GREENFIELD — Before the first match commenced Thursday night, a seniors-only meeting was called. The seven Greenfield-Central upperclassmen, needing a moment to process the magnitude of the evening and their opponent — Beech Grove — banded together prior to their final regular-season dual meet.
Set to be honored prior to introductions on senior night, the group reflected on the journey and sharpened their focus for the present.
“Tonight was really special for all of us. We had to kind of get our minds right,” Greenfield-Central senior Clayton Jenkins said. “We talked about how we’ve been a tight-knit group the past four years, and ever since junior high for most of us. We knew it was going to be emotional.”
Head coach Josh Holden was just as nerve-wracked. Knowing the Beech Grove Hornets all too well, he wasn’t sure how his Cougars were going to fare against the Marion County Tournament runners-up.
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Then, Hunter Gulden put everyone at ease.
The sophomore heavyweight opened the night with an energizing pin at the first-period buzzer, and the Cougars caught fire, winning 41-26 to finish the year 18-8 overall.
“That first match always sets a tone for everyone else,” Jenkins said. “Everyone wanted to dominate and follow up that performance.”
Greenfield-Central won the first five matches and eight total with five pins and a technical fall by junior Luke Sheridan (22-12) at 106 pounds in the dual’s second matchup.
The seniors won three matches, including at 145 pounds by Riley Fletcher (23-13), who scored the second-fastest fall for the Cougars at 28 seconds — his 10th of the year. The quickest pin went to senior Lee Dullaghan (30-5) at 195 in 25 seconds. It was his 17th this season.
“We were worried about Beech Grove. The coaches, I don’t know about the kids, but we were,” Holden said. “We didn’t know how it would go, but then Hunter went out there and he took it to his guy. After that match, I breathed a big sigh of relief.”
Holden beamed with pride during Jenkins’ match at 126. Filling in for junior Larry Evans (25-11), Jenkins was the fifth man up after Gulden (19-12), Sheridan, sophomore 113-pounder Gavin Rose (30-4) and junior 120-pounder Carter Noehre (33-2) each continuing the team’s winning wave.
Rose, who is ranked seventh in the state by IndianaMat, won by decision 7-2. Ninth-ranked Noehre pinned Beech Grove’s DeSean Wise in 43 seconds.
Jenkins (5-0), who works primarily on junior varsity, had four varsity victories entering the dual. He ended the year with five.
The senior built an early 5-0 lead in the first period and led 7-0 with a near pin in the first two minutes.
“I was trying to get the pin, but I had to settle for the (7-3) decision” Jenkins said. “It was awesome. I wouldn’t want it any other way. To be in front of my home crowd and my parents, it was great.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of him,” Holden added. “He’s a kid that never complains. He stays after practice every day, sometimes an hour or longer. That’s a champion to me. Getting your name on the wall because you won a tournament doesn’t necessarily make you a champion. Your character is what makes you a champion and Clayton Jenkins, his face belongs on the wall.”
The Hornets rallied from their 23-0 deficit behind a 10-2 major decision by fifth-ranked Ethan Smiley at 132 and cut the Cougars lead 29-16 with a decision and a pin at 152 and 160.
Junior Brad Lowe (30-5) halted their run at 170, scoring six points with a fall in 1:47.
“It was a key point to get a win and boost our confidence as a team,” Jenkins said.
The Cougars placed second at the Hoosier Heritage Conference Tournament on Saturday, and will prepare for the state tournament next, beginning with sectional on Jan. 28. For the seniors, the next nine days signify the start of their final run — together.
“It never gets any easier. I told the guys beforehand, it might be harder for me to say goodbye to these guys than any of them,” Holden said. “I’ve been with them so long now. I’ve been here 13 years and some of them have been in the program that long. My nephew is on this team, Landon Ridolfo, and it’s been special the two years we’ve had.
“People think you’re doing something for kids when you coach, but it turns out the kids are the one doing something for you. The awards ceremony, I’ll be a mess.”
Greenfield-Central 41, Beech Grove 26
285: Hunter Gulden (GC) def. Brandon Cagg (BC) by fall 2:00
106: Luke Sheridan (GC) def. Juwan Joseph (BG) by tech fall 18-0
113: Gavin Rose (GC) def. Kody Conaway (BG) by dec. 7-2
120: Carter Noehre (GC) def. DeSean Wise (BG) by fall 0:43
126: Clayton Jenkins (GC) def. Harley Taylor (BG) by dec. 7-3
132: Ethan Smiley (BG) def. Austin Mullins (GC) by maj. dec. 10-2
138: Bailey Moore (BG) def. Cooper Noehre (GC) by dec. 5-1
145: Riley Fletcher (GC) def. Adam Perra (BG) by fall 0:28
152: Walter Ballinger (BG) def. Micah Ballenger (GC) by dec. 10-4
160: Nate Sanchez (BG) def. Christopher Guzman (GC) by fall 1:39
170: Brad Lowe (GC) def. Ely Shockley (BG) by fall 1:47
182: Austin Smith (BG) def. Malachi Mersch (GC) by fall 1:12
195: Lee Dullaghan (GC) def. Shane McPeak (BG) by fall 0:25
220: Isaiah Greene (BG) def. Aaron Young (GC) by maj. dec. 11-3