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      #MondayMatness: Chesterton's Davisons making their mark on wrestling world

      Take the tenacity of the middle brother, the unpredictability of the youngest one and add the bloodlines of a two-time Indiana state wrestling champion and you get a formidable family combination: The Davisons of Chesterton High School.
      Andrew Davison, a 195-pound senior, and Lucas Davison, a 182-pound junior, are both ranked high statewide in their respective weight divisions and are out to make their mark this winter for the Trojans.
      Father Keith Davison, who won IHSAA state titles for CHS at 171 as a junior in 1988 and senior in 1989, is there as an assistant coach and inspirational figure along with long-time Chesterton head coach Chris Joll.
      Andrew has been to the State Finals twice already — placing fifth as a sophomore and bowing out in the first round as a junior. He missed his freshman season with a back injury.
      Lucas was a regional qualifier as a freshman and semistate qualifier as a sophomore.
      Jack Davison, now a student at Indiana University, was a three-time semistate qualifier as a Chesterton wrestler.
      Last summer, Andrew and Lucas both placed first at USA Wrestling Folkstyle nationals in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Five of eight All-American honors at the USA Wrestling Nationals in Fargo, N.D., were from Chesterton — four for the Davison boys and one for Eli Pokorney. Lucas was second in freestyle and fifth in Greco-Roman. Andrew placed seventh in both freestyle and Greco-Roman.
      In 2015, Andrew finished first in Greco-Roman and third in freestyle at Fargo while Lucas was second at folkstyle nationals.
      Keith Davison was a two-time All-American at the University of Wisconsin, where he grappled two years at 177, redshirted then two more at 190. Andrew is bound for the Big Ten as a signee with the University of Michigan, where is projected as a 197-pounder.
      For the 2016-17 prep season, Andrew and Lucas have flip-flopped weights. A year ago, Andrew was at 195 and Lucas at 182, but both grew during the off-season. At 6-foot-2, Lucas is slightly taller than Andrew and Keith.
      Keith sees Andrew as a wrestler willing to constantly push the pace.
      “(Andrew) doesn’t mind getting tired,” Keith Davison said. “He has a high threshold for pain and fatigue and he attacks a bunch, too.
      “He enjoys dragging people into the deep water (a phrase popularized by NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez of Illinois).
      Andrew explains his admiration for Martinez.
      “I hear he won’t leave practice until he has to crawl off the mat,” Andrew Davison said. “He’s pretty inspirational.”
      While tired himself, Andrew uses his opponent’s fatigue as motivation to fight through the pain.
      “It’s late in the third period, you’re gassed and breathing hard and you see your opponent is also gassed,” Andrew Davison said. “I’ve learned to push through stuff. It’s made me a much better and tougher athlete.”
      Having one last chance to climb to the top of the podium in Indiana inspires Andrew on a daily basis.
      “I’ve been thinking about it non-stop,” Andrew Davison said. “I can’t wait to get back down there (to the IHSAA State Finals). It’s definitely been motivating, just thinking about it all the time.”
      There won’t be many — if any breathers — along the way with tough Duneland Athletic Conference duals plus appearances in the Munster Super Dual, Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals and Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic all happening before the end of 2016.
      “We’ve got a loaded schedule this year, to say the least,” Andrew Davison said. “That’s awesome. We don’t get to wrestle a whole lot of Indy teams. Hopefully we get to do that (in the IHSWCA State Duals Dec. 23 in Fort Wayne). That will be good for us. You want to wrestle the best of the best.
      “When you love it so much, it’s like more of a privilege. It’s such a cool experience. I’m really enjoying it.”
      Andrew chose to wrestle at Michigan because he saw himself as a good fit after being recruited by the Wolverines and making a visit to the Ann Arbor campus.
      “I saw how hard all these kids were working,” Andrew Davison said. “They have a common goal. They all want to be great at what they’re doing. I wanted to be somewhere they took wrestling seriously and academics just as seriously.”
      Though currently undecided on his college major, Andrew is considering pre-medicine.
      Lucas, a frequent workout partner, addresses his brother’s wrestling strengths.
      “He’s really good on his feet,” Lucas Davison said. “As a seasoned Greco-Roman wrestler, he can go from the upper body to low singles and anything in-between. He can attack the hips and launch you if it’s there for him. He’s dangerous from anywhere.”
      Joll credits hard work and being the off-spring of two athletes (mother Jennifer was a runner in her days at Chesterton High School) for Andrew’s success.
      “He has a great set of genes,” Joll said. “Dad was a very good wrestler in high school and college and he has made a commitment to making those boys the best they can be.”
      There is no doing things half way when Keith is around. That goes for all Chesterton wrestlers — not just his boys.
      “We’re not too concerned with pushing them past the point of exhaustion,” Keith Davison said. “We keep the intensity very high and try to be very physical. We’ll taper practices when we get ready for big competitions.”
      Keith sees Lucas as a versatile wrestler who can combine sound fundamentals as an attacker and defender with a few unorthodox moves.
      “Luke is pretty uncanny at his scrambling abilities,” Keith Davison said. “You think he’s in trouble and he comes out of danger on top a lot.”
      Lucas sees his long arms and legs and his mat experience as assets.
      “I’m a pretty tall guy and that leads to some clunkiness, but I’m able to manage that pretty well,” Lucas Davison said. “Being at one of the bigger weights, there’s a lot of strong guys. I’ve been around the sport my whole life. It’s huge to be able to understand the sport. I feel things other people wouldn’t be able to feel.”
      Lucas enjoys being versatile on the mat.
      “I try not to wrestle predictably,” Lucas Davison said. “You don’t want to move the same over and over. You want to change it up. I like to attack from everywhere. It’s important to have a big bag of tricks and be able to switch things up. You do something that’s super easy to key off of for an opponent.”
      Chesterton wrestlers employ a variety of styles.
      “We’re striving to be diverse wrestlers and have styles that would be hard to scout as opponents,” Lucas Davison said. “The goal is to have clean impeccable technique. It doesn’t matter if they know what’s coming.”
      Joll emphasizes the same point.
      “We have some basics that we go by, but let kids focus on their strengths,” Joll said. “As coaches, we try to foster individually.”
      And there’s also the old steel sharpens steel thing going on in the wrestling room.
      “Having a drill partner like my brother, you get to defend better than the average guy,” Lucas Davison said.
      Joll said wrestling builds camaraderie and life-long friendships because of all the hard work the athletes put in together.
      “The most rewarding thing for me get wrestlers to their potential,” Joll said. “Their accomplishments are just important to me as the high placers.
      Joll also likes to see them give back to the sport.
      That’s what Keith Davison is doing as a coach. Keith is also president of the Chesterton Wrestling Club (formerly the Duneland Wrestling Club). The group is open to all students from DAC schools and is based at CHS. The club has 70 to 80 members in Grades K-12.
      Among the ones making a name for themselves are the Davison boys.

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Ethan Smiley has plenty to smile about

      Beech Grove’s Ethan Smiley isn’t big on talking about himself. After repeated questions for this article about his wrestling and other accomplishments, Smiley barely mustered a word. But, when the questions turned to his teammates or his family, he was much more talkative.
      “Ethan is very quiet,” Hornet coach Matt Irwin said. “He isn’t the first person you notice in the room. He’d be the last person you’d notice. He is humble and it’s hard to get him to brag on himself. That’s how he was raised. He knows how to act and how to carry himself in a good manner.”
      Even though he won’t do it, Smiley has plenty to brag about on the mat and in the classroom. The Beech Grove junior is currently ranked No. 8 at 132 pounds. He has qualified for state both of his previous seasons. Last year he earned a spot on the podium with an 8th-place finish at 120 pounds.
      Off the mat, Smiley is ranked No. 1 in his class.
      “He has a GPA of over 4.2,” Irwin said. “Everything he does, he does it with all his effort. He takes everything seriously. He is an extremely hard worker with a no nonsense approach. He wants to get in, get out and get things accomplished.”
      Ethan would like to place higher at the state level this year than he did last year. It is equally important to him to get a teammate to state this year as well.
      “My goal is just to be grateful for the opportunity to wrestle and be with my teammates,” Smiley said. “We are better than we have been the last few years. I really want to bring some teammates to state this year. We have some decent guys that have a chance. Bailey Moore, our 138 pounder, could have a very good season. He is one of my practice partners.”
      Ethan’s older brother, Evan, was a two-time state qualifier for the Hornets. He finished fourth at 145 pounds his senior season.
      “I started wrestling when I was four,” Ethan said. “My brother was wrestling and I wanted to do it too. He still drills with me when he gets a chance.”
      Currently Evan is wrestling at 141 pounds for the University of Indianapolis.
      “I think Ethan has really taken a lot from Evan’s work ethic,” Irwin said. “Their styles aren’t similar, except that they are both very heavy handed. But they are very big on hard work and not cutting corners.”
      Coach Irwin believes Ethan has the ability to contend for a state title on the mat. Irwin said that Ethan has put a lot of work in during the offseason. He has gotten stronger, really worked with his nutrition and has done all of the right things to put himself in a good position to make a run.
      Last season Ethan wrestled Dylan Culp four times during the state tournament. He lost in the sectional final to Culp 6-0, but then turned it around and beat Culp 4-2 in the regional final. Culp won the semistate championship match 4-2. The two met one more time, in the 7th and 8th place match in the state finals. Culp won that battle 5-4.
      “I think my biggest win last year was at regionals when I finally beat Dylan Culp,” Ethan said. “That was my most satisfying win. He had beaten me numerous times before, but that was the first time I finally beat him.”
      Ethan would like to wrestle in college, but he hasn’t put much thought into that. He’s hoping to go to Purdue and study plant science.
      “I’m really into botany and plant science,” Ethan said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with a Purdue professor and do science research. I’d like to work in agriculture and get a degree in plant science. That’s what I work toward.”
      Wrestling is Ethan’s only high school sport. When he was younger he tried his hand at baseball and golf, but didn’t pursue those sports in high school. He usually shoots in the 90s in golf, he said.
      Ethan also plays guitar a little and loves comic books, especially batman.
      Ethan is very family oriented. He enjoys hanging out with his brother, or his parents Phil and Christa. He also enjoys playing with his dog.
      “Overall, Ethan is pretty serious, but he can be a goofball at times,” Irwin said. “He cares about other people and he wants his teammates to be successful. That is extremely important to him.”

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      #MondayMatness: Two generations of Faulkners make an impact on Mishawaka wrestling

      Following in the footsteps of their father, the Faulkner brothers — senior 182-pounder Austin and junior heavyweight Alex — are looking to leave their mark on the storied Mishawaka High School wrestling program.
      Mike Faulkner, a 1987 graduate, was an IHSAA state finalist as a junior 185-pounder and state runner-up as a senior heavyweight for Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer Al Smith.
      Mike was bested by Lake Central’s Mike Fross in the ’87 finals then went on to grapple two years at Grand Rapids Junior College (now Grand Rapids Community College), placing eighth and fourth at the National Junior College Athletic Association Nationals for coach Charlie Wells, and two at Ferris State University.
      The elder Faulkner has coached or officiated the sport ever since. His resume includes a three-year stint as head coach at South Bend Adams High School, one season of leading the John Young Middle School program and many years as an assistant coach for his alma mater, working primarily with the heavyweights. He has more than two decades of experience as an IHSAA-sanctioned wrestling official and member of the St. Joseph Valley Officials Association.
      A former City of Mishawaka employee (14 of his 18 years were spent as parks superintendent), he served five years as assistant athletic director at MHS and July 1, 2016 became director of operations, overseeing buildings and grounds, transportation and safety.
      Austin Faulkner, 18, has his sights set high for his final prep wrestling campaign after earning his first Mishawaka Sectional title and second semistate appearance in 2015-16. He also went to semistate as a sophomore. All of this came at 182.
      A wall in the MHS wrestling room lists the state champions and state placers. Austin notices it at every workout.
      “I want my name to up there,” Austin Faulkner said. “I’m a Mishawaka wrestler. Mishawaka has had a tradition of great wrestlers. I want to continue that.”
      Alex Faulkner, 17, is looking to make his mark on the mat this year after placing fourth at sectional and bowing out in the first round of the Rochester Regional as a sophomore heavyweight.
      One thing Alex did in the off-season was hit the weight room.
      “I feel like I’m more physical and stronger than I was last year,” Alex Faulkner said. “I feel like I have more movement and will have a much better year. My loss at regionals last year upset me and I’m doing everything I can to make it to state this year.”
      Austin, who went into last week ranked No. 14 statewide at 195 but intends to be back at 182, knows that the formula for mat success is an offensive mindset.
      “Sometimes I catch myself being a little bit patient and not going after the guy,” Austin Faulkner said. “My dad tells me all the time just ‘go, go, go and keep attacking.’”
      That’s the way Mike was during his days as a wrestler and he still believes it.
      “You can’t win in wrestling unless you attack and go on offense,” Mike Faulkner said. “A lot of times you see wrestlers who are passive and they want to go on the defensive. Any successful wrestler that you have seen over time are those ones who continuously attack.”
      Those wrestlers also hone their moves repeatedly in the practice room in order to be able to perform them well on the competition mat.
      And the number of tricks in the bag does not have to be large.
      “It’s definitely better to perfect a few amount of moves,” Austin Faulkner said. “You see successful collegiate wrestlers who use a double-leg, a single-leg — nothing crazy.”
      Mike Faulkner is also a fan of repetition.
      “It becomes muscle memory,” Mike Faulkner. “It’s a reaction rather than a plot. I’m going to go out there and do this. As a wrestler, you can’t do that. It has to be a reaction. Mat time is crucial for the experience and for getting that feel for the flow of the match.”
      And no matter what, a grappler must commit to what they are doing.
      “You have to finish your move no matter what it is whether it’s a stand-up or a sit-out, switch, reversal or takedown,” Mike Faulkner said.
      Scouting reports on opponents are helpful, but not necessary if a wrestler can dictate what goes on inside the circle.
      “It’s nice to know what another guy does but you’ve got to go out and wrestle your match every time,” Austin Faulkner said. “You can’t let them control the match.”
      Mishawaka head coach Charlie Cornett counts Austin Faulkner as a leader for the Cavemen.
      “He comes in the room ready to go,” Cornett said. “He leads by example. He has improved quite a bit on his feet.”
      Cornett now sees Austin constantly pushing the pace, something he did not always do last season.
      The Faulkner boys are both multi-sport athletes. They are coming off a football season where fullback Austin (1,274 yards and 13 touchdowns as an all-Northern Indiana Conference first teamer) often followed the blocks of right guard Alex in helping coach Bart Curtis and the Cavemen go 10-3 and place second to Penn in the NIC North.
      “Football and wrestling go hand-in-hand in a lot of ways,” Austin Faulkner said. “Tackling is the same thing as a double-leg takedown. One of the things I like about being in football is that it makes me hungrier for wrestling season. Some of those kids that wrestle year-round might get tired of it. I can’t wait to get back on the mat.
      “(Mishawaka head football) coach (Bart) Curtis is big about us going out for other sports. It doesn’t matter what it is.”
      Cornett has watched Alex Faulkner fill out his frame, which is about 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds.
      “Alex has definitely picked up a little bit of an edge that he didn’t have last year from playing the interior line in football,” Cornett said. “He wrestled small at heavyweight last year and he got pushed around a little bit. I don’t see that happening this year nearly as much.”
      What’s the difference between football and wrestling shape?
      “They’ve finding that out right now,” Mike Faulkner said as his sons are now cutting weight for the mat. It’s something they don’t have to sweat in the fall.
      “Football shape, you can eat whatever you want,” Monique Faulkner, Mike’s wife and the mother of Austin and Alex, said.
      “You can’t get into wrestling shape by running the football or tackling the guy with the football,” Mike Faulkner said. “You’ve got to be wrestling live matches and doing those workouts in the wrestling room to get into tip-top wrestling shape. There’s no question.”
      Austin, who is pondering college offers for football and wrestling, played football at 207 and planned to be at 182 to start the season.
      Mike typically cut 40 pounds from football and wrestling leading up to his senior season when Coach Smith convinced him to be a heavyweight. Earlier in the year, he went from 190 to 210.
      “I never looked back,” Mike Faulkner said. “I was a heavyweight the rest of my life.
      “You can cut weight, but you’ve got to be smart about it. You can’t cut it too quick. There’s a reason the IHSAA and National Federation have implemented these (weight loss) rules.
      “(Austin’s) eyes are bigger than his stomach. He’ll eat the foods he enjoys the most rather than the ones that will benefit him and give him the protein he needs.”
      As for officiating, a wrestling background is helpful.
      “You can anticipate which way they’re going and get yourself in good position to call that near fall or takedown on the side of the mat,” Mike Faulkner said. “Knowing how the flow of wrestling goes is an advantage to an official.”
      Focus in the face of mental and physical fatigue is also important. Wrestling tournaments can be very long for wrestlers, coaches and the men in stripes.
      “You have to try to stay sharp and not let the day get the best of you,” Mike Faulkner said.
      Giving it their best is what Austin and Alex Faulkner indeed to do each day they step on the mat for Mishawaka.
      “It’s great to have both Faulkner boys on one team,” Cornett said. “They are definitely pillars.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Bethel looking for more big wins in 2017

      Joe Lee won state last year, but didn’t win sectional. Brayton Lee has lost just one match in his Indiana High School career. The common denominator in both stories is a guy named Austin Bethel.
      Bethel pinned Joe Lee in the sectional final last season. The year before, he shocked most around the state by pinning Brayton Lee in the final 15 seconds of the ticket round match at the Evansville semistate.
      “A lot of people didn’t think I had much of a chance in either match,” Bethel said. “But I told myself that I’m not wrestling the name – I’m wrestling the person. I knew I needed to go out and do what I do best, which is scramble and look for five point moves. Both times I ended up with huge pins. It’s one of the best feelings in the world, looking up and seeing the surprise on everyone’s face.”
      Bethel, a senior at Mt. Vernon in Posey County, is a big-move wrestler. He has found himself down in several matches throughout his career, but in many of those matches, he’s scrambled his way to the pin.
      “With Austin’s style, possibilities are endless,” Mt. Vernon coach Tim Alcorn said. “He has big moves and finishing moves. There is nobody he doesn’t think he can beat. Catching Joe and Brayton were once in a lifetime things. But Austin could be one of the most, if not the most electrifying wrestler in the state.”
      Bethel’s career has been a curious one. He’s pinned two of the state’s premier wrestlers. He’s qualified for state three times. Yet, he has never made it past the Friday night match at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.
      “It’s such a depressing feeling,” Bethel said. “I’ve been so nervous and I’ve wrestled safe. That gets me in trouble. I’m not that way normally. I’m a risk taker. For me, I’ve put imaginary pressure on myself that really wasn’t there. This year is my year to relax and put on a show. That’s what I want to do.”
      Coach Alcorn agrees that Bethel’s cautious approach to the Friday night matches at state has been his biggest mistakes.
      “Sometimes he’s too smart for his own good,” Alcorn said. “He’s very aware of his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. If I could ever get him to just close his eyes and wrestle great things will happen. He has to welcome the opportunity, not fear it. He needs to let the chips fall as they may and leave everything out on the mat.”
      Currently Bethel is the No. 6-ranked 152 pounder in the state. He has a 3.985 grade point average.
      “Austin is hands down one of the best kids I’ve ever coached on and off the mat,” Alcorn said. “He’s the most well-rounded kid this program has ever seen. If he makes state again, he will be the most decorated wrestler in our program’s history. He is a four-year letter winner in soccer and a two-year letter winner in football. He helps out the elementary program. He helps officiating. He helps working the clocks. He is a ‘what can I do coach’ kind of kid. He’ll do whatever it takes to help the team.”
      Bethel started wrestling when he was five years old. But he didn’t develop a true passion for the sport until his parents went through a divorce.
      “I needed an outlet,” Bethel said. “I needed something to turn to. I needed to release some aggression. That’s when I started to pick up wrestling a lot more. I started traveling with the sport more and I met some truly amazing people along the way that took me in and helped me to improve. Wrestling became a big part of who I was.”
      In addition to having big-move capabilities, Bethel is also excellent at analyzing opponents. He knows their tendencies. He prides himself on research.
      “He’s the greatest student of the sport I’ve ever coached,” Alcorn said. “He watches more film than anyone I know. He watches film to a fault. He over analyzes. When he graduates from college, he’ll end up being one of the best coaches in wrestling.”
      Bethel epitomizes the blue-collar approach to life, and wresting. He works for everything he has, and everything he has accomplished. He has only received one grade in school lower than an A, and that was a B plus he took in a college-level match class. Math, he says, is by far his least favorite subject.
      His dedication to hard work has been infectious to the team. Mt. Vernon has 11 seniors, filling the biggest 11 weights in the lineup. Bethel works with the other seniors, as well as the younger wrestlers – trying to make everyone on the team better.
      “He’s the backbone to our wrestling family,” Alcorn said. “There is no question about it.”
      Family is enormously important to Bethel. If he wrestles in college, he wants to be in a program that provides a family atmosphere and a team-first mentality.
      “Austin is a kid that is a Lilly scholarship finalist,” Alcorn said. “He comes from a single-parent household. He has come from having nothing, but his mother and his sisters have made something of that and never used it as an excuse. He values every single thing he has. He and his family have had to fight and claw, tooth and nail for everything. He’s the most successful, but the most humble kid I’ve ever known.”
      As much as Austin has been through, on and off the mat, the one thing he still wants to accomplish is to place in state. To do that, he feels he needs to follow his own advice.
      “You have to enjoy yourself,” Bethel said. “That’s what I’ve struggled with early on. I put too much pressure on myself. I have worried too much. You have to slow everything down and just enjoy it and not be hard on yourself. In wrestling, anything can happen and anyone can come out on top. The hardest opponent you’ll ever face is the guy standing in front of you in the mirror.”
      Bethel has proven he can beat the state’s elite wrestlers. He’s never out of a match. And, if he gets back to state, he plans on putting on a show and wrestling his style. Caution will not be an option.


      #MondayMatness: South Bend Washington heavyweight McWilliams no longer under the statewide radar

      Stay humble yet ready to rumble.
      It’s an approach that has served Isaiah McWilliams well.
      The South Bend Washington High School wrestler exploded onto the statewide scene, finishing his sophomore season in 2015-16 by going 45-9 and placing fourth in the 285-pound weight division of the IHSAA State Finals.
      “Not many people were counting on me,” Isaiah Williams said. He was ranked No. 17 coming out of sectionals.
      Along tournament trail, McWilliams’ confidence was fueled with victories against Jimtown’s Nick Mammolenti (Northern Indiana Conference meet), South Bend St. Joseph’s Michael Koebel (Mishawaka Sectional and Rochester Regional), Oak Hill’s Owen Perkins and Franklin’s Quinn York (State Finals).
      Supported by his family, coaches and teammates, Isaiah made it the semifinals of the State Finals before bowing to eventual state champion Shawn Streck of Merrillville.
      After a productive prep off-season, McWilliams began 2016-17 ranked No. 2 at 285.
      But the Panther heavyweight has not taken more mat success for granted while competing for his father and Washington head coach Tony McWilliams, a 1998 South Bend Bend LaSalle graduate and former IHSAA State finalist.
      “I want to continue to get better everyday,” Isaiah McWilliams said. “If I don’t get better everyday it means I’m slacking. If you’re not getting better today that means you’re getting worse
      “I have a bullseye on my back. I have to continue to work hard to defend that bullseye.”
      A year ago, the 5-foot-7 athlete took the mat at 240 pounds and began the current season around 265. He is looking to tone down to around 255 and maintain his quickness.
      “It’s all about how much heart you have and how you are determined to win,” Isaiah McWilliams. “It’s not the size that matters.
      “Speed at heavyweight is very critical. You can move out of the way if you’re very quick. My agility help me win (against York) because at the end he tripped me and I kept moving. I rolled between his legs and go my two (points).
      “My mindset is to go out there and dominate and get out as quick as possible and wrestle smart. If I can’t go for a pin, I’ll keep working my takedowns and turns and get as many points as I can.”
      Stamina is a strong suit for McWilliams, who was a first-team all-NIC pick in football last fall (he played defensive end and fullback).
      “He can go three periods or more,” Tony McWilliams said. “Some of those big guys can’t. One of his keys has been to wear them down and get them at the end. That’s where he wins the most — the third period.”
      Dad/coach said it’s not uncommon for Isaiah to get back from a Saturday tournament and run a mile before heading home.
      “Sometimes, if he’s mad, he’ll run two,” Tony McWilliams. “That’s his idea. Some of his teammates catch on, some don’t.”
      Tony McWilliams, who saw a quick study when he first began teaching wrestling to Isaiah at age 4, adds a few other qualities when listing his son’s reasons for mat achievement.
      “He listens,” Tony McWilliams said of his son, the holder of the 4.0 grade-point average. “If you tell him something, you don’t have to tell him more than once. His knowledge is there.”
      Isaiah is a medical magnet at Washington and job shadows doctors and nurses. He sees himself one day as a sports medicine doctor or pediatrician.
      That kind of attention to details translates to wrestling.
      “He’s focused,” Tony McWilliams said. “He’s got goals and ***NO NO NO***ion. You’ve got to have that in this sport because one false move and it can be over as far as a match or even your career.
      “He pays attention. He knows what to fix and how to fix it.”
      Tony McWilliams coached seven seasons at LaSalle Academy and is now in his seventh season as head coach at Washington. A lay coach (his day job is as a union carpenter), he relishes the chance to work with his son and take other young grapplers (the Panthers have no seniors this winter) as far as they want to go.
      “This is a dream come true for a father and a son to be in this situation,” Tony McWilliams said. “It’s really awesome. I’m at a loss for word sometimes.”
      Aggressiveness is what Washington wrestling is all about.
      “We have to go on offense,” Tony McWilliams said. “We’re not going to try to be defensive wrestlers this year. We’re going to perfect our moves and we’re going to score.”
      The bar is set high for Isaiah McWilliams, but the expectations are also up there for the rest of those in green and black.
      “A state championship, that’s our main goal for Isaiah,” Tony McWilliams said. “Our staff is going to be on his butt to get it. If anybody else on the team wants to go along for the ride, that’s great.”
      Tony rejects those who say Isaiah’s success comes because he is the head coach’s son and conveys that to everyone in his program.
      “Everything that he’s doing, I tell them that they had an opportunity to do — all the summer wrestling,” Tony McWilliams said. “Isaiah wrestled 80 matches last summer (including Disney Duals in Florida and National Scholastic Duals in Virginia). With the success he’s having, a lot of people are going to be watching this team and they’re going to see you, too.
      “If you want to make a name for yourself, now’s the time to do that. Now’s the time to practice hard, wrestler hard. We’ve got to get them to buy into that.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Brayton Lee is All Smiles

      The very first time Brayton Lee watched a wrestling match, he ended up vomiting. He was 5 years old and sick that day his father took him to his first high school match, but even after vomiting, he didn’t want to leave. He had instantly fallen in love with the sport.
      “After I got sick I still stayed until the match was over,” Lee said.
      Now Lee is one of the top wrestling recruits in the nation. The Brownsburg junior won state last season at 138 pounds and he’s looking to do the same this year at 145.
      “I’ve coached kids that were three-time state champions,” Brownsburg coach Darrick Snyder said. “I’ve coached kids that have placed at Fargo or other preseason national tournaments. I’ve coached quite a few guys that have went on to wrestle in college in D1 or the Big Ten. But Brayton is at a different level from any of the guys I’ve coached before. I haven’t had anyone near as talented as he is.”
      Lee’s off-the-charts level of wrestling skills is one of the big reasons Brownsburg won the 3A team state title last season and is one of the favorites to do so again this year.
      “Brayton is very willing to work with his teammates,” Snyder said. “I use him as another coach. We use him to show a lot of technique because he has been coached by some of the best coaches in the country, and his wrestling knowledge is phenomenal. When Brayton graduates in a couple of years I’m losing as close to a guaranteed win as you can get, and one of my best coaches.”
      Lee isn’t sure exactly what he wants to do after high school, but he knows it will involve wrestling. He is getting letters in the mail on a daily basis from wrestling powerhouses like Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue and Michigan.
      He hasn’t narrowed his college choice down yet, but he is hoping that wherever he goes will help push him to his dream of one day wrestling in the Olympics.
      “I want to be the best there is,” Lee said. “I want to wrestle in the Olympics. I want to pursue the Olympics while I’m in college. After college I really think I’ll stay with wrestling and become a coach.”
      Things haven’t always gone Lee’s way. His freshman campaign ended with just one loss, in the ticket round of semistate when Mt. Vernon’s Austin Bethel pinned him in the third period.
      “That loss my freshman year, and not achieving my goal, ran through my head all the time the next season,” Lee said. “In practices I kept thinking about it. I knew I had to put some of those memories away, but it was just adding fuel to my fire.”
      Lee bounced back. Last year, during his sophomore campaign, he dominated the field en route to the state championship. In the Avon sectional Lee wrestled a total of 48 seconds, securing a pin in the semifinals in 36 seconds and a pin in the championship in 12. He continued his dominance in the Mooresville regional, winning by pin, tech fall and then another pin.
      In the Evansville semistate Lee opened with a pin, then won back-to-back 7-3 matches before winning the final 16-7.
      Lee saved his most dominant performance for the state finals. He won the opening round with a 32 second fall, then tech-falled his next opponent 18-3. After a hard-fought 4-2 victory to reach the final match, Lee obliterated his last opponent of the season and won the state title with a 20-5 tech fall.
      “Getting under the lights was everything I thought it would be and more,” Lee said. “There is nothing like it. When I walked out, my legs were really shaky. But afterward, when I was interviewed, it was just all joy. It was amazing. I had done it.”
      For a few random Lee-isms: He doesn’t have a favorite move, but one he really enjoys doing is a left-handed headlock. He said he would rather win by technical fall instead of by pin. Chad Red Jr., is one of his best friends, and he likes to think he is close to Red as far as swagger goes – but he admits he isn’t to Red’s level yet in that regard.
      Lee’s nickname at Brownsburg is smiley. Coach Snyder said that’s one of the first things you notice about Brayton, is how he is always smiling. With as much success as he’s having on the mat, it’s no wonder he’s happy.


      #MondayMatness: Marsh wrestling family on different sides now that Kyle is head coach at Fairfield

      “How many of you can look me in the eye and tell me you are working as hard as you can? … Find a teammate and help him push through.”
      Those are the words of Kyle Marsh in his new role as head wrestling coach at Fairfield High School.
      The former West Noble High School wrestler and six-year assistant coach is putting the Falcons through a grueling workout — something Marsh knew well when he competed for WNHS for father Tom Marsh.
      Work ethic and attention to detail are the qualities that Kyle Marsh credits for his prep success.
      “You could push him, push him and push him,” Tom Marsh said of his oldest son. “He would take it and try to get better.”
      Before graduating from the Ligonier school in 2008, he was a two-time Indiana High School Athletic Association State Finals qualifier and two-time Westview Sectional champion (all at 130 pounds as a junior and senior). He was a Goshen Regional champion as a senior and place third at the Fort Wayne Semistate his final two high school campaigns.
      A collegiate mat career at Trine University was cut short by a shoulder injury suffered just before the Thunder’s intrasquad meet.
      Kyle learned how to put in maximum effort from his father. Tom Marsh has been an assistant football coach at West Noble for more than 25 years and has led the Chargers’ wrestling program since the mid-2000’s.
      “Being around him and his teams, work ethic was built into my DNA from a young age,” Kyle Marsh said. “I know there are kids that have a hard time being coached by a dad or a parent because sometimes the sport can be taken home. I’m definitely not like that. My dad coached me for six or seven years and was constantly pushing me and motivating me and I’m very thankful that he did.”
      Kyle Marsh began wrestling in the sixth grade. When Tom Marsh caught the wrestling bug, it allowed Kyle — and his younger siblings (Kevin and Molly) — plenty of off-season opportunities like tournaments and camps.
      “It became a family affair,” Kyle Marsh said. “My sister probably would have been the best wrestler in the state. She was a placer at the (Indiana State Wrestling Association) state meet a couple of times.”
      Molly Marsh is now a junior catcher on the softball team at Indiana University-South Bend.
      After his own college athletic career was over, Kyle began coaching wrestling, middle school football and some high school football at West Noble.
      In recent years, he had discussions with his father about possibly coaching at a different school.
      Kyle Marsh wound up at Fairfield — a Northeast Corner Conference rival to West Noble — after Jim Jones retired, leaving a head coaching vacancy for the Falcons.
      After discussing the situation with his wife — the former Erica Dolezal (who had been a girls basketball coach at Goshen Middle School) — Kyle decided to apply.
      “My wife was a coach and she knows the time commitment that coaching in general takes up,” Kyle Marsh said. “She thought it would be great. I reminded her that it would be a lot more time than just being dad’s assistant. She said ought to do it.”
      Kyle and Erica have three children — daughter Brogan, son Layten and caught Caelin. The latter is name for Cael Sanderson — “the greatest wrestler.”
      When Kyle got the Fairfield job, his father was the first person he called with the news.
      Tom Marsh said an attribute for Kyle is his ability to relate to young athletes.
      “I’m more Old School,” Tom Marsh said. “It’s a lot different than 20 years ago. There are so many more options for (students) after school. Some sports getting individualized. There are a lot of one-sport athletes.
      “Kyle does a good job of getting those kids to give it a go. They relate better to the young guys better than the old guys.”
      Father and son are ultra-competitive with everything from corn hole to golf (the two are currently tied in head-to-head matches at 22-all). Trash talk at family functions are common.
      So what happens when the Falcons and Chargers step on the mat together?
      “My sister, brother and I even joke around it being hash-tagged in text messages,” Kyle Marsh said in referring to the West Noble at Fairfield NECC dual meet. “It’s #December8.”
      Michelle Marsh — wife to Tom and mother to Kyle — is expected to be there with some sort of mashup outfit combining Fairfield and West Noble.
      The date is also important at West Noble.
      “I know he wants to beat us and we want to beat him,” Tom Marsh said. “We don’t talk about any of our kids to each other. We don’t go there with each other.”
      Kyle is familiar with the returning grapplers for the Chargers.
      “I know their kids real well and I know their wrestling styles,” Kyle Marsh said. “It’s probably a slight advantage, but I’m sure my dad is doing everything he can to find about kids from over here and they will talk plenty about strategy before Dec. 8.”
      Fairfield is scheduled to open the varsity season at home Nov. 22 against Northridge.
      West Noble begins varsity action Nov. 26 at the Wawasee Super Dual.


      #WrestlingWednesday: Perry Meridian Loading Up for a Deep Run

      Last season Perry Meridian advanced 14 wrestlers out of sectional with 11 champions. They finished 13th in the state – and that leaves a terrible taste in their mouths.
      “We weren’t pleased at all with our finish last year,” said Falcon’s head coach Matt Schoettle. “We really felt like we should have been a top 5 team. We had some guys that should have made it to state that didn’t.”
      Last year was Schoettle’s first year as head coach for Perry Meridian. He had been an assistant coach for 18 years under Jim Tonte, who took the job at Warren Central. Tonte’s Warriors won state in his first year at the helm.
      “I learned everything from coach Tonte,” Schoettle said. “He has three state titles at Perry Meridian and then another one now at Warren Central. I learned dedication and commitment from him and how hard you have to work to get what you want.”
      This year’s Falcon squad is poised to make a run for the team title. The team returns state placers Sammy Fair (5th at 106) and Noah Warren (7th at 160). Fair is a sophomore and Warren is a junior this season.
      “Sammy is an awesome kid,” Schoettle said. “He will run through a brick wall for you. He’s a great student, a hard worker and every year he wins our extra workout award because he doesn’t quit. I look for very good things out of him this season.”
      As for Warren, Schoettle believes he has a real shot of winning a title this season.
      “Noah is kind of a clown on the team,” Schoettle said. “I’m an intense guy and he knows how to lighten the mood. His dad is my middle school coach. He works hard, doesn’t get in trouble but he knows how to make people around him have fun. He’s a great leader and he had an outstanding summer.”
      The Falcons graduated three state qualifiers. Brett Johnson finished 3rd at 152. Daniel Brookbank was 7th at 132 and Chris Ridle was a state qualifier at heavyweight. But, as it have done so often in the past, Perry Meridian believes they have athletes to step up and get the team to that next level.
      “I have three or four guys that were semistate guys last year that I think have state place-winner kind of talent,” Schoettle said. “Sunny Nier will be either 120 or 126. Kain Rust will go 138 or 145. Kain has multiple ISWA state titles and he could have a really good year. Jack Serview and Christian Warren could also get to state this year.”
      Incoming freshmen Brayden Littel and Brayden Lowery are also expected to have good seasons for the Falcons.
      The team has a lot of depth this season. Tuesday they held an intersquad match and there was a lot of competition at each weight class. There were 12 guys in the 138 bracket alone.
      “I told them that this bracket might be tougher than our first few tourneys,” Schoettle said.
      Perry Meridian’s goals are lofty. They want to win the dual team state title and the regular team state title.
      “We talk about it every day,” Schoettle said. “We have the team that can compete. We have to stay healthy, keep guys fresh and continue to work on improving and conditioning. As with any team, we will also need to get a few breaks. There are a lot of good teams out there this year, but we know we can compete with any of them.”

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      #MondayMatness: Jimtown's Kerrn has sights set high on the mat after super season on the gridiron

      Kenny Kerrn turned heads during his senior football season at Jimtown High School.
      He is hoping to do more of the same in his final prep wrestling campaign for the Jimmies. He ranks No. 2 in the 2016-17 Indiana Mat preseason rankings at 152 pounds.
      “There’s a lot of high expectations for me this year and a big part of that is because of my dad,” Kenny Kerrn said of Mark Kerrn, the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He’s such a respected coach in the state. I’m kind of just in awe of seeing my name ranked second in the state. It makes me want to go in everyday and work as hard as I can and get that title under my name.”
      And his fall sport has definitely contributed to his winter sport and vice versa for the teen.
      “Wrestling helps me with football and football helps me with wrestling,” Kenny Kerrn said. “It’s a good balance.”
      As a running back for a 7-5 team that was a sectional finalist, Kenny toted the football 261 times for 1,563 yards and 26 touchdowns in the fall. In game against Concord, he set single-game school records for carries (38), yards (320) and points scored (32).
      Learning wrestling from a young age from his father and other talented coaches and JHS wrestlers, Kenny enjoyed a breakout season in the circle as a junior.
      A 2015-16 campaign which culminated with a seventh-place finish at 145 at the Indiana High School Athletic Association State Finals included a 45-6 record (he is 96-28 for this first three high school seasons).
      Along the way, the young Kerrn won titles at the prestigious Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka as well as in the Northern Indiana Conference, Elkhart Sectional and Goshen Regional. He was a runner-up at the Fort Wayne Semistate.
      As a team, Jimtown went 21-2 with a sectional title and runner-up finishes in the conference and the Class 2A division of the IHSWCA State Duals (the Jimmies are slated to compete in the meet again Dec. 23 at Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne). Mark Kerrn was named NIC Coach of the Year.
      Several of Kenny Kerrn’s wrestling teammates were also his mates on the football field.
      “It’s kind of fun to see how they act in one and another,” Kenny Kerrn said.
      While both sports are physically-demanding, the Jimmie senior who is exploring different college options that could include some combination of football, wrestling or track sees a contrast.
      “It’s totally different atmosphere,” Kenny Kerrn said. “Somedays in the wrestling room are just intense. It’s something you would never see on the football field. (Wrestling) can be hard-nose, just going non-stop for two hours. In football, there’s a little bit more of the learning aspect.
      “Coaches will stand you up and teach you the things you need to know for football. (In wrestling), it’s all hands-on and you’ve just got to drill.”
      Kenny Kerrn (@KennyKerrn on Twitter) explained the difference between being “wrestling shape” and for other sports, including his third prep sport (track).
      “You can go run seven miles everyday if you want to and still not in wrestling shape because you haven’t been down in your stance, feeling that burn in your legs. It’s a totally different thing.”
      Of course, there are parallels to the mat and the gridiron.
      “People talk all the time about how if you need help with tackle form, it’s just a double-leg takedown,” Kenny Kerrn said. “It really is if you think about it. A text-book tackle (in football) is really a blast-double for wrestling.
      “And keeping your head up (in wrestling) in just as important as it is on the football field.”
      Stay low and keep your feet moving is good advice in both sports.
      “You want that low center of gravity, keep you feet moving and explode out,” Kenny Kerrn said. “Running backs in college and the pros are explosive. They find a whole and explode. You look at the best wrestlers in the Olympics and stuff and they are staying low to the ground and they are exploding out when they’re taking shots.”
      Mark Kerrn, who is also a longtime Jimtown football assistant coach as well as being in his 25th season as head wrestling coach, said he can cite example after example of pro football players who wrestled and learned lessons that transferred well from the mat to the gridiron — things like balance as well as physical mental toughness.
      “Guys who wrestle aren’t afraid tote the rock or be a receiver or a quarterback — that limelight guy — because they have no fear of losing,” Mark Kerrn said. “Because there’s a chance that every time they go out on the mat they are going to lose by themselves and have nobody else to blame but themselves.”
      That being said, there was a brotherhood displayed during the football season that has carried over into wrestling.
      “We had one of the closest group of seniors (in football),” Mark Kerrn said. “And that’s carried over.”
      And there’s been “proud dad” moments all along the way as father has watched son.
      “It’s really been special watching him go from that 4-year-old bouncing around on the mat, jumping on people and not being able to take a stance then year by year getting better and better and better,” Mark Kerrn said. “He’s always been a competitor. But it really snapped last year. Something kicked in and he started doing some really great things.”
      The Kerrns and the Jimmies are hoping to get even more kicks this last go-round together.


      #WrestlingWednesday: Alara Boyd Aiming for Gold

      Alara Boyd firmly believes that she can compete with any female wrestler in the world. That confidence has Boyd, a sophomore at Yorktown High School, setting her sights on winning a gold medal at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
      “I for sure feel I’m there, skill-wise, with anyone in the world,” Boyd said. “I want to be a world champion. But more than that, I want to win the Olympics in 2020. I know what I have to do to get there. I have to keep working. I have to keep practicing and I have to keep improving.”
      The idea of Boyd wrestling in the Olympics is not a far-fetched one by any means. Boyd recently earned a bronze medal at the World Championships in Tbilisi, Georgia. Her lone loss came at the hands of Japanese gold medalist Atena Kodama, who tech-falled her opponent in the gold medal match.
      “I took a few shots I shouldn’t have taken against Japan,” Boyd said. “They put me on the shot clock and I started to get a little anxious. That really hurt me.”
      Boyd bounced back to win the bronze medal, defeating Canada’s Kirti Saxena 8-1.
      “My family and friends were super excited for me,” Boyd said. “When I got back they were all telling me how proud they were of me. I thought I wrestled well, but I want to win the world championships next time.”
      Boyd is a first-year cadet. She has two more years in the division.
      Boyd began wrestling when she was 4-years-old. She fell in love with the sport right off. Her dad, Jimmy Boyd, was her coach.
      As with most female wrestlers in Indiana, the majority of Boyd’s opponents are boys. Her practice partners are all seasoned veterans. Yorktown’s Christian Hunt, Josh Stephenson and Alex Barr all take turns wrestling Boyd at practice.
      Boyd has had success against the guys. Last year, as a freshman, she posted a winning record for the Tigers. She wrestled at 132, 138 and even 145 in some meets.
      In 2015 Boyd won the ISWA Freestyle and Greco Roman state championships, wrestling against a field of all male competitors.
      “Alara is very, very physical, even by the boys’ standard,” Yorktown assistant coach Kenny O’Brien said. “She’s very strong. She’s fantastic from an underhook. Her physicality is overwhelming at times. She’s extremely good on top in freestyle and she has one of the best leg laces in the world.”
      O’Brien also attributes some of Boyd’s success to her fight. It doesn’t matter who is in front of her, she will fight for the victory.
      “Her toughness and her fight are her best attributes,” O’Brien said. “If a girl or a guy hits her, she’s hitting back. She doesn’t back down from anyone. She’ll never back down from anyone. She’ll get right in their face and hit them back if they mess with her.”
      Boyd’s trip to Tblisi, Georgia was her first endeavor outside of the United States.
      “Things were a lot different there,” she said. “The people were overall pretty friendly. They live a lot differently than we do here. They don’t have all the luxuries we have, but it was neat to experience their culture. You see what they have went through, and you see all of the hard working people over there. It was neat to experience.”
      Boyd is currently undecided on whether she will wrestle for Yorktown during the high school season or concentrate more on training for the Olympics. She said she will most likely still wrestle for the school.
      In addition to be an Olympic hopeful, Boyd also wants to wrestle in college. Although she’s undecided on what she wants to study. Currently she’s leaning toward dentistry.


      #WrestlingWednesday: Former Mat Rivals Share in Collegiate Success

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Travis Barroquillo and Collin Crume developed an intense rivalry on the mat their senior seasons in high school. Back then they had no idea that they would eventually become college roommates and share the NAIA All-American stage together.
      Barroquillo and Crume squared off in the Goshen regional final in 2011. Barroquillo won that match and then defeated Crume again a week later in the Ft. Wayne semistate championship. The two had very good showings in the state finals that year, both eventually losing only to state champion Neal Molloy of Danville.
      Barroquillo lost to Molloy in the semifinals, and then went on to finish third. Crume fell to Molloy in the final, finishing second. Barroquillo finished his senior season with a 55-1 record. Crume ended his senior campaign with a 49-4 mark.
      Now the two are teammates at Indiana Tech. They are roommates and workout partners. The relationship has pushed both wrestlers to a level they didn’t think was possible.
      Recently Barroquillo finished fourth at 133 pounds in the NAIA championships, and Crume finished seventh in the same weight class. Both earned All-American honors. In NAIA, schools can have multiple competitors from the same weight class competing.
      The road to Indiana Tech was vastly different for the two wrestlers. Barroquillo, a Prairie Heights graduate, became the first wrestler to ever sign with Tech.
      “My sister went to Indiana Tech and it was pretty close to home,” Barroquillo said. “When I found out I could be the first to ever sign there, that really helped with my decision.”
      Barroquillo will graduate this spring with a degree in business management.
      “I couldn’t be where I am today without wrestling,” he said.
      Tech’s first-year head coach Thomas Pompei had worked with both wrestlers when they were in high school.
      “Travis has done everything for this program,” Pompei said. “He put this program on the mat. He was a three-time All-American. These freshmen coming in can look up to him. He’s grooming freshmen to be like he was.”
      Tech finished the season ranked No. 3 in the NAIA polls. In addition to Barroquillo and Crume, the Warriors also had an All-American in Mitch Pawlak. Pawlak became Tech’s first NAIA champion this season when he claimed the 125-pound title.
      Crume started his collegiate career out wrestling at Wisconsin Parkside. He then transferred to King University in Tennessee. He took a year off last year to help coach at Jimtown High School, before finally deciding to finish college at Indiana Tech.
      “Coach Pompei was a great top wrestler, and that is probably my biggest strength,” Crume said. “He helped me a lot with the technical side of everything. Before, I wasn’t very technical at all.”
      Both Barroquillo and Crume said their favorite part of wrestling for Tech is the family atmosphere the team has.
      “The guys on that team are my family,” Barroquillo said. “Everyone pushes each other to get better.”
      Coach Pompei said his team has a good mix of wrestlers from mainly Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. He believes the talent pool in Indiana keeps getting better.
      “I go on Team Indiana trips every year and the talent seems to be rising,” Pompei said. “You have unbelievable studs coming through now. This year was a great year for Indiana. We won our regional and were sitting on the bus and everyone had their cell phones out watching the state finals. The talent level in Indiana is phenomenal.”
      At Tech, Pompei feels he gets the chance to help wrestlers peak.
      “At Indiana Tech we want someone that is coachable and willing to give everything he has at the next level to make our team better,” Pompei said. “They don’t have to be state champs. They have to be someone that can make people better in the process. A lot of the athletes we get haven’t come close to peaking yet. I get to see them grow and become All-Americans and national contenders.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday: The Man Behind the Mic, Kevin Whitehead

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


      #MondayMatness: Red Finishes Stellar Career

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

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      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Eldred Just Trying to be the Best for Six Minutes

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Evan Eldred’s dad taught him a valuable lesson when it comes to wrestling. He taught him that Evan doesn’t have to be the best wrestler in the state.
      Ironically, that advice has molded Edred into a semistate champ and the No. 3-ranked 138 pounder this season.
      “The best advice I’ve been given in wrestling is when my dad tells me that I don’t have to be the best,” Evan said. “I just have to be better than my opponent for six minutes. It doesn’t matter who I’m wrestling or what they’ve done. I took that to heart. If I go out there and do my best, it doesn’t matter if the guy across from me is the best in the state or whatever, you can’t let that make you nervous.”
      Eldred has been nearly flawless this year on the mat. He’s 39-1, with his lone loss coming at the hands of No. 1-ranked Brayton Lee in a close 5-3 match.
      “Last year I started my season off with a close loss to Brayton Lee,” Eldred said. “This year I ran into him at conference and had a close match with him. It was probably the best thing for me because it made me realize I’m close, but I wasn’t to where I needed to be.”
      Eldred is a superb student. He has a 3.78 GPA, was Academic All-State honorable mention, and will wrestle next season for the Indiana Hoosiers.
      Eldred’s older brother, Dillon, attends IU and Evan always dreamed of going there as well.
      Westfield coach Terry O’Neil knew about Eldred’s desire to go to IU, so when he had a chance meeting with Hoosier coach Duane Goldman, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about his talented senior.
      “I crossed paths with Coach Goldman at the Indiana wrestling coaches clinic,” O’Neil said. “I told him we had a kid whose brother goes to IU and that is where he really wants to go as well. I told him that Evan has flown under the radar and told him about Evan’s wrestling and academic resume. He called Evan that night.”
      O’Neil has the highest praise for Eldred.
      “I’m pretty biased,” he said. “But if I had only one 138 pounder in the state to pick to be on my team, he would be my choice. I know he can compete with anyone.”
      O’Neil says he has never coached a kid with the ability to learn and utilize technique as well as Eldred.
      “Several factors go into making Evan special,” O’Neil said. “You can show him a technique on a Tuesday and he will use it in a match on Wednesday. His ability to recognize technique is like nothing I’ve ever seen in a high school athlete.
      “Another factor is that he never lets the moment get to him, no matter how important the match is or how big the stage is. He is even tempered and able to maintain an incredible focus.”
      Eldred had goals to be Westfield’s first four-time state qualifier. He qualified as a freshman at 120 pounds, but then fell short his sophomore season, losing in the ticket round of semistate. He bounced back last year and placed sixth at 132 pounds.
      Not making it to state his sophomore year was heartbreaking for Eldred, but it showed Coach O’Neil just how good of a kid Evan was.
      “Evan’s older brother Dillon wrestled for us,” O’Neil said. “He was two years older than Evan. When Evan did not make it to state as a sophomore he was very upset. But when his brother qualified for the first time for state as a senior, the same year, Evan was so proud and so happy for him. His joy for his brother superseded any of his disappointment about not making it himself.”
      Evan has worked extremely hard to improve every season. The best semistate finish he had up until this year was fourth. This year he broke through by winning the New Castle semistate. He’s hoping this is also the year he gets to wrestle under the lights in the championship match.
      “My dad has been taking me to the wrestling finals since I was about five years old,” Eldred said. “He would always tell me that someday I could be there. Every single year I went I just dreamed about what that day would be like.
      “My best wins in high school would be a tie between last year winning on Friday night and knowing I was going to be a state placer – and when I placed at Fargo Nationals two years ago. But getting under the lights would blow both of those two wins away.”


      #MondayMatness: Clicking at the Wright Time

      Confidence and conviction can take you a long way.
      Kokomo High School wrestlers like junior 113-pounder Jabin Wright (45-5) and senior 145-pounder Szhantrayl Roberson (42-10) have taken that and landed in the IHSAA State Finals — Wright for the second time and Roberson for the first.
      These two Wildkats are the 14th and 15th state qualifiers in Ryan Wells’ eight season as head coach.
      “My coach said I can be the best in the state if I continue to attack and continue to put pressure and I did that today,” Wright said after winning at the Fort Wayne Semistate. “He told me I can beat anybody if I keep working hard. I can’t thank him enough for that.”
      Wright said he “turned it up a notch” as the 2015-16 postseason has approached.
      “I want to get better and better and I want to be on top of the podium on Saturday,” Wright said. “Coached told me, ‘Now’s your time. Now is when it really matters.’”
      Wells, a former Kokomo wrestler who graduated in 2001, asks his Kats to keep it simple and to stay aggressive and in good position. He has seen Wright stick to that plan and it has him back at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
      “He is really peaking at the right time,” Wells said of Wright. “He’s just wrestling so well with his takedowns. He’s really confident.
      “He’s getting deep on shots, finishing and staying in great position all the time. He’s really, really wrestling well.”
      Wright placed third at semistate and lost in the first round in 2015. As a returnee, he will have familiarity with the situation this time.
      But not only that.
      Wright’s first-round draw on Friday night (Feb. 19) is Logansport junior Donovan Johnson, a fourth-place finisher at the East Chicago Semistate. It will be the fourth meeting between the two during the 2015-16 season.
      After losing 7-2 and 17-6 to Logansport’s Donovan Johnson during the season, Wright topped the Berries grappler 8-2 in the finals of the Jan. 24 North Central Conference tournament.
      Like many wrestlers, Wright listens to music before his matches. He was scene doing dance moves prior to wrestling moves at Fort Wayne’s Memorial Coliseum.
      “It calms me,” Wright said. “The music kind of just takes me. I don’t want to stress out about my matches and go out there and not stick to my gameplan.”
      And Wright’s pre-match tunes of choice?
      “Music you can dab to,” Wright said.
      Besides former successful Kokomo wrestlers coming into the practice room to give athletes like Wright and Roberson a different look, there are current Kats like Rafael Lopez (126) and T.T. Allen (138) to help make them better.
      “Since he’s a little guy, he’s real quick,” Roberson said of Wright. “His quickness makes my reaction time better. My strength and my length makes him better because he sometimes has to face tall, lanky guys who are strong. We help each other throughout the season.”
      Roberson lost to Yorktown’s Brad Laughlin in the “ticket” round at semistate last year and now he’s going to the Big Show where he will face Evansville Mater Dei sophomore Joe Lee, a champion at the Evansville Semistate, in the first round.
      What has gotten this Kat to Indy?
      “I’m pretty good on my feet,” Roberson said. That’s my strength. “I like to use a Russian into a sweep single on the right side. A duck-under into a high crotch. I finish a lot with that, too.”
      Roberson also has a pre-match routine. After a talk with his coaches, he puts on his headphones for “hype-up” rap and R&B songs.
      “I turn the music up real loud and get in my zone,” Roberson said. “I get my adrenaline going for the match. It usually helps.”


      #WrestlingWednesday: Monrovia Seeing Success on the Mat and Gridiron

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Two wrestlers. That is all Monrovia’s high school team had competing in the first meet of the season. A few months later the Bulldogs were claiming third place at Team State, with 22 wrestlers on the roster.
      That is typical for wrestling at Monrovia, a powerhouse football school. The Bulldogs highly encourage wrestlers to play football, and football players to wrestle. They believe the two sports go hand-in-hand.
      Monrovia won the class 2A football state championship on November 28. That was one week after the school’s first wrestling meet.
      “We went from two kids to 22 after football was over,” Monrovia coach Kevin Blundell said. “I get a lot of freshmen and sophomores that have never wrestled before. The kids that wrestle are really good on the football field. They say wrestling helps them. The football coach pushes all the linemen, especially, to wrestle.”
      Monrovia is used to early struggles in wrestling. Kids come in after football in football shape, not in wrestling shape.
      “It’s harder than what you think to get these guys in wrestling shape,” Blundell said. “A lot of people see a running back and think he’s in shape. But wrestling is a totally different thing. It’s challenging. A lot of these kids come in way over weight. We focus initially on getting in shape, and then we start to hit the technique side in practice.”
      Junior Garrison Lee, the team’s only returning state qualifier, is a prime example. Lee was the starting fullback on the football team. Any time the Bulldogs needed five yards on the ground, Lee was their go-to-guy. But he came in to wrestling quite a bit over weight and not at all ready to go three long periods on the mat with an opponent.
      “He was a monster,” Blundell said. “I didn’t think he would make 195. I think I talked to him at football regionals and asked him what he was weighing, and he just told me that I didn’t want to know.”
      Eventually the Monrovia wrestlers settled in to their weight classes, and then the successes started rolling. The team had three champions at the Mooresville sectional, and sent six to regional. Lee won regional, with sophomore Brycen Denny finishing third at 106 pounds and 220 pounder Dristin McCubbins, a senior, finishing second.
      “Brycen (39-2) has worked very hard to get to where he’s at,” Blundell said. “He’s been in football forever, but he’s only 106 pounds so he decided this season he’s just going to wrestle. Then the team wins state. But he’s still happy with the decision he made. It was what was best for him.
      “Garrison was our only qualifier last year. He knows what he needs to do. He’s been there and lost a really close match last year. He has had that lingering in his mind. He’s has a motor on him and he’s mentally tough.”
      Also advancing for the Bulldogs is Dristin’s younger brother Riley, a 29-11 sophomore heavyweight.
      “When Riley qualified I was very happy to see that,” Dristin said. “We became the first brothers in Monrovia history to both qualify for semistate at the same time.”
      For Blundell, those early days with just two wrestlers competing seem like a distant memory. He knows that will probably always be the case at Monrovia, where football reigns supreme. But he’s fine with that. He knows, once football is over, wrestling really begins.
      “This is a school where the parents are really great,” Blundell said. “They don’t want their kids sitting around doing nothing, so they put them in a lot of sports. They push their kids to do their best and they give me a green light to do whatever we need to do. This is a football school, but we’re becoming a wrestling school as well.”

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      #MondayMatness: Wrestling a Hard Sell for the Davis Brothers

      It took a little convincing to get brothers Bo, Blake and Beck Davis to see that wrestling is for them.
      But once they committed to the mat sport, success followed and Garrett has been the beneficiary.
      Bo Davis represented the Garrett High School Railroaders twice at the IHSAA State Finals, qualifying as a junior in 2014 and placing third in 2015 — both times at 195 pounds. He became a collegiate wrestler at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne.
      Blake Davis (220) was a State Finals qualifier as a junior in 2015 just won Carroll Sectional and Carroll Regional titles as a senior in 2016. He will be a No. 1 in the Fort Wayne Semistate at Memorial Coliseum.
      Beck Davis, who was at 182 as a freshman in 2015, has won at the sectional and regional stages as a sophomore at 195 in 2016. He, too, will be a top seed at semistate .
      Bo, Blake and Beck are part of a family athletic legacy that includes father Chad Davis and mother Lisa (Leichty) Davis (a pair of 1990 Garrett graduates) and grandfather Steve Dembickie (GHS Class of 1971).
      In a family where they take their sports and their academics seriously (Bo, Blake and Beck have all excelled in football for Garrett and Blake and Beck are ranked in the top five of their respective classes), it took some serious coaxing to become wrestlers.
      “In our school wrestling was the weird thing to do,” Bo Davis said after being recruited to wrestling in sixth grade following a less-than-satisfying basketball experience. “I was forced into it, but I loved it.”
      Blake Davis soon followed his older brother into wrestling. But, at first, there was resistance.
      “All of us thought wrestling was a joke,” Blake Davis said, speaking for himself and both his brothers. We didn’t take it seriously. Bo went out and we made fun of him.”
      But something clicked for Bo and Blake. They began to really enjoy wrestling and the all work it takes to do well.
      It took a little more work coaxing Beck to join them.
      “We offered him $250 to come to one practice,” Bo Davis said.
      No sale.
      “I was probably the most stubborn at the start,” Beck said. “I thought it was weird.”
      It was Garrett coach Nick Kraus, who had Beck in a weight training class, that persuaded him to became a wrestler.
      Kraus, in his fifth season with the program and third as head coach, watched the oldest Davis brother grind to make himself into a decorated wrestler.
      “Bo is very coachable and he hated to lose,” Kraus said. “He was very, very persistent.”
      After not placing at Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic as a senior, Bo bared down week by week and it paid off during the IHSAA state tournament series.
      “He’s a strong kid with an athletic build who got very good at a couple things he did consistently,” Kraus said. “I’ve never coached anybody who worked as hard as Bo Davis.”
      That kind of drive in the classroom turned Davis into Garrett’s 2015 valedictorian and he is now studying biomedical engineering at Indiana Tech. Blake and Beck are ranked in the top five of their classes at Garrett.
      A mean streak has also served Blake well.
      “Blake is the meanest of the brothers,” Kraus said. “He imposes his will on people. He’s almost a bully on the wrestling mat.”
      Lisa (Liechty) Davis, a standout athlete during her time at Garrett (she is a 1990 GHS graduate) and the boys’ mother, has witnessed the rage.
      “Blake is mean,” Lisa Davis said. “If Bo was beating them when they were wrestling, they might throw a punch or two. Five minutes later, they are each others’ best friend.”
      Blake does not shy away from the mean label.
      “I guess since I was little I had anger problems,” Blake Davis said. “I’ve gotten better over the years of channeling it. If you are a competitive person, you don’t want to lose. If you live with them, you’re going to hear about it.”
      Kraus appreciates the hate-to-lose attitude.
      “That’s not a bad thing in wrestling and it’s trickled down throughout the team,” Kraus said. “All the kids are getting that chip on their shoulder.”
      Superior conditioning has been Blake’s calling card.
      “I know I’m not the most talented wrestler, but I can outwork them,” Blake Davis said. “I prefer to pin the guy as quickly as possible, but I can go six minutes.”
      After an injury-filled football season, Blake just reached the wrestling shape of his junior season in recent weeks.
      Using his competitive nature, Blake has avenged early losses or beaten opponents even more convincingly in rematches.
      “(Blake) does have finesse,” Kraus said. “But for the most part, it’s a physical brute style of wrestling.”
      Even at 220, it’s not all bulldozer with Blake.
      “He’s pretty slick,” Bo Davis said of Blake. “He’s athletic for somebody that size. He can pull off some lighter-guy moves that stop people in their tracks sometimes.”
      Kraus said Beck has the potential to be the best wrestling Davis brother.
      “He’s had his brothers to work with all the time,” Kraus said. “He didn’t want to do it at first. Once he started to do it, he was all in. Now he doesn’t miss summer sessions, camps or weight room workouts. There are high expectations with his brothers’ accomplishments, but he doesn’t let it get to him.”
      Following coaching advice, Beck tries to keep moving on the mat and believe in himself.
      “I’ve been working on (constant motion),” Beck Davis said. “And to keep having fun and stay confident.
      “I’m not really technical sound, but I have a decent gas tank and I like to shoot.”


      #WrestlingWednesday: Basketball Not Rypel's Cup of Tea

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Indianapolis Cathedral’s Blake Rypel is one of Indiana’s most dominating forces on the wrestling mat. His name is recognized by just about everyone who cares even a little bit about the sport in the Hoosier state. Rypel wants more though – he wants everyone in the country to know his name.
      “I want to be one of the most recognizable names in college wrestling as well,” Rypel said. “I want to be a four-year contender for the National Championship.”
      Rypel, a senior at Cathedral, will wrestle next season for the Indiana Hoosiers. He currently is 34-0 this season and is riding an 80-match winning streak.
      “Blake is the kind of wrestler that is tough to coach,” Cathedral coach Sean McGinley said. “He can do so many things that you really don’t practice. You kind of let him go on that. He’s so good on the mat, he’s teaching us in the room. He’s a very special wrestler.”
      Last season Rypel was the state champion at 195 pounds. This year, in order to benefit the Cathedral team, Rypel has cut down to 182 pounds.
      “Here’s a guy that is committed to IU,” McGinley said. “He’s a returning state champ. He’s ranked No. 1 in the state at 195 pounds. But he decides to drop weight and go down to 182 for the betterment of the team. That right there tells you what kind of kid Blake is.”
      Rypel’s decision to drop to 182 was for the benefit of the team, but it was also to help out his good friend Ben Stewart.
      “Ben is a football player,” Rypel said. “He wants to play in college and he wants to be bulking up, not cutting weight. So I said I would go down to 182 so he didn’t have to.”
      Stewart is currently ranked No. 2 in the state at 195.
      “If Blake doesn’t go down to 182, Ben doesn’t wrestle,” McGinley said. “So obviously his decision to drop has greatly helped our team.”
      Rypel finished seventh as a freshman at 160 pounds. He was second his sophomore season at 182 and he won last year at 195.
      His freshman year was one of his most trying seasons because his father passed away unexpectedly a few weeks before the start of the season.
      “That was terrible,” Rypel said. “I used it as motivation though. I dedicated a lot of my wins to my dad. Every once in a while I start to dwell on his death, but I try not to.”
      Rypel comes from a basketball family. His dad, brother and sister were all basketball standouts. Ironically, Blake was introduced to wrestling through basketball.
      “My basketball coach at the time, I think it was around 2005 or 2006, had a son that wrestled and he told me that I might like it,” Rypel said. “The first year I thought wrestling was OK, but in the second year I really started winning and fell in love with the sport.”
      Rypel is already focused on his college wrestling. He has dreamed of going to Indiana University ever since he was little, and he can’t wait to put on that Hoosier singlet.
      “Every college I visited was pretty cool,” Rypel said. “But I already knew everyone on IU’s team. I have been a Hoosier fan all of my life. I never thought that one day I’d be good enough to wrestle for them.”
      McGinley believes Rypel will have a lot of success in college because he is a dominating wrestler on top, which suits the college style.
      As far as finishing his high school career, he said anything less than a state championship would be a disappointment.
      Rypel won the Lawrence Central sectional last week, beating No. 3 ranked Cameron Jones 8-6 in the final.
      He hopes Cathedral can also claim the team state championship. The Irish have seven ranked wrestlers still competing: Lukasz Waldensak (No. 13, 106), Jordan Slivka (No. 12, 113), Breyden Bailey (No. 2, 126), Zach Melloh (No. 6, 132), Rypel (No. 1, 182), Stewart (No. 2, 195) and Ryan Guhl (No. 9, 220).
      “I really believe we have some of the strongest wrestlers in the state,” Rypel said. “As long as our guys can place, we have a real good shot at winning.”

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      #MondayMatness: Flatt Encourages Individualism for the Wildcats

      Bill Flatt does not try to fit a square peg in a round hole.
      The 17th-year head wrestling coach at South Bend Riley High School knows that each athlete is different.
      Flatt gets his Wildcats to play to their strengths and it has paid off with plenty of mat success.
      “I don’t try to put them into a mold,” Flatt said. “It’s not ‘here’s how I want all of you to wrestle.’ I emphasize their individuality.”
      Flatt encourages his wrestlers to find what style best suits them and go with that. He will be there to help them refine it.
      The veteran coach and is a former Mishawaka High School (Class of 1979) and Columbia University (Chicago) grappler. As an MHS junior, Flatt went 22-1 for Hall of Fame coach Al Smith. Flatt’s only loss came in the semistate semifinals to the defending state champion.
      After college, Flatt was an assistant to Smith for one season before taking over the Riley program.
      With all his time on and around the mat, Flatt knows that some wrestlers are better on their feet and others excel on top.
      “The guys who are good riders and pinners, when they are on bottom, I don’t want them getting to their feet and getting escapes,” Flatt said. “I want them to get the reversals to get into their best position and score from there.
      “I’m always looking to get them to their best positions, whichever that is. It may be a match-to-match situation.”
      With seniors Austen Laughlin (40-2 at 145 pounds) and Kassius Breathitt (38-4 at 152) and junior Tristan Goering (33-2 at 170) winning weight-class titles and senior RZ Teague (27-15 at 160) finishing fourth, again bolstered Riley as the Wildcats [laced third at the Mishawaka Sectional. Next up is the Rochester Regional.
      “The middle of our lineup has really set the tempo for the team,” Flatt said. That tempo helped the Cats go 17-8 in 2015-16 duals and is leading to wins in the postseason.
      “We want to just keep that momentum going,” Flatt said. “Get the points you need and get off the mat. This time of the year, it’s nothing but the W. Keep going to the right on that bracket. Go to the left and you lose another match and you’re done. So we want to keep going toward that championship bout.”
      Goering placed fourth at 160 at the 2015 IHSAA State Finals. Laughlin is a two-time State Finals qualifier and a 46-match winner in 2014-15.
      “Tristan’s run in the semistate and state finals last year was tremendous,” Flatt said. “For Austen, it’s all about confidence. He’s wrestled so much, there’s always another trick in his bag, one more thing he can do. He breaks people and just gets them to submit.”
      Ultra-competitors Laughlin, Breathitt, Teague and Goering are regular sparring partners during intense Riley workouts.
      “We hate losing,” Laughlin said. “That’s what motivates us to get better. It definitely gets heated in (the practice room).”
      When Breathitt looks at Laughlin, Teague and Goering, he sees driven athletes.
      “They’re determined,” Breathittt said. “They want to go places. They love the sport.”
      “We all work hard in here and push each other to be better,” Teague said.
      Goering said it’s a matter of iron sharpening iron.
      “Austen is one of the best on our team technically,” Goering said. “Kassius stays in really good position. RZ is a combination of the two. He’s real-rounded overall. My strengths are my athleticism, my explosiveness. I’ve been told I’m hard-nosed. I’m not the most skilled, but I go out there real hard and that tends to break guys down.”
      One bit of advice from Flatt that sticks with Goering is focusing on each period instead of the whole six-minute match.
      “If you win two minutes at a time, you will win the match,” Goering said.
      The junior also serves notice about the 2016-17 Wildcats and sees Riley having a good shot at ending Penn’s stranglehold on the top spots in the sectional and Northern Indiana Conference.
      “We’ll be better next year than we are this year,” Goering said.
      Laughlin said it is his ability to adapt to many styles and to go against teammates in practice that know how to scramble to helps him win close matches.
      While Breathitt is strong as a bottom wrestler, it’s also what he has between the ears that helps him be successful.
      “It’s that mental toughness and staying strong throughout the match no matter what happens,” Breathitt said. “You’ve got to believe in yourself. You’ve got to think that you can do it.
      “I’m pretty decent on my feet, but nobody can hold me down. I’m not staying on the mat. A sit-out hip-heist is kind of my go-to thing. I keep running those. I also have moves like Granbys and such.”
      Having drilled so much, Breathitt has confidence in his best set of moves.
      “I keep running it until they stop it,” Breathitt said. “I don’t like to change it up for other people. I like to keep doing what I’ve trained to do.”
      It’s a pretty smart group, too. Flatt said Breathitt, Teague and Goering are on the their way to academic all-state honors.
      Many Riley wrestlers compete throughout the year as a part of the South Bend Wrestling Club, which holds most workouts at Riley and South Bend Joseph.
      The current pack of Wildcats are continuing a strong tradition of South Bend’s South Side. From 1960-15, Riley racked up 53 indivudal State Finals.
      Jon Galloway (1964-65-66) was a three-time state champion for the Cats. Larry Katz (1963), Matt Wills (1991), Matt Nowak (1995) and George Malone (2007) also took state titles.
      “We just keep producing,” Flatt said. “We bring kids in, give them the idea they can be successful and try to put their name on (Riley Wrestling Wall of Fame) list.”


      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Two New College Programs in Indiana

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Two Indiana Wrestling Hall of Famers will be at the forefront of expanding the state’s college wrestling reach next season.
      Steve VanDerAa will be Ancilla College’s first wrestling coach beginning in the 2016-2017 season. Steven Bradley will be at the helm of Marian University’s first year program, also beginning next season.
      “Obviously being the first coach, nobody has been before me,” Bradley said. “There are no footsteps to follow and not a lot of pressure. I get to create my own footsteps. It’s a good thing. When I’m all done, many years from now, hopefully I will have set a standard that other people will want to strive to acheive.”
      Bradley was a three-time state champion wrestler from Beech Grove High School. He has coached at the college level for 10 seasons. The move to Marian was exactly the kind of job he was looking for. It enables Bradley to be closer to his family.
      For VanDerAa, who coached Winimac High School for 20 seasons, he couldn’t resist the chance to get back into the coaching game.
      “I’ve officiated the last couple of years, but I’ve really missed coaching,” VanDerAa said. “I can’t wait to get back into it.”
      VanDerAa is the first lay coach to be inducted into the Indiana Wrestling Hall of Fame. He has a coaching record of 404-96 and says all but six of his career losses came at the hands of schools larger than Winimac. He has helped coached Indiana legends like Angel Escobedo and Alex Tsirtsis.
      Both coaches are excited about the chance to build their programs from the ground up.
      “That’s the most exciting part,” said VanDerAa. I have a say in how we’re going to put the wrestling room together. We’re ordering all new equipment and when we are recruiting we get to tell them that they are the first and they are going to be the foundation of our program.”
      Bradley said recruiting has been relatively easy from the start.
      “It’s been nice,” Bradley said. “I’ve receive a lot of interest already. There are a lot of people contacting me and talking about the school. I’ve started talking to kids. The interest has been amazing at how many people in the first few weeks have sent emails, calls and text to get information. They love that there is another choice out there.”
      Bradley sees wrestling rising in popularity, especially at the small college level.
      “The interest is increasing across the country,” Bradley said. “We give kids another option. They can stay close to home and compete. I think it’s a good thing Indiana has more options. It will help Indiana wrestling as a whole. It will help high school kids. The more kids going to college and wrestling, the more young kids will see that and want to follow behind.”
      Both Bradley and VanDerAa have similar characteristics they look for in a recruit.
      “Academics are important,” VanDerAa said. “But I’m also looking for athletes that want to be part of our charter program. I want kids dedicated to the sport. I want guys that will do hard work, follow directions and be model young men for the sport.”
      Bradley is also looking for hard workers.
      “They have to be able to work hard,” Bradley said. “We need kids with integrity. We want kids that want to do well academically and kids that want to do well on the mats. I want kids that constantly want more for themselves and push themselves towards their goals.”
      Ancilla College is a part of the National Junior College Athletic Association, while Marian is a part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

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      #MondayMatness: Hildebrandts Working Towards the Top of the Podium

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

      6647 9

      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Blast from the Past with Randy May

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Randy May’s name deserves to be in the mix when talking about Indiana’s all-time best wrestlers.
      May went undefeated as a sophomore, junior and senior at Bloomington South High School in the 1974-76 seasons. He won three state championships during that span.
      Perhaps the only thing keeping him off the podium his freshman season was that he was too small (he weighed right at 84 pounds), and he was behind the brother of three-time state champion Jim Cornwell for a spot in the varsity lineup.
      “I was just too little to make the varsity team,” May said. “My coach, Kay Hutsell, had already won four state championships as a coach. Bloomington had a tradition back then like Evansville Mater Dei does now. And it was almost as hard to crack our varsity lineup as it was to win a state title.”
      Hutsell had coached Bloomington to team state championships in 1969, 70, 71 and 72. During that span Bloomington had seven individual champions.
      In 1973 Bloomington split into Bloomington North and Bloomington South. Hutsell became Bloominigton South’s coach, and led them to another state championship in the 1973 season.
      That season May lost just one time in the reserve matches – to a varsity junior from Owen Valley.
      “I got beat by him,” May said. “It was a good match. He ended up being one win away from going to the state tournament.”
      May hurt his back his freshman year and coach Hutsell sent him to help coach the feeder system at Smithville Middle School.
      “I was mad,” May said. “I wanted to be with the team. I had so much energy for the sport. Eventually coach let me travel with the team on dual meets. That was a privilege. I got to be on the team bus with everyone and I was sort of brought up under their wings. I was with guys like Marty Hutsell and Doug Hutsell (both were two-time state champs).”
      May knows living in Bloomington when he did was the best possible place for him to grow as a wrestler. He vividly remembers being allowed to go to Indiana University during their clinics and camps.
      “I had great coaching,” May said. “Everyone thought I would one day go to IU. I was able to go there anytime I wanted and I was able to wrestle kids from all over the country that came in for the clinics and the camps.
      “In 1975-76 money was very tight and there was a gas shortage. I’d drive to IU after I got off of work and I’d go to one of the wrestling clinics where kids would stay for the whole week from across the country. You would get a new batch of kids each week.”
      May would bet the kids that he could take them down. If he took them down, they had to pay him a dime. If they took him down, he would pay a dollar.
      “I took all their candy money,” May said. “That always paid for my gas.”
      May dominated his foes on the mat during the high school season much like he did at the clinics. He never lost a varsity match.
      After high school he chose to wrestle at Cleveland State University, which at the time was a national top 20 program.
      “I had dreams of being a four-time National champion,” May said. “I had my whole future mapped out. I wanted to be an Olympian and then I wanted to coach wrestling.”
      Things didn’t work out as May had planned. He developed a debilitating disease that changed his life course and took him away from wrestling. He was only able to wrestle one college match.
      “The disease shuts down the central nervous system,” May said. “It can kill you. But I worked my ass off. They told me I should have been on bed rest, but I didn’t stop working. When I couldn’t stand, I’d pull myself up. I still went to practice every day.”
      May eventually realized his wrestling career would have to be over.
      “I was walking with the aid of a cane at the time,” May said. “I was struggling with guys that I knew I should have been able to kick their ass. I wrestled one match against a four-time state champion from West Virginia. He took me down and I said, ‘you have got to be kidding me’. I came back and tied the match and won on riding time. But I knew I wasn’t myself anymore. I knew wrestling was over for me.”
      May had to refocus his life goals, and his career. He didn’t want to coach the sport he could no longer participate in. He now runs a business in underground utilities and lives in Florida.
      His son, Randy Jr., took up wrestling in high school and quickly found success.
      “He was a natural and I loved watching him,” May said. “He took fourth in state his junior year and as a senior he was ranked No. 1 and got very sick and ended up finishing sixth. He won over 100 matches and I was at his practices every day. The team won state his senior year and I was able to travel with the guys.”
      Six years ago, Randy Jr., passed away.
      May has suffered more than most his age. But he remains positive. He credits his outlook on life on his upbringing.
      “I was brought up with a good work ethic,” May said. “We had tasks and chores. My parents wanted them done right. I’d complain, but then I realized if I worked hard and did them right the first time, with a good attitude, I was going to get a reward. I could go play in the woods or go swimming.
      “I guess I carried that attitude over into life. I always try to have a good work ethic and a positive attitude. That will make you successful in anything you do.”


      #MondayMatness: Eli Working on Another Podium Finish

      David Eli got an up-close look at the big stage as a sophomore.
      The Elkhart Memorial High School wrestler placed seventh at 182 pounds at the 2014-15 IHSAA State Finals.
      A year wiser and stronger, Eli has his sights set on loftier heights in 2015-16.
      Working with a Brian Weaver-led coaching staff that includes former successful Memorial wrestlers, Eli is honing his skills for a tournament run.
      Eli spent the time between high school season attending Indiana State Wrestling Association Regional Training Center workouts at Penn and going to freestyle and folkstyle tournaments.
      Just before the start of the current Crimson Charger slate, he went to Las Vegas and went 8-2 in two divisions of the “Freak Show.” Competing at 200 pounds, he won the varsity division and placed fourth in the elite.
      That experience combined with plenty of time in the weight room led the a season filled with grueling training sessions and more victories on the mat.
      “We’ve been working real hard,” Eli said after a recent win at 182. “I feel like I’ve got conditioning on some guys.”
      Weight workouts — especially with his legs — have added the muscle to help put away opponents.
      His regular workout partner at Memorial has been senior 170-pounder Nick Ritchie and both have benefitted from pushing one another.
      “For David to get down to the State Finals again this year, he needs opponents that can push him to his limitations,” Weaver said. “Nick Corpe, Shane Hendrickson and Tieshawn Johnson can push David to his limitations, get him where he needs to get.”
      Corpe and Hendrickson are EMHS assistant coaches and Johnson is a 2014 Memorial graduate.
      Corpe was a state champion for the Chargers at 171 in 2004-05 and went on to compete at Purdue University.
      Hendrickson, a 2010 Memorial graduate and two-time semistate qualifier and Northern Lakes Conference champion, wrestled for Trine University.
      Johnson, who placed fifth at the 2013-14 State Finals at 195, wrestled at Indiana Tech.
      “It really helps me out, them coming into the room and working with me,” Eli said.
      Corpe has been impressed with Eli’s work ethic and athleticism.
      “He doesn’t miss any practices,” Corpe said of Eli. “He just keeps getting better.
      “He digs for his ties and gets to his positions. When he hits his moves, he’s explosive. He stays in control of the match.”
      While Eli has been successful with blast double, high crotch and headlock combinations, Corpe wants him to add to his arsenal.
      “To win a state title, you need more than one shot,” Corpe said. “You’ve got to be able to scramble and know your positions. On top, he’s good. He’s a strong kid. But it usually comes down to the feet game. You need to compete with everyone on your feet.”
      Eli has taken this to heart.
      “I can be one-dimensional,” Eli said. “I’m working on scoring from more positions.
      “No matter who I’m wrestling, I’ve got to make sure I’m finishing my shots. Everything needs to be crisp.”
      Hendrickson said it is the basics that make Eli so good.
      “He is one of the more fundamentally-sound wrestlers I’ve ever seen in high school,” Hendrickson said of Eli. “That’s what we continue to work on. Fundamentals — David has gone them down. That’s why he’s ranked so high. That’s why he’s going to do damage at the state tournament.”
      Hendrickson sees Eli stay in what he calls “power positions.”
      “He’s always in a good stance,” Hendrickson said. “He doesn’t expose his side or his hip as much as he can help it.”
      Weaver, who placed seventh at the State Finals at 130 in 1996, said Eli and other high school (folkstyle) wrestlers have benefitted from freestyle wrestling.
      “There are more angles to freestyle and you can lock hands,” Weaver said. “(Freestyle) helps with mat awareness. Anytime you expose your back to the mat, it’s two points. A freestyle match can go very quick. You have to keep yourself in very good position the entire match.”
      Some folkstyle matches become a contest of playing near the edge of the mat. That’s not the case in freestyle.
      “Freestyle does not allow you to play the out-of-bounds line,” Weaver said. “(The official) will blow the whistle and take you right back to the center. They don’t want the lag time.
      “I’m hoping that Indiana will go to the college rules where if you have any limb inside the circle, it’s still live wrestling. It will eliminate playing the out-of-bounds line game.”
      Taking his knowledge of freestyle and his work ethic, Eli is aiming high this season.
      Next up for Eli and the Chargers is a dual against Northridge Tuesday, Jan. 19, and the NLC Tournament Saturday, Jan. 23 — both at Memorial.

      3071 2

      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: McKinney Excels on the Mat and in the Classroom

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Matthew McKinney approaches academics with the same ferociousness he has when he steps on the mat for a wrestling match.
      “Academics is just another competition for me,” McKinney said. “Whether it’s in the classroom or on the mat, I want to be the best at everything I do.”
      McKinney is currently ranked No. 15 out of his class of 791 seniors at Warren Central High School. His grade point average is 3.97.
      “I really take a lot of pride in my academics,” McKinney said.
      He also takes pride in his wrestling. He is currently ranked fourth in the state at 138 pounds. He is a two-time state qualifier. He advanced to state his freshman year at 106 pounds and again the next season at 120 pounds.
      McKinney believes he outworks anyone he steps across the mat against. He religiously goes into school early three times a week and either runs or swims. He also stays late after practices and puts in extra conditioning. That hard work has paid off when it comes to the long, three period matches.
      “I really pride myself on being able to go six minutes as hard as possible and wearing on my opponent with heavy hand fighting,” McKinney said.
      The practice room at Warren Central is full of practice partners for McKinney. If he wants to work on speed and agility, he faces Warren’s 126 pounder Joel McGhee (ranked No. 6). If he needs to work against stronger opponents, he goes up against Trent Pruitt (ranked No. 4 at 152 pounds). If he’s looking to get as much work in as possible, he has a host of partners he can go against.
      “We have around 70 guys at practice and we have three mats going on,” McKinney said. “That gives me a lot of partners to push me. For sure that’s an advantage because you never run out of guys to wrestle. When you’re wrestling live, there is always a fresh guy to come in and keep pushing you.”
      The Warrior team is absolutely loaded this season. Warren Central has ranked wrestlers in 10 of the 14 weight classes. Jim Tonte took over the program this season, after having a very successful career at the helm of Perry Meridian’s program.
      One thing McKinney noticed right away about Tonte’s coaching style, is that he wanted the team to have a good chemistry.
      “The biggest difference between last year and this year is that we are a lot closer as a team,” McKinney said. “We hang out outside of wrestling. We have more of a team atmosphere. Coach Tonte stresses team bonding. We’ve gone to the movies together, had hang out sessions. And, a lot of us have been together for four years now so we are naturally close.”
      Brownsburg defeated Warren Central in the team state championship this year. That doesn’t sit well with the senior Warriors.
      “We have to give props to Brownsburg,” McKinney said. “They really brought it to us. It was very humbling for our team, but we’re excited for our second chance. Our goal is to win the state championship. I want to win it with my team and individually. We feel we are good enough, and that goal is always on our mind. We break every practice with a ‘Blue Rings’ chant for the blue medal you get when you win state.”
      McKinney did not qualify for state last season. He was beaten in the ticket round of semistate. But this year he feels he can see a lot of improvement.
      “I’ve faced seven ranked guys and lost just one,” he said. “I’m right there with the top guys. It gives me confidence to know I can go out and beat anyone in front of me. Last year Nick Lee beat me. He took me down, cut me, took me down, cut me and then pinned me real quick. This year I went the distance with him. The score still wasn’t what I wanted, but I can tell I’ve improved.”
      Coach Tonte said at the beginning of the season some people wanted McKinney to wrestle at 132 pounds this year.
      “Matthew spent so much time in the weight room every day that he eventually filled out and made it to be a true 138,” Tonte said.
      Tonte said it was probably a difficult transition for McKinney to have a new coach for his senior year.
      “I’ll be honest,” Tonte said. “It was probably somewhat tough for him. He had a competitive match with one of the kids I coached last year and I know it was probably really tough on him to know I was coming in to be his coach. But he has responded very well and he realizes we care about him. He’ll run through a wall for us. He’s responded to everything we are doing.”
      McKinney is a two-sport athlete at Warren Central. He is the kicker and backup punter for the Warrior football team. He says football is a sport he does for fun, but he really enjoys being part of the program.
      After high school McKinney would like to wrestle collegiately. He is not sure what he wants to study or where he wants to attend.
      “Matthew is just one of those kids that you don’t ever have to worry about his future,” Tonte said. “His future is open for whatever he wants to do. He has a great drive, a great family and you can tell he has really been raised well. He will succeed at whatever it is he sets out to do.”
      For now, he is setting out to win the 138 pound weight class in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.


      #MondayMatness: Jimmies Rise to the Occasion

      Plenty of practice and coaching reminders gave Jimtown High School wrestlers to succeed during a recent grueling stretch.
      The Jimmies placed 11th out of 32 teams in the 37th annual Al Smith Classic, held Dec. 29-30 at Mishawaka. Jimtown junior Kenny Kerrn took top honors at 145 pounds.
      On Saturday, Jan. 2, the Jimmies finished second out of 12 squads in the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals at Fort Wayne’s Memorial Coliseum. Jimtown edged Yorktown 31-30 in the semifinals before bowing 46-23 to Bellmont in the Class 3A finals.
      Jimtown head coach Mark Kerrn and his staff got the Jimmies ready for the tough week with quality mat time the week after Christmas and through visualization and confidence-building drills.
      Repetition in practice and time spent in the high school off-season at tournaments, camps and Indiana State Wrestling Association Regional Training Center sessions at Jimtown, Penn and Mishawaka continues to get the Jimmies ready for whatever they face during a match.
      “We work a lot in practice on situations,” Mark Kerrn said. “It’s about knowing what the score is and (getting an extra point or avoiding giving one up). We’ve been making good decisions.”
      Kerrn constantly talks about the effort it takes to be a Jimmie wrestler and the family bond that is being built though the shared hard work.
      “A lot of kids sacrificed (in the State Duals, especially against Yorktown),” Mark Kerrn said. “They were getting thrown in against better wrestlers, but they were unselfish.”
      In giving Yorktown its first-ever loss in State Duals competition in an event began in 2012-13, Jimtown got pin victories from sophomore Hunter Whitman (113), Kenny Kerrn (145) and senior Ben Davis (182), a major decision victory from junior Dalton Heintzberger (170) and decision triumphs from freshman Matt Gimson (120), senior Jarod Hayes (195) and junior Nick Mammolenti (heavyweight).
      The Jimmies yielded two pins to the Tigers, but no other “bonus” points (four for a major decision, five of a technical fall or six for a pin or forfeit).
      Mammolenti won 4-3 in overtime and freshman Hunter Watts (106) took the final match to overtime before losing 9-6 while giving up no extra points and helping Jimtown to a narrow win.
      “Going in I knew I had to win to give us (a chance to win) the match,” Mammolenti.
      After he was penalized for a fleeing — a call he disagreed with — the Jimmie heavyweight got fired up even more.
      “That really made me motivated to take (Yorktown’s Jacob Rhoades) down,” Mammolenti said. “I got up and turned around and shot at him and I don’t think he expected it. Then he was hurt. I just had to ride him out for another three seconds and it was over.”
      Mammolenti credits his progression in the sport to all the coaches who train with him in practice. Among those are Paul Bachtel, a state champion for Concord in 197x and a longtime Jimtown assistant.
      “If I can do anything on him, I can do anything on anybody,” Mammolenti said.
      Also contributing to Jimtown’s 2A runner-up finish were freshman Connor Gimson (126), senior Greden Kelley (132), senior Cole Watson (138), senior John Windowmaker (152), freshman Tyler Norment (160), freshman Aaron Martinez (also at 170) and junior Caleb Fowler (220).
      Jimtown followed up the performance in Fort Wayne with a practice filled with a little fun as well as work. With a day off of classes, the Jimmies wore “crazy” singlets and had a dodgeball tournament before being put through drills by assistant coach Anthony Lewis.
      “We try to break up the monotony as much as possible,” Lewis said. “We had just had a tough week — mental and physically.”
      Lewis, who wrestled for uncle Darrick Snyder at Mishawaka and joined the Jimtown staff in 2012-13 to help the Jimmies place fifth at State Duals and get Nick Crume an individual state championship, said the season is a progression.
      In early practices, coaches show wrestlers a large number of moves. As the season goes on, those moves are refined and a wrestler finds the combinations that works best for them. Practices become shorter, but more intense.
      The constant is the attack mode.
      “We try to push the pace and control the tempo in the match,” Lewis said. “Get the first takedown and then keep lighting the scoreboard up after that.”
      Mark Kerrn asks his youth athletes to give it their all during workouts, but he knows that there’s more to life.
      “We ask them everyday to touch the sign, just think about wrestling for two hours and then they go back to being a kid,” Mark Kerrn said. “It’s not wrestling 24/7.”
      But the dedication needs to be there as Mark’s son will attest.
      “You’ve got to love the sport of wrestling,” Kenny Kerrn said. “It’s an intense sport. You can’t dread it.”
      After a 3-1 day at the West Noble Super Dual (the loss came against 2015-16 IHSWCA State Duals 1A winner Prairie Heights) on Saturday, Jan. 9, the Jimmies look forward to the Northern Indiana Conference tournament Saturday, Jan. 16 at Mishawaka (the first NIC meet since Jimtown, Bremen, Glenn and New Prairie joined the conference in 2015-16) and then the IHSAA state tournament series.
      “The (Elkhart Sectional) is wide open,” Mark Kerrn said of the eight-team field. “There’s about five teams who could win. It just depends who is on that day.”

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