ELKHART — It was a great environment at Elkhart Memorial High School for the annual Northern Lakes Conference Wrestling Tournament Saturday morning. Grapplers gathered from all corners of the NLC to fight for a chance at conference immortality. Memorial would emerge and defend its regular season title by tallying 242 points to win the outright championship.
The Tigers entered Saturday’s tournament looking forward to gaining experience for a rather young squad. After a slow start to the day Warsaw was able to rebound and send 11 wrestlers into finals matches and finish sixth in team points.
“I think we could’ve won a couple more matches with some of those younger kids,” began Warsaw head coach Justin Smith, “we had some guys get knocked down into the fifth place matches that probably could’ve done better. I expected to finish a little higher as a team, but I’m not disappointed. We won a lot of matches in the final round and that’s what important.”
Kyle Hatch highlighted the day for the Tigers by running through the 138-pound bracket. Hatch won by fall over both Concord’s Harold Moon (2:14) and Gavin Banks (1:28) of Plymouth. In the championship against Memorial’s Blade Corpe, Hatch earned a 13-6 decision. Hatch earned a spot on the All-NLC first team as a class champion.
Andrew Brock was voted in as an All-NLC first team member after the senior finished second in the 220-pound tournament. Brock was pinned by Goshen’s Derek Paz (2:34) after winning by fall over NorthWood’s Andrew Miller in the semifinals (2:39) and receiving a forfeit to start his day.
Warsaw’s other second place finish came from Kameron Hile at 132. The junior lost the title tilt by way of a 3-0 decision at the hands of Wawasee’s Tristin Ponsler, the bracket’s top seed. Hile won in sudden victory over Jonathon Ortiz of Concord to start his day and advanced to the championship with a 7-4 decision over Lane Flowers of NorthWood.
Alec Haines finished fourth at 285 after dropping a 7-4 decision to Dylan Miller of Northridge in the third place match. Haines was the lone fourth place finisher for Warsaw. Gustavo Cartejena (113), Francisco Ramirez (152) and Brady Stout (160) were all fifth place finishers in their respective weight classes. Sixth place finishers were Victor Mejia (120), Christian Taylor (145), Carlos Hermosillo (170 and Luis Juarez (182).
Smith and the Warsaw team were very appreciative of a tip of the cap from the rest of the coaches in the NLC after Anthony Penn was voted All-NLC honorable mention honors. Penn, a 2015 NLC champion, missed all of his senior campaign with an injury.
“I thought that was nice for him, being a senior,” remarked Smith of Penn’s honor. “He’s been a big part of this team even through his injury and he was here today to support the guys. I think that’s nice that, a senior, the coaches felt he deserved an honorable mention.”
Warsaw will set its sights on next week’s sectional held at Plymouth High School.
For the Wawasee wrestling team, Saturday’s conference tournament was a final measuring stick to see just how far it has come under first-year head coach Frank Bumgardner. The Warriors went 0-7 in regular season NLC dual matches but managed to finish a spot higher in the tournament thanks to several nice runs.
Tristin Ponsler and Braxton Alexander were the two headliners for Wawasee entering the tournament and neither disappointed in their respective runs.
Alexander has had an impressive rookie campaign for the Warriors, going 6-1 in NLC matches this year. The freshman started his day by receiving forfeit then went on to win by fall over Anthony Baker of Northridge (5:33). Alexander met his match with Christian Mejia of Memorial in the 113-pound title as Mejia would earn a tech fall at 20-5.
“That’s the best Braxton has wrestled this season,” said Bumgardner of his star freshman. “I really think it’s the best he’s wrestled. But, with that being said, he ran into a kid that’s pretty tough.”
Ponsler did not have many issues in his first two matches. The senior won by fall over Memorial’s Edwin Hernandez (2:30) then used a 10-3 decision over Northridge’s Mason Cross to advance to the final.
Ponsler was superior challenge to Warsaw’s Kameron Hile but admitted that he was surprised by Hile’s approach. When all was said and done Ponsler captured a 3-0 decision to be crowned champion of the 132-pound bracket.
Ponsler and Alexander were both named first team All-NLC selections. Zac McKee was voted in by the coaches as an honorable mention.
McKee finished his final conference tournament run with a third place finish at 160. McKee won by fall over Brady Stout of Warsaw (3:13) and tech fall over Plymouth’s Nate Nixon 15-0 before eventually advancing to the third place match. In the final match McKee defeated NorthWood’s Mikey Edwards with a 5-3 decision.
“Up and down the lineup I thought we wrestled really hard today,” Bumgardner stated. “For the most part we were wrestling very well. That being said, ‘well’ wasn’t winning matches.
“We have to take that next step, again, and start winning matches. We’re going deeper now, we’re going into overtime. We just have to take that next step.”
Wawasee had three grapplers grab a fourth place finish with Ricardo Romo (106), Marcos Mejia (145) and Jeremiah Dilley (195). Alejandro Castro (182) took fifth while both Raymon Torres (152) and Ricky Nelson (285) finished sixth in their respective brackets.
Wawasee will compete at the Plymouth Sectional next Saturday.