By JEREMY HINES
The Owen Valley High School wrestling team has one main goal – to make the Class 2A Team state tournament. On Sunday the Patriots will find out if they get invited to the tourney.
“Last year getting to team state was our goal,” Patriot coach Steven Spicer said. “Nothing’s changed for this year. We have talked about it all offseason. The guys know what the goal is. They have bought in. If we get in, it will be huge for our program.”
Last season was the first time Owen Valley’s wrestling team was ever ranked in Class 2A. Spicer felt it would come down to a dual meet between the Patriots and Monrovia for the final spot in the team state field. In that dual meet Monrovia won by three points, and got in.
“I would make a case for our team by saying that we haven’t lost to a 2A school this season,” Spicer said. “We are undefeated in our class. Our community is behind us as well. Right now our wrestling ticket gate is higher than our basketball. The team is already very motivated, and if they get in, they will just be on fire.”
Currently the Patriots are 11-2. Their losses come at the hands of Terre Haute South and Cascade.
The heart and soul of the Patriot squad is junior Branson Weaver. He is currently ranked No. 11 at 138 pounds.
“The kid is a mat rat,” Spicer said. “He loves wrestling. He wrestles year around. He went to Fargo. He’s our leader both vocally and by example. He runs our warmups. When he talks, the team listens.
“On the mat Branson is a freak athlete. He’s explosive, strong, fast and incredibly flexible. His wrestling IQ is very high. He’s always wanting to learn and he asks every coach questions, daily.”
Senior Eli Hinshaw is the highest ranked grappler on the Patriot squad. He is currently ranked No. 10 at 220. Coach Spicer said Hinshaw is a quiet leader on the team. Hinshaw was named All-State in football this season.
Sophomore Emery Jackson is ranked No. 18 at 126 pounds and senior Bryce Mills is currently ranked No. 7 in the Evansville semistate at heavyweight.
Hinshaw is the only wrestler on the team with any wrestling experience before Spicer took over the program five years ago.
“Everyone else on the team started after I took over,” Spicer said. “Bryce started wrestling as a freshman. Eli Hinshaw started as an 8th grader. Jackson started in seventh grade.
“But they have all bought into the offseason,” Spicer said. “They are competing against guys that have wrestled their whole lives. We’ve started doing some sort of wrestling year around and we are always looking for opportunities to get on the mat. We are lucky here that the coaches in other sports are all on board. We are a smaller school, and we all know we have to share athletes.”
When Spicer started with the team there were five wrestlers. Now they have 24. This year he talks about how, for the first time, he has flexibility with the lineup and how that makes a big difference in dual meets.
“Last year we were really solid, but there was no room for us to bump anyone around,” Spicer said. “We couldn’t manipulate our lineup. This year it’s been nice to have some freedom with the lineup.”
Individually, the Patriots are hoping to have several wrestlers punch their ticket to state. Spicer believes a few of the guys can compete for a state title.
But right now the goal is to get into team state. That’s the focus.
“The guys deserve it,” Spicer said. “We went to the Midwest Classic. We went to Disney. We competed as a team and we don’t take anyone that’s not on our team. We could have. We could have been a little tougher that way. But we wanted only Owen Valley guys.
“I truly believe that has made us more competitive this year. In reality, with our guys, we can put up points against any team in the state. I feel we can be competitive with anyone. We are not the most experienced team and we know that. But we want to be the better athletes. We want to be in the best shape and we have to be the toughest team out there. We are athletic, we are in great shape and we are tough and I hope we get to prove that at team state.”