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      #MondayMatness: Demien Visualizes Himself on Top

      Tanner DeMien likes to see his success even before he achieves it.
      The NorthWood High School sophomore wrestler has learned to use visualization to take him to the next level. As a freshman, he placed seventh at the IHSAA State Finals at 106 pounds and his sights are set even higher this winter.
      “I see myself running through my moves and getting my hand raised,” DeMien said. “I think about previous matches and how I can fix those mistakes.”
      Fourth-year NorthWood head coach Damon Hummel said DeMien has gotten better in many aspects of wrestling, but it is between the ears where he has shown the most improvement.
      Hummel said DeMien gets the mental game.
      “He understands how to go into a tournament (with four or five matches) and mentally prepare himself,” Hummel said. “Kids have a tendency to wear themselves out by the end of the day. He prepares himself to be better at the end of the day.”
      With his wrestling I.Q., Tanner is able to diagnose his issues about as quickly as Hummel and his staff.
      “He’s been around wrestling enough that he knows what to do and what not to do,” Hummel said. “He picks himself apart more than most coaches do.”
      Between matches at a super dual, Tanner will go into a quiet place and do visualization exercises and run the halls to keep his heart rate up.
      These are lessons that Tanner has learned from the many camps and off-season programs — he toured the western U.S. with the Ohio All-Star Travel Wrestling Team for 45 days last summer — he’s attended.
      Tanner, 16, is thankful for his father, Jason, who got him into wrestling as a 45-pound peewee at around age 6, for his help and guidance.
      “He’s a big part of what I am and what I’ve accomplished,” Tanner said of father, who is also a NorthWood volunteer assistant coach. “I give my props to him. He’s been teaching me ever since I can remember.”
      The DeMiens have heard highly-decorated coaches like Dan Gable speak on the importance of visualization.
      “A lot of camps we’ve been to have really talked about the mental game,” Jason DeMien said. “It’s seeing the match before you step on the mat.”
      While rotating between 106 and 113 pounds, Tanner has also refined his moves on the mat.
      “I’ve gotten better in the top position and I’m able to turn people and put them away,” Tanner said. “It’s more about technique than a strength thing. I want to get more points for my team.”
      Jason DeMien said his son has learned to apply more pressure on top, gotten good at escapes as well as movement on his feet.
      “As he has gotten older, he’s learned to get angles and work those really hard,” Jason DeMien said.
      Tanner goes into each practice with a game plan. He knows what he wants to concentrate on and he does so with intensity and is a believer in Hummel’s insistence on repetition.
      “If I’m going drill high crotch, I’d rather do that 50 times then run five moves 10 times each,” Tanner said. “It’s just getting a couple of moves down and running them.”
      Hummel calls Tanner a “drill king.”
      “He loves to hit the move and hit the move,” Hummel said. “We talk to all of our kids about repetition.”
      Hummel and his coaching staff do not throw the kitchen sink at the Panthers. The idea is to be proficient at the things they do and not how many things they do.
      “When you get close to January, there’s not much more you can teach the kids,” Hummel said. “They’ve learned what they’ve learned. Now we need to fine-tune everything. You need to be ready for sectional at the end of the year.
      “Kids think they can do everything, but you’ve got to teach them two or three good moves. Some of these kids can get a couple nice takedowns and go to state with that if you’re good at it.
      Practice intensity goes up while duration goes down.
      “When you’ve only got one guy per weight class, you can’t beat the heck out of them everyday in 2 1/2 practices,” Hummel said. “A lot of coaches believe in a lot of moves. We believe in a smaller move base and hit them harder and faster.”
      While Tanner sees plenty of mat time during the year, he is not just a wrestler. He plays tennis for NorthWood in the fall.
      “It’s great for a kid to do that,” Jason DeMien said of the multi-sport appoach. “It gives them a break from being on the mat where your body just gets worn down. Doing something different gives your mind a break.”
      Not that Tanner didn’t use his mental skills on the court.
      “There’s a lot of carryover between tennis and wrestling,” Jason DeMien said. “Tennis is a very mental sport and agility is huge. I noticed that his mental game was so much stronger than kids who have been playing a long time.”
      Look for Tanner and his NorthWood Panther teammates Wednesday, Dec. 23, at Rochester’s McKee Memorial Invitational and Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 28-29, at Mishawaka’s Al Smith Classic.

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      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Parris is the Newest Lawrenceberg Attraction

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Nestled in the southeastern corner of Indiana, the modest town of Lawrenceburg has established itself as a tourism hot spot. The town is home to the Perfect North Slopes skiing resort, as well as the immensely popular Hollywood Casino. But lately, the top attraction has been the 220 pound monster that lurks in the wrestling room at Lawrenceburg High School. He goes by the name of Mason Parris.
      Parris took the state by storm last season as a freshman at 182 pounds. He went undefeated until the state finals, where he lost to eventual champion Chase Osborn 11-10. Parris finished third, with a 54-1 record.
      Parris was just 15 years old last year, wrestling in a weight class that showcases some of the most physically gifted specimen in the state. He more than proved he belonged.
      This season, all he has done is put on about 40 pounds of muscle. He’s bigger, stronger, faster and a lot more confident than he was as a freshman.
      “I thought I had a really good freshman year,” Parris said. “I made mistakes, and was able to learn from them. Going to state and placing well was a good experience. But this year, I want to do better. I am not satisfied. I’m working hard. I’m staying dedicated.”
      Parris, like most Indiana wrestlers, says he has dreamed of winning a state title since he was very young.
      Lawrenceburg coach Mark Kirchgassner knew the first time he watched Mason practice that there was something special about him.
      “I don’t even think Mason was in kindergarten yet,” Kirchgassner said. “I watched him wrestled and told his dad that Mason is going to be something special. He did things naturally that I had a hard time teaching high schoolers to do.”
      Parris is undefeated so far this season. He hasn’t faced many upper level competitors yet, but he certainly isn’t shying away from them. In one of his first matches this year Parris bumped up to heavyweight so he could go against Union County’s No. 13 ranked Clark Minges. All Parris did was tech fall the bigger Minges.
      “That was my first match wrestling a really big guy,” Parris said. “I knew I had to stay out from underneath him. I kept pressure on him and really tried to wear him out.”
      One of Parris’ main partners in the practice room is No. 6-ranked 160 pounder Jake Ruberg. The two have been wrestling together since they were in elementary school. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Ruberg’s speed helps Parris learn to deal with the faster opponents he will face, and Parris’ power helps Ruberg contend with the stronger guys he will go up against.
      “Mason really pushes me,” Ruberg said. “He really helps my wrestling improve because he is so big and overpowering. And he’s very positive in the room and he helps everyone with technique. I know he can throw me around if he wanted to, but he likes to work on countering my speed.”
      Parris prides himself on his work ethic. It’s something his coach sees first hand on a daily basis.
      “Mason has just one gear,” Kirchgassner said. “It’s always go, go, go. He works harder than about any kid I’ve ever seen, in every aspect. Even in his matches he works on his craft. He isn’t content to just go out and beat a guy. If there is a move he’s trying to work on, he will work on it in a match just to make sure he can do it.”
      Parris is aware that to win a state championship, there is a likelihood he will have to go up against No. 1-ranked, returning state champion Kobe Wood.
      “Kobe Woods is a very good wrestler and I’ve been preparing for him all year,” Parris said.
      During the offseason Parris wrestled at the UFC wrestling championships in Las Vegas. He competed at 220 pounds in the 18U division, and won.
      “That was a great experience, wrestling in the 18U division with a team,” Parris said. “I faced some very good wrestlers.”
      Parris is also a gifted football player in the fall. He was a junior All-State in class 3A (he’s a sophomore), and was the defensive MVP in Lawrenceburg’s conference. He plays middle linebacker and offensive guard. This year Lawrenceburg finished with a 7-3 record.
      “I like football and wrestling equally,” Parris said. “I couldn’t choose a favorite.”
      Right now Parris is solely concentrating on wrestling. He hopes that focus leads to a state title. One thing is for sure, right now Mason Parris is the biggest attraction in Lawrenceburg.

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      #MondayMatness: Slothing Around with Kyle Hatch

      A willingness to learn has led to steady improvement and a bright outlook for one Warsaw Tiger.
      Kyle Hatch began to make a name for himself on the Indiana high school wrestling scene during his freshman campaign at Warsaw.
      As a 106-pounder, he placed fourth at the prestigious Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka in late December and went on to finish eighth in the his division at the 2014 IHSAA State Finals.
      As a sophomore, the son of former two-time state finalist Dan Hatch (qualifier at 135 in 1991 and eighth place at 140 in 1992), grew to 120 and won the Al Smith and placed seventh in the state in 2015.
      Now it’s 2015-16 and Kyle Hatch has begun his junior season with several dominant performances, the most recent during the Raider Super Duals Saturday, Dec. 12, at Northridge.
      Kyle Hatch competed at both 145 and 138 pounds, but said he is likely to go at the lighter weight the rest of the way, including the Al Smith on Dec. 28-29.
      “Technique-wise I’d be OK (at 145), but the strength wasn’t always there,” Kyle Hatch said.
      Eighth-year Tigers head coach Justin Smith supports Hatch supports Hatch on his decision of weight — 138 or 145 — for the rest of the regular season and the IHSAA tournament series.
      “I think he would be successful wherever he went,” Smith said. “A lot of it is what he feels. If he has a lot of confidence at one weight class or the other and wants to charge in, we’re going to let him.”
      Kyle Hatch is improving as he goes along.
      “I’m still learning a lot,” Kyle Hatch said. “I’ve learned that I need to contain my hips and make sure they stay balanced and equal on each side.”
      That is advice from Smith and father Dan Hatch, a Warsaw assistant coach.
      Smith, who has been watching the young Hatch wrestle since “he was knee-high to a grasshopper (Kyle started in second grade and later excelled at Warsaw’s Lakeview Middle School), admires the way father and son operate.
      “They have a good relationship,” Smith said. “I just interject once in a while and give a fresh perspective.”
      Wrestling becomes even more of a family affair when you consider that Kyle’s cousin, Tyler Fitzpatrick, is a junior wrestler at NorthWood High School.
      Dan Hatch said the coaching staff likes for all Warsaw wrestlers to be able to break down their matches to be able to fix flaws. Sometimes this is done with video analysis.
      “Kyle can usually point out the stuff faster than the rest of us can,” Dan Hatch said.
      Smith, a former Homestead High School wrestler who was an assistant at his alma mater and head coach at Fort Wayne Wayne before going to Warsaw, sees an ability in Kyle Hatch to make necessary adjustments.
      “He works on every aspect of his wrestling — neutral position, bottom and top,” Smith said of the young Hatch. “He’s at the point where he doesn’t have to make wholesale changes. We just pick out little things that are going to make him more effective, things like putting the hips in.”
      Kyle Hatch has also learned to use his legs and his strength while on top to turn his opponent.
      “His strength is deceiving,” Smith said. “He does not have a lot of bulk in his upper body, but he is fast and strong.”
      Kyle Hatch notes that he’s getting better at takedowns and riding. His father said it’s hard to get much quality time working on escapes when you need someone capable of holding you down.
      Those opportunities are bound to come at the Al Smith.
      “I can’t wait for that.” Kyle Hatch said.


      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Kadin Poe Back on the Mat

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      In an instance Kadin Poe went from a wrestling standout, to someone broken so badly he wasn’t sure he’d be able to wrestle again.
      It happened on a Monday evening in May, near Murray St., in Indianapolis. Poe and his friend Kyle Dicecco were just walking home. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a dark colored Chrysler 300 came barreling down the street, right into Poe. He hit the windshield and landed on the side of the road. The car never stopped. To this day, the driver’s identity is not known.
      But what is known is that Poe, who had qualified for the IHSAA state championships as a wrestler earlier in the year, was now in a battle for his life. He had a broken neck, a concussion, his eyes were swollen, his hands and back were scraped badly.
      “I was just walking to get my book bag from my buddy’s house,” Poe said. “He lived two streets over at the time. I was walking back with him. I stopped at the stop sign and then a car came and hit me.”
      At first Kyle tried to chase the car down to get more information. But he quickly returned to his friend, picked him up and walked him home. Poe was quickly transported to the hospital, where he spent several days.
      Doctors initially weren’t sure if Poe would be able to wrestle again, because of the severity of the neck injury. But soon he was told that he would have no permanent damage. That’s when the recovery began. Poe was going to wrestle again – and nothing was standing in his way.
      “My mom really helped me more than anything,” Poe said. “She and my coaches pushed me, even when I didn’t want to be pushed.”
      Poe had gained a lot of weight due to the recovery process. At first he wasn’t allowed to exercise, so he sit at home on medication. He quickly got up to over 150 pounds.
      “The hardest part of battling back was getting back into shape and getting my weight back down,” Poe said. “A lot of people were doubting me. Everything at that point was just tough.”
      But Poe did make it back. This season he opened the year wrestling a match at 138 pound. He pinned his opponent. But in his next match he injured his shoulder and is expected to miss two to three more weeks because of the injury.
      He is hoping he can be back sooner, and be trimmed down to 126 pounds in the process.
      “I want to win a state title within the next two years,” Poe, a junior at Decatur Central, said. “Then I want to go on and win nationals in college. I will bounce back from this.”
      Poe’s coach, Angelo Roble, believes in his wrestler.
      “I remember him sitting in the hospital with tubes running all through him,” Roble said. “But I never doubted that he would be back because he’s a tough kid. What makes him a great wrestler isn’t as much his technique, as it is his fight. He hates to lose more than he loves to win.”
      Poe believes going through this adversity has just fueled his desire to get stronger, and better on the mat.
      “It’s been a real struggle,” he said. “At first I was starting to think my career was over. And now I’m back to wrestling. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m back.”
      Roble credits Poe’s mentality for his rapid progression.
      “Anything this kid puts his mind to, he does well,” Roble said. “We do a lot of things to have fun in practice, like playing football. He always wants to be the quarterback. He wants to have the ball if he is playing basketball and in the wrestling room he wants center circle so everyone knows it’s his room. I hope that attitude carries over to everything in life. All he has to do is put in the effort and he will be successful.”

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      #MondayMatness: Shawn Streck Won't Stop Working

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


      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Darren Elkins Goes From State Champ to UFC Star

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      There were times growing up as a wrestler in Portage that Darren Elkins wished he could have punched his opponent in the teeth.
      The 2004 state champion never acted on those impulses in high school. Now he makes a living trying to knock guys out. Elkins is a seasoned mixed martial arts fighter who is currently ranked No. 12 in the world in the UFC featherweight division. Elkins was the first featherweight to win five consecutive fights.
      “I always tell people this,” said Elkins. “I like to get wrestlers into the gym and I tell them why I like MMA. I think back to all the times in wrestling when I was like, man, I just want to punch this guy. Maybe he was taking cheap shots at me, or elbowing me. There was nothing I could do about it then. But now, if I want to punch my opponent, that’s encouraged. They pay me to do it.”
      In 2004 Elkins was one of a host of state champions that went on to have great careers after high school. The list of state champions that year include Angel Escobedo (won an NCAA championship), Reece Humphrey (on the USA wrestling team), Elkins, Matt Coughlin and Alex Tsirtsis. Eric McGill, another former Indiana great, was a runner-up that year.
      Elkins credits his wrestling background, and the mentality he got from coach Ed Pendowski at Portage, for part of his MMA success.
      “Wrestling teaches you to train hard,” Elkins said. “I’ve always put in the work. I put in the time training and each fight I strive to be better than I was before. I think the grinding style we had at Portage transferred to MMA very well. Coach Pendowski was all about takedowns. We would take people down, then let them up. In MMA you want those takedowns but you aren’t staying on the guys because they can get you in a submission.”
      He also credits some of his toughness from growing up with an older brother, Rickie, who was a state runner-up in high school.
      “Rickie was always bigger than me,” Darren said. “He always got the best of me. He was ranked No. 1 in high school in his weight class. It wasn’t until I took on fighting and he started getting out of shape a little that I could beat him.”
      Elkins has a professional record of 20-5. He is hoping to get back in the UFC Octagon soon. Right now he trains six days a week in Indiana. Before his last fight, a unanimous decision over Rob Whiteford in UFC Fight Night in October, Elkins had trained in Sacramento with Team Alpha Male.
      Elkins is hoping to climb back in to the top 10 rankings, a place he has been before.
      “Right now it’s just about climbing back into that top 10,” he said.
      Although Elkins says having a wrestling foundation is a huge asset in MMA, you have to be able to develop more skills to be successful.
      “You really have to develop your all around fighting techniques,” he said. “You can’t just rely on wrestling.”
      Elkins also knows the importance of staying healthy. He does not eat processed food. He cuts down on sugar and salt and only eats organic. That has helped with maintaining his weight for fights.
      As far as athletic highlights, Elkins doesn’t have one favorite.
      “I’ve had so many great moments, and I really don’t put one over the other,” he said. “Winning state was one of my best moments. It was something I dreamed of since I was 5-years-old. Then, getting called to fight in the UFC, and then winning in the UFC. Those are all very great memories for me.”
      Elkins is married and has an 8-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. His daughter swims competitively and his son has started wrestling.
      “Right now it’s his first year,” Elkins said. “I don’t want to push him. I want him to enjoy it. Right now my daughter goes to practices too because she said if my son gets to wrestle, she does too.”


      #MondayMatness: Adam O'Neil Takes Over at Clay

      “Who wants to learn?”
      Adam O’Neil invites his athletes to one side of the South Bend Clay High School wrestling room.
      There, the second person ever to win an IHSAA state mat title for the Colonials (Randy Goss was the first in 1964 and 1965) shares his knowledge as Clay’s first-year head wrestling coach.
      A little later, O’Neil gets in front of the group and tells them about stance.
      “Keep your chest up,” O’Neil tells them. “I don’t want hunching down, alright? We don’t want to see the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
      After all, an opponent can control, if a wrestler is hunched over.
      O’Neil also instructs his Clay grapplers how to sprawl and demonstrates with a series of “burpees”.
      But he stresses the basics.
      “Even the best guys have to do the basics,” says O’Neil. “We’ll get into the flow of the different moves and when we do them later.
      “I can only teach them what I know.”
      What O’Neil knew when he wore a Colonial singlet was strength and a solid stance and form and loads of mat know-how gained from coach Al Hartman, an Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer.
      It helped O’Neil win 154 matches. He went 45-0 as a senior in 2003-04, reigning as the 160-pound state champion.
      That season, O’Neil tied for first in single-season wins with Jaylin Allen, Shakir Carr, Joe Gallegos, Mitchell Hartman and Laquan Lunfiord. Gallegos and Allen were state runners-up in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
      O’Neil set Clay school records with 26 pins in both the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons.
      Any one of those accomplishments should give the 30-year-old instant credibility with these teenagers. But O’Neil doesn’t see it that way.
      “I still need to prove myself to them,” says O’Neil, who went into this season ranked No. 4 on Clay’s all-time win list (behind Mitchell Hartman’s 164, Jake Hartman’s 156 and Steve Salinas’ 156. Places 5 through 12 were held by Kevin Hartman, 145; Gallegos 142; Lunsford, 121; Ryan Salata, 114; Garret Gleuckert, 112; Jeremy Burnside, 112; David Elliot, 109; and Dustin Swindeman, 108). “One of my biggest challenges is getting all the kids in here at the same time and getting them to listen. I want them to focus and listen to what I’m saying. If they are not listening, they are not absorbing.
      “I’m only here a couple of hours a day with them. I try to have them learn as much as I can.”
      After two seasons as a Clay assistant, O’Neil has taken over the reigns of the program from Hartman (who is still involved, mostly at the junior high level).
      “It’s been a dream of mine to coach wrestling,” says O’Neil. “When I had the opportunity, I took it. Coach Hartman really helped me prepare for it. He pushed me to do it.”
      A frozen foods frozen manager for Martin’s Supermarkets during the day, O’Neil relies on assistant coach and Clay teacher Jay Love to take care of administrative details and monitor the wrestlers during the school day.
      “He helps me out a lot,” says O’Neil of Love. “He does paperwork and helps me recruit kids.”
      Love also helps teach the sport to the Colonials.
      The lessons have yielded a 9-1 start to 2015-16 season (5-0 at the South Bend Clay Super Dual and 4-1 at the Elkhart Central Turkey Duals).
      O’Neil said he considers two-time semistate qualifier Rishod Cotton plus Mason Cao and Andrew Taborn to be his top three wrestlers as the season begins. But it’s steady improvement from he group that he seeks.
      “Seeing them get better everyday is what I want,” says O’Neil.
      Before the practice closes, O’Neil gets his wrestlers in a circle for a chant.
      When the volume and enthusiasm are not right, he yells, “That was weak. Get back here.”
      Then they do it to O’Neil’s satisfaction: “Clay on 3. 1, 2, 3, Clay!”


      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Coast to Coast Path for Kevin Lake

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      MANCHESTER – Kevin Lake wasn’t a great wrestler back at New Haven High School. He was just a one-time regional qualifier. But what Lake lacked in wrestling success, he has made up for in coaching success. He has found his calling in coaching the sport he loves.
      “I was very average in high school and college,” Lake said. “But I felt like I blossomed as a coach after traveling around and learning from some of the best coaches out there. I was always a mat rat. I was always in the coaches’ rooms trying to learn more about the sport. When you become a coach, you learn things better than when you are an athlete. You get a different perspective.”
      Lake was recently hired as the new head wrestling coach at Manchester University. While he doesn’t have the athletic pedigree some coaches have, Lake has certainly immersed himself in learning the sport of wrestling.
      Lake grew up in a coaches’ home. His dad, Gary, was a long time football coach at New Haven, Ft. Wayne Wayne and Ft. Wayne Elmhurst.
      “Coaching was a big part of my childhood,” Lake said. “Some of my fondest memories are with my dad in the locker rooms and on the sports field. Sports really played a huge role in my life.”
      Gary Lake is a member of the Manchester Hall of Fame. So is Kevin’s twin sister, Leanne.
      “My sister was a much better athlete than me,” Lake said. “She played basketball and softball at Manchester. She’s also in the Hall of Fame there. I’m the only one not in the Hall of Fame. I guess my only shot now is to get there by coaching.”
      Lake wrestled at Manchester under coach Tom Jarman. Lake refers to Jarman as a legend in the coaching world and as a mentor.
      After graduating from Manchester, Lake pursued his graduate degree at Central Michigan University. There he got involved with the wrestling program, and was able to learn from coach Tom Borrelli.
      “Central Michigan is really where I got the confidence and understanding of what it took to become a high level wrestling coach,” Lake said. “Even today, what I bring to the table is a lot of what I learned as a graduate assistant.”
      Lake took his first head coaching job at Division III, Mac Murray in Jacksonville, Ill. That job became a spring board to go to Princeton University as the head assistant coach.
      I coached an All-American there in Greg Parker,” Lake said.
      After Princeton, Lake spent a year at South Dakota State and worked with coach Jason Liles – who was an extremely successful Division II coach working his first job in Division I.
      Lake’s travels didn’t end there, however. That summer he got a call from a good friend, Shawn Charles, who was just hired as the head coach at Fresno State in California. Lake became his head assistant and moved his family out west.
      Fresno State dropped its wrestling program after just two years.
      Lake got out of the college coaching realm for a while at that point. He joined Beat the Streets in Los Angeles, a program that helps teach responsibility and values through wrestling.
      “I always had coaching in my heart and in my blood,” Lake said. “I knew if the right opportunity came up, I’d take it. That’s when the job at Manchester came open and I jumped at the chance.”
      Lake is married with two daughters. He moved to Manchester about a month ago, and recently his daughters saw snow for the first time.
      “The snow was like one of those slaps in the face welcome homes,” Lake said. “I didn’t realize how soft I had gotten. The snow is beautiful, but man is it cold.”
      Lake believes he has taken a little bit from each coach he worked with or was coached by over the years.
      “At Central Michigan I learned how to lead and how to run practices,” Lake said. “My time at Fresno State I learned under one of the best technicians in the sport. Shawn Charles taught me knowledge and technique.
      “At Princeton, the philosophy of Princeton athletics as a whole really related to how I want my athletes to be. It was a value of higher education and pursuit of excellence that I really liked.”
      At Manchester, Lake knows the program isn’t going to become a national powerhouse overnight. But he wants his athletes to all be high achievers in athletics, character and wrestling.
      “I want them to be the best in the classroom, on the mats and to act with class on the streets,” Lake said.
      Lake said when looking for wrestlers for his program, he looks for kids with a workmanlike attitude. He likes aggressiveness – guys that will push the pace and also have good defensive skills. He wants smart wrestlers with strong core values.
      “I look for effort, too,” Lake said. “Often times you can tell more about how a kid comes back from barely losing a match. You can tell if he’s hungry and has something to prove. Those are the kids that I think can thrive. I want those type of kids.”

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      #MondayMatness Woods Excelling on the Mat and Gridiron

      It makes some athletes wilt and others rise to the occasion.
      Put Kobe Woods in the latter category.
      Coming off an IHSAA championship season (he went 44-0 as a junior, beating Warren Central senior Courvoisier Morrow 7-2 in the 220-pound state title match while helping the Kingsmen to a first-ever team state championship), Woods continues to crave challenges inside the wrestling circle and on the football field.
      “What makes Kobe tick?,” says Penn wrestling coach Brad Harper. “He loves competition. He thrives off of that.”
      Penn football coach Cory Yeoman, who counts Woods among his inside linebackers on a squad bound for the IHSAA Class 6A championship game against Center Grove on Saturday, Nov. 28, sees the same kind of attributes in the 5-foot-11 athlete.
      “He competes at the highest level no matter what he’s doing and that’s a great trait of champions,” says Yeoman of the three-year football starter. “He does have great balance, leverage and strength. He is explosive. But by far, his best attribute is how he competes. There’s a lot of great athletes in the world, but they don’t all compete.”
      Woods has committed to compete at the next level. He recently signed to wrestle at Purdue University, where he expects to be a prospect at 197, and may also get a chance to walk on to the Boilermakers football team.
      If Woods plays Big Ten football, he will join roommate-to-be and athletic Merrillville High School senior heavyweight Shawn Streck in competing in both sports.
      Woods credits his atmosphere as well as his natural drive for his multi-sport success in high school.
      “Being in the atmosphere of Penn High School it’s really kind of motivating everyday,” says Woods. “You’re not really the big shot. The stakes are so high and the talent is so good at Penn, it’s awesome to know that if you stop working hard, if you start slacking, there’s someone there to take your spot.”
      It boils down to effort for the future Boiler.
      “It really comes down to how hard you want to work,” says Woods. “As an athlete, everyday I want to get a little bit better. That’s really my goal.
      “If you get a little bit better everyday, pretty soon you’re going to be pretty good.”
      Harper says it is rare to find an athlete who likes pressure situations.
      Woods excels in these tense scenarios because he is not overwhelmed by the chaos.
      “That’s why he’s been so successful,” says Harper, who first saw Woods crack the Penn varsity lineup at 220 as a 190-pound freshman. “He knows how to control his emotions.
      “He’s very calm,” says Harper. “He’s very focused. He’s very relaxed. He doesn’t get overhyped. Sometimes kids get a little too hyped or angry and let their emotions take over.”
      Penn’s wrestling title run included plenty of mental exercises as well as practice room moves.
      Woods prospered on the visualization drills.
      His refusal to give up in a wrestling match or on a given football play also makes Woods exceptional.
      “You can’t have plays off (in football),” says Yeoman. “Every now and then you’re in a bad position. You’ve got a choice to quit or keep going and do something special. Some guys give in, but Kobe never does. He just makes plays.”
      Woods says it does not make sense to stop on a play since that just might be the play where the opponent coughs up and a defender needs to be ready to seize that opportunity.
      Yeoman says one way to grade a player’s worth is his ability to handle adversity.
      Like his solid B classroom average, Woods grades high on persistence.
      “He never backs down,” says Yeoman his defensive signal caller. “There’s no moping on the sideline (after a are bad sequence). There’s not time for that. You can do something about it. That’s what he wants to do.”
      Woods is also not afraid of leaving the comfort zone. In fact, he likes to do that during wrestling practice to extend his knowledge of the sport.
      “That way I can push my levels when I’m actually competing,” says Woods.
      Woods has come along way since his days of giving up 30 pounds and sometimes three years to his opponent while making it all the way to the IHSAA State Finals as a freshman.
      “That was really fun,” says Woods of the challenging experience. “That is really what did it for me. At some point I said, ‘I don’t care if you’re older, I don’t care if you’re stronger, I’m just going to go out and wrestle.’
      “Looking back, it was a benefit for me. I’ve really grown from that.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Konrath Going an Alternate Route

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      When the Indiana High School rankings are revealed, it will appear that there is one glaring omission.
      Paul Konrath, who finished second at 106 pounds his freshman year and third at 113 pounds as a sophomore, has chosen to not wrestle this high school season. Konrath is also a Flo and a Fargo champion.
      “This was a tough decision,” Konrath said. “There was quite a bit of thought behind it. My dad and I weighed the opportunities we saw with not wrestling for a high school and decided that was probably the best option for me.”
      Konrath, who had previously wrestled for Mt. Vernon High School, has also decided to complete his education at Indiana Connections Academy, and online school.
      The change in school to an online program will allow Konrath to wrestle in multiple national tournaments throughout the year. Those national tournaments are what the family is hoping will bring the most competition and the most college exposure to Paul.
      Tim Konrath, Paul’s dad, didn’t like that Paul had to miss out on several tournaments due to high school.
      “We went to as many tournaments as we could last year,” Tim said. “But the school frowns on missing too many days and we really pushed that envelope. His grades are very good, but they still want you in class.”
      With the online schooling, that frees Paul up to do more traveling.
      Paul will compete in Las Vegas, Missouri and in several other states this year.
      The Konrath family believes that by entering so many national tournaments, they will get more college exposure than wrestling the high school season. They also are excited that they will get to train with top notch coaches they have met through some of the big tournaments.
      Another reason for the decision, is that the rigors of high school wrestling have taken a toll on Paul, physically.
      Paul has dislocated his elbow, cracked his sternum and broken his nose more times than he can remember. He has also dislocated his knee cap multiple times. He had surgery on his knee earlier this year.
      “He really has to get some rest,” Tim said. “The high school season seems to always be hardest on his body, and the least rewarding as far as furthering his collegiate career.”
      Paul, a devout Christian, doesn’t have a specific college he’s looking to attend. He doesn’t know yet what he wants to study or what he wants to do after college. He said all of those things he has left undecided, waiting to hear what God has in store for him.
      “I know I may sound like a broken record,” Paul said. “But for me it’s a big deal to make sure I’m going where God wants me to, and doing what God wants me to do. I don’t want to get any ideas in my head about college or a career and it not be God’s plan.”
      That doesn’t mean Paul doesn’t have goals. He wants to climb the national rankings as high as he can and he wants to keep getting better. He also hopes to stay healthy.
      Paul is one of six Konrath brothers. His older brother Andrew was the best wrestler of the group, until Paul came along. Andrew was a two-time state qualifier.
      “All of my boys, except Paul, started wrestling when they got to high school,” Tim said. “None of them started young like Paul. The boys actually pushed me to get Paul in a program early.
      “I didn’t know how he would do. Then the coach called and told me that Paul was some sort of freak of nature, and I thought, ‘Yeah right, he’s a momma’s boy’. Then I went out and watched him and saw how much he loved wrestling and how he was pretty good at it. He won that tournament and we’ve been doing tournaments ever since.”
      Paul said his favorite moment in wrestling was after he won at Fargo and was able to talk about God during his video interview.
      “I’ve went to church my whole life and I have a passion for talking to the people around me about God,” Paul said. “That’s why whenever we go to a tournament I always meet new friends and I get to tell them about what Jesus has done for me. I love that.”
      Whether or not the decision to not wrestle in high school will help Paul’s recruitment process has yet to be determined. The Konraths are going all-in with the idea that increasing Paul’s national presence can only help.
      Paul still has strong ties with the Mt. Vernon wrestling family. His former high school coaches have been supportive. Paul plans to be at as many meets as he can, as a fan, and to be the team’s biggest supporter.
      “It’s tough because Paul really loved the kids in that program, and the coaches,” Tim said. “But we feel we are still representing Mt. Vernon whenever he goes to these big tournaments. Not only is Paul representing Mt. Vernon, he’s representing Indiana and that’s something he takes very seriously.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Wabash Wrestling has Lefever Fever

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      To say Wabash College’s wrestling program is like a family might be an understatement.
      Wabash has five wrestlers who have qualified for this weekend’s Division III Nationals, three of which are brothers.
      The Little Giant’s are hoping those brothers can catapult the team to their best ever finish in the National Championship.
      “Last year we finished ninth as a team, which was our best finish ever,” Wabash assistant coach Danny Irwin said. “Without a doubt we feel like we should do much better this year, just based on our seeds. All five guys are capable of getting on top of the podium.”
      Wabash is led by the Lefever brothers, who wrestled for Fort Wayne Carroll in high school. Twins Reece and Conner are seniors. Reece is the No. 2 seed at 157 pounds. Conner is the top seed at 174 pounds and younger brother Riley, a sophomore, is a returning champion who is the No. 1 seed at 184 pounds.
      Wabash freshman Devin Broukal and junior Ethan Farmer, both from Bloomington South High School, have also qualified for Nationals, but are unseeded.
      Riley won Nationals last season. Wrestling didn’t always come easy to the youngest Lefever brother, however. In high school he finished his freshman season with a dismal 11-18 record. He improved by his sophomore year, finishing 26-15. As a junior things really started to click. Riley was 38-3 his junior year, wrestling at 160 pounds.
      In his senior season Riley finished 46-1 and was a state runner up.
      “I didn’t really start to enjoy wrestling until my freshman year,” Riley said. “That’s when I found my love for the sport. I started wrestling all year around with my brothers. Because of that, I really started to improve pretty quickly.”
      The Lefevers are each others’ biggest supporters, but they are also highly competitive with one another – especially Conner and Reece.
      “With Riley being the little, big brother (he’s younger, but physically bigger) he doesn’t get into it as much as Reece and Conner do,” Irwin said. “I think those two would just assume kill each other then let the other guy win. We have to break them up all the time for the good of the team."
      “But as much as they fight, I don’t think anyone could be as supportive to each other as they are.”
      Conner admits that Riley is the toughest of the three right now, mainly because of his size.
      “Riley would beat the crap out of us,” he said. “He throws us around like rag dolls. We have had a lot of time to throw him around like that, until he got in college. We don’t like it, but it is what it is.”
      All three brothers credit their parents, Kent and Nancy, for pushing them to get better in the sport.
      “I know the way we were raised has had a big impact on how we wrestle,” Reece said. “My parents sent us to camps. They were always willing to spend the time and money it took to get us to tournaments and camps. They always made sure they gave us every opportunity in wrestling.”
      Even now, Kent and Nancy do not miss any matches. They travel all across the country to see their three boys compete.
      All three are hoping to take home a National Championship. They know that if they do, Wabash will place higher than it ever has before.
      “They all three can win,” Irwin said. “And hopefully get us some bonus points in the mix. If they do that, that will put us in contention for a National title.”
      Wabash finished the season with a 12-2 mark and was fourth at the National Duals.
      “We all love this school,” Reece said. “The team camaraderie is very good. We are all close friends and we all want our team to succeed. We are definitely a family at Wabash.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Hurford Wraps up Successful NJCAA Career

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Former Culver Community wrestling standout Matt Hurford is making a name for himself in the junior college ranks.
      Hurford recently finished as runner-up in the National Junior College Athletic Association championships. The Ellsworth Community College sophomore has placed runner-up in the championships both of his years at the school.
      Ellsworth is a two-year college program. So now Hurford is weighing his options and hoping to wrestle Division I for the remainder of his collegiate years.
      “I’ve got several Division I coaches talking to me,” Hurford said. “I’ve just got to decide what I’m going to do and what the best fit for me is going to be.”
      At Culver Community High School Hurford ended his senior year on a high note. He won state at 182 pounds, beating Perry Meridian’s Jake Massengale 9-4 in the final.
      “That was probably the highlight of my wrestling career so far,” Hurford said. “I was so happy after that.”
      Ellsworth coach Cole Spree was pleased to have Hurford on his team the past two seasons.
      “He’s the hardest worker we have,” Spree said. “That is ultimately the key to his success. His work ethic and what he expects from himself is second to none. There are times in the room where he gets beat by the other guys, but that’s only because he practices so hard, he warms up so hard, he can wear himself out because he only knows one speed.”
      Spree said he loves to recruit Indiana wrestlers. Ellsworth is located in Iowa Falls, Iowa.
      “I’ve got one other kid from Indiana on my team right now (Merrillville’s Isaac Rentas),” Spree said. “A lot of Indiana kids don’t want to go far away. But the kids from Indiana are usually very grounded and seem to all come from very good programs and they know their wrestling.”
      Hurford admits he has work to do in order to be able to compete at the level he would like to in Division I.
      “I think my strength and my hard work are my two biggest assets,” he said. “But I still have to improve technique-wise.”
      Hurford wasn’t always a good wrestler. He started competing in second grade and struggled quite a bit up until about seventh grade.
      “I think seventh grade is when things really started to click for me,” Hurford said.
      Wrestling has been an uphill climb for Hurford since the beginning. He didn’t get recruited heavily out of high school, despite winning the state championship. But it didn’t stop him. Instead he went to Ellsworth to improve, and has done so. Spree contributes Hurford’s success to the amount of time he spends working to get better.
      “Matt doesn’t have freaky speed,” Spree said. “He doesn’t have anything that would make you say ‘wow.’ But he’s got that attitude that no matter what is put in front of him, he’ll go around it, or through it, or over it. He’ll do whatever it takes. That’s why he will continue to be a success.”
      If you have a story idea for #WrestlingWednesday, email jerhines@cinergymetro.net with your suggestion.

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      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Merrillville's Purple Hulk

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Merrillville heavyweight Shawn Streck wants the record set straight. He does not eat 106 pounders for breakfast.
      The undefeated big man, who pinned his way through the state tournament, has taken on almost a Chuck Norris type mystique among Merrillville fans.
      It is rumored Streck is the reason Waldo is hiding. Some think he can cut a knife with butter. Others claim that a bullet proof vest wears Shawn Streck for protection.
      “I hear a lot of them,” Streck joked. “I’m pretty sure none of them are true. Especially the one about eating 106 pounders. I hear that one a lot.”
      In reality, Streck is a dominating force in the heavyweight ranks. He combines an uncanny amount of athleticism for a big guy, with strength and solid wrestling technique. He finished the 2015 campaign with a perfect 50-0 record.
      Streck pinned Dax Hiestand in the Friday night round of state. On Saturday he pinned Franklin Community’s Quinn York and then Plainfield’s Bryce Biddle. That set the stage for a showdown with No. 3-ranked Nathan Trawick of Richmond. Trawick is a mammoth heavyweight who can bench press over 400 pounds. That didn’t matter to Streck who put the Richmond senior on his back in the third period and didn’t let him up until the referee slapped the mat for the final time in the 2015 season.
      “I knew how strong he was,” Streck said. “I knew I needed to go out there, push the pace and just wear him down. That’s what I did.”
      Streck, just a junior, was ranked No. 1 all season long. He said it did not bother him that everyone was gunning for him this season. He did not feel the pressure because he tries to block that out of his mind.

      The only real time he got nervous during the state finals was when his good friend and teammate Jacob Covaciu was wrestling for the 145 pound championship.
      “I was way more nervous for Jacob’s match than I was my own,” Streck said. “He is one of my best friends. When he won, I knew I had to win too.”
      Covaciu won his title by reversing a semistate loss to Portage’s Steven Lawrence.
      “It has been pretty much indescribable since I won,” Covaciu said. “My phone has been blowing up with people congratulating me. Everyone is so supportive. State was so exciting. I got to wrestle so many very tough guys and I was able to come out on top.”
      Covaciu remembers vividly a conversation he and Streck had in a middle school wrestling camp about winning state in high school.
      “We have always talked about one day winning a title together,” Covaciu said. “When we were at a wrestling camp in middle school and we sat up late talking about how we both wanted to win a title together. That was our dream. After I won it, then I got to sit there and watch Shawn win – that was crazy.”
      Like Streck, Covaciu was ranked No. 1 all season. He is also a junior.
      Streck is getting college offers from schools from around the country, for both football and wrestling.
      “I am not sure where I am going to go and what I’m going to do yet,” Streck said. “I really like Minnesota, Missouri and Purdue for wrestling. I like Michigan State, Notre Dame and Purdue for football. Right now it’s all up in the air.
      “It’s pretty sweet to be getting attention from all of these schools. But it’s also very stressful. It’s a big life decision and I don’t want to make the wrong choice.”
      Both wrestlers are hoping to return next year and be as dominant as they finished this season.
      As far as Streck’s legend status at Merrillville, Covaciu says some of the things he hears is a little extreme. But he has seen first-hand things that Streck can do that most can’t.
      “Some of the things he does, lifting-wise is insane,” Covaciu said. “He can lift anything. He’s always breaking stuff like a big giant. Don’t give him something valuable because he’ll probably break it. He’s also constantly chewing on things and ripping things apart. Everyone keeps things away from Shawn so he doesn’t accidentally damage it.”


      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Hudkins Overcoming Injuries to Succeed

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Brock Hudkins is hoping his bad luck is finally behind him.
      The Danville junior 120-pounder has had untimely illnesses and injuries throughout his career. He broke his hand as a freshman, suffered from a severe case of dehydration at the state tournament as a sophomore and just recently recovered from a fractured finger.
      “Brock really has had a lot of bad luck,” Danville coach Steve Pugliese said. “He broke his hand his freshman year, and then he was sick at weigh-ins at state and couldn’t wrestle as a sophomore. This year he was working out on a Friday and ended up smashing his finger severely and had to lose a month of the season.
      “But he doesn’t let it affect him. “He understands that as long as he’s OK for the state tournament series, he can be a force.”
      When he has been on the wrestling mats, he’s been dominate. He missed a month of this season, but has advanced to Saturday’s Evansville semistate with a perfect record. Hudkins is currently 25-0 on the year.
      Hudkins started the season out as the No. 1 ranked 120-pounder in the state. Currently he is ranked fifth.
      As a freshman Hudkins finished fifth at 106 pounds.
      “I went into my high school career with the goal of winning four championships,” Hudkins said. “I finished fifth as a freshman. Everyone was telling me that fifth was a big deal. They would congratulate me on winning regional and semistate. But that wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted a state title.
      “I felt like I let myself down. I set my sights on winning the next year, but the cards didn’t play in my favor at all when I got sick at weigh-ins. But now, it’s all I think about. I want more than anything to get under those lights.”
      While most high school juniors enjoy video games, movies and having fun – Hudkins said his fun is wrestling. There is nothing else.
      “I completely believe that,” Pugliese said. “He has earned his success. He is always training. When he says he doesn’t do anything else, it’s true. He’s not just saying that. I think in the summer he probably wrestled 50 matches across the country and I don’t think he got beat.”
      Hudkins has a total of three losses in high school, yet he knew there were plenty of things to improve upon. According to Pugliese, he’s done that.
      “He has gotten a lot better on his feet,” Pugliese said. “We work on that 90 percent of our practice time, and it’s really showing now.”
      Pugliese feels that wrestlers at the elite level that Hudkins is at, have a certain quality that most wrestlers don’t exhibit.
      “When I took this job, Hudkins was in fourth grade,” Pugliese said. “Everyone talked about him and talked about him. Finally, when I saw him compete I found out why they were hyping him so much.
      “For him, like a lot of elite wrestlers, attitude is everything. He gets out in front of a bunch of people, and he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care who’s watching him. He knows what he can do. He knows he’s earned his success. He knows he deserves to win the match.”
      Pugliese also said that Hudkins is never arrogant or cocky about his abilities.
      Hudkins truly loves wrestling.
      “I love everything about it,” he said. “It’s fun. It’s the main reason why I wrestle. But I also love competing against other people. You don’t have to rely on teammates. It’s you and one guy in the middle of the mat going at it. Best man wins.”
      After high school Hudkins hopes to wrestle for a Division 1 school. He is still contemplating his educational goals, but he’s narrowed it down to either a lawyer, a physical trainer or an engineer.
      Hudkins will face Evansville Memorial sophomore Nolan Schaefer (27-18) in the first round of the Evansville semistate on Saturday.
      If you have a #WrestlingWednesday feature idea, please contact Jeremy Hines at jerhines@cinergymetro.net.


      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: From Rivals to Training Partners

      Brought to you by EI Sports

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

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      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Portage is Back on the Map

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      If anyone can teach a team to believe in itself, it’s Leroy Vega.
      Vega, who was told he was too small to wrestle collegiately, even after winning two Indiana state championships, went on to become a three time All-American at the University of Minnesota.
      Now Vega is instilling that confidence in the Portage High School team he coaches.
      “There are always going to be doubters that will tell you that you can’t do things,” Vega said. “Nobody knows the hard work you put in. Actions speak louder than words. If you do all the right things, things that matter, you’ll start to see the payoff. That’s what we are trying to do and all of the guys are buying into it.”
      Vega says that Portage put themselves on the state map this season after winning the prestigious Lake Central Harvest tournament.
      “We started the season out a little off the radar,” Vega said. “Then we won the Lake Central Harvest tournament, beating Penn who was ranked No. 1 at the time. All 14 of our guys placed. People started to take notice. From there we have kept improving.”
      Portage lost just one dual this season, falling to Penn in a rematch.
      “We have a really solid 14,” Vega said. “We don’t have any holes in our lineup. Heading into the post season everyone is healthy. If things work out we can get some guys to state and a couple of guys into the finals.”
      One of Portage’s top wrestlers this season has been junior 145-pounder Steven Lawrence. Lawrence is currently ranked No. 3 in the weight class. One of Lawrence’s few losses came at the hands of No. 1-ranked Jacob Covaciu in a 2-1 decision.
      “We all push each other in the wrestling room,” Lawrence said. “And one of the team’s big focuses is to make sure we do something every day to get better. We don’t want to go a day without improving.”
      Vega is the first to admit that it takes a more than just one coach to make a successful team.
      “My assistant coaches have all really helped make us successful,” Vega said. “Each one of them has a different role. They have been outstanding.”
      Portage has seven different wrestlers ranked in the top 20 of their weight classes this season. Lawrence (145) and junior Gaige Torres (126) are both ranked No. 3. Senior Matt Hedrick (195) is ranked 10th in the state with freshman (106) Collin Poynter joining in the rankings at No. 13.
      Senior Davin Gonzalez (152), sophomore Ismeal Cornejo (170) and junior Braden Majewski (220( are all ranked No. 16 in their respective weight classes.
      “I’d probably say Ismeal Cornejo is the guy that leads by example on this team,” Vega said. “He’s always staying after practice and putting in extra work to get better. But really all the guys do that.”
      Vega said that there is hardly a day that has went by in the last 33 years that he hasn’t laced up his wrestling shoes and went on the mat. He loves coaching and the competitive rivalry he is building with the other coaches across the state. He said it still doesn’t replace that feeling of going out there and wrestling himself, but it’s a way to still be competitive.
      “Wrestling has taught me a lot about discipline, hard work and dedication,” Vega said. “Now I’m competing as a coach and I’m getting the team ready. We want to someday win a state title and we’d love to have an individual win a title.”
      Vega started wrestling when he was four years old. Now his four-year-old son Lydon Jay (named after Jay Robinson), is in love with the sport as well. He wants to be at every Portage practice. He watches film and he looks up to the guys on the team.
      “I’m so glad he has fallen in love with this sport,” Vega said.
      Portage will wrestle in the Calumet sectional on Saturday.

      1935 6

      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Red's Quest for Perfection

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Chad Red, Jr., or C.J as he is known, is one of Indiana’s most dominating high school wrestlers this season. He is the top 126-pounder in the state, and the No. 1 wrestler at that weight in the nation according to FloWrestling. Still, Red is always afraid that the next match might be the one he messes up in and loses. That’s what fuels him.
      “My goal is to be first in everything I do,” Red said. “I don’t like being ranked. I like to try and beat the odds. Now I have that number sign in front of my name. It doesn’t mean anything to me except that people are going to come at me harder, and want to beat me that much worse. I know I have to go out each time and work as hard as I can and wrestle the best I can, or I’ll lose.”
      Red, who wrestles for his dad Chad, Sr., at New Palestine High School, has been beaten before. He hasn’t lost in the Indiana high school seasons. He is a two time state champion and is undefeated in his high school career. But in the national tournaments, he has tasted defeat. He hated it.
      “I remember I was up 2-0 in a tournament and got caught in a headlock,” C.J. said. “I immediately called my dad and told him what happened. We talked for a few minutes then I turned off the phone and went back to training.”
      Coach Red says that is one of his son’s strengths. He can take a defeat and learn much more from that than he ever could from a win.
      But those defeats are very rare. So coach Red makes sure to keep his son grounded after each match. If C.J. takes a sloppy shot, or doesn’t have good foot movement, coach Red will point that out – even in victory. Coach Red does not want his son being satisfied with a mediocre win.
      “Wrestling for my dad has its ups and downs,” C.J. said. “He’s always on me. He tells me how I didn’t do this right, or that. I know it’s all constructive criticism, and I like it. It’s good. It makes me want to work harder.
      “I’ll go out there and feel like I wrestled a very good match. But when my dad tells me I did a good job, that’s when I really know I accomplished something. “
      Inside, C.J. feels vulnerability. He knows he has weaknesses. But on the outside, he has always been a pillar of confidence.
      “We do not allow him to be cocky at all,” coach Red said. “We do not tolerate that. With Chad though, he has a swag of some sort. He has a confidence. That’s Chad. He’s been that way since he was born. He’s always been confident in himself. There is nothing wrong with that. He has to believe in what he’s doing. We, as coaches, can’t call plays or audibles from the sidelines in wrestling. He has to have his best every time he steps out on the mat.”
      That’s one of the reason C.J. loves wrestling.
      “It’s only you out there,” he said. “If you lose, you can only blame it on yourself. There are no excuses in wrestling.”
      C.J. wrestles a lot of Greco during the summers, despite his dad wishing he wouldn’t. But the 126-pound junior feels that is a way to get better. He wants to push himself, even when it means working on things he is not quite as good at.
      Coach Red sees a bright future in the sport of wrestling for his son. That’s why they work as hard as they do.
      “A lot of people tell Chad that he is good,” coach Red said. “I think he’s pretty good. I’m his biggest fan, but also his biggest critic. We have very high expectations for how he can perform. There is a big prize down the road for him if he continues to work. Whether it’s a college scholarship or whatever, there is something out there waiting on him. And there is always someone out there working to beat him.”
      New Palestine’s 120-pounder, Eugene Starks, is one of C.J.’s main practice partners in the Dragon wrestling room.
      “Chad is very aggressive and quick on his feet,” Starks said. “In practice I try to put up a fight with him. It has helped me tremendously. His shots are so good, it helps me learn to defend the shot better. He’s a great partner and a great teammate.”
      Red won state as a freshman at 106 pounds. Last year he was crowned the 120-pound champ. He has a goal to go undefeated in high school and win four state championships in the process.
      “It’s been a real blessing having a kid like Chad,” coach Red said. “He’s a great son, and a friend. I think the sky is the limit for him. He’s very solid and has a chance to really do something special. But like I always tell him, he has to keep a level head, stay focused on the prize and work to achieve it.”
      If you have a #WrestlingWednesday feature idea, email it to jerhines@cinergymetro.net

      3570 3

      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Mater Dei Returns to the Top

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Evansville Mater Dei got a late start to the wrestling season, like many teams with a successful football team. The school of just over 500 students reached the state championship game on the gridiron. That left little time to prepare for wrestling.
      But Mater Dei quickly adjusted, and is now a dominating force on the mats.
      “We got off to a late start because of football,” Wildcats coach Greg Schaefer said. “Over half of our lineup plays football. It’s not just our big guys either.”
      Schaefer wasn’t entirely pleased with the team’s early dual meets. It wasn’t that Mater Dei had done poorly, it was just that Schaefer puts high expectations on the team with one of the richest wrestling traditions in the state.
      Soon, things started to click for the Wildcats. The turning point of the season, according to Schaefer, was the team state meet.
      “The guys really turned the corner at team state,” Schaefer said. “The New Palestine match, we had guys step up and get some big wins. Then we just seem to have a progression the rest of the day. “
      Mater Dei defeated Westfield 73-3, New Palestine 56-9, Warren Central 42-23 and Perry Meridian 31-27 to claim the IHSWCA Team State title for class 3A.
      Statistically speaking, the Mater Dei lineup is absolutely stacked. Seven weight classes have wrestlers ranked in the top 12.
      Sophomore Will Egli is currently ranked No. 7 at 120 pounds. Senior Alex Johnson is No. 4 at 126. The Lee brothers, sophomore Nick and freshman Joe, are both highly ranked. Nick is No. 1 at 132 while Joe is No. 3 at 138.
      “The Lee brothers are hard working kids that maintain good attitudes,” Schaefer said. “They are good teammates. As a coach you really appreciate those type of athletes. It’s not always about them, they are team-first wrestlers. They are good young men as well as good wrestlers.”
      Junior Blake Jourdan is ranked No. 5 at 145 pounds with senior Ashton Forzley ranked No. 9 at 160. Senior Sam Bassemier is the No. 12-ranked 182 pounder in the state.
      “It’s hard to say where we are at in the history of Mater Dei wrestling,” Schaefer said. “I will say that from top to bottom this is one of the stronger teams we have had since I’ve been coaching.”
      Mater Dei has roughly 35 kids on its team this season. That depth has helped lead to success on the mat.
      “Tradition sums up a lot of what Mater Dei wrestling is about,” Schaefer said. “We have strong families with a strong sense of community. They take ownership and responsibility to represent the school to the best of their ability. That has led to a lot of our success.
      “We have great feeder league coaches that have been around for a long time. They take a lot of pride in what they do.
      “And we also have guys that people don’t know about that are really the backbone of our program. It’s not the ones that get their names in the paper. It’s the guys who go to practice and do their jobs every day. You can’t have a good team without good people to practice with. Those guys push the guys in the lineup because there is always competition for those spots.”
      Schaefer does not appoint team captains. He feels the true leaders of the team will step up when the time comes and become the unofficial captains. Everyone on the team is responsible for holding each other accountable in the classroom, after school and on the mats.
      Mater Dei’s team goals this season were to win every dual meet. They have just one more dual this season, tomorrow night against rival Evansville Reitz. The team also placed a goal of winning the team state tournament.
      Individually Schaefer is hoping to have several state placers this season. Mater Dei has not had a state champ in 10 years. The last Wildcat champion was Matt Coughlin at 152 pounds in 2005.
      “We’ve had a few runners up and a few place winners since then,” Schaefer said. “But to win a state title it takes more than just being a good wrestler. Things have to go your way. In many cases you have to overcome circumstances or calls. You can’t just be good. You also have to put yourself in the right circumstances.”
      Schaefer would know. He is a two-time state champion.
      Schaefer is a theology teacher at Mater Dei as well as the wrestling coach. It’s a job he loves and plans to stay at for a very long time.

      4203 4

      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: 900 Wins and Counting

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      NEW CASTLE — A lot has changed in the world since Rex Peckinpaugh began coaching wrestling at New Castle High School.
      Michael Jackson was the big hit on the radio when Peckinpaugh started out. Ronald Reagan was President. Microsoft introduced the world to MS-DOS, the 3M company started mass producing Post-it notes and MTV first went on the air.
      One thing that hasn’t changed for Peckinpaugh, now in his 34th season at the helm of the Trojan team, is his ability to win.
      Peckinpaugh reached his 900th dual victory of his career (all with New Castle) last week at the Broncho Duals in Lafayette. New Castle went 8-1 in the meet to push its season record to 27-4.
      “When I got that 900th win, it was a special moment,” Peckinpaugh said. “I couldn’t help but sit back and think of my mom and dad who didn’t miss a match for about 500 of those wins. But when it was over, I was ready to go for 901 wins.”
      Peckinpaugh has been Indiana’s winningest coach for years. He is No. 2 nationally in high school wins.
      “Rex is obviously a good coach,” former Trojan standout turned Shenandoah head coach Gary Black said. “You don’t get anywhere near 900 wins without knowing what you’re doing. But I think he’s an even better motivator in life. For Rex, it isn’t so much about the wins and losses as it is about having the chance to instill great values and teach kids to be good individuals off the mat.”
      Peckinpaugh can still tell specific details about every wrestler that has put on a Trojan uniform for him.
      “They are all still pretty fresh in my mind,” Peckinpaugh said. “I can tell stories on any of them if I’m asked to do so.”
      Peckinpaugh continues to coach because he loves watching kids improve.
      “It’s not so much about the winning and losing,” Peckinpaugh said. “My favorite part of coaching is seeing kids get better in the sport. I love that moment when the lights go on so to speak. Also, I enjoy building the team each year. It’s like a construction project. Every year something changes and you have to figure out how to build the team to be successful.”
      This year the Trojans do not have any seniors in the lineup. They are led by seven freshmen, four juniors and three sophomores.
      “He’s taken a very young team and has worked to get the most out of his lineup,” Black said. “It’s easy to see why he’s so successful.”
      One stat that Peckinpaugh is proud of is that all of his teams have either won a sectional, a conference title or a regional. The Trojans had a winning streak of 106 matches from 1992-95. The team won 29 consecutive sectional titles from 1976 until 2003 (a streak that started before coach Peckinpaugh took over at New Castle).
      The 2004-05 Trojans lost the sectional to Centerville. It was the only time a Peckinpaugh coach team did not win the sectional tournament. But instead of focusing on the loss, Peckinpaugh geared the team up for the upcoming regional. New Castle would later win the team regional and become the first team in the state to not win a sectional, but turn around and claim a regional title.
      “That’s an important thing as a coach and as a wrestler,” Peckinpaugh said. “You have to have a short memory. If you get beat, you have to look at what’s next. If you don’t, you’ll get caught up in celebrating the moment and lose the next one. Or you’ll be so depressed you’ll lose the next one.”
      Peckinpaugh is the first to point out that his success also has a lot to do with those who are helping him. Mark “Sparky” Griffith has been an assistant coach for Peckinpaugh for almost the entire time he’s been at New Castle. Frank Ryan, Ted Fitzgerald and Larry Sutton were also instrumental in building the New Castle program. He also points out that his wife Bonnie has been a huge supporter of the team for the last 20 years.
      Peckinpaugh has coached three four-time state finalists in Mac Taylor, Matt Jaggers and Connor Mullins. He has had one state champion — James “Bubba” Dickerson won heavyweight in 1995 as a junior. He passed away before his senior season. He has had a plethora of state placers, including Brenden Campbell who was a state runner-up two seasons in a row. Campbell is currently wrestling for the United States Naval Academy.
      In 1995 and 1996 New Castle was the team runner-up in the state. The Trojans took eight to state in 1996.
      Peckinpaugh is a health teacher at New Castle. He is also on the New Castle City Council. He was an assistant football coach for the Trojans in the 80s. He also was the girls golf coach for a short time.
      “Coaching girls golf was an interesting experience,” Peckinpaugh said. “They needed someone and I said I’d do it.”
      Peckinpaugh is not sure when he will retire from coaching. He feels he has a good assistant in Jason Martin who can take over the team and keep it in good hands.
      “Jason has been trying to get me to stay on to maybe go for 1,000 wins,” Peckinpaugh said. “I don’t know if I’ll hold on that long. But I do love coaching the kids, and that will never change.”
      If you have an interesting feature idea, please contact Jeremy Hines at jerhines@cinergymetro.net.


      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Prairie Heights Resurgence Orchestrated by a Basketball Player

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Four years ago Prairie Heights High School needed a wrestling coach. Applicants weren’t exactly lining up at the door to take over a program that had fallen on hard times.
      So the school’s athletic director approached an unlikely candidate — a former basketball player named Brett Smith.
      Smith, who teaches at the school district’s middle school, had no wrestling experience. He was related to the former wrestling coach, and had helped kids with lifting weights and staying in shape in the offseason. That was the extent of his wrestling knowledge.
      He didn’t shy away from the challenge. Smith told the athletic director he would take the job, but he needed to be able to hire the best assistant coaches he could find.
      Smith called brothers John and Mike Levitz, two of Prairie Heights greatest former wrestlers. John had set nearly all of the Panther’s wrestling records, until Mike came along and broke them. Smith remembers watching the Levitz brothers wrestle in high school. He knew they were the right people for the job.
      There was one more piece to the puzzle Smith was trying to assemble, and the Levitz brothers knew exactly what that was. They called their old high school coach Lee Fry and talked him out of retirement to join in their campaign.
      The first year together the Panthers finished the season with a miserable 12-17 record. The next year they had raised their mark to .500 at 16-16. Last year the team posted a winning record at 17-12.
      This year the Panthers are 21-2 and are the top-seeded Class A team going in to this weekend’s team state tournament.
      It hasn’t been an easy road, by any means, but the kids have bought into the coaches’ system.
      “I think one of the main things that has helped us is that we do everything the wrestlers do,” Smith said. “We do the same lifting and running. The kids see us busting our butts with them, and that pushes them to do the same. They work hard because they can see us working hard for them.”
      Mike and John started coaching kids in their basement several years ago. They had purchased old wrestling mats from a barn nearby. It took hours to clean the mats enough to get them in usable shape. They put them in John’s basement and started working with kids. At first it was just John’s sons Doug (junior, 145 lbs) and Jed (freshman, 160 lbs). But soon the workouts in their basement grew to over 20 kids.
      “Wrestling is just about life for our family,” John said. “My brothers and I, we lived wrestling. When Mike graduated, we were lost. Our parents were lost. We needed wrestling back in our lives.”
      Now wrestling is once again a large part of the Levitz’s daily routine. John’s sons both wrestle, as does Mike’s sons Isiah, Sam and Matt. Mike’s sons are not in high school yet, but they are all dedicated to the sport.
      “Wrestling has taught me so much for life,” Mike said. “It taught hard work and dedication. Wrestling is a family thing. Everyone in the sport is tight.”
      Prairie Heights is a small farming community. That’s a key to the wrestling success as well, according to Smith.
      “We’re just a small farm town,” Smith said. “But all the kids have grown up to be hard workers because of that. We know the kids work hard, and we know their parents work hard. And work ethic in the wrestling room has been what has led us to the success we’re having.”
      The Panthers have goals this year of winning the Northeast Corner Conference, winning team state, and sending at least one wrestler to Banker’s Life Fieldhouse for the wrestling state finals. In their four years of coaching together, they have not had a wrestler go to state yet.
      “We have the potential to change that this year,” John said. “I’d love to see us get more than one there this year.”
      A former basketball player, a retired coach and a couple of brothers who hadn’t coached high school wrestling before isn’t the typical recipe for success on the mats. But it works for Prairie Heights. The team wouldn’t want it any other way.


      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Kieffers Overcome Opponents On and Off the Mat

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Wrestlers live for the sensation of having their hands raised in victory. It’s the ultimate expression of success. It signifies that on that day, in that moment, they were better than the opponent standing across from them.
      Joe Kieffer raised his hand in victory a final time on October 29th. It wasn’t on the mat, it was in a hospital. Joe raised his hand high, clinched his fist and rang a bell on the wall at Riley Hospital that signified Joe had completed his fight against cancer. It was a moment that took three years to achieve. Ringing that bell gave Joe his life back.
      To understand how significant ringing the bell that October day was, you have to know what Joe went through to get to that point.
      Kieffer is the youngest son of parents Kevin and Jenny. His twin brothers, Josh and Justin are both collegiate wrestlers. Joe was following in their footsteps. All of the Kieffer brothers were exceptional wrestlers for Roncalli high school.
      “Joe, before leukemia, was a great wrestler with the same potential both of his brothers had,” Roncalli coach Lance Ellis said. “He lost his freshman year in semistate. He got caught with a headlock his sophomore year. In his junior season he was involved in the most controversial match I’ve ever seen in my life. He was winning and the clock went off and he stopped and a guy jumped on him. I’ve never seen anything like it. We were hoping for a possible state title that year.”
      But soon Joe’s wrestling career wouldn’t matter much anymore.
      After his junior year he was competing at freestyle state and he kept feeling winded and very tired. That was not typical for an athlete of Joe’s caliber. He didn’t think too much of it though, and went on to wrestle at central regionals.
      “I got beat up and I looked terrible out there,” Joe said. “I could hardly practice. I was very weak. We just thought I had mono.”
      Things got even worse at Disney Duals. Joe’s body simply would not allow him to compete at the level he was accustomed to.
      The Kieffer family took a small break from wrestling and went on a fishing trip to Minnesota. Joe’s condition continued to get worse.
      “I came home and went to the doctor,” Joe said. “The doctor wanted to put me on anti-stress relievers. Stress can sometimes cause some of the same symptoms. But when they checked my blood, a few hours later they told me I had leukemia.”
      At first Joe didn’t comprehend the severity of his diagnosis.
      “My first thought was that this wasn’t happening,” he said. “It was unreal. It didn’t even hit me that it was cancer at the moment. Then, the whole thought of dying started to set in. I didn’t realize how serious it really was.”
      The diagnosis immediately ended Joe’s wrestling dreams.
      Justin and Josh were told the news that day.
      “I had just left for college,” Justin said. “It was my first period of time away from the house in my life. I was close to home, but I had moved out. Wrestling and college had picked up, and when I learned it was so hard to wrap my head around everything that was going on in my life. I was trying to balance that horrible news as well as all these new challenges in my own life. It was almost impossible for me to think about anything but Joe.”
      After the initial shock of his diagnosis, Joe approached his battle with cancer just like he did with his opponents on the mat. He went on the attack and refused to be defeated.
      Joe started chemotherapy treatments almost immediately. But because of his extensive battle with leukemia, he was forced to drop out of school at Roncalli.
      “Physically the hardest part was the very beginning,” Joe said. “I pretty much lost all mobility from the waist down. I had no strength in my legs. I couldn’t stand up or walk. I felt crippled and I was in a wheelchair for about a month.
      “But by far the most difficult part was the mental aspect. I felt secluded from the whole world. My immune system was so weak, I could not go to school. I couldn’t have visitors. If I talked to my friends, it had to be over the phone or through texts. I was extremely lonely.”
      Although he was lonely, Joe was far from being alone. The entire wrestling community rallied around the Kieffer family. They participated in charity golf outings and other fund raising events to help pay for Joe’s treatments. Messages poured in from coaches and wrestlers from around the state.
      “The whole wrestling community really stepped up,” Ellis said. “So many people who had no real ties to Joe stepped in to help. I remember New Castle coach Rex Peckinpaugh bringing me a museum of stuff to raffle off to raise money for Joe. It was like a whole collection that would take someone 30 years to collect. He handed over stuff I didn’t want to give up. But he did it to help Joe. So many people stepped up like that.”
      After nine months of treatment Joe surprised everyone and returned to school, and to wrestling. He was still going to chemotherapy once a month, and his body was nowhere near at the strength level it once was, but he didn’t care.
      “I only wrestled four matches the whole year,” Joe said. “But that didn’t matter. My best moment in my wrestling career came on my first match back. For me it was an extremely tough match, and I ended up winning. All the emotion of where I had came from to get back to that point really overwhelmed me. Our team was cheering and even the other team knew what that win meant for me.”
      Justin was happy for the win, but it was hard for him to watch.
      “When he won, I had this weird feeling,” Justin said. “I was very happy for him. It was a long time coming. But it was weird seeing him out there looking the way he did. It was hard to see kids give Joe a good match when I knew Joe would dominate those same kids before cancer.”
      Joe would not win another match in his high school career. That didn’t matter — because he was still battling the one opponent he wanted to beat more than anyone. His fight with cancer was not done.
      Joe and cancer went toe-to-toe for three long, grueling years. There were periods of time when cancer seemed to have the advantage. But Joe never quit. He never gave in.
      “This has opened my eyes to so many things outside of wrestling,” Joe said. “Before leukemia, wrestling was my priority. Now I want to do things for others. My whole lifestyle is different now. My priorities are different.
      “But I know wrestling helped me in this journey. In wrestling you don’t quit. You have to be a fighter. Wrestling toughened me up and helped me be mentally tough enough to fight this disease.”
      As Joe battled cancer, he would see others ring the bell on the wall at Riley Hospital. He couldn’t wait until he got his turn.
      On October 29th, he did just that. Surrounded by friends, family and the doctors he had grown to love at Riley — Joe rang the bell. His treatments were officially over. Joe had won the most important battle of his young life.
      Joe is now 21 years old. He will go to the University of Indianapolis, where his brothers wrestle, and study supply chain management. He wants to get into a logistics firm. He also has applied to be on a fire department, because he knows he will always have a strong desire to help others.
      He is healthy now. He’s not as strong as he wants to be yet, but he’s getting there.
      Joe’s journey has changed many around him, including his brother and his high school coach.
      “Joe’s battle has taught me a lot,” Justin said. “I take every day as it comes and thank God I’m here on this world. It has helped me get closer to God and my family. I want to cherish every moment I have with them.”
      Ellis, who won four state championships in his Indiana high school career before taking the coaching helm at Roncalli, says watching Joe go through what he did was one of the toughest things he’s ever endured.
      “Honestly, this was the hardest thing I ever went through,” Ellis said. “But you learn you can’t take anything for granted. Love your family. Love your kids. Live your life the best you can.”
      If you have a feature story idea about Indiana wrestling, please email jerhines@cinergymetro.net.

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      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Drew Hughes of Lowell on Task for Elusive State Title

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Drew Hughes has already had the type of high school wrestling career many dream of. He finished second in the state his freshman season and fifth last year. But Hughes is far from satisfied.
      Hughes doesn’t aim for fifth place. His goal is a championship — nothing less.
      Hughes sets the bar high for himself. Anything less than a state championship will be a disappointment.
      Last state tournament might have been a turning point in Hughes’ career. He had beaten Lawrence North’s Tommy Cash and Merriville’s Jacob Covaciu during the season. He topped Cash 4-0 and Covaciu by technical fall. But after he was pinned in the first minute of the second round of state by Center Grove senior Tyler Fleener (via the spladle), he had to watch Cash claim the 138-pound title with a 5-3 decision over Covaciu.
      “That has motivated me,” Hughes said. “The fact that I was there just watching, and not being out there wrestling in the finals pushes me every day. I realized I had to get better on my feet. I needed to work harder on my all-around technique.”
      Hughes has done just that.
      Hughes is one of the best in the state from the top position. He can turn almost anyone he faces. But now he’s added a new dimension to his repertoire. He has greatly improved his attacks from the neutral position. He has become more confident on his feet.
      The improved performance on his feet has led to a 13-0 start to the season for the Lowell junior. He has not given up a point, and has pinned all 13 wrestlers who have stepped on the mat against him.
      “My goal is a state title,” Hughes said. “But I also want to go through the year without getting scored on, and by pinning everyone I face.”
      Hughes is currently the top-ranked 160 pounder in the state. The No. 2-ranked grappler at 160, Crown Point’s Darden Schurg, is one Hughes will likely see several times during the tourney. The two are in the same sectional, regional and semistate.
      “We have grown up wrestling each other,” Hughes said. “We have wrestled each other since we were 8-years old.”
      Inside the Lowell wrestling room, Hughes has been training with Eric McGill, a former two-time state champion for Munster High School. He won the 125-pound class as a junior and 140 as a senior. McGill went on to wrestle for Cornell University.
      “I wrestle with him quite a bit,” McGill said. “.He has good practice partners, but most of the live wrestling is done with me. When he was smaller I could beat him. Now he’s bigger and he’s getting the better of me. It’s fun, but he’s a beast now.”
      Hughes has great respect for McGill.
      “He has been a really good influence on me,” Hughes said. “He’s one of the best partners you could have.”
      Hughes’ older brother Kenny has also been a good influence. Kenny was ranked No. 2 last year at 160 pounds. He lost in the same round of state as Drew, and ended up finishing seventh.
      Hughes has jumped from the 120 pound class as a freshman, to 160 now. This year he isn’t having to cut weight, unlike past seasons. That decision has allowed this year to be his most fun so far.
      “I love wrestling because it’s a fun sport,” Hughes said. “And when you’re not cutting weight you’re not in that bad mood that cutting can some times lead to. I’m able to focus a lot more on wrestling now.”
      With weight no longer an issue, Hughes is concentrating on getting back under the lights. His freshman year he was defeated by Warren Central’s Deondre Wilson 6-2 in the championship match at 120 pounds.
      “I was hoping I was going to be wresting for a title last year,” Hughes said. “But I remember as a freshman that it was a great experience. Looking back I know I was a little shocked to be there wrestling under the lights. I really felt I could have won, but I froze up. If I get there again, I’m not going to get so caught up with the atmosphere. I’m going to go out and do what I do, and just wrestle.”

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