MISHAWAKA — Wawasee wrestling has been hot through the first week of the postseason. Last week, the Warriors earned themselves a repeat Plymouth Sectional championship, and they did so in pretty dominant fashion. As the team prepares for the Penn Regional this weekend, they’re hoping that the cold weather hasn’t, well, cooled them off any.
School cancellations due to the historically cold weather this week haven’t made things easy on any program headed into the regional round of the IHSAA state tournament. But it’s also the time of year when the Warriors would be tapering off their workouts anyway, so if it had to come, it’s not the worst possible time for it. Besides, head coach Frank Bumgardner has a pretty veteran crew of grapplers who understand how to manage their time individually.
“It actually worked out really well for us because Monday and Wednesday were the days that we weren’t able to work out at the school itself, and those are the days where we don’t put a ton of mileage on our legs. We don’t beat them up on those kinds of days,” explained Bumgardner. “Tuesdays and Thursdays are the days that we really put a lot of work in, and those are the days that we’ve been able to work out, so it’s worked out fairly well for us. I went ahead and sent them all individual emails of kind of weekly focuses — this is where you need to put your time, energy and effort into, technique-wise and strategic-wise to make those adjustments. The workouts we’ve been able to get in we’ve made just a little bit longer so that we can get our technique in, making sure that we’re making those adjustments, getting that focus work in and then also just putting the work in with the remaining amount of time that we have.”
While Bumgardner is confident in his wrestlers’ willingness to work on their own, individual weight management is always a bit of a concern for any high school coach under the current circumstances. Without the ability to monitor them throughout the week, he’s hoping his Warriors have been sound about their nutrition. On the other hand, it’s not something he’s panicking about, either.
“Am I concerned? Absolutely I’m concerned because we’re asking a 14-, 15-, 16-year-old kid to manage their own weight to within a tenth of a pound when you don’t see them for 48 hours,” he said. “So yeah, of course I’m concerned, but am I losing sleep over it? No, I’m not.”
Wawasee brings 13 wrestlers into Saturday’s Penn tournament, and a 14th — 126-pounder Brenden Dilley — could also see action after earning a fifth-place finish at Plymouth and a spot as an alternate at the regional tilt. With nearly all of its lineup alive in the tourney, the Warriors have a legitimate shot at the program’s first regional team championship since 1998. It’s a similar situation to last year’s regional, when all 14 of Wawasee’s wrestlers earned top four finishes to advance to Penn. The Warriors wound up settling for a very respectable third place then, but it’s an experience they learned from, too.
“Last year we went into the regional in a very similar situation, and I thought our focus was wrong. We felt kind of jittery. We felt kind of anxious. We talked a lot about ‘Hey, we’ve got an opportunity to win. We’ve got an opportunity,’ and I’m not going to say that we underperformed because we still got nine guys to the semi-state but I did not feel that our performance was as good as it could’ve been,” recalled Bumgardner.
“We’ve taken a different approach this year, and that is worry about yourself. Worry about your individual opportunity, and that is win your first match, you’re now a semi-state qualifier, and now we need to go and advance as far as we can in this tournament and potentially go win a regional title as an individual. If enough of those things happen individually, we’re going to be just fine as a team. Because this is an individual sport where we keep a team score, and when we start putting external pressure on, bad things happen. I think we’re going to take a different approach this year to the regional tournament, and that is let’s go worry about individuals and then we’ll see where we’re at as a team.”
The top four wrestlers in each weight class are guaranteed a spot at next weekend’s East Chicago Semi-State. The first round is the most important since it’s essentially the ticket round — first-match winners can finish no lower than fourth place at Penn. Bumgardner likes his team’s first-round match-ups, and he likes where his wrestlers are at right now.
“Looking at them, I don’t feel as though there’s any draws where we go ‘There’s no way we can possibly win.’ I know at 170 we’ve got Joe Walker from Mishawaka who is ranked fourth. He’s a stud, but we’ve wrestled him before with Fernando (Hernandez), and Fernando can wrestle with him,” said Bumgardner.
“Overall we feel pretty good. We feel pretty good about the opportunities that we have in not just the first round but second round and third round also. And we like our guys. Our guys are wrestling really well right now. It’s been kind of nice to get the time off, a couple days in here at the end of the season just to get a little extra rest.”
Also still alive at Saturday’s Penn Regional are eight Warsaw wrestlers, five wrestlers from Tippecanoe Valley and three from Triton. NorthWood sends three to the Goshen Regional this weekend, meanwhile. Wrestling at both tournaments is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m.