BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — PERU — Fresh off the podium, Northwestern senior wrestler Luke Akers chatted and posed for pictures while clutching the large piece of cardboard with the 160-pound bracket, given to the winner at Saturday’s Peru Regional.
“It’s just a piece of paper, but it’s more than that to me,” he said. “From losing last year in the championship to coming back this year and finally being able to come out on top feels good.”
Akers will take a perfect 43-0 record into this coming Saturday’s Fort Wayne Semistate after winning three matches this past Saturday in Peru for the regional title.
He wrestled at 170 pounds last season and lost in the regional final to Kokomo’s Keair Ross, who repeated as 170 champ this season. Akers was 44-5 last season and lost in the ticket round at the semistate.
This year, Akers moved down a weight and has seen his results step up a notch.
“I feel a lot stronger, healthier, not as much body fat,” he said.
“I feel like I can control the match no matter who I’m facing. Last year at 170, there were guys who were stronger than me or faster than me, and then I dropped to 160 and I feel like there’s guys about as strong as me, but none seems as fast or as strong. I think it was a good choice.”
Akers said his strength has always been in the neutral stance, where he can score takedowns. He attended camps over the summer with the express goal of getting better on top or bottom this season.
“He’s worked hard. He stays after practice, he does all the extra things, all the little things that a champion does, and you’re seeing it pay off on the mat,” Northwestern coach Byron Osborn said.
“He doesn’t quit, whether he’s on his knees, he’s a scrambler. He never gives up, he always finds a way to finish the move, even when he’s in a bad position, and that’s what a lot of the great athletes do.”
Osborn said that getting a long-desired regional title is only going to make Akers stronger next week.
“This keeps building momentum,” Osborn said. “He hit a couple moves [Saturday] he hadn’t hit this season, and so that just builds confidence, adds to his repertoire of moves that he uses.”
Plus, being a champion means the best-possible path next weekend at the semistate. There, regional champs face fourth-place finishers from another regional, and if they win that match, they face the winner of a match between second- and third-place finishers in the ticket round for a berth at state.
“It was crucial,” Akers said of his regional title. “This week was the most important week for me. This sets up the best seeding for me next week, which increases my chances of making it to state. I really had to focus on this week.”