By JEREMY HINES
The Avon wrestling team knows exactly where to look for inspiration as the season winds down and the state tournament draws near. The Orioles look to their own past.
Avon has learned first hand how wild and unpredictable the tournament can be. Wrestlers on the team have proven that it doesn’t matter if you win sectional, or regional. It doesn’t matter if you take some losses during the regular season. What matters most is surviving and advancing.
Avon senior Asa Garcia has epitomized that philosophy in his stellar career.
As a freshman Garcia lost to Ty Mills of rival Brownsburg in the sectional championship. Mills went on to beat him again in the regional, and then handed him a 5-0 loss in the semistate final. At state, however, Garcia was the one standing at the end. Mills lost to Warren Central’s Keyuan Murphy 9-2 in the semifinal round. Garcia pinned Murphy in the state championship to claim his first title.
Garcia had a fantastic sophomore year - winning sectional, regional and semistate, but he fell just short of his goal of back-to-back state titles, losing to eventual champion Alex Viduya in the state semifinal round. Garcia finished third that season.
As a junior Garcia again lost to Mills in sectional (2-0) and regional (5-1). In the semistate Columbus East’s Cayden Rooks handed Mills a semifinal defeat (1-0) and then dealt Garcia a loss in the semistate championship (3-1). But, like his freshman year, Garcia learned from his losses.
In the state finals Garcia ran through an absolute gauntlet of wrestling phenoms. He took out Beech Grove’s Ethan Smiley. He then faced Mills, who had dealt him so many previous losses. This time Garcia came out victorious 8-1.
In the championship, Garcia would once again take on Rooks - who had just beat him the week before. This time Garcia won the match 3-2 to claim his second title.
“Asa is really the heart and soul of our team,” Avon coach Zach Errett said. “As he goes, so does the team. He’s not afraid of losing. That’s really a quality that a lot of our guys have. You have to learn from your losses, and Asa has really shown he can do that.”
This year Avon has seven state-ranked wrestlers in the lineup. Garcia is No. 1 at 132 pounds this season and senior teammate Carson Brewer is ranked No. 1 at 182 pounds.
Asa’s younger brother, Blaze, a freshman, is currently ranked No. 12 at 106 for the Orioles. Sophomore Tyler Conley is ranked No. 10 at 120 and his older brother Nathan Conley (12) is ranked No. 4 at 152.
Junior Raymond Rioux is currently ranked No. 7 at 126. Sophomore Jaden Reynolds rounds out the ranked wrestlers for Avon, at No. 10 in he 138 pound weight class.
“Asa, Nathan and Carson really lead the way for us,” Errett said. “They are great leaders and they work hard. That shows the other kids what’s expected and what needs to be done in order to have success.”
Avon has three sets of brothers on the team in the Garcias, the Conleys and Jaden and Trae Reynolds. Trae, a senior, is injured and will miss the remainder of the season.
“Trae had been ranked for most of the year,” Errett said. “Then at team state he dislocated his elbow and is out for the year. I feel terrible for him. The type of kid he is, he will probably be first team academic all-state. He had either the highest or the second highest GPA in all of the juniors and seniors last year. He’s a phenomenal young man. He’s a hard worker. His senior year ended in the wrong way, but he still comes in the room and helps coach. He’s trying to help his teammates anyway he can. He’s been an awesome kid.”
For the last few years Avon has finished just behind Brownsburg in sectional and regional standings. The Orioles are hoping this year they can pull off the upset.
“Our goal is to win the IHSAA state title,” Errett said. “We know in order to do that we have to have a lot of things go right for us. In this sport, that’s unpredictable. But, we really feel we have a chance if everyone is wrestling their best.”
By STEVE KRAH
One family has had their hand raised in victory nearly 500 times while representing Calumet High School wrestling.
Brothers Artty (Class of 1991) and Ed Fowler (1992) grappled to victories for the Warriors then the next generation added to that total. Artty and Deanna Fowler’s five oldest sons — Nathan (2010), Noah (2014), Nick (2015), Kobe (2016) and A.J. (2019) — have all won for the Warriors, especially Nick and A.J.
With success in the IHSAA state tournament series, A.J. has a chance to pass Nick on the way to the top of the Calumet victory list. No. 1 is now held by 2010 130-pound state qualifier Mike Clark (143).
In a household full of wrestlers, A.J. found out he had to get tough just to protect himself.
“I’m as aggressive as a I can be,” says A.J. Fowler. “All my brothers beat me up when I was little.”
All the Fowlers have played football and wrestled for the Warriors. A.J. ran for more than 500 yards as a fullback and also played defensive end and outside linebacker last fall. He sees his collegiate path including business management classes and either wrestling or football.
“The two go hand-in-hand for success in both,” says Jim Wadkins, a 1980 Calumet graduate who grappled at 177 pounds for coach Rolland Beckham (who had been an NAIA All-American at Indiana State and coached at Calumet for 18 years) and has been on the wrestling coaching staff since 1984-85 (he was an assistant to Ken Stigall, who was placed third at 112 at the 1967 IHSAA State Finals) and head coach since 1990-91.
Known for close to a decade after reorganization as Calumet New Tech High School, the Gary-based school has about 600 students. That makes it one of Indiana’s smaller Class 3A schools.
“We’ve got a lot of two- and three-sport athletes at Calumet,” says Wadkins.
A.J. Fowler wrestled at 182 pounds as a freshman, 195 as a sophomore and junior and is at 220 as a senior. His resume includes two sectional titles, one regional crown, three semistate berths and a state qualifying appearance in 2018. He has a chance to join Butch Carpenter as four-time semistate qualifier for Calumet.
The Warriors are members of the Greater South Shore Conference and face a strong schedule which includes, in addition to the conference tournament, the Warsaw Invitational, Harvest Classic at Lake Central, Chris Traicoff Memorial Invitational at Calumet, Jeffersonville Classic, Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka and Lake County Championships. Chris Traicoff started the Calumet program in 1939. The program was shut down during World War II and beyond and Beckham helped bring it back with the help of AD and boys basketball coach Traicoff during the 1960’s. He died in 1989.
According to Wadkins, Lowell native George Belshaw introduced Traicoff to Indiana University coach Billy Thom and even though 1935 valedictorian Traicoff played basketball and never wrestled a match in at Calumet Township High School, he won an NCAA title for the Hoosiers in 1939. That same year, he came back to Calumet to start the program. Calumet’s modern state tournament path has led them through the Griffith Sectional, Hobart Regional and East Chicago Semsitate.
In other words, a lot of tough Region wrestlers.
“It’s pretty tough,” says Fowler of northwest Indiana grappling. “You never know what you’re going to get."
“You may get a guy who’s big, burly and knows about three moves but he’ll still go with you.”
Wadkins notes that most Region wrestlers in the upper weights are juniors and seniors and Fowler held his own as an underclassman. Fowler has honed his skills with senior 195-pounder Aaron Lizardi and senior 285-pounder Keiloun Martin being his regular workout partners. He also spars regularly with assistant coach Andy Trevino. A state champion at 140 for Calumet in 1991, he has assisted Wadkins for more than a decade.
“He’s an asset in our room,” says Wadkins of Trevino. “Coaching wrestling is a young man’s game. They’re able to get on the mat with the kids."
“We’ve been very fortunate. Calumet grads or those connections to the program have shown a lot of devotion and have been good about giving back.”
Alec Noworul (Class of 2014) and Lamberto Garcia 15 are giving back as middle school coaches who also help out at high school workouts.
A.J. gives knowledge to his younger teammates by showing them the many moves he knows.
“It’s kind of like a big brother system,” says A.J., who is also sometimes joined in practice by actual brothers Nathan and Noah. Sister Felicia is the oldest of the Fowler kids and the only girl. Wadkins says she might be the toughest. Youngest Kade (Class of 2026) has yet to get too involved in wrestling.
Like his older brothers, A.J.’s matches keep his mother on the move. “She still has anxiety,” says A.J. Fowler. “She has to walk around after every match.”
Calumet has competed this season with 22 wrestlers and filled most weight divisions, even when being undersized in some of them.
By JEREMY HINES
Most wrestling stories don’t begin like K.J. Roudebush’s did. Then again, most wrestlers aren’t wired quite like the three-sport star from Tipton, either.
Roudebush got into wrestling as a punishment, and because a household lamp was broken.
“It’s really a funny story,” the Tipton senior said. “I was in fifth grade and my oldest brother was in college so my middle brother and I were downstairs wrestling around. Right when dad got home from work we were still wrestling and my brother and I had gotten mad at each other and one of my mom’s lamps got broken. My dad wasn’t happy. He said if we wanted to continue wrestling at home, we were going to join the wrestling team. I went to the wrestling team and I just fell in love with it.”
Roudebush is currently ranked No. 10 in the state at 195 pounds. He lost in the ticket round last year at the New Castle semistate to current No. 1-ranked junior Silas Allred of Shenandoah.
Roudebush doesn’t make excuses for that loss.
“Silas is something special,” he said. “I went out on the mat and he just dominated me. I couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t tired or anything, he was just better than me.”
This season Roudebush wants to go one step further than he did last year. He wants to advance to the state tournament.
For Roudebush, wrestling is a part-time gig. Unlike most highly ranked Indiana wrestlers, Roudebush doesn’t wrestle in the offseason. Summers are for baseball and the fall is for his first love, football. Roudebush plays quarterback on Tipton’s offense and splits time between linebacker and defensive end on defense.
“K.J. is in the top 10 of his class,” Tipton coach Mark Barker said. “He’s such an intelligent guy and he’s a leader in every sport he does. To me, he’s one of those exceptional people that don’t come along that often. If he focused solely on wrestling, I really think it would be hard for anyone to beat him.
“But I like multi-sport athletes. The more sports you do the better you’ll become at all of them. That’s the way things have always been here at Tipton.”
Currently Tipton has just seven wrestlers. For Roudebush, that’s perfectly fine.
“Being on such a small team could really suck, but we get a lot more attention from the coaches,” Roudebush said. “Our individual time with the coaches is through the roof. We’ve never had a big team. I think the most I’ve seen here is 10 wrestlers. Because of that, we don’t win a lot of matches as a team, but when you look at our head-to-head and don’t count forfeits, we’ve won close to 40 duals. We also have a very close bond with each other. I wouldn’t trade that for a bigger program with more practice partners.”
The Tipton team has adopted a philosophy through necessity. The goal is for every wrestler in the lineup to pin their opponent. If they do that, they have a shot at winning dual meets.
“We know what we are up against going into the match,” Roudebush said. “Coach tells us we’re starting out down 24-0, or something like that. We know every single one of us have to pin in order for us to win. It’s awesome. All of a sudden, Bam! We pin everyone and pull off the surprise win. We love that challenge. When we get people on their backs, we keep them there.”
In practice Roudebush alternatese from wrestling with the team’s heavyweight, sophomore Nate Morgan to wrestling with their 145-pounder Blake Hicks.
“Nate is stronger than me and that makes me really focus on my technique,” Roudebush said. “Blake is a scrapper. He’s good on top and he can put the legs in. He has a mean crossface cradle and he’s tough. It helps me a lot getting to wrestle with guys with different body types and strengths.”
Roudebush beat Elwood’s Jalen Morgan last year 5-2 to claim the sectional title. Morgan reversed that decision in regional, winning 3-2. That put Morgan on the opposite side of the semistate bracket as Allred. Morgan advanced to the championship match, losing to Allred but still advancing to state. Roudebush was eliminated in the second round.
“I want to go one step further,” he said. “That’s all I’m worried about. We have a tough sectional. The regional is even harder and I think New Castle is arguably one of the most difficult semistates. My focus is on getting past the ticket round. I’m worried about each match in front of me because wrestling is a different kind of sport. Anyone can win. You have to be ready at all times.”
Mike and Joe do a deep dive into the 2019 Team State tournament and talk about all the great wrestling. They also talk about other action from the past week including upcoming college matches around the state.
By STEVE KRAH
It’s an approach that Bo Schembechler would have recognized. Wrestling requires one wrestler go into the circle for one-on-one competition. But in high school, that wrestler is part of a team.
At Crown Point, the Bulldogs are doing like the old University Michigan football coach said. It’s about “The Team. The Team. The Team.”
“We’ve really been preaching the team concept,” says Branden Lorek, who is in his third season as Crown Point head coach and 14th in the program. The graduate of Fenton High School in Bensenville, Ill., wrestled at the University of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. “This isn’t just about ‘I’ or ‘me.’ It’s about the team.”
With guidance from varsity assistants Bill Hawkins and Vince Sessa, each Dog knows their job before they step on the mat, whether it’s to rack up bonus points or at least save points for the team.
It’s an approach the wrestlers have come to embrace.
“It took a couple weeks, but now they’re seeing it on the scoreboard,” says Lorek. “We give them pretty specific instructions. This is what we need from you — nothing less.
“We have an amazing coaching staff that’s passionate about the sport,” says Lorek, who also counts Brennan Cosgrove as a volunteer assistant, Nick Bruno as junior varsity coach and Aaron Sessa as freshman coach.
It’s about setting a goal and knowing the expectation.
“Our goal is always to win the match,” says Lorek. “If things go sideways, this is what’s next and our kids understand that.”
After several years away, Crown Point competed in 40th Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka Dec. 28-29 and placed fourth out of 32 teams.
“The Al Smith was a nice feather in our cap,” says Lorek. “Our team is just starting to come together.
“Our conditioning is better than ever.”
The Bulldogs had traditionally taken the Christmas break off from competition. Two years ago, Crown Point participated in the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals and placed 12th in Class 3A. Last season brought participation in the Connersville Spartan Classic and a first-place finish.
“We’ve found our holiday tournament home,” says Lorek of the Al Smith Classic. “We were happy with the competition and hospitality. And it’s only a two-hour drive.”
The team was bolstered by six placers at Mishawaka — freshman Jesse Mendez (first at 126 pounds), junior Riley Bettich (second at 120), sophomore Stephen Roberson (third at 106), senior Jake Burford (third at 145), freshman Nick Tattini (sixth at 113) and senior Ethan Potosky (seventh at 195).
Crown Point followed that up with a 36-25 Duneland Athletic Conference dual victory against Merrillville on Jan. 2. With wins, Mendez moved to 24-0, Bettich 23-1, Roberson 21-1, Buford 23-2 and Potosky 8-2. The Bulldogs visit Michigan City for another DAC dual Jan. 8. The DAC tournament is Jan. 12 at Michigan City.
Mendez won numerous folkstyle, freestyle and Greco-Roman titles as a middle schooler. Last summer, he competed in the USA Nationals and lost in the All-American round in both freestyle and Greco-Roman.
“It’s not a shock to us what Jesse’s doing (in high school),” says Lorek. “Jesse’s an extraordinary athlete and teammate. He’s done a great job of assimilating into the program. He listens. He’s good student. He does not get a big head. He’s always looking to get better.
“He’s not shy about his goal or vision for the season.”
Bettich’s first two high school seasons came at Lakeshore in Stevensville, Mich. Competing at 103 in Division 2, he was a state champion in 2018 and state runner-up in 2017.
Like Mendez, Bettich has traveled all over the country for folkstyle, freestyle and Greco-Roman events and the best opponents he can find. A strong student with a 3.5 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, Bettich has aspirations of wrestling in college.
“He’s been a great teammate and leader for us,” says Lorek of Bettich.
“We were happy to see him rise to the occasion and compete (at Al Smith, where he lost 7-2 to Center Grove junior Brayden Littell in the finals).”
Robertson is a transfer from Portage High School where he behind state champion Jacob Moran at 106 last season. The 2018-19 season marks Robertson’s first as a varsity starter.
“He’s doing phenomenal,” says Lorek. “He’s a smart kid and a good student. He’s quiet and works hard. He’s very coachable.
“We’re looking forward to see what he can do.”
Buford and Potosky came up through the ranks at Crown Point.
“Jake is having a great year,” says Lorek. “Where he ends up on the (State Finals) podium is up to him. The sky’s the limit for Jake. He’s a team leader, hard worker, good student and just a good person.
“(Potosky) is a loyal, loyal Crown Point wrestler. After an injury in the regional championship in football, he’s starting to get back into it. His older brother (Steven) was a state qualifier (at 220) in 2014. If Ethan can get down to state, we think he can be someone on the podium.”
The Duneland schedule is weighted toward the team concept with more points being awarded during the dual-meet position than the conference tournament.
Lorek says finishing high in the DAC and adding points to the athletic department in the all-sports trophy chase is point of pride at Crown Point.
“It teaches the kids that this is bigger than them,” says Lorek. “They are part of something special.
“Hopefully that teaches them a life lesson. They can be a leader or a part as long as they belong to something.”