NEW PALESTINE — Alec White doesn’t mind the noise.
Piped in his general direction every day this week leading up to tonight’s IHSAA Wrestling State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the unavoidable chatter has been music to his ears despite its negative tone.
According to many, the New Palestine senior is walking into a “death draw” in Indianapolis this weekend as coined by the title of an online forum thread hyping up his opening-round match.
And based on popular opinion, he’s not predicted to survive elimination Friday.
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“Everybody has been talking about him on the message boards, and everyone is picking (Colton) Cummings,” New Palestine head coach Alex Johns said. “But in (Alec’s) mind, it’s not one-sided.
“It’s time to go, and he realizes it.”
The odds on favorite to vie for a potential third consecutive state title, Cummings (23-2), a senior at Lowell, is ranked third in the state at 126-pounds by IndianaMat.
A four-time state qualifier with titles at 106 in 2015 and 113 last year, the Army West Point recruit is a considerable threat, though he spent six months rehabbing from a torn ACL in his left knee, which he suffered in Virginia prior to his return last month.
In previous years, White, a four-time state qualifier himself, admits he might have taken the underdog role as an insult. Instead, the Purdue University recruit is embracing the spotlight and using it to fuel his drive.
“You have to beat everyone to win a state title. It doesn’t matter the round,” White remarked on his highly-anticipated meeting with Cummings. “I definitely think the crowd will be into it. I think it’s one of the biggest matches of the night.
“Some people said, I got a bad draw, but I was excited because I knew the eyes would be on that match. I just have to go and put on a show. I’m hoping it’s real loud in there, and I come away with a dub.”
For 35 straight matches this season, White collected nothing less en route to a 155-18 career record, a second career sectional title, a fourth regional championship and a flawless four-year run through the Hoosier Heritage Conference Tournament.
His lone defeat occurred at the New Castle Semistate where he finished runner-up to sixth-ranked Jordan Slivka (37-3) of Cathedral, losing by decision 6-3 in the finals.
White (35-1) beat Slivka in overtime 2-0 during the regular season, but a deep gash to the scalp from an incidental headbutt during the semistate ticket round slowed his momentum, though he’s not making any excuses.
Able to grit through his quarterfinal match with a 3-2 win in a tiebreaker followed by a 7-6 decision in the semifinals, White was forced to wear a head bandage to compress his bloodied wound, which required some adjustment.
“It took a lot, but I knew no matter what I could win each and every match. I won 3 out of 4, but that last one,” White said. “I have a ton of motivation now. It wasn’t so much that I was sad. That wasn’t the emotion at all. I was pretty mad, but it can only help.
“It’s better that it happened there, then this weekend. It was a learning opportunity. You can’t say you lost, you have to welcome the opportunity.”
Against Cummings, who placed third at the East Chicago Semistate, White has the chance to quiet his critics while pursing a third-career state medal.
As a freshman, he placed fourth at 106 with a 36-9 record. As a junior he was sixth overall at 113 and finished 44-3 to correct his sophomore setback when he was knocked out of contention in the first round at state.
Each experience has played a significant part in his development — physically and mentally — Dragons assistant coach Josh Franklin said.
Drilling with White since the eighth grade, Franklin, a former standout at Lawrence Central under coach Chad Red, knows exactly what White is capable of, and the ultimate prize isn’t out of the question.
White’s wrestling I.Q. and dedication to the sport he’s excelled at since the age of 4 is the main reason why.
In the offseason, White committed himself to strength training, adding more lean muscle while ramping up his conditioning with the Red Cobra Wrestling Academy. He competed with some of the best during the Super 32 national folkstyle tournament in North Carolina and adopted a tunnel vision approach.
“He sent me a text message after semistate that read, ‘I’m ready to work this week.’ You can tell he’s focused. He has his eye on a goal and wants to achieve it,” Franklin said. “He knows he needs to get better every day, especially going to the next level like he is.
“That year when he was just a qualifier, he uses that as momentum. He’s always ready to work.”
Still sporting a head wrap during practice inside the “Red Room,” White was in constant motion, stopping only briefly to reset and go again.
With his focus fixated on what he can control, White hasn’t spent much time breaking down video of Cummings or replaying their last meeting three years ago when he lost during in the title match during the ISWA Folkstyle State Finals.
The only thing ringing in his ears is his own voice and belief in becoming the program’s potential third state champion.
“The legacy I want to leave is a fat head on that wall over by C.J. (Red) and Kyle Ulrey,” White said while motioning to the program’s state championship wall of fame. “Then it’s definitely cemented. Not everyone looks at the (qualifiers and placers) wall every day, but you can’t miss those.”
White Hot Career
Alec White, New Palestine
Weight Class: 126 pounds
Achievements: Sectional champion, Regional champion, Semistate runner-up, HHC champion
Weight Class: 113 pounds
Achievements: Sectional runner-up, Regional champion, Semistate champion, Sixth at state, HHC champion
Weight Class: 113 pounds
Achievements: Sectional champion, Regional champion, 3rd at semistate, state qualifier, HHC champion
Weight Class: 106 pounds
Achievements: Third at sectional, Regional champion, Semistate runner-up, Fourth at state, HHC champion