By Pedro Velazco
Western’s wrestling coaches took their seats at Mat 2 at the beginning of the championship round at the Oak Hill Sectional on Saturday afternoon to watch 106-pounder Tanner Heady contest his third-place match. Over the next two hours, they shifted from Mats 1, 2 and 3, but never left the floor.
In every weight class, the Panthers had a representative fighting for points in the final round of the sectional. And in every weight class, the Panthers scored wins somewhere along the way. The Panthers put a huge distance between themselves and the field, boasting a lead of more than 50 points before the final round even began. They cruised home with 250 points, well ahead of second-place Kokomo’s score of 204.5.
“It’s awesome,” Western coach Chad Shepherd said of watching his squad celebrate its championship. The Panthers gathered in a tight circle and held 113-pound champion Caleb Maddox on their shoulders so that he could carry the trophy high for all to see. “I’ve been fortunate, and I’ve coached some really good individuals, but from top to bottom, I felt like this is the best team I’ve ever had, and getting them to believe it was pretty tough, but you know what, I think maybe now they do.”
Western got championship efforts from Maddox, Ben Lenahan (160 pounds), Corey Hinkle (182) and Russell McDorman (195), and advanced 13 of its 14 wrestlers to next Saturday’s Peru Regional. The top four wrestlers in each weight class advance to the regional.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever had 13 or not. I never have,” Shepherd said. “Thirteen is a bunch. There’s not too many teams in the state that took 13. I know this sectional doesn’t get a lot of respect around the state, but if you get 13 guys out, you’ve done something.”
Also moving on to the regional are Heady (third at 106), Robert Pinkham (second, 120), Liam Page (fourth, 126), Cody Stouth (fourth, 138), Dustin Hinkle (second, 145), Skylar Braden (third, 152), Tait Sanders (second, 170), Dante Graham (second, 220), and Sydney Allen (third, 285). There isn’t a senior in the bunch. The Panthers don’t have any.
“We wrestled hard all day,” Shepherd said. “I talked earlier in the year about consistency. We’d have a round where everybody’d wrestle good, and we had a round where some people didn’t. Our consistency was just so up and down. I thought it was underclassmen — the whole team is underclassmen — but they wrestled a balanced deal all day. I mean we were consistent.”
Among the highlights were Lenahan’s upset of Taylor No. 1 seed Logan Sarber in the championship match at 160. Lenahan scored a 5-4 victory to take the title. Another was McDorman’s last-gasp victory at 195. In that match, McDorman was trailing by a point with 12 seconds left at a restart, then scored a takedown in the final skirmish to score a 4-3 victory over the No. 1 seed, Mississinewa’s Andrew Smelser.
“We wrestled well, above our seeds,” Shepherd said. “We felt like there were some weight classes we could do that in. One of the finals matches was a little disappointing, we had it won, we just didn’t finish, but of all the things that happened, there were way, way, way more good things than bad things that happened. They showed maturity [Saturday].”
Western’s depth more than offset Kokomo’s parade of six champions, carrying the Panthers to their first sectional title since 2007.
“They had a great day and we knew they had a chance to score in 14 weight classes,” Kokomo coach Ryan Wells said. “They won a lot of the close matches they needed to win and we lost a lot of the close matches we needed to win. That made all the difference right there. We made up some ground in the finals, but it wasn’t enough to catch them.”
Kokomo came away from the seed meeting with six No. 1 seeds and each of those wrestlers won his weight class at Oak Hill. Kat junior Fletcher Miller dominated the 220-pound final, scoring a pin in 1:02 to improve to 40-0 on the season.
“He hasn’t spent a whole lot of time on the mat all year,” Wells said of Miller, who faced two opponents and pinned both in the first period, making for a short work day. “It’s fun watching him, but we don’t get a whole lot of time to watch him. Next week it’ll kind of be the same deal for him, and then we’ll go to semistate and we’ll start seeing him get tested. If he can keep wrestling his style, we’ll see some good things the next few weeks.”
Also for the Kats, Andrew Ledford (120), Scotty Barbary (126), Christian Hall (132), Chad Gaddis (152), and Keair Ross (170) scored championships. A.J. Nelson took second at 113, and Brenton Etherington was third at 195. Ledford, Hall, Gaddis, Ross and Miller each flattened his championship-match opponent.
“We’ve got an opportunity to take some guys far in the tournament,” Wells said. “This sets us up pretty nicely. If we can do that again next week that sets us up nicely for the semistate. The chance to make it to the state finals, that’s exciting.”
Eastern, which finished fourth, bookended the sectional finals with championships at the smallest and largest weight classes, giving Howard County schools 12 of the 14 titles on offer at the nine-team sectional. Ty Swisher got the championship round rolling with an upset of No. 1 seed Travis Davenport for the 106-pound title. And Chris Travis closed the show with a pin just 1:45 into the 285-pound final.
“[Travis] is a pretty strong kid,” Eastern coach Bob Jarrett said. “Again, I just wish he’d been with us the last few years. He’s just now beginning to learn how to wrestle.
“The Swisher boy at 106, that was a great win for him because that kid [Davenport] had just beat him a couple of weeks ago. That’s always a good win when you come back and beat somebody in the championship match that’s beaten you before.”
Jarrett was happy to see five Comets reach the regional. It was a larger haul than he’d expected. Also advancing for the Comets were Taylor Arnold (fourth, 145), Andrew Turner (fourth, 152) and Christian Biddle (third, 160).
Taylor also advanced five through to Peru — Stephan Sholty (fourth 132), Sarber, Daulton Arvin (fourth, 170), Preston Hendrickson (third, 182) and Kalob Bitner (fourth, 285).
“We wrestled well overall,” Taylor coach Aaron Schlueter said. “Definitely our hard work is starting to show. We got five through. Like we keep saying, you have only got to keep advancing, you don’t have to win sectionals to make it to the next level, just keep advancing. So our kids are going to come back into the [practice] room, start working hard and focusing on the next match at hand.”