has dedicated countless hours to the sport of wrestling. His hard work has been an inspiration to his teammates.
      “Thomas is a real leader,” Frisz said. “He has great leadership abilities. Kids gravitate to him. He picks up a room. His personality is infectious and it brings a room to life and makes practices as fun as they can be.”


      #MondayMatness: Family atmosphere, 'next guy in' mentality drives Penn success

      Penn has been an IHSAA state championship contender in most years since Brad Harper took over as head coach of the Kingsmen in 2006.
      In 2015, Penn won its first state team title.
      The goal every year is reach the top of the Indiana heap.
      It’s also to grow the program’s reputation in the state and beyond.
      At any given time during the high school season, there are around close to 100 wrestlers striving to get better while also forming a bond.
      “The family atmosphere — that’s huge for us,” Harper said. “That’s why we have 90 kids on the team.
      “We probably have 14 seniors and only three of them start. Why are you letting the seniors stay out? Because they want to be a part of it.”
      Long-time assistant coach Chad Hershberger, a 2000 Penn graduate, hears the word every time the Kingsmen break from a meet or a practice: “Family!”
      “That’s what we are,” Hershberger said. “We are a family from the time we step into that (practice) room until we leave. It’s 24-7, 365.”
      One of Harper’s teammates at Mishawaka High School (Brad won a state title in 1998 and was a state runner-up in 1999) was Mike Cramer, who is now associate pastor at New Life Baptist Church in Osceola.
      Cramer has been coming to Friday practices for years to give motivational talks that relate life to wrestling. Topics include hard work, teamwork, determination and — of course — family.
      Not every athlete buys into the family values that the coaching staff of 20 constantly talks about.
      But most do and thrive because of it.
      They gravitate to coaches like five men who have been at the core of the coaching staff for the past decade — Harper, Hershberger, Dave Manspeaker, Jim Rhoads and Tom Dolly.
      They also go to the many longtime volunteers to learn wrestling technique, but also to be motivated or to just have a friend and role model.
      “We mentor some of these kids,” Hershberger said. “Some of them don’t have much and they just want to be a part of something.”
      So while individuals set their own goals, the team goal is always a high one and everyone is expected to contribute.
      At some schools, they call them “program kids.”
      At Penn, it’s “next guy in.”
      “You’ve got to be ready because you never know when someone is going to go down,” Harper said.
      Getting wrestlers ready to jump into the fire is a schedule that has junior varsity wrestlers taking part in many varsity tournaments.
      “The only way that some of these kids were going to be able to step into that role is to have the varsity experience,” Hershberger said. “Are we always going to win? No. But that’s not what we ask. It’s about getting better and getting that varsity competition so when we do have injuries, that next kid is ready to step in. They are battle-tested.”
      Penn, which placed sixth in Class 3A at the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals Friday, Dec. 23 in Fort Wayne, also derives success from its feeder program. Three middle schools — Discovery, Grissom and Schmucker are all on the same page with the high school.
      The Penn Wrestling Club begins with pre-kindergarten grapplers and goes all the way through high school, where it’s known as Midwest Extreme Wrestling (MXW) and wrestlers come from all over to take part in national team events.
      It begins with the Kings Kids (Pre-K through First Grade) and goes to the Noble Kingsmen (Grades 2-5) Elite Kingsmen (Grades 2-6) and Black Knights (Grades (6-8) before high school.
      Chad Harper, Brad’s brother and a member of Mishawaka’s 1991 IHSAA team champions, is club’s event coordinator and vice president on the board of directors. He said there are currently 176 active wrestlers though eight grade and there are 40 or more in the high school club.
      When the high schoolers travel to Indiana events, they tend to go as the Penn Wrestling Club. At national tournaments, they tend to represent MXW.
      MXW promotes wrestling regionally, nationally and possibly at the world level.
      “It just makes for a good wrestling room,” Chad Harper said.
      Through fundraising efforts (each wrestler has their own account), club wrestlers travel all over the nation — from Las Vegas to the Fargo Nationals to the Disney Duals in Florida and more.
      “We’re seeing competition nationwide and that’s huge,” Brad Harper said. “Our goal is not just to be good in the state, we want to be No. 1 in the nation.”
      On April 7-8, 2017, PWC and MXW will again host a national dual tournament inside Compton Family Ice Arena at the University of Notre Dame. The 2016 duals — the first wrestling meet on the ND campus since 1992 — drew eight regional teams and the hope for 2017 is 16.
      “We want to grow it every year,” Chad Harper said. “We want to help build up the Notre Dame club.”
      Fran McCann, who helps coach at the high school and club levels at Penn, was the Notre Dame head coach when the school discontinued intercollegiate wrestling.
      Heading into 2016-17, Penn’s single-season leaders were Austin Kunze (217 takedowns in 2009-10), Tim Koch (37 reversals in 1987-88), Alex Gregory (35 pins and 50 wins in 2010-11), Derrick Jones (87 near falls in 1997-98) and Trevor Manspeaker (31 technical falls in 2012-13). Career leaders were Kenny Kaiser (331 takedowns from 1985-88), Tom Ginter (62 reversals from 2002-05), Alex Gregory (102 pins from 2007-11), Jeremiah Maggart (197 near falls from 2004-07), Trevor Manspeaker (93 technical falls from 2012-13) and Zach Davis (169 wins from 2011-14).
      Penn won its first Northern Indiana Conference title in 1980. The Kingsmen went into this season with a five-year streak of NIC crowns.


      #WrestlingWednesday: North Montgomery looking for more this year

      One and a half points. That’s all that separated North Montgomery from winning the Crawfordsville sectional championship last year.
      The Chargers were defeated by Southmont, their arch rival by a score of 242-240.5. It was the closest score between the top two teams in all of the state last year in sectional action.
      “Southmont is our county and they are our biggest rivals,” North Montgomery coach Maurice Swain said. “Our kids have been seeing those guys since elementary school. We’re hoping this year we can turn that score around.”
      North Montgomery is certainly poised to win a sectional title – and possibly more. The Chargers return a senior-laden team led by their 170-pound wrecking ball Tanner Webster. Webster is currently the No. 2 ranked grappler in the weight class, just behind his good friend Burk Van Horn.
      “Tanner is one of those kids that is always on the wrestling mat,” Swain said. “When I first came here he was in fifth grade and would wrestle in the varsity room. He was always working with our high schoolers. He always wants to get better. The goal this year for him is to win a state title.”
      Webster vividly remembers the excitement of advancing to state last year and ultimately placing sixth at 170 pounds. But now that he’s had a taste for the big stage, he’s setting his sights on bringing home top honors.
      “Last season just going to state was very cool,” Webster said. “It relieved a bunch of stress I felt to get there. But this year I want to win it all, and I want to have several of my teammates at state with me as well.”
      The Chargers have eight seniors on the team, and seven of those seniors are in the lineup.
      “Even the guys that aren’t seniors have been in our program for a long time,” Swain said. “At North Montgomery we don’t get move-ins. We have to develop our wrestlers.”
      Sophomore 106-pounder Seth Johnson is the team’s only other state-ranked wrestler. Johnson is currently No. 5.
      Cade Graves, Isaac Fruits and Cole Slavens are all ranked in the New Castle semistate. Graves is No. 7 at 152, Fruits is No. 5 at 182 and Slavens is No. 5 at 195.
      “I really think this is the best team North Montgomery has ever had,” Webster said. “Coach Swain has done an awesome job here. We know we can do some damage. From the bottom of our lineup to the top this is the best we’ve ever been.”
      The Chargers have the same goals every year. They want to win their County meet, their conference meet and do well in the state series. Southmont is standing in their way in all three goals.
      “Our county meet was postponed, but we are excited to see those guys,” Webster said. “We feel like we are better than we were and we hope to prove that.”

      2376 2

      #MondayMatness: Team focus has been good to small but mighty Triton

      There may be an “i” in Triton, but there’s no “i” in team.
      And for the Trojans — under the direction of co-head coaches Matt Arvesen and Ron Brown — team is the most important thing.
      That philosophy has helped a school that is small (enrollment 265) become mighty in the wrestling community.
      Bolstered by the attitude and success of the Class of 2015 (then-sophomore 106-pounder Malachi Greene, senior 152-pounder, Grant Stichter, junior 160-pounder Gage Waddle and senior 170-pounder Nate Spangle) won their weight class at the Plymouth Sectional), Triton went to its first Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals in 2015-16 (placing 10th in Class 1A).
      Waddle defended his sectional crown as a senior last winter.
      The Trojans have been invited back to the State Duals for 2016-17 (the meet is Friday, Dec. 23 at Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne).
      “We’re where we are at because we kept the idea of team,” Arvesen said. “Everybody’s important. No person is more important than anybody else. Even my best guys will take the time to work with the younger kids, even if they have to sacrifice a little of their practice time.
      “It’s really nice that we have some kids who have learned how to lead in the room but, ultimately, it stems back to that (Class of 2015) group. They were all about each other and how the team was doing.”
      Arvesen said talk about “Team State” had been going on at the Marshall County school for four or five years and then Triton qualified and it really bolstered the program even more.
      “(Going to the State Duals) was nice because they kept everybody else focused on the team aspect,” Arvesen said. “We were never going to see the light of day, going to State with the Warren Centrals and the Penns. We just aren’t there as far as the level of commitment kids need as whole year-round to develop into that kind of team.
      “Whereas, we saw as an opportunity to get our kids to focus on the team and get the numbers out in the room, we could (earn an invitation to a classed dual tournament).
      “Last year, the experience was fantastic.”
      Even the kids who set the stage and had since graduated were there to cheer on the Trojans.
      “They took a break from college and made the trip to Fort Wayne,” Arvesen said. “It was cool to see everybody come together like that.”
      The athletes on the current squad are young and talented and still very team-oriented.
      “It’s really nice that we have some kids who have learned how to lead,” Arvesen said. “But with all the young kids, we are focused on learning technique.
      “Down the line, your condition is going to play a role, your strength is going to play a role, but ultimately, your level of technique and how well you do your best stuff is what’s going to take you to that highest level.”
      Arvesen wrestled for coach Bob Read at Plymouth High School and was an IHSAA State Finals qualifier as a sophomore in 1998 at 171 pounds then placed fifth at the IHSAA State Finals as a junior in 1999 at 189 and second as a senior in 2000 at 189. He was on the coaching staff at Yorktown High School while attending Ball State University and picked up technique from Troy Dulaney (now at Daleville).
      Brown, a 1999 graduate of Crosswell-Lexington High School in Michigan, was on the wrestling staffs at Richmond and Marion high schools before coming to Triton. Last fall marked his second as the school’s head football coach.
      A traditionally-strong basketball community, wrestling is now creating a buzz and crowds at Triton’s gym aka “The Trojan Trench.”
      “We’ve gotten more numbers (out for the team),” Brown said. “People have been talking about our success. It was a big deal the first time we qualified for (the State Duals).”
      Triton graduates Jason Thompson (who is also head junior high wrestling coach) and Brock Vermillion and Wawasee graduate Shaun Belin are also part of the Trojans wrestling coaching staff. Arvesen and Thompson also help coach football.
      Triton wrestlers begin learning a core of basic moves in the kids club — led by the high school coaches — and progress as they move up the ladder. The move set doesn’t change from fourth grade up to high school.
      “By the time they are freshmen, they pretty much know all the basics and we can get into the more complicated stuff,” Thompson said. “We can just move along. We don’t have to stop and take time to say ‘this is the double-leg (takedown), this is the Half (Nelson).’ We’ve already taken care of those things in the younger years.”
      The idea is to keep the lingo simple.
      “We all have the same terminology,” Arvesen said. “I can say something to any one of my kids and they’re going to understand what we’re talking about and what we want them to do during the match.”
      Some don’t step on the mat until they reach high school. But those who experience wrestling and start building a report with the coaches early at Triton have a real chance to succeed.
      “Most of our success can be attributed to getting them to buy in at a very young age,” Thompson said. “It really starts when we get the kids in junior high and they really buy into our system. He’ll have confidence in you as a coach if you have a good relationship with him.
      “If he knows you want him to be successful and you’ll work hard for him as long as he returns the favor for you. If you can get the kids to buy in early, they’ll do that for you throughout their career.”
      Brown said it’s not just about takedowns and pinning combinations at Triton.
      “We care more about them as people than athletes and I think they see that,” Brown said. “They put out a lot of effort for us. It’s a unique situation here. We see them so much in the classroom and in other sports.”
      Consequently, the Trojans are close-knit.
      “You can see it in how we handle them when they come off the mat after a tough loss or in the wrestling room,” Brown said. “It’s all very respectful and in a caring manner.”
      Greene, now a senior 132-pounder, enjoys the family atmosphere of the Triton program as well as the coaching staff’s ability to get the most out of their athletes.
      “Coaches drill us in a certain way to battle and fight for every point,” Greene said. “What makes us successful is that we don’t give up.”
      Junior Vincent Helton (182) said the Trojans give it “everything we have” at practices which typically include plenty of drill work and time for a little fun.
      “Everyone is focusing in the room and listening to what the coaches are telling us and working hard,” Helton said. “We cheer each other on. We’re their backing each other up.”
      Even as sophomores, 195-pounder Cameron Scarberry and heavyweight Billy Smith have their ideas of what makes Triton successful.
      Scarberry: “It’s our coaches’ enthusiasm for the sport and their constant reminding us that it’s an individual sport, but it’s also a team sport. We need to work hard and be intense through practices so we can do well individually and as a team. (Getting ready for State Duals) really gives us the boost of confidence we need to do better.”
      Smith: “We have great coaches. They love wrestling just as much as the kids do. You can’t do good if the coach doesn’t love wrestling. Our coaches never put us down. They expect us to do our best (no matter the level of opponent).”
      Because they’re all into it TOGETHER.

      3374 1

      #WrestlingWednesday: Van Horn looking to corral a state title

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

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