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