FORT WAYNE — As a long slate of Saturday morning quarterfinals went along, cheers from small pockets of fans around the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum signaled big moments on the mats.
The cheers from the Tribune-area contingents kept coming, one after another in the first round. Eleven area wrestlers won opening-round matches at the Fort Wayne Semistate, putting themselves a win away from a trip to state.
Then, a win by Peru 132-pounder Kegan Kern got things moving. His takedown at the buzzer in the second round put him in the state meet. Simultaneously, Western’s Dustin Hinkle scored a win at 138 pounds for his ticket to state. Then Peru 145-pounder Evan Loe won his second match, followed by Kokomo 152-pounder Chad Gaddis and the local snowball was growing.
Western 182-pounder Corey Hinkle won next, followed by Kokomo 170-pounder Keair Ross scoring a win. Kokomo 220-pounder Fletcher Miller won for his spot at state, and finally Peru 195-pounder Nick Cress snagged his second victory for a trip to state.
In total, eight area wrestlers snagged spots at state, a huge haul compared to most seasons. Loe, Corey Hinkle and Miller went on to claim semistate championships.
“The last couple years our regional’s been low on numbers,” said Miller, who repeated as 220-pound champ. The Howard County and Miami County schools all reached Fort Wayne via the Peru Regional.
“The local representation is just awesome. We’re not going to be looked at as the low man on the totem pole anymore, we’re going to be an area to be reckoned with.”
The state finals are this coming Friday and Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Dustin Hinkle and Gaddis were each third. Kern, Ross and Cress each dropped two placement matches to finish fourth.
“I’m excited,” Western coach Chad Shepherd said. He took five wrestlers to Fort Wayne and saw two, the Hinkle brothers, live on to next week. “All the hard work is paying off. The boys wrestled well. I think Caleb [Maddox] would like to have his match back, but that’s part of it. Russell [McDorman] had a great season. Skylar [Braden], we were in that match right there at the end we had a chance to win it, and that’s all we wanted to be with him.