FORTVILLE — Drew Mueller has been around wrestling long enough to know perfection can’t be planned.
It’s a progression, the head coach said. A pinnacle his Mt. Vernon middle school wrestling team reached this season by following three core values: care, trust and respect.
Checking each one off their list from the start of the season this past January until the finale last week, the Marauders proved untouchable and unprecedented.
“You never go into the year thinking you’re going to be undefeated,” Mueller remarked on his team’s 18-0 dual meet record and Hancock County and Hoosier Heritage Conference championships. “That’s a lofty goal that’s almost unrealistic. You go into the season with high expectations, but we don’t track success on a win or loss record. It’s are we aggressive? If we are, then we’re going to get the wins we think.”
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The Marauders collected every win possible, a far cry from the three-victory season Mueller and his wrestlers endured when he took over the program four years ago.
Mt. Vernon was 12-8 last year, placing fourth in the conference while winning the county team title, but what unfolded this season culminated from various factors.
The first stemmed from the sheer numbers, a growing trend a program on the rise witnessed from Day 1 of call-outs.
In the past, the team routinely contended with three or five vacant weight classes in the lineup, which put the Marauders behind anywhere from 18-35 points every dual despite experiencing 30 percent growth each year.
Dr. Shane Robbins, the superintendent of Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation, boosted the movement, though, said Muller, who credits the end of “Pay to Play” this summer as a direct impact.
The elimination of “Pay to Play,” freeing up students to participate in athletics without paying a fee, gave the Marauders the opportunity to fill the entire lineup from top to bottom from start to finish for the first time in four seasons.
The team consisted of 42 wrestlers with 21 varsity weight classes, which kept the room competitive and motivated the starters.
“They couldn’t take a breath because there was always someone clipping on their heels,” Mueller said. “That was the key to all of this. The numbers and the intensity level never diminished because everyone wanted it so bad.”
Their desire in conjunction with unity and humility was highlighted by countless individual success stories throughout.
The example, however, was set by Mueller, his assistant coach Heath Luther and the volunteer coaching staff, which the wrestling team put its trust into on and off the mat.
As the third coach in three years, Mueller, 44, provided stability and carried a passion he knows firsthand.
A 1990 Mt. Vernon graduate, he wrestled at the University of Indianapolis on a scholarship as the first Marauder to be offered in program history. As a senior at Mt. Vernon under coach Brock Brown, he finished 43-2 as one of three state qualifiers from the school.
Mueller’s mother, June, who passed away at 70 in 2014, was the swimming coach at Mt. Vernon for 28 years. She along with Brown were one of the wrestling coach’s two mentors, steering his philosophy and influencing his mission to elevate the sport back to prominence in Fortville.
“Building a program up from years of negativity takes lots of time and effort. It takes a solid club and middle school to feed the high school,” Mt. Vernon high school wrestling coach Chad Masters remarked on the work Mueller is doing. “The middle school numbers are incredible now, and its due to a collection of great coaches teaching and great student athletes.”
This year’s team had 10 “homegrown” eighth-graders, which Mueller has worked with since he took over the program four years ago. They added four more upperclassmen this season to pair with seven seventh graders and 21 sixth graders.
Each student-athlete was as important as the next, Mueller said.
“We bring a mindset of well-disciplined hard work and high energy but also a fun environment for the kids,” the coach emphasized. “Care, trust and respect are three big things that we talk about and preach. No matter what you’re doing in life we try to get the kids to keep those core values in line.”
With the “three” in place, the Marauders opened their historic campaign with a momentum-building 78-43 dual meet win against Franklin Township, their first in four years.
Once the team went into the Delta triple-dual on Jan 23, and beat the host Eagles, a perennial power, Mueller and the team thought, “this could turn into something special.”
Potential turned into 14 more dual wins and back-to-back county titles before wrapping up the unfathomable this month.
By “staying in the moment” and “believing in the system,” the Marauders finished the job by knocking off Pendleton, the defending two-time conference champs.
A 79-24 dual meet victory on March 8 capped their run.
“It was a culmination of all the matches to secure that perfect season, but we took them all one at a time,” said Mueller, who had six HHC and 12 county champions. “We said, ‘that’s a great win, now let’s build off if it and see what we can do.'”
The team captains of Max Hayes (115 pounds), Chris Wilkerson (145), Charlie Moore (165), Aiden Alford (120), Isiah Diaz (140) and Draven Williams (210) believed anything was possible as eighth-grade leaders.
“Chris was the vocal one of the group. Isiah was the practice leader,” Mueller said. “Draven is just a fantastic individual. Charlie is going to be a stud. He’s much like Max, a leader by example. Alford was another vocal captain.”
Statistically, Hayes was set the tone going 18-0 in dual meets with 14 pins. He moved into the Mt. Vernon district as a seventh grader and dominated from his first match.
At 53-0 in his two years at the varsity level, Hayes, who at 90 pounds last season, has won 45 matches by pin overall. He repeated as conference and county champion while also becoming a two-timer at the Delta duals and a Belzer Pin to Win champion.
And he comes by it naturally with his father, Randle, being part of Delta’s high school state championship run under head coach Don Patton from 1981-85.
Along with sixth-graders Carson Johnson (22-1) and Andrew Johnson (21-2), both county and conference champs, the future has few limits.
“The high school is looking forward to a big group of talented eighth graders joining us next year,” Masters said. “Some of these young men should challenge for varsity wrestling time and help us right away.”
Path to Perfection
2015-16 MVMS Varsity Dual Meet Results
Jan. 19, 2016 @ Franklin Township East, 78-43
Jan. 21, 2016 vs. Carmel Clay, 94-15
Jan. 23, 2016 @ Delta, 81-36
Jan. 23, 2016 vs. Greenfield Central, 96-21
Jan. 23, 2016 @ Shelbyville, 86-27
Jan. 27, 2016 @ Hamilton Southeastern, 65-39
Feb. 1, 2016 @ Fishers, 71-30
Feb. 3, 2016 vs. Greenfield Central, 85-27
Feb. 6, 2016 @ Clark Pleasant Varsity, 63-54
Feb. 6, 2016 @ Martinsville, 78-38
Feb. 6, 2016 vs. Center Grove North, 90-24
Feb. 9, 2016 vs. Fall Creek Junior High, 69-42
Feb. 11, 2016 @ Shelbyville, 87-21
Feb. 18, 2016 vs. Pendleton, 74-33
Feb. 18, 2016 vs. Riverside, 108-6
Feb. 18, 2016 vs. Shenandoah, 71-36
Feb. 18, 2016 vs. Stonybrook, 94-15
March 8, 2016 vs. New Castle, 79-24
2015-16 County Team Scores
Mt. Vernon 309; Doe Creek 203; Greenfield 160; Eastern Hancock 120
Last Name, First Name;Grade;Wt. Min-Max;Dual Record;Pins
* Does not include individual tournament wins/losses
# HHC champ
^ County champ