MISHAWAKA — None of the area athletes who competed on day two of the Al Smith Invitational finished higher than third place, but none were terribly disappointed either. After all, just finishing on the podium at the ultra-competitive, historic tilt puts a wrestler in some pretty exclusive company.
“I was seeded second so we were hoping for maybe a little bit better,” said Warsaw senior Brock Hueber after his fourth-place result in the 195-pound class at the tourney Saturday. “I had a close match in the semifinals where I thought maybe I could pull it out, but it happens. This is a great tournament. There are great wrestlers here. This is a great stepping stone tournament, and it really shows you where you’re at and what you need to do. Fourth place isn’t something to be ashamed about. There are great wrestlers who didn’t make it to today, so I’m honored to be in the company of these wrestlers. It’s a privilege.”
Hueber entered his second day at the Al Smith with a shot at a championship after a 3-0 finish on the opening day of competition at Mishawaka High School Friday. He came up a little short in a 9-6 loss to Northridge’s Ibrahim Khaoucha in the semifinals but bounced back with a 9-2 win over Indy Cathedral’s Jacob Huffman in the backdraw. He only led 3-2 at the end of the second period, but a takedown and near fall with just 35 seconds to go put it out of reach. Similarly, Hueber was at his best in the third period of his third-place final with Fort Wayne Carroll’s Matt Lepper, but after falling behind 6-2 through most of two periods, he couldn’t quite come all the way back on his way to a narrow, 6-4 defeat.
Of his six matches at the Al Smith, Hueber went the distance in each — including a double-overtime win over Chesterton’s Gage DeMarco in Friday’s quarterfinals — but he never slowed down. In fact, he looked stronger as his matches wore on.
“So some crazy thing happens with the body. You hit that point in your mind where you think ‘I’m tired,’ and nine times out of 10, you’re dead wrong,” he explained. “Something we really emphasize in the room is pushing through that, trying to push your limits because your body is designed to fight through things like that. First period you’re feeling pretty good. Second period, you’re like ‘Wow, maybe I’m tired.’ And then the third period kicks in, you’re like ‘OK, I’ve got a job to do. Let’s go finish this.’ You just kind of get out of your own head, some of that adrenaline is kicking in, and you just go out and wrestle.”
Wawasee’s Jace Alexander and NorthWood’s Jake Lone also made the third-place match Saturday, and both had success there.
At 182, Lone lost a 13-3 semifinal to Indianamat.com number one-ranked and eventual Al Smith champ Joseph Walker of Mishawaka, and, like Hueber, had to mentally bounce back from the disappointing defeat. He did so in dominant fashion with an early second-period pinfall win over Merrillville’s Khris Walton. After a scoreless first period opposite Columbus East’s Noah White in the console final, Lone managed to get to White’s back and drag him to the mat for a 2-1 advantage midway through the second, but White’s second escape of the period left the match tied up 2-2 headed into the third. After starting the final period on the bottom, Lone recorded an early escape and stayed on the offense en route to a 3-2 win and third place in the 82-pound bracket, his second third-place result in the weight category in as many years.
“The takedown really made the difference. Once I made the takedown I knew I could keep setting up my shots and be on the attack, so I was always pressuring him,” said Lone of the final.
“The goal is to be in the championship, but third place is nice. Al Smith, one of the hardest regular season tournaments, I feel pretty good about it. It’s a good judge to see where you’re at.”
Alexander suffered his only defeat of the Al Smith on Friday and had to win out to earn his third-place finish at 126. He reached Saturday with a 13-2 major decision over Perry Meridian’s Haggerty, opened the second day with a 2:14 pinfall win over Hobart’s Schammert, then built to a late, 7-4 lead against Bloomington South’s Cade Meier before Meier was ultimately disqualified to reach the third-place final. Once there, Alexander turned top position into a pair of back points for a 2-0 lead over Cathedral’s Luke Gonzalez midway through the second. An escape in the third pushed the margin out to its final, 3-0.
“To come back and wrestle three matches against tough guys, and to make some changes and it showed — he got into similar positions (as the one in his only loss) in those other three matches and was still able to make adjustments and went out and wrestled really, really tough — we’re really proud of him,” said Wawasee coach Frank Bumgardner.
Two other Wawasee wrestlers also competed at the Al Smith Saturday.
Freshman Logan Stuckman entered day two in the championship bracket but suffered his first loss of the season via a second-period tech fall at the hands of Bellmont’s Isaac Ruble in the semifinals. He came up short a second straight match in an unfortunate ultimate tiebreaker with Garret’s Hayden Brady in the backdraw but finished the day on a high note with a comeback win over Peru’s Cooper Baldwin.
Baldwin jumped out to a 6-0 advantage over Stuckman in the two wrestlers’ second meeting at the tournament — Stuckman pinned him late in the third period of the quarterfinals earlier Friday — before Stuckman scored a reversal midway through the second period to cut the deficit to four points Saturday. After a neutral start to the third, Stuckman demonstrated his dominance on the feet, repeatedly taking down Baldwin and cutting him loose to pull within a point. A takedown and back points with just 18 seconds on the clock secured a 10-8 fifth-place win for the Wawasee freshman.
Dylan Tom’s fifth-place match at 120 pounds didn’t go his way, unfortunately. After finishing 3-1 Friday, Tom collected a pinfall win over Lake Central’s Sebastia Cortez Saturday but came up just short, 3-2, in a decision opposite Merrillville’s Malik Hall in their bout for a third-place finals berth. Tom then fell via major decision to Fort Wayne Snider’s Brady Ester to finish sixth in the final standings.
“Dylan Tom, he didn’t end with a win, but he had the number two guy from the state from Merrillville, wrestled him 3-2 and arguably could’ve won that match, so he’s wrestling outstanding. It’s nice to go out with wins in a tournament that way, for sure, but performance, how are we doing? We wrestled pretty well,” said Bumgardner.
While NorthWood wound up in 26th place with 62 points in the final team standings and Warsaw placed 29th with 47 points, Wawasee’s finishes Saturday moved the Warriors up two places and into 14th with a final tally of 89 points. Cathedral won its third consecutive team title with a score of 270 ahead of Crown Point’s 218.5 score.