Wrestlers trek to Fort Wayne this weekend with one goal:

Survival.

There’s 16 predators per weight class. Each has feasted on prey all season but on Saturday, only four will survive, and only one in 16 will come away unscathed.

That’s the reality that awaits Eastern 160-pounder Tytus Morrisett, Western 132-pounder Hunter Cottingham and more than two dozen other KT-area wrestlers making the trip to Saturday’s Fort Wayne Semistate at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

Cottingham and Morrisett are both seniors who have each been to the semistate three times, with very different results. Cottingham has made it through Fort Wayne and on to the state finals every year, taking second at 126 pounds as a freshman, then third at 132 pounds the last two years.

Morrisett hasn’t made it through Fort Wayne, but this year heads to the semistate as the only remaining unbeaten in Howard County.

Each has plenty of motivation to put in his best performance as a senior.

“He’s hungry,” Eastern coach Zack Pence said of Morrisett. “He knows it’s his last go-around. I think he’s taken advantage of every minute of practice when he can and it’s paying off on the mat for him. He hasn’t really stopped working. He comes in the room and he’s serious about the stuff he’s doing.

“He’s all in this year. That’s been the biggest difference that I’ve noticed. The last few years it’s been hit or miss if he’d have a good day at practice or not, but this year he’s been a leader and he’s worked hard since Day 1, and it’s come together for him.”

Morrisett’s season ended last year in the second round at 145 pounds, seconds away from a berth at state. It was his second trip to the ticket round of the semistate and he was ahead with 15 seconds left when he gave up a reversal, then was put on his back and fell 5-2. He thinks about it every practice.

“Every day in practice [my goal is] to get better or learn something new or try to fix something,” Morrisett said. “I made it to the ticket round last year and I was 15 seconds away to get to state. That fueled me.”

He hasn’t lost since. Morrisett is 39-0 heading to the semistate.

Morrisett said of getting through the semistate to state “it’s a big goal. It’s very important to me — making sure I’m not the person I’ve been the last three years and making a new name for me, making it through.”

Cottingham has tasted the waters at state three times but fallen in the opening round each time. He’s been locked in on getting better all season.

“I think he’s been focused since Day 1,” Western coach Chad Shepherd said of Cottingham. “He seems like his frame of mind is really good. Never had a problem with his work ethic, that’s never been an issue, but he seems really focused.”

Cottingham has 166 wins and just 12 losses for his career. Half of that loss total came in the semistate and state.

“It’s always been my goal to win state, but I’ve not been able to get past Friday night,” Cottingham said. “It’s been a motivation because I want to get to the podium. I want to get as high as I can.”

The University of Indianapolis recruit has his goals set on reaching the state finals again, but he and his coach stressed how important it is to focus on each match at the semistate because any slip-up could end his career.

“Obviously I’m thinking about wanting to make it back to state,” said Cottingham, who takes a 39-1 record into the weekend. “I wanted to be undefeated but obviously I let my guard down [in one match] and that didn’t happen. It’s do or die now. You have to fight through, work for it all.”

At the Peru Regional, Cottingham equaled Western’s all-time win total with his quarterfinal victory, then set the new record with an 11-second pin in the semifinals.

“The kids just wrestle more matches than they did 20, 30 years ago, but all things considered you’ve still got to win that many matches,” Shepherd said of Cottingham’s record. “I think he’s lost 12 matches. He wrestled 126 [pounds as a freshman], and you’ve still got a lot of juniors and seniors in that as a freshman. So to win 166 matches against 12 losses … that’s pretty impressive.”

Western is very strong at the lower weights, with Cottingham’s practice partner Hayden Shepherd claiming a regional crown at 138 pounds. Hayden Shepherd was also a state finalist last year. Eastern is very strong in the middle weights, with Morrisett’s younger brother Tallan taking the 145-pound Peru Regional title, and Brodie Porter taking the 170-pound title.

It’s no coincidence that Eastern and Western have strong wrestlers surrounding Morrisett and Cottingham. The tough practice competition makes all those wrestlers even better.

“We have quite a few good guys and it helps that a lot of them are around the same weight so we can drill together,” Cottingham said, noting a lot of practice matchups with Hayden Shepherd, Chandler Ciscell and Aidan Raab. “It helps so much because it allows you to have those tougher matches in practice to prepare you for matches that actually count.”

Morrisett gets a lot of mat time against younger brother Tallan, Luke Hetzner and Porter in practice.

“It’s very important. Without them you can’t do anything,” he said. “If you don’t have partners, you’re not going to get any better or make anyone else any better.

“They also want to make it through [to state] and they’re not going to give anything up. They’re going to work the hardest in practice no matter what. If someone’s having an off day … they’re going to try and make the kid have a better day.”

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