NAPPANEE — On senior night in Nappanee, the lone senior in the NorthWood varsity wrestling lineup earned a dramatic win in perhaps the most exciting match of the night. It wasn’t enough to get the Panthers a team win in a 51-20 loss to visiting Jimtown, but it was one of several bright spots for the home squad.
Noah Alexander outlasted Aaron Martinez for a narrow, 7-6 decision at 195, pushing the pace through three periods of back-and-forth action in a feel-good moment for NorthWood. That victory was part of a string of five straight wins from 160 through 220 and put Wood ahead on the scoreboard briefly before a pair of forfeits and a trio of pinfalls brought the score to its final margin.
The Jimmies opened up with 15 straight team points via two falls and a decision before Tyler Becker’s 1:31 pinfall of Tyler Norment at 160 began to turn the tide. Jaden Miller eked out a narrow, 5-4 decision over Jacob Werts at 170, indianamat.com seventh-ranked 182-pounder Jake Lone cruised to an 11-3 major decision over Henry Gratzol, and Alexander kept the good times rolling with his 7-6 decision over Martinez, which gave the Panthers their first lead of the night at 16-15. Zac Miller cut Cory Green loose with time winding down in their 220-pound match and scored a late takedown to push the match’s margin out to eight points for an 11-3 major decision and an extra point for NorthWood, giving the team its largest lead of the night at 20-15.
“That’s what I was most proud of. And no tonight, that one point doesn’t necessarily make or break the match, and we know that, but that one point maybe next week or next year or two years from now might make or break the match,” explained NorthWood head coach Nate Andrews of Zac Miller’s late cut and takedown. “That’s what we’re trying to get to and that’s what we’re trying to learn, and that’s how we’re trying to improve — that each and every time we step out here, we’re learning those little lessons that are going to add up someday and hopefully make us successful.”
Three straight pinfall losses from heavyweight back through 113 pounds and forfeits at 120 and 126 brought the meet to its final margin, however. Prior to the action, the Panthers paid tribute to the team’s four seniors — Alexander, Ethan Rogers, Dustin Bingham and Blake Larson — in Andrews’ first season at the helm of the program.
“I haven’t had a chance to be around them too long or too much. I’ve had Noah and Dustin in football a little bit. Tonight we only had one of them in our varsity lineup. Ethan Rogers is a little bit banged up,” began Andrews.
“I’m proud of these guys. They are going to be known one day as the culture-setters for our program, and that is their legacy. They might not win as many matches on the scoreboard as they would like, however, they’ll always be able to come back here and say that they started this.”
It’s been a particularly exhausting stretch for NorthWood through the first few weeks of December, but the team will now get a bit of a break from competition before the Al Smith Invitational on Dec. 28-29. At roughly the midpoint of the season, there’s some work yet to be done for the Panthers lineup, but they’re making progress.
“We’ve had a really rough stretch here in December — the December to remember is what we call it. We’ve done Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday for three weeks in a row, and it’s been a little bit grueling with the late nights and everything like that. However, that’s part of it,” Andrews said.
“Midpoint of the season, truthfully, I was hoping we’d be a little further along in terms of positioning, getting our head on target and being able to take shots with a level change approach instead of just flopping in and being a little bit lazy. I thought we’d do a better job of moving while we’re on bottom and giving ourselves an opportunity to score, keeping our heads up and stuff like that. So it’s the positioning things, and it’s the aggression and the toughness things that we’re not where I want to be yet at this point in the season, but we are making strides, slowly but surely.”