AKRON — Drake Montelongo doesn’t really much care who you put on the mat in front of him. The Tippecanoe Valley sophomore is going to wrestle his match. And it’s a style that earned him 29 wins and a semi-state berth over an exciting freshman season.
“Drake doesn’t care who he wrestles. I know with a lot of guys, who they wrestle kind of changes how they attack people. For him, he just goes out there and does his thing,” said Valley coach Kyler Kearby
“Drake is looking to score points. On his feet he’s looking to get takedowns — however that works. Then on top, he’s a pretty good rider, he can turn people. He’s not one that’s just going to go out there, get a takedown and pin them. He’s going to work to get a lead and continue to add on points.”
Montelongo is coming off a stellar freshman season, once in which he rolled up a 29-8 record, won a Plymouth Sectional championship and Penn Regional runner-up finish at 113 on his way to a finish at the East Chicago Semi-State. He got a glimpse at just how good he could be at the John McKee Memorial Invitational in Rochester last December, when he finished second against a stacked field. That confidence boost helped propel him through the second half of the season, and now, he’s set his goals even higher for his sophomore season.
“I got second, lost to a senior. He was a pretty good kid, and after that I thought I was doing good and it clicked for me that I could go pretty far,” Montelongo recalled of the McKee Invite.
“My expectations and my goals are higher than what they were last year. I want to go to state. I want to place for sure. I want to win sectionals, regionals and probably semi-state, too.”
After a productive offseason, Montelongo is looking to slide into the 120 weight class at the start of the Valley season. He may move up as high as 26 or back down to 13 depending on individual match-ups or how the rest of the Vikings’ lineup shapes out. But wherever he finds himself, Montelongo is one his coaches and teammates count on for points.
“He’s one that if we want him to go up weight, he’ll do that. He wants the best competition, we want him against the best competition, and he’s a kid that if we need a big win or something… he thrives in that. He wants that,” said Kearby.
“I’m a leader on this team. I think the younger kids look up to me,” Montelongo said. “In dual meets, when we need points, I’m the expectation that I have to get it done.”
Montelongo will be in good company on a Valley squad with better numbers than in years past. The Vikings shouldn’t need to forfeit a single weight class, depending on injuries and other unforeseeable variables, and if they do, Kearby doesn’t expect to have to do so in more than one class.
Not only does the team have numbers, it also has a strong core of experienced wrestlers around Montelongo. Jacob Eherenman returns for his senior season at 38 or 45. A regional qualifier last season, Eherenman made semi-state in his sophomore season and is another wrestler his coach counts on.
“He brings a lot of experience, and he’s one that is willing to be wherever we want. He wants what’s best for the team,” Kearby said. “He also has the approach of whoever it is, he’s going to go out there and compete.”
Sophomore Branson McBrier is back with the team after qualifying at regional last season and will wrestle at either 38 or 45 alongside Eherenman. Brandon Hammer also returns for a deep sophomore class after making the regional cut at 70 last season. Johnny Gonsalez and Tyler Nine should be assets at 195 and 220, respectively, and the Vikings have a valuable new addition to the lineup in junior Wawasee transfer Hagaen Slusher, who earned himself a semi-state berth at heavyweight with the Warriors last year.
“He’s one that transferred over from Wawasee. He’s a semi-state quarterfinalist. He’s going to help us tremendously at the heavyweight weight class,” Kearby said. “What I remember seeing from last year and from football this year is he’s a worker. He’s not a big guy that’s going to kind of methodically work. He’s going to go attack and puts a lot of effort out there. And he’s been a great addition for us so far.”
Kearby and the Vikings have hopes to get as many wrestlers into deep tournament runs as possible as well as a top team finish in a challenging Three Rivers Conference field that will likely see Maconaquah, Peru, Rochester, Wabash and Manchester all competing alongside Vally for the top spots in the field. With a core of veterans and great turnout, the team is excited about what 2019-20 could bring.
“The team this year I feel really good about. I feel like we have a bunch of good kids on there, and I feel like we’ll have a really good season this year,” said Montelongo.
“I think right now we have 23 guys on the roster. That’s the biggest we’ve had,” Kearby said. “Last year was the biggest in a number of years, and we added this year, so that’s a credit to these guys that have stayed with the program through middle school up. I know I’m personally excited to see what this group does. We have some kids that want to accomplish stuff individually and as a team, and I’m excited to see what happens.”