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      #MondayMatness: Flatt Encourages Individualism for the Wildcats

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


      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Two New College Programs in Indiana

      Brought to you by EI Sports

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

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      #MondayMatness: Hildebrandts Working Towards the Top of the Podium

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

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      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Blast from the Past with Randy May

      Brought to you by EI Sports

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


      #MondayMatness: Eli Working on Another Podium Finish

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

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

      Brought to you by EI Sports

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


      #MondayMatness: Jimmies Rise to the Occasion

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

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      #WrestlingWednesday: Olympians Building with Core Group of Lightweights

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Columbus East senior Coy Park has wrestled at 182 pounds his entire high school career. But when coach Chris Cooper told Park it would help the team if he dropped to 170, Park did just that.
      “Coy said he would cut the weight and get down to 170,” Cooper said. “When I told him it would help the team, there was never any question in his mind. He was going to do whatever he needed to do to help us succeed. Coy is without question our team leader. He leads by example and he can be vocal. He’s 100 percent about the team all the time.”
      That mindset has driven the Olympians to success this season. Every wrestler on the team will do whatever it takes to make the team better. Cooper feels that his squad can be a legitimate contender to win the team state title as long as they keep getting better.
      Leading the way for the Olympians is a core of young ranked wrestlers at the lower weights. Freshman Cayden Rooks is the No. 1-ranked 106-pounder in the state. Freshman Jake Schoenegge is ranked No. 14 at 113. Graham Rooks, who finished third last season at 106 pounds, is now ranked No. 4 at 120. Sophomore Dawson Combest is the 14th ranked 126 pounder in the state.
      “Those guys kind of give you some hammers in your lineup,” Cooper said. “They are the kind of guys that live and breathe wrestling. They are the kind of kids that have been in big meets before, and big situations. That experience, even at a young age, helps everyone on the team.”
      The only other ranked wrestler on the Columbus East squad is senior heavyweight Sean Galliger. Galliger is ranked No. 5.
      Rounding out the lineup is sophomore Corbin Pollitt at 132, senior Jake Martindale at 138, freshman Hunter Dickmeyer at 145, senior Ben Wilkerson at 152, junior Austin Wilson at 160, sophomore Lane Goode at 182, junior Seth Turner at 195 and junior Austin Sheckles at 220.
      Senior Quade Greiwe was a semistate qualifier last season for the Olympians, but had a season-ending ACL injury earlier this year.
      The Olympians started the season out with a loss to sectional rival Jennings County, 37-28. Cooper is hoping the team has improved significantly since that time.
      “We are fired up for the state tournament to begin,” Cooper said. “We are not the best team in the state today. We didn’t start out as the best team in the state. But we hope to be one of, if not the best team in the state come tournament time.
      “Jennings County is tough. They beat us already. They are returning sectional champions. But we hope we are a different team now and up to the challenge.”
      The Olympians last won the Jennings County sectional title in 2013. In 2014 Columbus East finished fifth behind Greensburg, Jennings County, Madison and Columbus North. Twenty points separated the top five teams that season.
      Last year Jennings County ran away with the championship – outscoring Columbus East 268-148.
      Cooper has stressed the importance of summer wrestling to his team – which has bought in to his philosophy. The kids wrestled over 30 matches during the offseason and also bonded as a team. Now they are also buying into Cooper’s philosophy that they have to improve each and every day.
      “I think that’s one of the biggest keys to success,” Cooper said. “You have to use every day to get better. Every day you have to make a conscious effort to improve in something.”
      The Olympians have tried to make their schedule very difficult, especially early on.
      “We want to find out early what our flaws and our weaknesses are,” Cooper said. “That’s why we start with such a tough schedule. Then we can work on those flaws, and as the season progresses we really show how battle tested we are.”

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      #MondayMatness: The Culp Family is Hooked on Wrestling

      By Steve Krah
      When the mat sport attracts a child, it often brings whole family with it.
      Once that flame is lit, it’s next impossible to extinguish.
      An interest sparked into just such a passion for the Culps of Columbia City.
      Two topics come up at family meal time.
      “Wrestling and racing,” Pat Culp said. “That’s all we talk about at our house.”
      Blane Culp, son of Pat and David, loves the mat and dirt track racing and runs a website (http://www.maximumdirt.com/) dedicated to the latter.
      But it’s the love of takedowns, turns and technical falls that has gone on to have a major impact on not only Whitley County but the whole Indiana wrestling community and beyond.
      Introduced to competitive wrestling around age 6, Blane Culp enjoyed early success. He placed second in his weight class in at the Indiana State Wrestling Association state tournament in his second year and was hooked.
      “I lost to a kid named (Angel) Ecobedo (who went on to become four-time IHSAA state champion at Griffith High School and then an NCAA champion and four-time collegiate All-American for Indiana University),” Blane Culp recalls. “I was probably the last one who came close to beating him in Indiana.”
      Blane’s older brother, Josh Ross, also was having a blast and winning matches.
      Around 1996, the Culps — Pat and husband Dave (who had been a wrestler at Lewis Cass High School, where he graduated in 1977) — started the Columbia City Wrestling Club. Blane and Josh were an active part of an organization that went on to be one of the bigger ones around the state with an enrollment consistently over 100.
      While other family members Kayla Culp, David Stahl and Shane Stahl would be involved on the mats at the club and/or high school levels, Josh would go on to compete at 140 pounds in the IHSAA State Finals in his senior year at Columbia City (1998) while 125-pounder Blane placed third in his final prep season (2004).
      Randy Kearby was the Eagles head coach for both boys.
      Blane went on to grappled for two seasons at IU. He was an assistant at Bloomington North High School and is now in his sixth years as head coach at Columbia City.
      With all the knowledge gained as a wrestler and coach, Blane throws a lot of information at his young Eagles and they incorporate what works best for them.
      “I show a lot of stuff and they take what they want,” Blane Culp said. “We have short stocky guys and tall skinny guys. Some run legs and some run cradles. All of our guys are different.
      “There is not a set style in Columbia City and I like that. That’s the way it was when I was in school. I wrestled one way, but could change it for someone else.”
      Columbia City wrestlers generally have three of four options to take on double leg takedowns or finishes and they refine those as the season gets closer to conference and state tournament time.
      “By the end of the year, they’re picking their set-ups and their finishes,” Blane Culp said. “Come January and February, they are fine-tuning their favorite moves. It’s no longer in my hands. It’s in their hands.”
      Pat Culp has kept a hand in the sport because she believes in it.
      “Wrestling builds self esteem,” Pat Culp said. “It’s really good for the kids. That’s why I stayed involved.”
      And involved she is.
      Pat Culp, the Columbia City club president, got so caught up in the fun and excitement that she began helping to organize wrestling tournaments outside her club and became an ISWA Pairing Developmental Director.
      “I love organizing events,” Pat Culp said.
      She routinely runs or oversees multiple tournaments — high school and club — at the same time. She trains workers and is available on-site or by phone as a trouble shooter.
      Mark Dunham, Kyle Keith and Jean Whetstone are other volunteers who keep Indiana wrestling events running like clockwork.
      While more and more tournaments use Trackwrestling for scoring, Pat Culp insists that workers know how to manually score a tournament in case something happens like a computer server going down.
      “We want to keep the tournament running without people realizing what’s going on,” Pat Culp said. “There are a lot of variables, but it’s a lot of fun.”
      She knows that not all tournaments are the same and she tries to cater to each director. Some are ran as duals and other with individual brackets. Scoring for advancement and match points can differ.
      One tournament might be rigid for location of matches and others might go with first available match or use a combination of the two.
      “I don’t put everybody in a box,” Pat Culp said.
      If things are going smoothly at a tournament, like the IHSWCA State Duals which she helped run Saturday, Jan. 2, in Fort Wayne, Pat can watch what’s happening on the mats.
      Blane has noticed.
      “It seems that moms enjoy wrestling more than what dads do sometimes,” Blane Culp said.
      “She’s watched all these (Columbia City) kids grow up. At semistate, I can see her across the arena when we are in a ‘ticket’ round, she’s still biting her nails. She’s still nervous for them. It’s like when I was in school. They’re still her boys.”

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      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Bane Building Upon Last Year's Success

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      In a matter of seconds, Richmond’s Alston Bane caught the attention of the Indiana wrestling community.
      Last season Bane entered the state tournament as a relative unknown. He was ranked 18th at the time of the tournament. He advanced to state with a fourth place finish in the New Castle semistate, a tournament in which he was pinned by Trent Pruitt and he lost a decision to Evan Smiley.
      His Friday night draw didn’t seem favorable. He had to go up against the No. 2-ranked grappler in the 145 pound weight class in Yorktown’s Cael McCormick. But Bane loved the draw.
      “I had wrestled Cael several times when we were younger,” Bane said. “He beat me in Greco each time, but anytime we wrestled and I could touch his legs, I beat him. So I had a lot of confidence going up against him.”
      Bane ended up scoring a last-second takedown with his signature dump move to beat McCormick 4-3.
      He wasn’t done quite yet. He went on to knock off No. 5-ranked Blake Jourdan and then avenged two earlier losses to Smiley, the No. 4-ranked guy in the weight class, to take third at state.
      Bane’s only loss at Banker’s Life Arena was to eventual state champion Jacob Covaciu in a close 4-2 affair.
      Bane’s third place finish was better than anyone else from the New Castle semistate in that weight class.
      Now, a year later, a lot more people know about Alston Bane. He has bumped up to the 160-pound weight class where he is currently ranked No. 2 behind only Covaciu.
      “People knew me before the state tournament last year,” Bane said. “But I never really got a lot of recognition. A lot of people didn’t see me as a threat. Now this year I have a little bit more of a target on my back.”
      Last season there was a question as to whether Bane would even be able to wrestle in the state tournament. He tore the meniscus in his knee and had to miss the North Central Conference tournament.
      “That was very tough on me, mentally,” Bane said. “I knew as soon as it happened what it was. It was my third time doing it. I tore the meniscus once on my left knee and it was the second time on my right knee. I couldn’t walk. I was crying as I was sitting on the trainer’s bench and then my dad (Richmond coach Jeremy Bane) came over and when he saw me he started tearing up, too.”
      Bane knew he had to force himself to recover, and quickly if he wanted any shot at wrestling come sectional time.
      “I really worked hard and pushed to get my leg where I could walk on it and get stability,” Bane said. “I sat out of the NCC meet, but mentally I knew I just had to push through the pain and get my strength back.”
      The recovery process, and then his dramatic run through the state tournament have helped Bane to be much more confident this season. He believes that’s the biggest difference for him between last year and this year.
      “My confidence has improved a lot,” he said. “That is a huge factor for me. I really feel now, especially after state last year, that I can wrestle with anyone.”
      Coach Bane can see the change as well.
      “The big thing for Alston now is his confidence and his belief in himself,” Jeremy Bane said.
      Alston grew up wrestling with some of Indiana’s elite wrestlers. He and Chad Red are good friends dating back to when they were in elementary school wrestling tournaments together. Jeremy and Chad Red Sr., coached together at Red Cobra and Lawrence Central.
      “We have some of the kids that we coached that are really good at the high school level now,” Jeremy said. “Alston grew up with Chad, Brayton Lee, Blake Rypel and a few others. They are all very successful now.”
      Bane, a junior, recently won his 100th match. It was one of several goals he has for himself, which culminates in winning a state championship.
      Eventually Bane would like to wrestle in college. He’s a two-sport athlete who stands out on the football field for the Red Devil defense.
      As a sophomore Bane recorded 67 tackles and had eight interceptions. This season he moved to strong safety and finished with 88 tackles and an interception.
      “I’ve talked to a lot of college coaches and I’ve went to so many wrestling camps,” Alston said. “Coaches make it clear that they really like kids that play multiple sports. I love being competitive and football helps me do that, and plus it’s a lot of fun to play.”
      Bane finds himself having to alter his style slightly to deal with the stronger opponents he is facing this year in the 160-pound class. He tries to utilize his technique and speed more than relying on his strength.
      “He has unbelievable grip strength though,” coach Bane said. “He isn’t going to get outmuscled by many guys.”
      Coach Bane says that guys wrestle Alston differently this season, now that they know more about him.
      “We see a lot of the better wrestlers wrestling Alston with a more defensive approach,” Jeremy said. “They try to take away his offense and they look for certain moves. But he has several ways to score the takedown and he’s been pretty successful.”
      Bane is currently undefeated on the season. His closest match came in the New Castle Invitational against Lawrenceburg’s No. 7-ranked Jake Ruberg. Bane won the contest 4-3 in double overtime.
      “We have almost identical styles,” Bane said. “So those matches are very close.”
      Bane is currently wrestling in Spartan Classic at Connersville. This is a tournament he has never won. He was third as a freshman and lost last year to Evan Smiley.

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      #MondayMatness: Glogouski Following in the Family Tradition

      Blake Glogouski wants to ascend to the top of the IHSAA wrestling hill and he wants to get there quickly.
      The Fairfield High School senior sees speed as one of his weapons as he looks to add to a prep resume that already includes two trips to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (he was a state qualifier as a freshman at 106 pounds and placed fifth at 113 as junior). He wants to compete “under the lights” this time around and speed will be part of the package.
      “I always push the pace,” Glogouski said. “My coaches always tell me to move faster than the opponent and don’t slow down.”
      Falcons assistant Jesse Espinoza is taken with the intensity and toughness packed into an athlete who clocks in at 5-foot-7 and plans to wrestle at 120 on the back side of the 2015-16 season.
      “It’s hard to explain,” Espinoza said. “He’s just one of those kids. You tell him to run through a brick wall and he’ll get through it.
      “If you are wrestling in the (practice) room and he gets hold of a leg, it doesn’t matter what you do to him he’s not going to let go of that leg.”
      Dan Glogouski, Blake’s father and another assistant on Fairfield head coach Jim Jones’ coaching staff, has watched his son became more of a leader to his teammates.
      Maturity and off-season work, including an appearance at the Disney Duals and workouts with older brother Forrest who will again be a teammate when he is joined by Blake at NCAA Division II Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, in 2015-16, have combined to make Blake a better Falcon since he went 52-3 last winter.
      “Mentally, he’s gotten better,” Dan Glogouski said of Blake. “It’s from growing up, being a senior, being that leader. He’s the guy most of the kids on the team look up to.”
      Blake tends to be quiet, but when he uses his deep voice, he commands attention.
      “He may be little, but he’s a mighty kid,” Dan Glogouski said of an athlete who was also an impact performer on offense, defense and special teams in football for Fairfield’s NECC big school division co-champions.
      While Blake regularly works out with junior 132-pounder Dillon Yoder, he does not shy away from larger wrestlers in practice.
      “He’s not scared of anybody,” Espinoza said. “Some kids will go after him, but after about 30 seconds or so they are done.
      “He kind of turns it on.”
      Blake Glogouski began the season at 126, but intends to drop down to 120 because he thinks it gives him a chance to be stronger and for the most success. Of course, he has the prerogative to change his mind.
      The highly-ranked grappler said his biggest area of improvement has come in takedowns. He uses about five or six and goes with the shots that opponents can’t easily stop.
      With two State Finals appearances, 125 high school victories and numerous Indiana State Wrestling Association laurels coming into his senior season, Blake knows he will see the best others can throw at him.
      “There’s definitely a target on my back,” Blake Glogosuki said. “I’ve just got to work harder.”
      As Glogouski and the Falcons head into the 2016 part of the calendar, the heat will go up in practice.
      “We’ll turn up the intensity in practice as we get closer to our conference tournament and on into sectionals,” Espinoza said.
      On Wednesday, Dec. 23, Glogouski became a four-time champion at Rochester’s John McKee Invitational. He was named the meet’s outstanding wrestler for the second time.
      Fairfield is scheduled to host Churubusco in dual Jan. 5 with the West Noble Super Dual Jan. 9 and Goshen Invitational Jan. 16, followed by the Northeast Corner Conference meet Jan. 23 and Elkhart Sectional Jan. 30. After that comes the Goshen Regional Feb. 6, Fort Wayne Semistate Feb. 13 and State Finals Feb. 19-20.


      #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Expecting to Win Put Ellis on Top

      Brought to you by EI Sports

      Expect to win. That was the mind set 30 years ago for one small, but mighty Indiana wrestler named Lance Ellis.
      Now, three decades later, Ellis is an Indiana legend with perhaps the greatest high school wrestling resume the state has ever witnessed.
      Ellis’ numbers are staggering. He wrestled 177 high school matches for Cathedral High School. He won every single one of them. He was the first of only two Indiana wrestlers to win four state titles. Of those 177 victories, he put his opponent flat on his back 151 times for the pin.
      But how did Ellis get so good? What separated him from the field during the late 80s when he was the most dominating force in the sport?
      “My greatest attribute was my mental toughness,” Ellis said. “I have to give credit to my coach, Lance Rhoades, and the fact that we were on a good team. But we expected to win every match – and we were in a whole lot of big matches. Every time we went out to wrestle we just absolutely expected to win.”
      Ellis’s first state championship came in 1986. Mentally, he says that freshman season was his most difficult one.
      “That was a really tough year,” Ellis said. “Just because I was a freshman and I was cutting quite a bit of weight. But in the end, it was worth it.”
      When Ellis reached the state championship that year, standing across the mat from him was Chesterton’s Scott Schultz, a junior he knew very little about.
      “Back then there was no social media,” Ellis said. “You can’t watch matches of guys and know their whole history. But I went out expecting to win. He was a very strong kid. I put him on his back but couldn’t hold him down. I think I put him in a head lock in the first two seconds of the match, but he rolled out of it.”
      Schultz was one of only a few opponents Ellis didn’t pin. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t dominate. Ellis won the state championship his freshman year by technical fall.
      “I didn’t know much about him going in to the final,” Schultz said. “He was a freshman. But I was astonished at how well he knew my style. I was a powerful wrestler and I used that to control my opponents and won by many falls. He used that against me most effectively and basically controlled me the entire match and scored repeatedly, taking me off my feet several times.”
      Schultz was a runner-up the next season as well, losing 16-10 in the finals at 105 pounds to Jay County’s David Ferguson.
      Ellis comes from a wrestling family. His dad, Bob, was a two-time state placer. His older brother, Scott, was a state champion for Warren Central.
      “I just followed them around from tournament to tournament,” Ellis said. “My dad coached me. It was just the way we grew up. We were a wrestling family.”
      One big advantage, Ellis feels, was that he grew up in the Catholic Youth Organization.
      “There are so many good kids wrestling today,” Ellis said. “There are so many clubs and year around wrestling. I was doing year around wrestling when nobody else was. A lot of that is because I came up through the CYO where we wrestled folkstyle from kindergarten through eighth grade. The only opportunities you really had at that time were freestyle.”
      Ellis’ biggest test in a state championship match came his sophomore year. He was going up against Bellmont junior John Faurote in the 112 pound weight class.
      “My sophomore year was my closest final,” Ellis said. “I won 3-2. I gave up an escape point and I gave up a point on cautions. I was kind of nervous on that one. Whenever we had a restart, I had to focus on where my hands and feet were so I didn’t give up another caution point. I felt like I was in control of the match, but I only had a one point lead.”
      In his junior season Ellis needed to do more than just win the state championship. He needed to pin Merrilville’s Mark Rosenbalm.
      “My junior year it got very interesting,” Ellis said. “We were in a really close team race with Bellmont. Coach told me I had to pin the kid. That’s a lot of pressure in the state finals. We were within a couple of points of Bellmont. I won by a major decision (12-4), so it was bitter sweet. We got second that year, but it actually came down to another match later in the day.”
      As a senior Ellis was quickly taken down by Rushville’s Scott Wilson. Ellis was able to stand up, throw Wilson and pin him in 1:15. He ended his high school career with a pin in the state championship.
      “I remember the feeling when my hand was raised,” Ellis said. “It was relief and excitement. It was a great way to end it. Everyone I knew was there to see it. I had about 100 people there to watch me.”
      Ellis said he never really felt pressure as the wins piled up and the momentum of having a perfect career started to roll. He said he approached his final matches the same way he did that freshman year, with an expectation that he was going to win.
      Ellis is now the coach of Indianapolis Roncalli. This is his 11th season as the head coach and his 20th overall as a coach in some capacity in Indiana
      “I love coaching,” Ellis said. “It’s an absolute blast. I’ve got to coach my own sons (Brennan graduated in 2012 and Nick is a senior this season). I hopefully have had a positive impact on a lot of other kids, too.”
      Ellis said his greatest moments as a coach aren’t always from having the standout wrestlers. He enjoys seeing kids improve and overcome obstacles.
      “One of the wrestlers that really stick out to me is a kid named Tony Bell,” Ellis said. “He started out as a freshman and had a lot of health issues. But he worked his butt off. He was always around. He was a great leader. As a senior he qualified for the state tournament and that was probably one of the greatest moments I have had as a coach.”
      When asked if Ellis had any advice for New Palestine senior Chad Red, who is undefeated in his career with three state titles already under his belt, Ellis said that Red doesn’t need advice.
      “Chad already knows what he is doing,” Ellis said. “He’s already beat all the kids over and over. He’s the best wrestler I’ve seen in my 20 years, no doubt. Jason Tsirtsis, Alex Tsirtsis and Angel Escebedo were very good, but right now, Chad Red, with everything he has done, is amazing.”
      Ellis says today’s wrestlers have a lot more technique than when he wrestled. They have more opportunities to wrestle year around and to see great competition. But some of the intangibles that he had when he wrestled, is what he thinks kids today need to succeed.
      “When they are in the practice room, they need to go 100 percent the whole time,” Ellis said. “They need to focus on doing everything right. They can’t take breaks. They can’t go half way.
      “Wrestling is such a tough sport. It’s so demanding. Especially in the practice room. You have to live on the mat and get as much time as you can. And I can’t stress enough how important it is to drill hard, and drill correctly.”
      Ellis isn’t sure when he will step down as a head coach, but he plans to always be around the sport. Thirty years after dominating opponents on the mat, he isn’t slowing down yet.


      #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.”

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