INDIANAPOLIS — Alec White peered over at the stands where his family and friends cheered loudly before making a beeline toward New Palestine head coach Alex Johns and assistant coach Josh Franklin.
After knocking off his third straight top-seven ranked opponent at the IHSAA wrestling state finals on Saturday afternoon, White let loose with two herculean hand slaps for both of his corner men.
A victorious scream afterwards satisfied the fifth-ranked senior’s infused impulse to celebrate after defeating second-ranked Graham Rooks (44-1) of Columbus East by decision 8-6 in the state semifinals.
White will now vie for his first-career state title in tonight’s 126-pound championship match.
“I’m really excited. This is my best meet that I’ve wrestled all year,” said White, who is 38-1 entering the title rounds, beginning at 7:30 p.m. “That loss last week definitely turned me up a notch this week. It’s all coming together and now, I have one more.”
White, a four-time state qualifier in his career, finished runner-up at the New Castle Semistate last weekend. He lost his first match of the year by decision 6-3 against sixth-ranked Jordan Slivka of Cathedral after winning 35 consecutive.
On opening night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday, White beat third-ranked senior Colton Cummings (25-3) of Lowell, a two-time state champion.
During Saturday morning’s state quarterfinal round, White grabbed a 3-0 lead after two periods before winning 3-1 against seventh-ranked Matt Lee of Evansville Mater Dei. White pinned Lee in their previous meeting this past December during the Mater Dei Holiday Classic Tournament.
White’s state semifinal match in the afternoon pitted him against the previously unbeaten Rooks, a Red Cobra Wrestling Academy teammate and friend.
Rooks (44-1), a junior, placed fourth at 120 pounds last year and was third at 106 pounds as a freshman.
In search of perfection, Rooks tried to dictate the semifinal match first, but White thwarted an early takedown attempt during the match’s first 40 seconds.
“I feel I’m really tough to take down. Even if a guy gets my leg in the air and over my head, it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to give up,” White said.
After fighting off an ankle lock, White scored a two-point lead on a takedown with 40 seconds left in the period and led 2-1 before the second. Rooks tied the match early in the match’s third minute with an escape from the down position before striking deep for another takedown attempt.
White, once again, however, used his defense to generate instant offense, reversing Rooks’ momentum.
“When I got my leg down, I said to myself, ‘let’s get a takedown here,'” White said. “I felt it was real loose right there, and when I rolled he went, and now I just have to hold on for the back points.”
White went up 6-2 and held off a frantic Rooks in the third.
“He’s just solid everywhere. Usually you see a kid who has a flaw in some area. As a high school kid, he doesn’t have that many flaws,” Johns remarked prior to the state finals. “You can see why he’s going to wrestle next year at the Big Ten level and do well.
“That loss has maybe awoken him up a little bit.”
It definitely spiked his appreciation as the Purdue University recruit ventured into the stands after leaving the mat to thank his vocal supporters wearing shirts with “White Hot” printed on the front.
“I had to say thank you to all the people that came out,” White said. “They all came here for me and they told me they bought the all-session passes. They had faith in me to make it out last night.”
He also shared a hug with former New Palestine head coach Chad Red, who was in attendance to support his Red Cobra wrestlers, including White’s next opponent.
Top-ranked Blake Mulkey (38-1) of Brownsburg won his semifinal match against 14th-ranked Michael DeLaPena of Merrillville to advance into the championship with White.
The two have trained at Red Cobra together for several years, but they have become close competitors and buddies the last two.
Mulkey was third at 120 pounds in the state as a sophomore last season.
“We’re pretty good friends, but that’s going to shutdown for a little bit for at least six, seven, eight minutes or whatever it has got to be,” White said. “I got a bunch of texts, and a few of them were just three words, ‘go earn it.’ That was my motto all of last year. It’s not written on our shirts anymore, but I think it every day.”