SOUTH WHITLEY – The goals are set, the kids are ready and the season has begun.
The Whitko wrestling program is one of great history and pride. Numerous trophies line the hall outside of the wrestling room at Whitko High School, but the program has not seen a conference or sectional title since 2010.
The 2014-15 Wildcats are ready to bring the hardware back to South Whitley. A sign hangs in the team’s locker room that clearly states the desired goals of winning both conference and sectional titles, as well as growing closer together along the way. Injuries and other setbacks will handcuff this Whitko team to start the season, but head coach Frank Bumgardner knows that the opportunity is there for his team.
“We’re going to struggle a little bit to start the season,” began Bumgardner. “We have some situations, between injury and suspensions, that are going to make us struggle from the team point of view. Once we get back to full strength and everyone is healthy, I believe we can accomplish our goals.
“It will be a little bit of a growing process for us. We have some freshmen that are going to be in the lineup, we have a few guys that we are still trying to find homes for, but once we do I think we’ll be a pretty good team.”
Leadership from upperclassmen is a huge part of success in prep sports, two upperclassmen that Whitko will look to lean on this season will be Evan Cozad and Zach Baughman. Both had good years last season and both have taken on captain roles heading into this season as seniors. Cozad will hold down the 145-pound class for Whitko while Baughman will weigh-in for the 195-pound class.
Erik Loe and Jake Rothgeb have both had nice improvements over the offseason. Loe, a junior, will be slated in the varsity lineup for the 152-pound class. Saying Rothgeb has improved is terrible news for the Three Rivers Conference and any postseason opponents that Whitko may face as Rothgeb made it all the way to semi-state last season. The two biggest things to keep any eye for Rothgeb are his injury and his weight class.
Rothgeb is currently injured, but should be able to return soon for the Wildcats. Once he does return, he will be wrestling up one class from last season as he will make his debut in the 126-pound class this year.
Dillon Alma (160), Brent Klingaman (182), Logan Busz (106) and Walker Hobbs (220) will be other grapplers to keep an eye on for the Wildcats this season.
In order to accomplish the team’s first goal of winning the TRC, it will have to get through other traditional powers such as Rochester and Northfield. While Northfield is expected to be down this season, Tippecanoe Valley, North Miami and Wabash will all pose threats in the TRC race.
Whitko begins its quest for a TRC title this Tuesday when it travels to North Miami. The Wildcats began their season Saturday morning at the Wawasee Super Duals.