SYRACUSE – It certainly wasn’t a David versus Goliath situation, or even a grudge match of any kind. Just two very proud wrestling traditions coming together to get in some quality work ahead of a busy tournament push.
Wawasee and Penn, with a combined 42 sectional titles and multiple state champions among its histories, battled at the Hardwood Teepee under the solitary spotlight Thursday night, the Kingsmen heading back to the Palace with a 48-16 victory.
It was a rare appearance for Penn to show up in Syracuse for any sport. In fact, the last time Penn was in town was 2007 for a freshman girls basketball game and the last time the two schools matched up for any sport was freshman girls basketball in 2010 at Penn. The two wrestling programs, however, are familiar with one another as Penn hosts the regional and is in each step of the state tournament from regional through state. The two programs have also battled individually at the Al Smith Invite, which will continue this year after Christmas, and both will take part in the IHSWCA Team State in January.
But for the first time ever, Penn took on Wawasee in Syracuse and after a Fernando Hernandez pin at 182, Wawasee led 16-15. Penn would recover, winning the final seven matches head’s up, showing the depth with a roster listed with over 80 athletes.
Wawasee started the night with a 15-3 blitz by Geremia Brooks over Logan Hill in a matchup of top-five combatants. Penn returned favor with a pin from Jai Pant and 12-5 win by Jeff Harper. Isiah Faroute showed impressive discipline in the 152 match, scoring a late takedown and riding out the final seconds to secure an 8-5 win over James Smith. Logan Baugh gave Wawasee a second tight decision, Baugh gaining a takedown and holding off Otis Cassell for a 6-5 decision.
“We had gameplans coming in for our matches, and for the most part, the guys stuck to them,” said Wawasee head coach Frank Bumgardner. “Izzy did a great job getting the reversal and the takedown to get that win, and Baugh needing a takedown to win, getting the takedown, and then riding out to get the win.”
The tide turned in Penn’s favor in the 170 matchup, where Ray Torres was in total control. The Wawasee senior led 5-1 in the second period and looked to be wearing down Tyron Robinson. But a wrong turn after a Robinson takedown had Torres on his shoulders and a mat slap from official Jeremy Aker.
“That 170 match kind of gave us some energy, that was a big match for us,” said Penn head coach Brad Harper. “Hats off to Frank and his team. They have a very tough team. This matchup could have gone either way, it really could have. The score doesn’t tell the tale. But that 170 got us some big points and kind of started us in the right direction.”
Hernandez’s pin at 1:46 of Blake Knepple had Wawasee up and its home crowd wondering ‘what if?’. Damien Rodriguez really had Wawasee’s support in full throat, holding his own against top-ranked Rockne Hurley, leading 3-1 in the third period. But the experience of Hurley set up a nice combo to get Rodriguez to the mat and a near fall, shifting the score to 6-3 and an eventual 6-4 decision.
From there it was virtually all Penn, as the Kingsmen scored decisions from Adam Bertz and Vince Sparrow and four pins from Yehezquel DeVault, Ryan Purvis, Brayden McMillen and Darren Begley.
“Frank and I decided to schedule this because we need it to get ready for the state run,” Harper said. “It was awesome competition and we saw some really tight matches. These were good matches to get us ready. It was a good way to get a new series started, one I hope we can put together for years to come.”
Bumgardner saw the opportunity to wrestle one of the premier teams in the state as only a win. Combined with a healthy JV card and even both school’s elementary programs getting together to open the night, growth came from a seed both coaches felt was worth planting.
“We didn’t say anything different because there isn’t anything different,” Bumgardner said about prepping for Penn. “We talked about two different things they do and that’s it. They hold position very well and they do just a couple things consistently. Other than that, it’s another dual and another match and performance in our place. That’s all that was said.
“For us, we don’t care who we wrestle, we’re just worried about us. We can only control one thing, and that’s us. We respect an opponent like Penn who has a long standing tradition of excellence, and Harper has them ready to go every day. But if we’re going to get where we want to be as a program, we can’t look at a Penn and stand in awe. We have to beat them.”
Wawasee and Penn both will head into prep for the state’s most prestigious individual tournament, the Al Smith Classic, hosted by Mishawaka High School. The two-day tournament begins at 10 a.m. Dec. 28.