By Pedro Velazco
— There will be no winning team Saturday at the Peru Wrestling Regional. Coaches may keep track of team points, but it’s an individual tourney from here on. Team accomplishments will be measured in raw numbers: How many wrestlers survived? How many advanced?
The top four wrestlers in each weight class live on to next week’s Fort Wayne Semistate. With eight wrestlers entered at each weight, the pressure hits instantly, in the first match. Winning a championship is important. Winning a semifinal is important. But the most urgent matter is that first match. Lose the opening round, and you’re eliminated from the march to state. The winners ensure a path to Fort Wayne, and start thinking about getting as good a result as possible from the regional so as to have the best draw at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
“It’s do or die,” Kokomo coach Ryan Wells said. “You win and move on, or you lose and go home and that’s some serious pressure. That’s why we do this. That’s why we train. You feel that pressure, but at the same time, they’ve been trained to go out and they’ve been trained to wrestle well and win. Let your training take over and if you can do that, good things are going to happen.”
Focus has to be razor sharp from the very start of action at 9 a.m. in the Bengal Tiger gym.
“Definitely the kids know it,” Eastern coach Bob Jarrett said. “Every kid that’s going up there knows that he’s got to win, or he’s going home.”
The Peru regional brings together the top four wrestlers per weight from last week’s Oak Hill Sectional, and the top four from the Peru Sectional. The two sectional champion teams have big contingents. Western won the Oak Hill Sectional and Peru won its sectional. Each has 13 wrestlers entered in Saturday’s action.
“The biggest thing I liked is they’re having fun,” Western coach Chad Shepherd said. “They’re loose, they’re not uptight, they’re working. A lot of times you have a big weekend like we had, you can have a letdown and I haven’t really noticed any letdown.
“I think mentally we’re in a pretty good place right now, and that’s really big, because if you’re mentally good, you’re going to work hard, you’re going to prepare. Bottom line: Saturday rolls around, you’ve got to get on the mat and compete. I think we’re putting our feet in the right direction.”
Western’s haul to the regional is highlighted by four sectional champs: Caleb Maddox (113 pounds); Ben Lenahan (160); Corey Hinkle (182); and Russell McDorman (195). With all but one weight class represented, Western’s practices this week are very similar to the week leading up to the sectional.
“You cut the room in half a lot of times as the guys start dwindling down [in the state tournament],” Shepherd said. “It creates a different atmosphere. We don’t have that this week. The guys seem pretty loose, they’re having a good time. I think they’re proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
Peru’s baker’s dozen includes sectional champs Kegan Kern (126), Peyton Sturgill (132), Evan Loe (138), Braxton Simpson (152), and Kaleb Hammersley (160).
Kokomo takes eight wrestlers to Peru, including an impressive six sectional champs: Andrew Ledford (120); Scotty Barbary (126); Christian Hall (132); Chad Gaddis (152); Keair Ross (170); and unbeaten Fletcher Miller (220). Miller is 40-0. The only other unbeaten at Peru is Eastbrook 145-pounder Donovan Elliott, who is 15-0.
“You look at eight guys wrestling Saturday and I think we’ve got a good chance for eight guys to advance,” Wells said. “With six champs coming into it you get a good draw, [a No. 4 finisher from the other sectional]. We expect all those guys to win their first match, and be in the finals again.”
Wells noted his other two wrestlers have good opportunities to win their way to Fort Wayne as well.
Maconaquah takes seven wrestlers to Peru, led by sectional champ Chase Wilson (120).
Leading Eastern’s five-man contingent are sectional champs Ty Swisher (106) and Chris Travis (285). The competition at Peru features a lot of familiar faces, and both Swisher and Travis have faced and beaten their opening-round opponents. The regional is a step up in competition, but not a huge leap given how many familiar foes will be on hand at Peru.
“Quite frankly I don’t think it’s that [big a jump],” Jarrett said. “The week after that [the semistate], there’s no comparison. This one, they’ve wrestled half the kids there, so it’s really not that big a deal as far as moving up another level. It boils down to some breaks and it does boil down to the kid that’s worked the hardest and put in the most time.”
Taylor takes five wrestlers to the regional, led by Oak Hill 160-pound runner-up Logan Sarber. Northwestern has three wrestlers entered at Peru, highlighted by Luke Akers, who was the champ of a loaded 170-pound field at the Peru Sectional.