NEW PALESTINE — “When it’s all said and done, this will probably be one of the best teams we’ve ever had in lower Marion and Hancock Counties. And I figured it would be one of the best teams New Palestine has ever assembled or put together.”
Fourth-year head coach Chad Red knows how special this year could be for his highly-touted Dragons.
After a 5-1 start in dual meets and a No. 16 ranking in the state of Indiana, according to the Dec. 14 poll on indianamats.com, New Palestine’s wrestling team is anticipating a deep postseason run and one of the top finishes in school history. The Dragons already have two different invitational championships (Mooresville and Northview) under their belt and finished second in another at Tech High School earlier this year.
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And with the nation’s No. 1 wrestler Chad Red Jr. back for his senior season, as well as other ranked wrestlers, all the pieces are in the box for New Palestine to improve upon last year’s finish — 23 points and a 17th place finish at the IHSAA State Finals with four individual finalists.
“Our kids have been around me,” coach Red said of the key to his team’s early success. “I am very, very into what I do, and they are very into what they do. They give 110 percent. Our practices are always tough, and our kids respond to that. I think New Palestine has the best wrestling facility in the state of Indiana. It makes it great for kids who want to get better.
“We have everything in place right now. I think we’re going to be one of the teams at the state finals searching for some hardware.”
Red Jr. returns as a three-time state champion — the first at New Palestine — and remains undefeated, like the past two seasons, while leading the most talented team in program history. His coach and father said he believes his son is not letting the success get to his head.
“He is hands-down the best high school wrestler I have seen in the state of Indiana,” coach Red said. “It’s kind of hard to say when it’s my kid, but when I say it’s not close, it’s not close. We got a highlight at the school right now. He’s the No. 1 kid in the United State of America, and that’s hard to do.
“Chad’s done a great job. He handles it pretty well. I have learned from a lot of other parents and learned what they do and what not to do.”
Aside from Red Jr., who is ranked No. 1 at 132 pounds, senior Alec White is ranked No. 2 at 113 and classmate Cameron Diep is ranked No. 7 at 120. And according to coach Red, many others remain undefeated on the team, as well.
White, a three-time state qualifier, made it his junior season at 113 pounds while Diep finished eighth at 106.
A deep, veteran class of eight seniors deserve credit, too, according to coach Red.
“They are competing hard all the time,” he said. “We have a great group of seniors who pay attention to what we are doing. I think the sky’s the limit. I am very blessed to be where I’m at right now, and I’m excited (for the rest of the season). When you stick it out, you should be good. They have put a lot of time in. I always tell people they make me look a lot better than I am.”
New Palestine’s lone loss — a one-point defeat — came to No. 10 Cathedral on Dec. 9. Coach Red said the match could have been different with wrestlers shifted around, but nonetheless, the Fighting Irish were the better team that day. It was a match with more gained than lost. Playing top-tier programs is a prime way to prepare for the season’s ultimate goal — a trip to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“It was a very competitive dual and could have went either way,” Red said. “But we came back and responded very well after it. It came down to the last match, but we couldn’t get it done. No excuses. We will get better.”
Moving forward, after dominating Pike 57-12 this week (winning 11 of 13 matches), the Dragons host a six-way dual meet at 9 a.m. Saturday as the team begins the second half of the season.
“We are halfway done,” coach Red said. “If you don’t have your second half of the season ready, your season is over.”
After meets against Avon, Evansville Mater Dei and Franklin Central, the Dragons will prepare for the Hoosier Heritage Conference meet on Jan. 16 at Pendleton Heights. Last season, New Palestine finished behind Yorktown but had five individuals win HHC titles. White, Eugene Starks, Red Jr., Jared Timberman and Landan Burton were champions for the Dragons as the team finished second.
From there, 10 individuals advanced past sectional action and six more qualified for semistate competition. Diep, White and Red Jr. all ended their season at state — Red Jr. with a title at 126. However, coach Red believes the trio will have company this season.
“The individuals that we have are phenomenal,” he said. “I’m excited.”
This year’s 78th annual state tournament will begin at the end of January with the state finals to take place Feb. 19 to 20.