BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — Peru wrestling coach Andy Hobbs remembers a year like this, where snow hampered the high school sports schedule, interrupted training and pushed back meets.
The year was 1985 and it’s a very good memory for Hobbs.
Heavy snow that season made driving difficult. So Hobbs and his teammates at Tipton High School improvised.
”I’d go out with a snowmobile and pick up guys and we did what we could do,” Hobbs recalled about finding ways to practice. “The AD would let us in [to the gym]. My coach was Dick Christie, he couldn’t get from Kokomo to Tipton that whole week.”
Snow hit during the week of the state finals and postponed the event, originally scheduled for Market Square Arena in Indianapolis.
”That was the year they had to move it to New Castle because Market Square was taken up by the girls basketball state championship — they used to follow us by a week,” Hobbs said. “They moved it to New Castle, changed it to one day and it was real fun. The place was packed. We had a kid that won a state championship that year [Mike Langley, who won at 145 pounds]. It was very similar [to this season]. It snowed and snowed and snowed that year.”
Hobbs took sixth at state at 185 pounds that season, his junior year.
On Saturday, Hobbs’ Tigers host the Peru Wrestling Regional, bringing together the advancing wrestlers from the Oak Hill and Peru sectionals. It’s the second step in the four-week state tourney series. The top four wrestlers in each weight class Saturday will advance to the following weekend’s Fort Wayne Semistate.
Peru has 12 wrestlers entered in the regional field. Kokomo and Western each have nine wrestlers entered in the regional, Eastern has eight, Northwestern five and Taylor four.
The Panthers lead the Howard County contingent with four sectional champs — 120-pounder Caleb Maddox, 138-pounder Dustin Hinkle, 182-pounder Corey Hinkle, and 195-pounder Russell McDorman.
Winning the first match at the regional ensures passage to Fort Wayne. The next two matches determine finishing order, and matchups for the semistate.
”We’ve preached that the last week and a half to our guys: The object this week is to be able to go wrestle the next week,” Shepherd said. “You obviously want to place as high as you can ... but you want to qualify, you want to move on, you want to advance. I really think our guys understand that.”
If sectional fields were equal at every weight class, then sectional champs and runner ups should advance, but Shepherd warns against using that to predict winners. From the sectional, he sees several weights that could be hard to predict.
”We’ve got four good 106 pounders [from the Oak Hill Sectional], that’s not taking anything away from the Peru [Sectional] 106 pounders, but we’ve got four good ones,” he said. “The class as a whole was probably as good as it’s been in a long time. That’s not saying there’s going to be big upsets Saturday, but if you’re not wrestling, you could be in trouble.”
He pointed to the 220-pound field as similar. Kokomo’s Fletcher Miller, the state runner-up at that weight last year, is expected to rule the roost, but Eastern freshman Evan Ellis has turned heads as well. He was runner up last year, and Western’s Dante Graham took fourth after finishing as runner-up last season.
”If I’m the champion or runner up from Peru [at 220], I’m not happy with the draw I’m going to get,” Shepherd said. “Not that it’s not a winnable match for him, but it’s a loseable match too. 170 is the same way. I think you’ll see some 1s and 2s fall Saturday, I hope none of them are ours.”
Miller is one of three Wildkats to take titles at the sectional, along with 170-pounder Keair Ross and 152-pounder Chad Gaddis. Eastern had two champions at Oak Hill, Ty Swisher, who won the difficult 106-pound title, and Corbin Hetzner, the champ at 126.
Northwestern had two sectional champs at Peru, Owen O’Dell (152) and undefeated Luke Akers (160). Northwestern coach Byron Osborn is enthused about his squad’s progress and how that can help on Saturday.
”They’ve got to come out with confidence, they’ve got to come out and wrestle their style and wrestle right away,” he said. “The biggest thing they’ve learned over the season was to come out with confidence.”
Northwestern faced much of the Oak Hill Sectional field during the regular season, then, like Peru and Maconaquah, reunites with those rivals for the regional.
”We’ve faced the majority of the teams through the whole year but those teams have very talented wrestlers, very tough wrestlers,” Osborn said. “On the one hand, it is tough, but on the other hand my guys already know what to expect. They’ve already seen the kids wrestle before, they can gameplan a little bit about how they want to attack as opposed to going in cold.”
Maconaquah had one sectional champ, 126-pounder Chase Wilson. Peru’s championship contingent from the regional includes Shane Garretson (106), Connor Quin (120), Peyton Sturgill (138), Evan Loe (145), Danny Fisher (170) and Erik Hobbs (220).
”Our approach tournament time is to wrestle absolutely wide open [with] recklessness and abandon, scoring points” said Andy Hobbs, whose squad won the team title at Peru and hasn’t lost in a tournament situation since falling in the first weekend of the season. “We’ve always taken that approach and we’ve always been happy with how we wrestled.”