PLYMOUTH — “This has just been a big dream of mine. In preseason this is one of the first things that gets written down as a goal. There’s just a lot of emotions going on right now.”
The quote from Wawasee’s Brian Clark after his sectional championship captured the essence of what postseason glory means to a young high school athlete.
Clark was one of 14 individual champions Saturday at the IHSAA Wrestling Sectional in Plymouth. While the host Rockies would claim the team title with a final score of 216 points, several local schools were able to advance wrestlers to the regional round.
One school that had a very impressive day was Tippecanoe Valley. The Vikings started the day slow but ended up finishing third overall and advancing eight wrestlers to next week’s regional. The only downside on Valley’s day was the absence of an individual champion. Four Vikings made it into the championship match but all failed to bring home a blue ribbon.
Two of the matches that Valley lost in the championship round were to Wawasee. The first being Garrett Bell’s loss to Wawasee’s Nick Rozow in the 160-pound championship bout. The two young men wrestled a tight match all the way through. The difference was Rozow’s clutch escape to break a 3-3 tie with just six seconds left in the match.
Jaron Kidd was the other Viking to fall to a Warrior. Kidd lost the 195-pound title match to Wawasee’s Clark. The Warrior senior dominated the mat from the opening seconds en route to a 14-4 victory.
Despite not getting an individual champion, Viking head coach Scott Smith was still very impressed with his team’s sectional performance.
“It was a good day for us, after our first round I thought we would be lucky to place sixth. We really just played terrible in that first round. We challenged the kids to come back and they did,” Smith stated.
Smith would later continue, “We placed four in the finals, and those matches did not work out like we wanted them too. But the kids wrestled hard and we have some momentum going into regional next week.”
As for the Warriors, Rozow and Clark were the only two champions that the team took away on Saturday, but Wawasee advanced two more kids as well. Senior Chad Eppley wrestled his way into the regional by making the championship match for 285-pound class. In the title bout Eppley met his match in Plymouth’s Drew Dodson, who would pull out an exciting 4-3 victory to claim the heavyweight crown.
Wawasee’s other regional qualifier was freshman Tristan Ponsler. Ponsler claimed second place in the 113-pound class after falling 17-8 to Allen Betts of Culver Community.
Warrior head coach Paul Meyer talked about his team’s showing on Saturday.
“God has blessed me with some great athletes,” Meyer said. “Brian and Nick worked really hard this year to get to this point. The freshman class worked hard this year. Ponsler lost his final match but he is just a freshman and he’ll come back a do a great job. And Chad getting second will obviously give him a better seed next week.”
Meyer would later continue, “By the grace of God we will fight on next week and get some more champions.”
One of the Warriors top rivals also advanced some wrestlers into next week’s regional.
Warsaw’s Alec Haines and Luis Munoz both had good showings on Saturday.
Haines won his first two matches on the day in the 220-pound class bracket but would fall in the semifinal round to eventual champion DeAndre Pickford of Plymouth. The Tiger freshman played his way through the consolation bracket and claimed third after grabbing a 9-5 decision over Triton’s Lane Stevens.
Munoz, a senior at Warsaw, missed last week’s conference meet due to injury but made up for it in grand fashion a Saturday’s sectional. Munoz started his day off well by pinning Culver’s Austin Brissette at the 28-second mark. The senior kept his momentum going into the semifinals and scored a 15-4 major decision over Triston Rodriguez of Plymouth. The icing on Munoz’s cake was his 6-3 upset of Culver Military’s Kayla Miracle in the 120-pound championship match. Miracle was the top seed in the class and has been nationally ranked in her high school career.
“It always feels good to have a guy going into regional with a number one seed,” said Warsaw head coach Justin Smith. “He knew what her (Miracle) strengths were and we made sure he stayed away from those things. Then executed that precisely and got his take downs and wrestled very well.”
Smith would continue to say, “We have a lot of young guys on this team, and they all worked hard this year. They have a long way to go and hopefully watching a senior wrestle like this will motivate them.”
The Triton Trojans also advanced three kids to the regional with senior Joseph Soriano placing third in the 106-pound class, freshman Gage Waddle placing third in the 138-pound class and Stevens taking fourth in the 220-pound class.
With all the area’s schools accounted for, 17 local wrestlers will be traveling to next week’s regional in Rochester. The matches start at 9 a.m., with the top four advancing to Merrillville for the semi-state on Feb. 9.