INDIANAPOLIS — Alec White repeated the same seven words to himself over and over. They teetered like a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder, both insulting and motivating him simultaneously with every step Saturday as he murmured them under his breath.
“I wasn’t suppose to be here today,” the New Palestine senior underscored. “I reiterated that to my coaches multiple times.”
An afterthought for many prior to the 79th Annual IHSAA Wrestling State Finals, White’s naysayers fueled him as the senior systematically went through the 126-pound weight class at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
His goal was as precise as his disciplined execution: leave no doubt.
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“He knew what he was going to do this weekend,” New Palestine first-year head coach Alex Johns said. “He was on a mission.”
A four-time state qualifier in his career, White hushed his critics with unquestionable decisiveness, pinning top-ranked Blake Mulkey (38-2) of Brownsburg under the championship spotlight in 3 minutes, 32 seconds to clinch his first-ever state title.
The fall was the 90th of his career, and the final punctuation to an unforgettable journey that nearly wasn’t.
“He wanted to quit,” recalled Amy White, Alec’s mother. “He came home one day and told my husband (Kevin) and I that he didn’t want to do it anymore. It was after his sophomore season before his junior year.”
Burnt out after failing to place at state as a sophomore, White, who was fourth at 106 pounds in 2013-14 as a freshman, reached a crossroad. Despite posting a 40-5 record after going 36-9 the year before, White mulled over life without wrestling, the first time since he started competing at the age of 4.
“When he was considering giving it up, (former New Palestine) coach (Chad) Red Sr. asked him, ‘What are you going to do if you don’t wrestle?,’” Amy White said.
After a few days, Alec responded and never looked back.
He resumed training at Red Cobra Wrestling Academy in the offseason and worked closely with Red Sr.’s son, C.J., who became the third undefeated four-time state champion in Indiana history last year.
Determined to win it all like his friend, White placed sixth at 113 pounds as a junior with a 44-3 record, but he entered this season with a new calm, which led to a 35-0 start before losing for the first time in the New Castle Semistate finals.
Suffering a deep gash on his head at semistate, White fell off his game but regrouped physically and mentally with the help of Johns, a former two-time NCAA Division II All-American at the University of Indianapolis. The result was the “best week of preparation” the Dragons’ coaches have seen all year.
“He watched his good buddy (C.J) do this four times in a row, and he fought some adversity along the way, but he stepped it up,” New Palestine assistant coach Josh Franklin said of White’s perseverance. “He was never picked to win state all four years. He’s been here all four years. He was ready to put it all together.”
White made his intentions known from the first match Friday night during the elimination round where he faced what several onlookers called a “death draw.”
Pitted against two-time state champion senior Colton Cummings of Lowell, White, ranked fifth in the state, was almost unanimously predicted to lose against the third-ranked four-time state qualifier.
Instead, he struck first, building a 2-0 lead before breaking a 2-all tie with a 3-point swing in the third period to win 6-4 by decision.
His confidence brimmed over in Saturday’s medal rounds as he knocked off seventh-ranked Matt Lee of Evansville Mater Dei by decision 3-1 in the morning quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, his path became more personal, with fellow Red Cobra teammate junior Graham Rooks of Columbus East standing between him and an elusive championship finals berth.
“I knew Alec had a chance to win. I knew Rooks was very capable as well. It was a matter of where the chips fell and who had a good day,” Red Sr. said of his two club wrestlers. “It was just getting Alec to believe in himself. He has always been very, very good. He just needed that little bit to get him over the edge.”
Razor sharp against the unbeaten and second-ranked Rooks, who was 44-0, White stuck to his game plan, scoring a pair of takedowns and a back-breaking two-point nearfall in the second period to win by decision 8-6.
While the dense crowd of Dragons’ fans wearing shirts with “White Hot” printed on the front rejoiced, Amy White’s nerves skyrocketed.
“I spent the majority of my time hiding while he wrestled Cummings. I watched when he wrestled the Lee boy, then I didn’t for Rooks or the finals,” she admitted. “I did watch online.”
Alec, a Purdue recruit, stayed fixated on the finish line, running into his second straight club teammate in Mulkey.
In preparation for the finals, White revisited his past for encouragement. During the waning hours before the match, he connected with C.J., who he first started drilling with on a 10-foot by 10-foot mat inside former Doe Creek Middle School assistant wrestling coach Michael Hunt’s garage.
“On the walk over here, I FaceTimed (C.J.) and he just said, ‘get it done,’” White said.
White (39-1) fulfilled his friend’s request while 12,456 people watched on in amazement as he turned a 2-point second period deficit into a match-ending scramble for a reversal and a nearfall in one seamless “move.”
“When I went to my back, I was like, keep wrestling, wrestle through every position, and he didn’t come up with his hips. I saw an opportunity to step over, and I thought he was probably going to bail,” said White, who was flipped from the down position before striking back. “When he didn’t, I was like, I have to end it here.”
Johns and Franklin leaped out of their corner seats as White drove Mulkey into the mat to seize the title.
“He’s used that move a couple of times, especially this postseason,” Johns said. “He’s a scramble kid, and we got to a position where we were best and comfortable in the match. We were down in the moment, but he’s in it every match. That was awesome.”
So was the aftermath, White said, who found just the right words to describe being crowned the Dragons’ fifth straight individual wrestling state champion.
“Right before I went to the podium, I looked over at coach Franklin and said, ‘they said we weren’t suppose to be here today,” White quipped. “’Now, I’m finishing on top.’”