NAPPANEE – Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, Wawasee seemed like it was primed to be a 14-man wrecking crew. Oh, that wretched flu.
The widespread influenza virus the CDC is calling a nationwide epidemic made its way into Wawasee’s wrestling program and took down three of its top guns. While everyone seemingly is dealing with the bug, Wawasee’s glaring omissions – as well as the loss of another to an ACL injury – changed the scope of competition at Saturday’s Northern Lakes Conference Wrestling Championships.
Wawasee, coming into the day 27-1 overall and ranked No. 1 in Class 2-A, were without the services of Chris Schuller, Braxton Alexander and Alex Castro to the flu, and were also scrambling to fill the loss of Raymon Torres, who tore his ACL last week. Schuller, ranked No. 7 at 120 in his semi-state per indianamat.com, and Alexander, No. 2 at 126, were noticeable voids on the championship mat as the Warriors slipped to third despite its heavy haul from those working at NorthWood.
Northridge, the lone team to put a dent on Wawasee’s record this year, was the team to beat Saturday having run the NLC table at 7-0, and made it stand up with 217 points in a very balanced table. Plymouth slid in and took second at 184 points, Wawasee third at 169 and Goshen fourth at 165.5 points. Concord (137.5), Memorial (117), NorthWood (110.5) and Warsaw (77) rounded out the team field.
The Raiders weren’t overwhelming, taking home just three titles, but had wrestlers up and down the board wrestling for places and five in the class finals. Taking championships were Justin Puckett at 113, Evan Beasley at 120 and Conner Graber at 182, all coming from the top seed in their brackets. One of the major notes of the day also included a Ridge wrestler at 145, Owen Eveler, who was the top seed in the group and No. 4-ranked in the Fort Wayne semi-state, but was upset by NorthWood’s Jake Chupp, 3-1 in overtime, in the semis. Chupp would go on to lose in the final to Gavin Banks of Plymouth in a 3-1 decision.
For Northridge, its their fourth team title and second straight.
Wawasee sent six wrestlers to the finals, and had three come through with titles.
Two of Wawasee’s five ranked wrestlers won titles, with Geremia Brooks blitzing the 132 bracket and Elisha Tipping squashing the 285 class. Brooks wrestled a total of 3:34 in scoring three pins, his final win over Lane Flowers of NorthWood taking just 1:08. Tipping, who is still coming back from his own bout with the flu, used a forfeit and decision to make the final against Plymouth’s bulldozer, Kendall Himes, but Tipping got over on the big Plymouth sophomore to score a pin at 1:31.
The third title came from Damien Rodriguez at 195, who scored three decisions to take the posterboard and the blue ribbon. Taking on top seed Sam Slayton of Plymouth in the final, the two were tied at two with less than 20 seconds to go, but Rodriguez was able to score a near fall for three with 12 seconds left to take the points and his first NLC title.
The Warriors had three runner-ups in Garrett Stuckman at 138, Xavier Ortiz at 170 and Jace Alexander at 106. Stuckman ran into Bryton Goering of Memorial in the championship, and the undefeated Charger continued his fine season with a 12-2 major decision. Stuckman earned two decisions to make the final. Alexander, in a battle of potential state contenders with Fernando Flores of Goshen, was tied 2-2 before Flores got a takedown and made it work in a pin at 1:58.
NorthWood’s Jake Lone continued his solid wrestling with a title at 170 over Xavier Ortiz. Lone scored takedowns in the second and third periods and opened the third with an escape while Ortiz was only able to get escapes on the two takedowns to give Lone the 5-2 victory.
Ricardo Romo took third at 113, and the Warriors had four fifth-place and one sixth-place among its lot.
Wawasee head coach Frank Bumgardner was mixed in his opinion of the day’s haul.
“Overall we were short-handed but our kids performed well,” Bumgardner said. “To place third in the NLC tournament without a No. 1, and a pair of No. 2 seeds due to illness shows our depth and how well they performed. Our focus is to make sure everyone is healthy and sharp for sectionals and try to win our first sectional title in eight years. We’re going to see if we can’t advance all 14 to the regional and set ourselves up to also challenge for a title there.”
Warsaw had a tough day, not landing a wrestler in any of the 14 championship rounds, but did have three finish in the top four. Dillon Estepp took third in the heavyweight class, ending his day with a pin over Ryinn Replogle of Concord. Both Gavin Truex at 220 and Grayson Drudge at 182 ended in fourth place, getting pinned in third-place matches. Truex scored a forfeit and fall to make the third-place match and Drudge added a fall and decision to his record.
“Next week the stakes are so much higher with your season on the line,” said Warsaw head coach Kris Hueber. “For a lot of our guys, the conference tournament is so much deeper and it’s a great chance to see where you stand. I’m encouraged by what I saw from our guys. I thought that we had a few kids that wrestled their best matches of the season.”