NEW PALESTINE — Alec White felt trapped in his own head more often than not. For the past three years, the state-ranked New Palestine wrestler would wake up consumed by thought before a meet and replayed every match, move, success and failure in a constant loop.
It was tiring, he admits, and a routine he’s moving away from sooner rather than later.
“I focused too much on the big matches and overlooked some because of it. I almost got too focused before matches and didn’t relax enough,” White explained. “I had to make a change. I’m doing that this year, not letting it eat away at my mind all day.”
The first step to his new approach centered around his future, which he cemented earlier this month as he signed his official letter of intent to Purdue University. The next was an epiphany of sorts.
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A realist by nature, White analyzed the calendar. Four months, 13 regular-season events and the state tournament signifies the end. No more, no less.
Since he picked up the sport at the age of 4 from his father, Kevin, who wrestled at Indianapolis Scecina and Indiana University, White is viewing the present as if it were the past.
“I kind of put too much pressure on myself the last three years, but this year, it just feels different in a good way. I’m not trying to get too stressed out about anything,” White said. “I’m trying to have a lot of fun this year because I know I only have so many more matches in a New Pal singlet, so I’m going to make each one count.”
A three-time state qualifier in his high school career, White has never tripped up in his commitment to the sport or the Dragons. As a freshman, he placed fourth at 106 pounds as a state-place winner during the state finals inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The next year, he once again reached state at 113 pounds and placed for a second time as a junior last season, sixth overall at 113 with a 44-3 record. His win total this past February was the highest in his three previous with a 40-5 mark as a sophomore and 36-9 as a freshman.
The drawback, however, was a loss in his final match in 2015-16 to nemesis Skylour Turner of Warren Central, 3-2 by decision in the consolations.
Ranked second in the state a majority of the season by IndianaMat.com, two of the then New Palestine junior’s defeats came against Turner. It marked the fourth time the two locked up last season as the rivals split the series 2-2.
White’s first win against the state’s third-ranked wrestler handed Turner his first defeat of the season.
At the Shelbyville Sectional, Turner returned the favor in the finals, halting White’s winning streak at 35 straight matches, but it fueled the Dragon. He knocked off Turner in overtime to claim his third career regional title the next week, and later White used the momentum to capture his first semistate championship.
Now, with the two in different weight classes, White is drawing on his experience as the state’s fourth-ranked 126-pounder, according to IndianaMat.com, and driven to earn a fourth straight state finals appearance in 2016-17.
“It’s always going to push me because it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth, but this year, I’ve turned over everything,” White said. “I’m not really worried about anything that’s happened in the past because this is a new year, and I feel like I’m a completely new wrestler.”
White committed himself to weight training this offseason, taking notes from former teammate and undefeated four-time state champion C.J. Red, who is now a freshman at Nebraska.
Bulking up his long frame, White is at his ideal weight after cutting nearly 13 pounds last year to make 113. Stronger and more agile, New Palestine head coach Alex Johns sees unlimited potential in White, who is projected to move up to 133 or heavier with the Boilermakers.
“He has a realistic shot at state because he’s wrestled all of those guys ranked with him,” said Johns, a three-time NCAA Division II national qualifier and two-time All-American at the University of Indianapolis. “Alec is right there. He’s knocking on the door. We just need to find ways to train smart and make sure he peaks at the right time, and put him in situations where he can be most successful.”
Mat time this offseason has put him on track. White competed at several events after his junior season and finished 2-2 at the prestigious Super 32 national folkstyle tournament in North Carolina last month.
With his final campaign in mind, White soaked up elements from his competition and tip from his Super 32 coaches, which included Johns, C.J. Red, and former New Palestine head coach and offseason instructor Chad Red, who runs Red Cobra Wrestling Academy.
He’s also working toward Purdue, but not at the expense of New Palestine despite the weight of his career path now off his shoulders.
“You don’t want to look at it that way necessarily, but when you have your college plans set, you can close that book for awhile until your season is over,” White said. “Now, I’m 100 percent focused on Dragon wrestling for one more year, each and every match. I don’t really like to think too far ahead.”
Instead, he’s taking down the chance to be a leader in the Dragons wrestling room where he’s excelled by example, said Johns, who can’t help but see similarities between himself and White.
Coached by Scott Ferguson at Evansville Reitz, Johns amassed a 196-17 record and placed three times at state, taking third in 112 and 119 his junior and senior years, respectively.
He believes White can be even better.
“He’s stepped up. He has some great leadership qualities. He includes the team aspect all the time. Even though wrestling is an individual sports, it’s an individual sport with a team outcome, and he understands that. He’s taken that role and run with it,” Johns said.
“I’m kind of glad he got his signing out of the way, and I think he is too. That weight is gone. He knows where he’s going, so now he can just go compete and have fun.”