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