SYRACUSE — “Wawasee wanted it a little more than we did in some matches.”
Concord head coach Justin Rockenbaugh expressed some frustration after a Northern Lakes Conference wrestling match against Wawasee. Rockenbaugh’s squad was upended by the Warriors, 45-33, in Syracuse Tuesday night.
While Rockenbaugh did not name any specific matches he was disappointed in, anyone in attendance would most likely have pointed a finger at the 195-pound weight class matchup between Concord’s Tyler Koeppel and Wawasee’s Brian Clark.
Just before Clark and Koeppel faced off, Wawasee’s Devenn Lilly was pinned by the Minutemen’s Jakari Welch, bringing the score to 39-27 in Wawasee’s favor. With only two matches left Concord had an opportunity to force a tie at 39 if both Minutemen wrestlers could pin their opponents. Thankfully for Wawasee, Clark had different plans.
The tension could be felt rising in the room as Clark stared down Koeppel before the whistle blew. Once the match started, Koeppel had no idea what had hit him. It took the Warrior senior all of 28 seconds to take down and pin Koeppel, sealing Wawasee’s first Northern Lakes Conference victory of the season.
Following the match, Clark focused more on improvement than the victory itself.
“You have to savor the victory, and I am glad I could help the team with the win,” Clark said. “But with the score the way it was we are obviously not happy. That should have been more lopsided, and that has to be our mindset for every match, especially in the NLC.”
Even after an impressive pin over his opponent, Clark saw room for improvement.
“There is always something you can do better in these matches. I look at my individual matchup and think about what I could’ve done and should’ve done better,” Clark stated.
While Clark’s pin was impressive and proved to be the nail in the coffin for Concord, wrestling is still a team sport and a team effort was needed for this victory. While Clark helped finish the night, it was another Wawasee senior that got things started off on the right foot. Chad Eppley wrestled in the 285-pound weight class for the Warriors to kick off the meet. Eppley took on and took down Concord senior Tyler Wilson in the heavyweight battle with a pin to give the Warriors an early 6-0 advantage.
After a forfeit in the 106 class and a Concord pin in the 113-pound class the score was a 12-6 Wawasee advantage. That set up the 120-pound weight class for a tough battle between Wawasee’s Javier Lopez and Concord’s Keven Devora. After ending the first round with a 2-1 advantage over Devora, Lopez made quick work in the second round and pinned the Minutemen freshman to further extend Wawasee’s lead.
After Wawasee’s Ronny Short accepted a forfeit by Concord in the 126-pound weight class, Wawasee senior’s Nick Rozow and Doug Corl would contribute to the cause by pinning both of their Concord counterparts in the 132-pound and 160-pound weight classes, respectively. Warrior freshman Stephen Possell also claimed victory when he pulled a comeback in the third round of the 170-pound matchup. Possell was down 2-1 to Concord’s Michael Rockenbaugh but gained two points on a reversal and three more on a near fall to grab a 6-4 decision to put Wawasee up 39-21.
Wawasee was coming off of large loss to NLC rival Goshen last week as well as a poor showing at the Merrillville Super Duals over the weekend. Following the match, Wawasee head coach Paul Meyer was asked how the team was able to rebound from a tough week and get up for the match Tuesday night.
“It wasn’t easy,” Meyer stated. “As I have said before this year, we have a lot of first-year kids and we are coaching a lot of fundamentals and basics because we have to get these kids to where they need to be.”
While happy with the win, Meyer was not satisfied with his team’s performance on the mat, stating, “We won, and it was sloppy. All of us coaches here agree that it was sloppy. I’m not trying to take anything away from the heart of the kids. But fundamentally we’ve got some miles to cover before NLCs and sectionals.”
Before the Warriors start covering those miles for conference and sectional meets, they have a large road block waiting for them. Wawasee will welcome in their arch rivals – the Warsaw Tigers on Thursday. The stakes are usually high for these two squads and coach Meyer knows it and talked briefly about what his team has to do to get ready for Warsaw.
“Stay focused, have a focused practice tomorrow with good conditioning tomorrow morning,” stated Meyer. “Then we just need to divide up and conquer and focus on the fundamentals. It’s just wrestling 101 at that point.”
Thursday night’s match will be senior night for the Warrior wrestlers. The rivalry meet is set to start at 6:45 p.m. with the senior ceremony preceding the first match.
In junior varsity wrestling, it was a quick night. Just one matchup was on the docket for JV and that faced Concord’s Erick Castro against Wawasee’s Joe Lyles in the 126-pound weight class. Castro would walk away with the victory after pinning Lyles in the second round.