By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – In a season where some huge graduation losses may have slowed most programs, the Wawasee wrestling program were still among the state’s elite and sending handfuls of individuals through the state tournament.
The Warriors went through a series of growing pains during the regular season, and also had its share of COVID issues that ran rampant through Wawasee High School in December. Within those parameters, Wawasee dropped a handful of duals, not to the surprise of head coach Frank Bumgardner, whose goal wasn’t on the regular season, but the postseason.
Wawasee fell short of the mark in the Northern Lakes Conference, dropping to fourth among some of those pitfall losses to Northridge, Mishawaka and NorthWood during the round robin. The Warriors fell to fifth in the conference after the NLC Championships, but the foundation of its trademark state tournament run was being created.
Bumgardner has been adamant of his pride within the Wawasee program, which stands as the winningest in school history. His teams had sent 41 of 42 wrestlers to the regional round since 2018, and after the 2021 Plymouth Sectional, Wawasee again wasn’t messing around.
The Warriors were unequivocally dominant on the top half of the show’s program. Wawasee had an entry in the championship round in each of the first eight weight classes, starting with Kaleb Salazar at 106 and running through Landen Dilley at 152. In all, 11 of 14 advanced to regional this past season, quite a testament to the consistency of the program. Six of those 11 were sectional champions in Kaleb Salazar, Hunter Miller, Dylan Tom, Logan Stuckman, Jace Alexander and Gavin Malone.
In its path of destruction at Plymouth, the Warriors won its fourth straight sectional title and passed Wawasee gymnastics’ 23 titles for the most in school history, now with 24 trophies to its credit.
At the Penn Regional, Wawasee had eight of its 11 advance to the semi-state, buoyed by championships from Stuckman and Alexander, and runner-ups from Salazar, Miller and Tom.
Wawasee would see two of its semi-state advancers make the top four at East Chicago to advance to the IHSAA State Finals. Brendan Dilley, who hadn’t won a weight class all season, found himself wrestling in the final four of the 126-pound bracket after a 12-11 win in the ticket round. Alexander found his first loss of the year, nothing to scoff at against nationally-ranked Jesse Mendez of Crown Point, in the semis of the 138 bracket. Alexander would rally to finish third, Dilley fourth after taking an injury default.
Dilley’s run would end by tech fall in round one of the finals. Alexander, however, would win two matches before running into health problems in the semi-finals. Despite the tough ending to his career, Alexander would finish fourth, his highest-ever finish at the state finals in four trips to the show.