GREENFIELD — When Gavin Rose steps on the mat, he’s never alone.
Even in the most tense of moments, with the spotlight bearing down, the Greenfield-Central 106-pound freshman feels it.
She’s there, he says, cheering him on, his sister, Priscia, nicknamed the “little mom” by her family. Rose’s biggest fan.
“When I go through hard times, I think of her. When I have good times, I think of her, too,” he said. “I think maybe she’s helping me out and already has.”
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Locked in the biggest match of his high school career last weekend at the New Castle Semistate, Rose’s parents, Dick and Priscilla, said they believe she was watching over her little brother as he achieved what some doubted he could.
With a state finals berth on the line and a 2-0 lead erased by a second-period takedown from Fishers’ Alexander Strueder in the quarterfinals, beneath Rose’s trademark stoic composure, he thought of her, if not for a fraction of a second.
As the match carried into sudden victory, followed by a pair of scoreless 30-second tiebreakers before Rose rode out Strueder to win in the decisive ultimate tiebreaker, emotions boiled over.
Rose became the program’s second freshman state qualifier in school history since former state champion Josh Farrell set the bar in 2010.
After a brief celebration at event level, he made a beeline sprint up the New Castle Chrysler Fieldhouse concrete staircase straight to his family.
“She always loved him wrestling. She was always at all the events,” Dick Rose said.
No doubt, Priscia would have shared in the commemoration, her father said, if not for a tragic car accident that took her life more than a year ago.
“That’s a very close-knit family just like the Farrells. They’re good people and have raised their kids the right way. I know that hurt them,” Greenfield-Central interim head coach Ed Hamant said. “From talking to his mom, I know it still comes back.”
Strength in wrestling
It was Dec. 17, 2014, when the Roses’ lives changed, just seven days after Priscia’s 22nd birthday.
A heavy fog swept over the area as Priscia was behind the wheel. With bitter temperatures freezing the moisture in the air, road conditions became unexpectedly slick, which caused the aspiring graphic design student’s vehicle to lose control as she drove over a patch of black ice.
“She slid off of Meridian Road onto 234 in between a truck and a farm truck and a trailer,” Dick Rose explained. “She had severe brain shearing. She lived for 40 days in the hospital before God called her (on Jan. 25, 2015).”
Priscia was put on life support after being rushed to IU Health Methodist Hospital.
Gavin, who is now 15, wasn’t told of the severity of the situation initially, but he knew something was wrong.
“It happened in the middle of the middle school wrestling season,” he recalled. “The first day it happened, I was suppose to go to training, but my aunt picked me up and wouldn’t tell me what was going on. Then, I found out. It was really hard to deal with.”
Attending Mt. Vernon Middle School at the time, Gavin coped with the tragedy the best he could — by honoring his sister through his passion.
“Wrestling is one of my favorite things to do, and I only missed a day of practice. People kept asking me, ‘why are you here?’ I told them, ‘it was because I love it, and I know she’d want me to be here doing what she loved watching me do,'” Gavin said. “I’m doing this for her 100 percent. Her and God.”
Pursuing a dream
When Rose first stepped into the Greenfield-Central wrestling room, he knew he made the right choice.
In those rare moments when he needs assurance, all he has to do is look around at the walls.
Hanging by the door, a picture of his older brother, Austin, a 170-pound regional champion and semistate qualifier for the Cougars in 2013, reminds him. A few yards away, photos of the program’s 31 former state qualifiers and place-winners pinpoints precisely where he always believed he could be.
Nearby, a commemorative life-size cutout marking Farrell’s 152-pound state championship in 2013, signifies how he hopes his career trajectory ends one day.
“I like where I am, but it was hard at first. I left all of my friends and wrestling partners at Mt. Vernon,” said Rose, who changed school districts for academic pursuits. “I came here for engineering classes, and I get to wrestle where my brother did.”
A 2014 graduate, Austin finished fifth at semistate as a junior, just missing the top-four cut for state. Gavin’s fourth-place semistate performance in his first season, brings with it some bragging rights.
“He was never a state qualifier,” Gavin joked. “But he always says, I’ll never be bigger than him.”
More than a few inches shorter than his father and brother, Gavin’s stature and aggressiveness has served him well on the mat, along with the past year of training with the Central Indiana Academy of Wrestling (CIA) in Indianapolis.
Rose cut his teeth in the Mt. Vernon youth wrestling circuit and began offseason training with SPARTA Indy Humphrey Wrestling six years ago until he jumped to CIA.
Prior to semistate, he placed third at the Perry Meridian Regional and the Shelbyville Sectional, where he had to beat his best friend and former drill partner Chase Wilkerson of Mt. Vernon by decision 4-2 in the consolation finals.
He finished runner-up during his first Hoosier Heritage Conference Tournament last month, but he almost lost his season due to an injury.
“During practice I was running and it happened. I didn’t really recognize it until I started wrestling,” he said. “I thought it was a bruise, so I kept wrestling the rest of the week, but it kept bothering me. Finally, I asked my mom to take me to the doctor. I strained my hamstring in my calf. They said, if I went longer, I could have torn it, then I would have been out a year or two.”
The waiting game
Rose had to sit out the team’s first 12 duals before he could resume practicing the first week in December.
“I was on crutches, so I couldn’t do much. I just stretched as much as possible. I couldn’t just sit here,” Rose said. “I wanted to get back into it. I missed it.”
Admittedly out of shape, Rose opened the year against state-ranked Warren Central and No. 3 Keyuan Murphy, who has beaten the underclassman three times — twice in the state tournament.
“It was Warren (Central), then Perry Meridian and then the No. 1 team from Kentucky (Oldham County),” Hamant said. “It was a rough initiation. But after he started off 0-3, he won 10 straight until the finals at Connersville (in the Spartan Classic on Dec. 29).”
In Connersville, the Cougars were fourth as a team, and Rose went 4-1 for second in his weight class. From that point on, he and his teammates steered the program to a 15-12 record and a runner-up finish at sectional with 10 wrestlers advancing to regional.
Rose will enter Friday night’s IHSAA state finals with a record of 20-9 and will face second-ranked Ty Mills (33-4) of Brownsburg in the first round. Mills was a state runner-up at 106 in 2015.
“Once Gavin got through those first few matches, the light bulb came on,” Hamant said. “After he made it through the second round at semistate, I told him, ‘you made the show, but don’t get satisfied.’ Obviously, the kid he drew is good, but he’s not unbeatable. Dan Gable got beat, so I’m sure anyone can get beat.”
If not, Rose says this first step could lead to something bigger. Similar to Farrell, who he looks up to, progression is the goal. Farrell placed sixth, seventh and was a runner-up at state before winning it all.
“He should be proud of himself, and I’m excited for him. I’ve been in his shoes. I’ve been in that spot, and he’s got a bright future,” Farrell said. “People don’t understand how much hard work it takes for someone to get where he is, and what he’s had to do.
“He’s a normal kid everyday, but once he gets in here, he’s a different kid. He’s a wrestler.”
At Bankers Life Fieldhouse, he won’t be alone despite being Greenfield-Central’s lone qualifier.
“(Priscia will) be with me,” Rose said. “She’ll be on my mind the entire time. She always is 100 percent.”
Tradition of Excellence
Year, Name, state placement
• Weight in parentheses
1977, Kin Waldrep, 3rd place
1979, Terry Edon, state champ (155)
1981, Fred Johnson, qualifier
1982, Fred Johnson, qualifier
1983, Fred Johnson, runner-up (155)
1983, Kevin Kot, qualifier
1983, Tim Pontaine, 5th place
1984, Kevin Kot, qualifier
1985, Troy Thomas, qualifier
1986, Vince Kot, qualifier
1986, Chris Hodgin, qualifier
1986, Troy Thomas, qualifier
1986, Kevin Ogle, qualifier
1988, John McGraw, qualifier
1991, Greg Nesbit, qualifier
1991, Jason Shelton, qualifier
1992, Heath Kirkpatrick, 5th place
1992, Gordon Nesbit, 4th place
1992, Lance Parsons, qualifier
1993, Tony Zentz, qualifier
1993, Trevor Thomas, qualifier
1993, Lance Parsons, 3rd place
1994, Tony Zentz, 6th place
1995, Ryan Moore, qualifier
1996, Ryan Moore, 5th place
1997, Paul Hudson, qualifier
1997, Marc Slunaker, qualifier
1998, Marc Slunaker, qualifier
1998, Steve Graham, 5th place
1998, Rick Gardner, 7th place
1999, Steve Graham, 7th place
1999, Rick Gardner, 3rd place
2000, Matt Wilson, qualifier
2000, Joe Krugler, qualifier
2001, Joe Krugler, 6th place
2007, Caleb Freeman, qualifier
2008, Caleb Freeman, 6th place
2010, Josh Farrell, 6th place
2011, Dezmen McGinley, qualifier
2011, Josh Farrell, 7th place
2012, Ian Early, 5th place
2012, Sam Locke, qualifier
2012, Josh Farrell, runner-up (138)
2012, Austin Geralds, qualifier
2013, Josh Farrell, state champ (152)
2014, Tyler Beeson, 6th place
2016, Gavin Rose, qualifier
Going to State
Name: Gavin Rose
Season pin total: 12
State ranking: 16th by IndianaMat.com
2015-16 achievements: 2nd at Hoosier Heritage Conference, 3rd at Shelbyville Sectional, 3rd at Perry Meridian Regional, 4th at New Castle Semistate
First-round opponent: No. 2 ranked Ty Mills (33-4) of Brownsburg