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.”