By Pedro Velazco
The Oak Hill Wrestling Sectional gets rolling bright and early at 9 a.m. Saturday.
It could take quite a while for one team to break away from the pack and take the title.
Kokomo heads to the sectional with an impressive six top seeds out of the 14 weight classes. But Western has an impressive set of credentials as well. The Panthers don’t have a losing record anywhere in the lineup.
“I think it’s going to be real competitive,” Kokomo coach Ryan Wells said. “Western’s got a great team. They’re very solid top to bottom. They’ve got kids in every weight class that I think are going to score points for them and they’re definitely going to come to compete. I think we have a chance to compete for the title.”
The Wildkat coach noted Oak Hill and Mississinewa could be threats, a couple schools also noted by Western coach Chad Shepherd. The sectional draws nine squads, all five Grant County wrestling teams, as well as Western, Kokomo, Eastern and Taylor. Northwestern has been moved to the Peru Sectional.
“Kokomo will bring a solid core group of guys,” Shepherd said. “Oak Hill will have a nice group of wrestlers. I think the rest of the teams have some individuals. Really as far as the team race goes, its’ probably between Kokomo, us and Oak Hill. Kokomo’s got the most No. 1 seeds.”
The Wildkat No. 1 seeds are Andrew Ledford (120 pounds), Scotty Barbary (126), Christian Hall (132), Chad Gaddis (152), Keair Ross (170), and Fletcher Miller (220). Miller has the best record in the sectional at 36-0.
“We have quite a few 1 seeds,” Wells said. “That’s big points for us, points we’re going to need to make up for in other places. We’re counting on those guys to get some major wins for us and be champions and maybe get some pins along the way, get some bonus points. If everybody can do their job, wrestle to their seeds and maybe wrestle above their seeds, I think that’ll set us up pretty nice to contend for the title.”
Western has a pair of top seeds in 113-pounder Caleb Maddox and 182-pounder Corey Hinkle. The disparity in No. 1 seeds with Kokomo is counteracted by Western’s depth. Dustin Hinkle (145), Ben Lenahan (160), and Russell McDorman (195) are all seeded No. 2.
“I really think I can score in all 14 weight classes,” Shepherd said. “I really believe we’re the only team that can score in all 14 weight classes. I don’t have a kid on the roster that in the right day and right circumstance, I don’t think has a chance to get out [advancing to the regional]. The odds of getting 14 guys out, not very good, but it is possible.
“I brought a team of freshmen, sophomores and juniors and not one kid had a losing record, and I think they got rewarded for that at the seed meeting.”
Former Western coach and current Eastern skipper Bob Jarrett thinks this year’s Western squad has the inside track on getting the team title.
“Western should win it on paper. Kokomo will be right there with them,” Jarrett said. “From what happened at the [Mid-Indiana] Conference, Western should, I think, be the team to beat.”
Eastern also has a No. 1 seed in heavyweight Chris Travis, who is wrestling again as a senior after leaving the sport his freshman season.
“Get past the first match, you’ve got a ride to the regional,” Jarrett said of his goals for the Comets. “We’ve got about six kids with a chance to make it to the regional. We’re just young this year and that’s the way it is. We’re wrestling well, problem is we’re beating kids our own age, we’re not beating kids older, and you have to do that.”
Taylor has the No. 1 seed at 160 pounds in Logan Sarber. The Titans’ results have keyed in on the stretch that matters most.
“Really, we’ve talked about this the whole year,” Taylor coach Aaron Schlueter said. “This is what we’ve focused on all year, we’ve always told our kids the whole season is a warmup for sectionals and state run. They know the task that’s at hand, they know what they need to do. They know how to qualify by and get to the next stage.”
Northwestern is new to the sectional and Huntington North moved out of it. The Purple Tigers have a No. 1 seed in 170-pounder Luke Akers. It’s new territory for the Purple Tiger wrestlers to try and get out against competition at Peru. Northwestern hasn’t gone up against several of the squads in the sectional.
“I would say definitely those two teams, [Peru and Maconaquah], are the strongest. The rest of the teams, we have a lot of forfeits,” NW coach Adam Ferguson said.
He looks for Akers and Owen O’Dell to lead the way.
“They’ve kind of stepped up. There’s nothing new being taught except fine-tuning their skills and technique. They’ve been wrestling pretty hard. They kind of know what this is, what they’ve been building all season and what they get out of practice now is what they’ll see on Saturday.”
Peru has six No. 1 seeds: Kegan Kern (126), Peyton Sturgill (132), Evan Loe (138), Braxton Simpson (152), Kaleb Hammersley (160), and Nick Cress (182).
Maconaquah has a No. 1 seed in 120-pounder Chase Wilson.