MISHAWAKA — It was a bit of a tale of two gyms for Wawasee on the first day of the Al Smith Invitational Friday.
The Warriors were at their best in the lower weight gym — where competition ranged from 106 to 152 pounds — but struggled to find as much success in the front gym at Mishawka High School, which held the higher weight class matches. All three Wawasee wrestlers who advanced to the second day of the tourney Saturday did so in the lighter categories. But even those who fell short of advancement performed pretty well at the ultra-prestigious tourney, and head coach Frank Bumgardner was definitely not disappointed.
“It was kind of tough sledding in the bigger gym, but that’s what this tournament is,” said Bumgardner. “It’s so deep. You look at the teams that are there; you look at the depth that they have. It’s crazy. Just the depth in every single weight class is incredible. There are multiple weight classes where there are number one and two-ranked state (wrestlers) there.
“Hopefully we can continue this type of performance. If so, we’ll be doing pretty well and feeling pretty good about it.”
Jace Alexander, Dylan Tom and Logan Stuckman each earned a second day of wrestling at the Al Smith, at 126, 120 and 106, respectively.
Stuckman is still alive in the championship bracket following a 3-0 performance on the first day at the big meet, benefitting from a forfeit in his opening round before pinning Prairie Heights’ William Rinehard in just 45 seconds, then sticking Peru’s Cooper Baldwin late in their quarterfinal match to finish out the day. The freshman remains unbeaten on the year at a flawless 20-0 and will square off with Bellmont’s Isaac Ruble in the semis Saturday.
“We’ve got a really good freshman class, and at this point I guess it’s highlighted by Logan. He’s wrestled a long, long time, and it shows. He wasn’t intimidated by the arena today or the atmosphere or anything like that. He was there to wrestle. He’s been in massive tournaments for many years now. He’s done a great job,” said Bumgardner. “He’s a tough, tough wrestler. Very aggressive, very physical, and it’s paying off for him.”
Tom collected pinfalls over Zionsville’s Aiden Dorsey and Fort Wayne Carroll’s Dylan Heath before suffering a technical fall to elite Cathedral wrestler Zeke Seltzer — in the 120-pound quarters. He bounced back with a third pinfall victory over Goshen’s Armon Hairopoulos in their wrestleback match. He’ll face Lake Central’s Sebastian Cortez for a chance to reach the third-place match Saturday.
“Dylan Tom wrestled exceptionally well today. He’s got three pins on the day and he lost in the quarters to a kid from Cathedral who is ranked top 20 in the country, but he scored offensive points on him. So that’s a big day for DT,” Bumgardner explained.
Alexander is also competing for a possible third-place berth at 26 pounds when wrestling resumes Saturday. He needed a combined 50 seconds to pin both Brayden Hinkel of Goshen and Gavin Kersey of Lowell before taking his first loss of the season opposite Aidan Torres of Chesterton in the quarters. But he battled back with a big, 13-2 major decision of Hobart’s Nathan Schammert in their console to move onto day two in Mishawaka.
“He got to the quarters, and he got beat by a very talented freshman from Chesterton. It was some positional tactics that we made mistakes on, but then how are we going to come back, how are we going to respond?” recalled Bumgardner. “The kid that he had to beat in the very next round from Perry Meridian was good. This is a meat grinder of a tournament, and Jace really put it on that kid, really dominated the match. So we’re proud of him for the way he competed there.”
Wawasee had other very solid performances at the long-running tilt, too, and Bumgardner singled out Hunter Miller at 13, Brenden Dilley at 32, Eliott Tinsley at 38, Gavin Malone at 52, Fernando Hernandez at 82, Quintin Spitzmacher at 220 and Nick Clark at heavyweight. The Warriors advanced half of their roster last season, but with a much younger team this year and unfortunate forfeits at 138 and 145 — where Elliott Tinsley suffered a concussion during warm-ups and Tim Shortt was DQ’d during skin checks — this year’s climb at the Al Smith was a steeper one. Nevertheless, the Warriors were still sitting in a respectable 16th place with 68 points with the first round in the books.
“We obviously intended to bring 14, but to bring 12 guys in and then to have three get through, that’s about what we were expecting. We’re sitting dead middle of the field… In a tournament this deep to be sitting dead middle, we’re pretty happy,” Bumgardner said.
While Wawasee advanced three, fellow Northern Lakes Conference programs Warsaw and NorthWood each advanced just one wrestler apiece to the second day of action. Both are still alive in their championship brackets.
Warsaw’s lone contender is Brock Hueber, who went 3-0 at 195 pounds with wins over Crown Point’s Matt McElroy, Riley’s Commande Jenkins and Chesterton’s Gage DeMarco. Hueber went the distance and then some, earning decisions in his first two bouts before surviving a double-overtime match with DeMarco, 4-2, via a late escape and takedown. He’ll take on Northridge’s Ibrahim Khaoucha in an all-NLC semifinal Saturday. Warsaw head coach and Brock’s father Kris Hueber thinks he’ll be ready to go.
“We’ve spent a lot of time in the offseason,” said the Tigers skipper. “He wrestled three matches today. It’s not that bad, and we kind of pride ourselves in being able to push them in the room to where your days on the mat here don’t feel like it — it shouldn’t be nearly as much of a challenge. And I think it showed through because in all three of his matches, most of his offense really came in that third period where he could push the gas pedal down and make people work at his level, and it got him places today.”
Meanwhile for Warsaw, junior 45-pounder Liam Nolin went 3-2 on the day, pinning Memorial’s Dylan Black in the opener before suffering a tech fall to Carroll’s Evan Ulrick in the second round, then wrestling back with a major decision win over Hobart’s Josh Pulcifur and a pinfall of Elkhart Central’s Trevor Sarber. He ultimately came up a match short of advancing with a 7-3 loss to Bloomington South’s Ryan Younger in his final match Friday. Andrew Ross (126), Jacob Linky (160) and Angel Mendez (220) each went 2-2 for Warsaw, meanwhile. It was a big step for a program that boasts 25 individual championships at the 41-year tournament but has struggled against the elite field in recent history. The Tigers concluded day one with 42 points, good enough for 28th place so far.
“Overall, it’s not the day we wanted, but it’s a better day than we’ve had in quite awhile. We had guys every weight class that wrestled today that showed significant improvement in their results personally. So that was good,” said Kris Hueber. “A year or two ago we came here, and I think we won three matches against human being opponents. We had two guys today with three wins on their own, and then another three or four guys that went 2-2. Again, not the day we wanted, but we are seeing progress.”
NorthWood’s Lone made the semis at 182 pounds, where he pinned Carroll’s Luke Schwehn in the second period, then stuck Wawasee’s Hernandez and Center Groves’ Drake Buchanan in the first period of each of his next two matches. Lone finished up his junior season in third place at the Al Smith and has a shot at a championship this year, but he’ll have to get through Indianamat.com top-ranked Joseph Walker of Mishawaka in Saturday’s semis to do so.
“Just the way it falls, last year he was the number one seed coming in and got beat by Chesterton and battled back through and placed third. This year he’s the third seed; it’s just the way it shakes out,” recalled NorthWood coach Nate Andrews. “He’s got two tough nuts, and he’s going to see Joe Walker, the number one-ranked wrestler in Indiana at 182 pounds first thing in the morning. We get that one, we’re in the final. Otherwise, we’ve got to wrestle for third and fourth.”
Lone’s younger brother Kaden nearly advanced to day two of the Al Smith Friday despite a 10-7 loss to Indianapolis Cathedral’s Garrett Stewart in their 145-pound opener. Kaden rebounded with a pinfall over Center Groves’ Sam Howe, a 17-4 major decision win over Bellmont’s Garrett Manley and a third-period pin of Penn’s James Smith. But he ultimately lost an 8-3 decision to Carroll’s Ulrick to fall a match short of advancing. Jaden Miller was also close at 195, going 2-2 on the day. Wood finished the day in 26th place with 53 points.
“What a tough tournament, man,” said Andrews. “Kaden Lone is a tough nut. He wrestled a tough kid from Cathedral right off the bat and got beat so he was in the losers bracket all day. He battled back through it and knocked some good kids off. He fell a little short here to another good kid from Fort Wayne Carroll, but we’re going to keep growing, battling, learning, getting better. Jaden Miller was close, got beat in two close matches to two ranked kids. This tournament gets better and better every year.”
Cathedral put up 156 points to lead the team field on the opening day of the tourney and will attempt a third-straight team title when action resumes Saturday. Crown Point scored 123.5 points for second in the team standings, followed by host Mishawaka with 107 points and Perry Meridian with 105.5. Wrestling is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Saturday.