NEW PALESTINE — Tradition. It’s difficult to miss whenever someone walks inside the New Palestine High School wrestling room.
In plain sight, hanging on the far wall of the Dragons’ red cave, each of the program’s individual state championship triumphs are commemorated — a tribute to six years of wrestling immortality.
There, cutout posters of Kyle Ulrey, a state champion in 2008, Chad (C.J.) Red, a four-time unbeaten champion from 2013-16, and last year’s newest member Alec White, are proudly displayed.
Six state titles in 10 years, including five consecutive between Red, who is 4-0 as a redshirt freshman at the University of Nebraska, and White, a freshman at Purdue University.
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With plenty of room for more, Dragons second-year head coach Alex Johns wouldn’t mind adding another wrestler to the wall after witnessing White run the table in Indianapolis last February to win the 126-pound crown.
If anyone has a chance to possibly extend the streak to six, Johns said, it could be Landan Burton, who comes into the 2017-18 season ranked seventh in the state at 220 pounds, according to Hoosier Mat.
“He fell short of his goal last year. Obviously, his goal was to make it to state, and he had a really good season last year, but I think he was disappointed,” Johns said. “Wrestling this offseason has really helped him. He beat a couple of kids who were state qualifiers and wrestled with a lot of kids that were at that level. It kind of showed him, why not me?”
It’s a question Johns believes Burton will push himself to answer as a senior. Last year, Burton bulldozed toward a Hoosier Heritage Conference title, his second sectional championship in three seasons and captured his first regional championship to qualify for his third straight semistate.
Finishing 30-5 overall, Burton, who was ranked 19th in the state last year, narrowly lost by decision 7-6 to Cathedral’s Andy Guhl in the first round of semistate.
Since his junior season ended, Burton has turned a corner, Johns added, and it didn’t hurt that he decided to play football this fall for the Dragons.
“He wrestled this offseason, and since he’s played football, he’s lifted a lot this summer and football season. He’s put on close to 75 pounds on his bench press alone,” Johns said. “He wasn’t as put together last year as he is right now, so he’s got a good season ahead of him, I believe.”
The same can be said for the team’s predominantly young roster, which stands approximately 35 strong.
The Dragons lost two seniors to graduation from 2016-17, including White, but welcome Alec’s younger brother Christian, who is projected to start at 106 pounds.
Several experienced wrestlers fill out the rest of the lineup, with sophomore Chase Nelson (15-17) moving up to 113 from 106, junior Noah Wright returning at 145 pounds and Jared Diep, a junior, back at 120.
“(Jared) is bringing a leadership quality to our team. I’m excited to see what his results are going to be this year,” Johns said. “He’s put in a lot of work this offseason.”
Senior Chris Hafley and junior Michael Halbig continue to press for mat time in the middle weights this preseason and junior Brayden Clevenger, who has improved his strength, is bumping up from 182 to 195 behind Burton.
The addition of senior Josh Glover and other football standouts to the roster, Johns remarked, is credited to Burton, and their presence could make an impact.
“It’s great. We have an abundance of football players. I’m pretty pumped about that,” Johns said. “Landan made a deal with some of the football players. He said, if he came out for football, they have to wrestle. They’re committed so far.”
Glover, a running back and linebacker on the gridiron, could slide into the 182 weight class in his first year.
“He’s a tank. He’s a strong, strong kid and really athletic,” Johns remarked on Glover. “I know it’s a tough weight to come in at as a first-year wrestler, but if he learns a couple of things, the skies the limit.”
The return of Josh Franklin, who was promoted to head assistant coach, will help with the Dragons steady development, along with Tom Drake and Andrew Frey on staff. Frey wrestled at the University of Indianapolis at 141 pounds when Johns was an assistant under head coach Jason Warthan.
“We definitely have a lot of good guys coming back and I’m pretty excited,” John said. “It’s good to get the numbers growing. New Pal has a rich tradition in wrestling. We’re trying to build this up as a team.”