SYRACUSE — The Tigers and Warriors were geared up Saturday morning as they and six other rival schools gathered for the 2013 Northern Lakes Conference Wrestling Championships.
With 102 wrestlers competing for conference immortality the meet promised to be a thrilling one. The favorite to win Saturday’s tournament was Plymouth. The Pilgrims had come in boasting a 7-0 NLC record from the regular season round robin and looked to win the outright conference title with a strong showing Saturday.
Unfortunately for Plymouth, a talented Elkhart Memorial squad had other plans. Memorial led the tournament with four wrestlers taking home an individual conference title. The strong performance from the Chargers gave them a final score of 226 points, just enough to edge out Plymouth’s 222.5 points. Both team would be named NLC co-champions. It is the 12th consecutive title for Memorial in the NLC.
The host school, Wawasee, had a disappointing regular season finishing just sixth in the NLC. Wawasee would have a solid showing by putting five wrestlers into the championship round. The Warriors would finish with a total team score of 112 points, good enough for a fifth place finish at the meet.
Leading the way for the Warriors on Saturday was the senior class. All four of the soon-to-be graduates made the championship bout for their respective weight classes. Nick Rozow would be the lone winner of the four seniors, taking first in the 160-pound weight class.
Rozow started his day with an 8-1 decision over Plymouth’s Logan Wiegand and pulled out a nailbiter with a 2-1 decision over Memorial’s Jon Osoria. In the championship, Rozow would jump to a 5-0 lead and hold off Goshen’s John Trenshaw for a 5-3 decision. The first-place finish gave Rozow All-NLC honors.
“I just had an extra adrenaline rush,” Rozow said. “That really just gave me the strength to pull through and get the win and I am really happy. Now I just want to get ready for sectionals.”
After the meet, Wawasee assistant coach Josh Vallejo offered some kind words about the senior.
“It’s real great to see Nick win today. He has been hurt all year nursing a shoulder injury and dislocated his hip last weekend. So, to see him win today was really special,” Vallejo remarked.
As for the other seniors, Chad Eppley, Brian Clark, and Doug Corl, all three dropped their respective title matches. Clark started off well but was ultimately out-done by Memorial’s Tieshawn Johnson in the 195-pound final, an 11-5 decision.
In the 285-pound title bout, Eppley was pinned at the 1:10 mark by Goshen’s Hayden Schmucker. The pin was Schmucker’s second of the tournament and gave the Redskins their third individual champion.
Corl would fall victim to top-seeded Ryan Baxter of Northridge. The wrestling Raider won his first match in dominant fashion, posting a 17-1 tech-fall victory over Plymouth’s Austin Mahoney. Baxter would go on to pin Concord’s Shimmy Sar in the second round as well as pinning Corl in the championship round to claim first in the 138-pound weight class.
The performances by the team’s seniors did not go unnoticed by Warrior assistant coach Tom Schwartz.
“One of the best things about today was the performance from our seniors,” Schwartz said. “All four guys made it to the championship match and that was great to see. They have all worked hard this year and have been good leaders for the younger guys. We would have liked to seen them all win but now we just need to make sure that they are ready to go for sectionals.”
One other Warrior made a run to a championship bout on Saturday. Freshman Tristan Ponsler made some noise in the 113-pound weight class by pinning NorthWood’s Mathew Pippenger in the first round and followed it up with a thrilling 9-8 decision over Plymouth’s Osman Solis in the semi-finals. Ponsler’s run came to quick end though when he was pinned at the 1:29 mark in the final match to top-seeded Delawerence Gayfield of Concord. Gayfield was the only Minutemen to bring home an individual championship.
In addition to Rozow’s all-conference honor, the NLC coaches voted in both seniors Clark and Eppley for an At-Large postion on the All-NLC roster. Fellow senior Corl was named All-NLC honorable mention as well.
As for Warsaw, the Tigers’ wrestling woes continued on Saturday. The Tigers did not place anyone higher than fourth and finished the meet with 58 total team points, leaving Warsaw in last place.
Part of the reason Warsaw did not show so well on Saturday was due to some less than desirable bracket placements. Warsaw head coach Justin Smith explained the situation after the meet, “We had so many different kids that wrestled in conference matches for us this year that when they did the seeding we really did not have very many points against other teams and we just drew some tough seeds.”
Of the 11 wrestlers that Warsaw brought, only two won their first round bouts. Luis Cervantes pinned Wawasee’s Ronny Short at the 3:33 mark to advance in the 126-pound bracket, but would be outed in the next round to eventual champion Jermel Moody-Neukom of Memorial. The only other Tiger to win in the first round was Huntley Davis. Davis pinned NorthWood’s Nick Skwarcan to advance but would fall after being pinned by Goshen’s Trenshaw in the 160-pound class.
Cervantes would have a good showing in the consolation bracket by defeating Goshen’s John Bustos with a 20-6 major decision. Cervantes’ day would end in the third-place match after dropping a 5-0 decision to Northridge’s Devin Puckett.
Davis would drop his first match in the consolation bracket to Plymouth’s Wiegand by way of a 4-3 decision. In the fifth place match Davis would have a rematch Skwarcan and again come out victorious, this time posting a pin in at the 2:49 mark.
“It was a tough day. But we won some matches late in the day and that’s what you do, you make the best of it,” explained Smith.
Both the Warriors and Tigers will look to improve its status at the IHSAA sectional meet at Plymouth High School next Saturday. With the new adjustment to state tournament rules, only the top four individual wrestlers will advance to the regional in their respective weight classes, no longer will whole teams advance. Competition starts at 9 a.m. in Plymouth.
Final NLC Standings:
1. Elkhart Memorial 226.0
2. Plymouth 222.5
3. Goshen 218.0
4. Northridge 177.5
5. Wawasee 112.0
6. NorthWood 107.0
7. Concord 74.0
8. Warsaw 58.0