INDIANAPOLIS — There were doubters everywhere, except where it mattered most.
Far from the favorite to win, New Palestine’s Alec White wasn’t picked to reach Saturday morning’s quarterfinals, let alone advance into the evening’s 126-pound championship match during the 79th Annual IHSAA Wrestling State Finals.
White, however, believed, and his supporters packed the lower southwest corner stands inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse more than 21-plus rows deep to back their senior from start to finish — that finish being a state title.
The New Palestine faithful donned pristine white shirts with “White Hot” printed across the chest. They hoisted “Dragons Wrestling” signs while cheering proudly when White was introduced under the championship spotlight as one of the “Great 28.”
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They gasped slightly as top-ranked junior Blake Mulkey of Brownsburg gained the upper hand momentarily in the title match’s frantic fourth minute. The roar intensified when White pulled “the move” with less than 45 seconds left in the second period.
“I heard it. I definitely heard it,” White said of the crowd’s reaction with a broad smile, his first career state championship medal dangling from his neck. “They were almost pushing the ref to slap the mat. When he did, the place just erupted.”
As did White, who celebrated his 90th career pin with a herculean flex and wail.
“I didn’t know what to do. I looked over at the direction of our fans and just let a huge scream out,” White said. “They had faith in me. I had to thank them for coming out.”
White had never finished higher than fourth despite qualifying for the state finals each season prior. From his first match on Friday night, though, this time proved different for the fifth-ranked wrestler.
It was an unforgettable two-day odyssey capped by his 159th career victory.
“He went through the field,” New Palestine head coach Alex Johns said. “There were a lot of doubters, but he believed he could do it, and that’s exactly what he did.”
From his first match on Friday night, White adhered to his motto, “go earn it,” and staved off elimination with a 5-3 decision against two-time state champion and third-ranked Colton Cummings of Lowell.
On Saturday, White was unstoppable, defeating seventh-ranked Matt Lee by decision 3-1. In the semifinals, the Purdue recruit ran into Red Cobra Wrestling Academy training partner Graham Rooks of Columbus East, who was unbeaten at 44-0 and ranked second in the state.
White won by decision 8-6 before facing another Red Cobra teammate in Mulkey for the title.
“Turning the friend switch off was definitely tough, but I knew I needed to do that to finish on top,” White said. “He congratulated me after the match and gave me a hug. He’s a great kid.”
By claiming the school’s fifth straight individual wrestling state title and sixth overall, White joins the program’s former greats: Kyle Ulrey (2008) and close friend C.J. Red, a four-time state champ, on the Dragons Wall of Champions.
“He was the underdog. Not much question about that,” New Palestine assistant coach Josh Franklin said. “He was never picked to win state all four years, and he put it together. He wanted it. It was nothing less and nothing more.”