Saturday’s Fort Wayne Wrestling Semistate will test local wrestlers with an intensity level well above what they’ve faced so far in the postseason.
For 30 local wrestlers, the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum is the gateway to the following weekend’s state finals. That means a greater sense of urgency on the mat, and a level of competition that some have never faced, or faced and never survived.
Half the wrestlers in the semistate will see their seasons end in the first round. Then half of those survivors will be eliminated in the second round. Just four of the 16 wrestlers per weight class survive the action to reach the state finals.
It’s a shock to the system, from the venue, to the level of competition, to the pressure to survive and advance.
“It is huge,” Western junior Dylan Goudy said. The 138-pound Peru Regional champion is making his second semistate trip. “We go from regionals and we’re wrestling tough guys and we’re trying to get in the championship or advance and now, your first match is going to be one of your toughest tests we’ve had — and we’ve wrestled one of the toughest schedules around here. [At the semistate] every match is tough.”
Eastern junior 126-pounder Macaiah White is making his third trip. He said level of competition from the regional shoots up when faced with semistate-level opponents.
“[Semistate wrestlers] have got a lot more strength and a lot more confidence out on the mat,” White said. “They’re much faster.”
Maconaquah junior 138-pounder Zack Bullock is also making his third trip to the semistate.
In the regular season, Bullock said he faces competition “that are doing moves that I’ve been taught and know how to defend. Get up to semistate and they’re doing more high-level moves, they’re hitting them better, faster, technique is good. They’re all-around good wrestlers.”
Those three are semistate veterans, each trying to reach state for the first time.
Western is taking 11 wrestlers to the semistate, but only four have experience in Fort Wayne: Goudy; 285-pounder Lane Eubank; 126-pounder Tyler Lechner; and 132-pounder Hunter Cottingham, who reached state last season.
Goudy said he and other semistate veterans talk to their teammates about “how it’s big, but nothing should slow us down and nothing should stop us in our match. We’re still there to wrestle. It’s a really cool experience, probably the best place I’ve ever wrestled. Memory-wise it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Talking with the veterans helps the semistate newcomers. Maconaquh has two semistate veterans in Bullock and Aaron Sedwick. They’ve talked about it with the three Braves headed there for the first time.
“I’ve been telling them, ‘you’re nervous when you get there because it’s so big and all the people watching you,” Bullock said. “What I try to do is block them out, wrestle my match, try to do my best to win.’”
Fortunately for Bullock, once the match starts, what’s outside the circle melts away.
“For me, it kind of just happens, I’m just out there focusing on my next move.”
That next move needs to come quickly, or else an opponent may take the advantage.
“You have to be a lot more aggressive,” White said of what he’s learned from semistate wrestling. “You have to take shots. If you don’t take shots they’re going to take shots on you and score on you. Our coach says the first shot, the first takedown, that kid normally wins. So you want to make sure you’re in the lead. Once you’re on your back at that kind of level, you’re done.”
Having semistate experience has made White, Bullock and Goudy feel more capable this time as they head to the semistate.
“First time I went there ... the guy shot the whistle and I was down all through the match,” Bullock said, noting he wasn’t expecting such a fast move. “Second time I went I was ready from the whistle.
“This year, I’m going to be ready, shoot, do whatever I can to get some points, start off big.”
Experience in previous regionals and last year’s semistate helped Goudy this year. He’s one of nine local regional champions and they have the best path to state. In the semistate’s opening round regional champs face fourth-place regional finishers, while runners-up face third-place wrestlers. If a regional champ keeps on winning, he won’t have to face another regional champ until the semifinals, when his place at state is already assured.
“I think it’s going to be huge,” Goudy said of the benefit of his previous experience. Last season he was a seasoned wrestler, but his mindest was “just to kind of be there. This year, throughout the whole last three weeks I’ve prepared myself mentally and physically to try to win the whole tournament and not just be there.”
The mindset a wrestler takes into his first match, and then his next match, matters.
“Last year I won my first match [at the regional] and relaxed and thought ‘woo, I’m going to semistate,’” Goudy said. “[This year] I had a mindset I’m going to win regional, not just be a qualifier. I want to be in semistate being a 1.”
Whether a one seed, a two, a three or a four, it’s going to take two wins against high-level wrestlers to reach state. That puts pressure on everyone.
White was nervous his first trip to the semistate. On his second trip “I wasn’t as nervous walking in. I feel that I’ve been there multiple times [now], it’s time that I start winning there.”
Saturday is almost here. That brings nerves, but it’s also a relief.
“I just wish it was here already,” Bullock said. “After regionals, when I knew I qualified for semistate, I’ve been ready for it. I’ve been practicing 10 times harder, keeping my weight under control, I’ve watched film on what I need to work on.”
Goudy said he’s looking forward to the semistate “so much. There’s no words that can describe it. I’m so ready to go out there and prove a point. I think the Peru Regional is underlooked by guys in Indianapolis or where you’re at. I’m just ready to go out there and prove why I won regionals and punch a ticket to state.”