FORT WAYNE — Throughout the Warriors’ incredible wrestling season, they’ve been so focused on the next objective that they haven’t really taken a moment to step back and admire their handiwork. That’s a big part of the reason they’ve been so successful, but what they did at Saturday’s Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Team State Dual Championships definitely deserved a moment for reflection.
Wawasee went 4-0 at the IHSWCA’s big meet at the Fort Wayne War Memorial Colliseum, claiming the Class 2A state title with a dramatic win over Garrett, and after that championship win, head coach Frank Bumgardner invited his wrestlers to think about the magnitude of what they’d just done and how far they’ve come.
“We always stay so focused on the mission at hand, kind of with blinders on, that we don’t take perspective. Three years ago this program was 1-21 with six kids, and now because of the kids we’re team state champions,” said Bumgardner. “It’s not because of me. It’s not because of any one person. It’s because of each and every kid, and they need to know their accomplishments are noticed.”
Warriors 182-pounder Alex Castro clinched the championship with his 6-0 decision over Garrett’s Doler Bevis at the end of a nip-tuck final.
Wawasee trailed the Railroaders 33-31 with just two matches to go. Xavier Ortiz put his team out front by a tenuous 34-33 margin with his 10-5 victory over Cole Bergman at 170 pounds, setting the stage for the 182-pound final to provide the clincher.
Castro scored a takedown not quite a minute in and nearly rolled Bevis onto his back before he was saved by the whistle signaling the end of the first period. Holding onto a 3-0 lead headed into the third period, as Castro got set up in top position, a sizable contingent of Wawasee fans who had made the trip to Fort Wayne to support the Warriors began chanting his name. He rode an exhausted Bevis — who was penalized for stalling in the third period — through the final round en route to a 6-0 win, giving his team a 37-33 victory and the 2A title.
After his hand was raised in victory, Castro pointed to his teammates, who had been watching the finale locked arm-in-arm on the sidelines but were finally able to erupt in celebration.
“It’s amazing to win a state title. It’s amazing to bring back the legacy Wawasee has had,” said Castro. “It’s a tradition, and we come upstairs, we work really hard every single day. It’s something we really deserve. It’s something we earned. Not many people work for it, but we definitely can say we worked for it from the beginning of summer to now.”
If Castro had any butterflies at all about the spotlight or about the significance of his match with Bevis, he certainly never showed it.
“I just came out here ready. My coaches, they put me through a training regimen, and I stood by that. I went through my shots as the coach told me to. I’ve done everything they taught me,” he said. “I wasn’t nervous because I knew I had my team on the side on of the mat there to help lead me through the entire way.”
“He’s a gamer. He likes the big stage, and he always competes hard,” said Bumgardner of his 182-pounder. “Going out there we knew that if it was a winnable match, it was going to be won. We felt comfortable putting Alex out there. He’s put a lot of time in, and he kept his positions and did what he needed to do.”
Earlier Saturday, Wawasee had to survive another close dual with North Montgomery just to reach the finals.
Isaiah Faurote’s takedown of Jake Lowe with 13 seconds left in overtime earned him a huge, 5-3, sudden victory win at 145 and gave Wawasee a 31-16 cushion over the Chargers, which the eventual state champions needed every bit of.
Raymon Torres entered his 152-pound semifinal displaying a limp, and, with his right knee already heavily wrapped, took a shot on North Montgomery’s Josh Lowe near the edge of the circle midway through the first period. When the ref called a reset in the center of the mat, Torres lay on his back gripping his inured knee and writhing in pain. After some discussion between Torres, the Wawasee coaches and an on-site athletic trainer, the gutsy wrestler was forced to injury default, cutting the Warriors’ lead to nine points.
But the semifinal was decided as much by what didn’t happen as what did.
Fernando Hernandez fought off a pin over the final moments of his 160-pound match with Cade Groves, surrendering three points via 7-1 decision instead of six, and Ortiz did the same over the closing seconds of the first period in his 170-pound bout with Micah Wray. He eventually lost a 6-3 decision, but his performance was enough to secure the team win, 31-28.
“This team has done a magnificent job this year of buying into the team focus,” explained Bumgardner. “That goes to if you have an opportunity to win a match, win big — score bonus points, attack bonus situations. And if, unfortunately, you are in a position to not win, keep it close, don’t give up the bonus. And our kids have really bought into that, and you can tell with how we didn’t give up in those positions. They continually fought through not only for themselves but for a greater purpose, which is the team aspect.”
Five different Wawasee wrestlers went unbeaten through four duals at Saturday’s tournament.
Freshman Jace Alexander scored three falls and a major decision at 106. Older brother Braxton recorded three pinfalls and a tech fall to score his team big points at 126, while Geremia Brooks and Garrett Stuckman combined for six falls and a major decision at 132 and 138, respectively, and heavyweight Elisha Tipping went unbeaten with three decisions and a forfeit. Even leading 5-0 in the final moments of his bout with Garrett’s Nolan Hathaway at the end of a long day, the visibly winded Tipping was still taking shots trying to score extra points for his team.
“That’s five weight classes where you go undefeated, and those guys are not just looking to keep it close, but they’re looking to score bonus and it shows,” Bumgardner said. “They’re not just looking to take it easy and stay healthy. They’re taking risks, and they’re attacking positions. They’re just great competitors. They’re great kids. They work hard, and it shows. They’re good leaders on the team.”
While Saturday’s championship was a huge moment for the program, the 25-1 Warriors aren’t done yet. The team still has a pair of Northern Lakes Conference duals remaining against NorthWood and Elkhart Memorial before the NLC tournament Jan. 20. After that, the IHSAA state tournament opens with sectionals Jan. 27, and there’s plenty of hardware still up for grabs.
“We still have a lot to go. We’ve got to keep learning. We’ve got to keep diagnosing our talents and everything and using it in matches,” said Castro. “Our season doesn’t end here. We’ve still got five more weeks. We’ve still got to the end of January.”