FORTVILLE — Chad Masters had a number in mind as he entered his second year at Mt. Vernon.
After a 10-win finish in 2014-15, the Marauders wrestling coach told his team from the first day of practice, he had double vision.
“I set a goal this year of 20 wins. I know that some coaches have had 20 wins at Mt. Vernon in the past, but none that I can actually say I know of and not recently,” Masters said. “I thought it was better, second year in, to set a goal that was lofty rather than just say, lets fight and do good.
“It’s time to set some goals, and that was one of them.”
Through the first few weeks of the season, Masters’ squad has embraced their mentor’s ambition, making its push with a 4-7 record and a strong showing at both the Shenandoah Duals and the Westfield Invitational. The most impressive part of the Marauders’ strides is the lack of a single senior on the roster.
“We’ve never had a senior. I haven’t had a senior yet since I’ve been here,” Masters said. “We have a lot of juniors and underclassmen, but the kids are starting to believe and see that it’s possible to get more wins and win some trophies.
“That helps with building the program, recruiting more kids to wrestle, getting more kids from football and getting the eighth-graders coming in to stick with wrestling.”
Masters, a 1992 Greenfield-Central graduate and Mt. Vernon assistant the year before taking over for former head coach Tyler Hercamp, has six juniors in his starting lineup and eight sophomores and freshmen.
The leader of the bunch is heavyweight Peyton Wuerch, an unbeaten junior, who stands a flawless 15-0 on the year.
Wuerch was the team’s lone regional qualifier as a sophomore and finished the 2014-15 season with a 25-10 record.
“He’s wrestling pretty well right now,” Masters remarked on Wuerch’s initial success. “He’s starting to come into his own this year. Our goal is set on the state.”
The team’s mission is to score points, and with a 75-6 dual win against Daleville last week, they amassed a robust 12 pins.
Their strengths can be found throughout the lineup, said Masters, who likes the makeup of his lighter crop of wrestlers where freshman Chase Wilkerson has thrived at 113 pounds with an 11-4 start.
“Down there at the lower weights, the younger guys are pretty competitive,” Masters said. “Chase has a good chance this year. Ty Franklin (120) has wrestled really well this year. He got hurt last year and missed most of the season. I think he wrestled maybe six times, but he’s back and healthy.”
Junior Jeremiah Kolter at 106, freshman Javon Jackson (126), and junior brothers Noah Hanson (132) and Gavin Hanson (138) have the potential to put the team in position to compete.
Noah Hanson is a transfer from Franklin Central and his brother Gavin is wrestling at the high school level for the first after spending most of his summers as a club wrestler. Sophomores Korey Alka (138), Adam Lackey (152), Cole Van Slyke (170), and Eric Jones (195) are gaining ground fast, said Masters, in addition to Jackson Bond (220) and junior Luke Stanley and freshman P.J. Sterrett at 182. At the Shenandoah Duals after Thanksgiving, the Marauders worked collectively and won big with a 72-9 victory against Wapahani and a 60-24 margin against Milan to take runner-up.
Even in defeat, the team has kept it close this season, falling to Roncalli 42-34. Against Hoosier Heritage Conference foe New Castle, the team lost 42-34 to open the year but pulled ahead before the Trojans won the dual late.
“Our first meet of the year, we were at New Castle for their invitational and sure enough we get them our first dual,” Masters said. “I told the kids, ‘this is conference seeding and there’s a lot at stake.’ But we wrestled them well. I knew we were going to be better, but you never know my how much. We were leading them up until the last two matches.”
“It was one of those moments, when we felt that we have a chance here.”
The feeling was punctuated this past weekend during the Westfield Duals as the Marauders took eighth during the 16-team invitational. It marked the best finish the school has had in the event in more than five years.
Mt. Vernon defeated Ben Davis by one point and handled Princeton decisively to go 2-1 in their pool and ended the day 2-3 overall with losses to Zionsville, Lawrence Central and Northview.
“I’ve never seen the team have that much excitement to be honest,” Masters remarked on his wrestlers’ accomplishment at Westfield. “The first match was against Zionsville, which I knew was going to be rough, but to beat Ben Davis that was something. The hard work and everything we’ve been throwing at the kids, at that moment, started making sense.”
Stability has played its part as well, and Masters, who wants to establish consistency, emphasizes one win at a time for the present and the future.
“They have just never really had that mindset. They’ve switched coaches a lot and there wasn’t much trust in each other. I told them when I took over that we’re building a family and a community,” Masters said. “I told them, ‘if we work hard enough, we’ll get better.’”
Mt. Vernon Starting Lineup
106: Jeremiah Kolter, Jr.
113: Chase Wilkerson, Fr.
120: Ty Franklin, So.
126: Javon Jackson, Fr.
132: Noah Hanson, Jr.
138: Gavin Hanson, Jr.
145: Korey Alka, So.
152: Adam Lackey, So.
160: Drake Tackett, Jr.
170: Cole Van Slyke, So.
182: Luke Stanley, Jr./P.J. Sterrett, Fr.
195: Eric Jones, So.
220: Jackson Bond, Jr.
HWY: Peyton Wuerch, Jr.