FORTVILLE — Chad Masters has a number in mind, and he’s not keeping it a secret.
“Twenty-four,” the Mt. Vernon wrestling head coach remarked while outlining his team’s target for dual meet wins in 2017-18. More would be just fine, said Masters, who is entering his fourth year at the helm.
Any less, then please direct yourself to the sign hanging over the Mt. Vernon wrestling room door: “If your goal isn’t to be on the top, then you don’t deserve to be here.”
“I’ve crunched the numbers a lot. I think we can be 24-4, which would be a tremendous season for anybody, but it’s going to be hard,” Masters said.
Story continues below gallery
Masters and the Marauders know all about adversity. Over the past few years, progression has been the focus, and the numbers signify their success. From 10 wins in 2014-15 to 17 in 2015-16. Last season’s 22-11 record shattered the program’s previous mark, but it’s not the ceiling.
“I definitely think we should have the best record than any other previous school year,” Mt. Vernon junior 120-pounder Chase Wilkerson said. “And I believe we should have at least four guys go to state.”
Wilkerson, a semistate qualifier last year, is one of the projected four, and he’s not alone in his assessment. Ranked 13th in his weight class by Hoosier Mat, Wilkerson finished his sophomore season 40-10, while taking fourth at the Perry Meridian Regional and third at the Warren Central Sectional.
This past summer, however, is when many took notice as he competed during the USMC/USAW Cadet/Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D. As a freestyle competitor, Wilkerson placed third at the ISWA Cadet state meet prior to nationals and earned the right to wrestle at the national level.
“I truly think this summer when he made Team Indiana, he realized he has an opportunity to be a leader. At practice now, it’s a victory for the kids he wrestles to get a takedown against him,” Masters said. “It gives them confidence. Chase sets a tone. He is the leader.”
The Marauders’ alpha-dog this preseason, Wilkerson’s drive has motivated his teammates, including his brother Chris, who is entering his sophomore season at 132 pounds. As a freshman, Chris Wilkerson was 32-13.
Sophomore Max Hayes also returns to the light-middle weights, moving up from 126 to 138 after going 25-19 as a freshman.
“We’re always grinding. It’s crazy,” Chase Wilkerson remarked on drilling with Hayes and his brother. “(Chris) is younger than me, but he’s getting better. He definitely should go to state more times than me. I think he can do it multiple years.”
Along with the trio, junior Drake Kendrex, who moves down from 170 to 160, has the talent to contend, and so does junior PJ Sterrett at 182.
As a sophomore, Sterrett finished sectional runner-up, fourth at regional and qualified for the New Castle Semistate before ending the year with a 27-18 record. Kendrex was 29-15 last season, placing fourth at sectional to qualify for regional.
“Everyone is pushing each other really hard. We lost a lot of talent from last year, but we’ve also gained a lot of talent,” Sterrett said. “We have some kids that are filling in at weight classes that are important for us. Honestly, I think 25 wins is achievable if we keep pushing ourselves.”
Junior Martin McConnell (113), who was sidelined with a concussion last winter, sophomore Isiah Diaz (145), sophomore Parker Bishop (152), sophomore Charlie Moore (170), junior Dylan Cole (195) and several freshman and newcomers will play a role as the Marauders pursue their magic number.
“This year, if the whole team sticks together, I think we have a good shot of beating that record,” Chase Wilkerson said. “That’s what it’s going to take.”
Mt. Vernon opens the season Nov. 25 at the Shenandoah Invitational and host New Castle on Nov. 28 for their first home dual.
“I think we can set records for regional qualifiers, semistate qualifiers and state qualifiers,” Masters said. “We have a solid team. If it all comes together, 24-4, a few kids at state; that’s by far the best season Mt. Vernon has ever had.”