GREENFIELD — If there is a floor to the Greenfield-Central wrestling team’s level of expectation this season, it’s the program’s previous ceiling.
Twice before the Cougars have advanced a record four wrestlers to the IHSAA individual state finals — the more recent being in 2011-12 and the other in 1985-1986.
In 2016-17, the team had three representatives at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis, the fourth time a trio has advanced together since 1970.
Yet, despite the Cougars hitting a all-time program milestone with 50 state qualifiers, their season total fell short of their ultimate goal.
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And they have no qualms outlining their intended state sum for this year — a number head wrestling coach Josh Holden believes is realistically obtainable.
“We want to shatter that sucker,” Holden remarked on the program’s single-season state-qualifier record. “We’re setting our goals real high. Four ain’t good enough. If we have four, we’ll be disappointed. If we have five, we didn’t achieve our goal. We’re looking at six or seven guys we have to get to the show.”
Holden, a former 140-pound state champion at Lawrence Central in 1999, knows words hold little weight when trying to achieve aspirations. But he’s not speaking out of turn, he’s basing his estimations on the talent he sees inside the wrestling room daily.
And he’s not alone in his assessments with three Cougars wrestlers ranked top 10 in their respective weight classes by Hoosier Mat and another in the top 15.
Junior Gavin Rose, a two-time state qualifier, enters the season ranked sixth at 120 pounds after placing seventh in the state at 113 pounds last year. Rose went 38-10 as a sophomore, winning a Hoosier Heritage Conference title and placing third at the 2016-17 New Castle Semistate.
He was runner-up at the Warren Central Sectional and fourth at the Perry Meridian Regional with 23 pins overall on the year. As a freshman, he finished 20-10, and he continues to trend upward as he eyes a potential third straight state finals berth this winter.
“I think he can win a state title this year,” Holden remarked on Rose’s career arc. “This area for that weight class last year was killer, so you’re going to wrestle good kids. He spent the entire offseason solidifying his defense, becoming more offensive on his feet, and he’s almost a whole different wrestler. He’s going to be fun to watch.”
The same can be said for senior Carter Noehre, who is ranked seventh in the state at 132 pounds this preseason.
Noehre qualified for state as a junior at 120, finishing 42-4 overall, and he’s gained substantial ground in his development this offseason after winning both sectional and regional titles in 2016-17.
At the Indiana State Wrestling Association’s state finals this past May, Noehre won both the Junior freestyle and Greco-Roman championships at 138 to qualify for the prestigious USMC/USAW Cadet/Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D.
Rose also qualified for nationals but didn’t compete along with senior Brad Lowe, who is ranked eighth in the state this season at 170 pounds.
“I’ve seen a lot of state champs in however long that I’ve been doing this now, and (Carter) is right up there with those guys. He’s got the opportunity,” Holden said. “Obviously, we both know there is a lot of luck involved. Things kind of have to go your way and fall a certain way, but he’s got the talent. He’s got the work ethic. It’s a blast to work with the kid.”
Carter’s younger brother, Cooper, who is ranked 13th in the state at 145, is another state hopeful after qualifying for nationals this offseason. Cooper won the 145-pound ISWA Cadet freestyle state title this summer and was second in Greco-Roman to earn his spot at Fargo.
Cooper Noehre went 30-13 as a freshman in 2016-17 at 138 where he lost a round-to-go at semistate after taking third at regional and second at sectional.
“I think Cooper coming in was ahead of most freshmen. Then he found the weight room, and he eats it up. He’s a workaholic, and then he doesn’t come in and just wrestles other 145-pounders. He wrestles coach (Josh) Farrell and Brad Lowe,” Holden said. “He wrestles me. I think people will be amazed by the jump that he’s made. It’s remarkable how far he’s come.”
Lowe is right on par with the rest, claiming a sectional and regional championship as a junior and placing fourth at semistate at 170. He finished 38-8 with 22 pins trailing only Rose and Carter Noehre (28).
As a team, the Cougars were 17-4 and placed runner-up at the HHC meet, third at sectional and fourth at regional.
If things play out, the team looks to improve on those results, though they will be shorthanded at a few key spots.
Senior Luke Sheridan, who was 25-15 at 106, is out for the season with an injury. Senior Micah Ballenger, who went 14-18 at 152, is out early with a broken leg, Holden said.
However, several driven freshmen and newcomers will help fill the voids and add lineup depth. Freshman Isaac Swartz is projected to take over at 106, while sophomore Dylan Doorman, who was 4-0 as a reserve at 106, will occupy the open spot at 113.
Senior Larry Evans, another of the Cougars’ five nationals qualifiers this summer, is back at 126 where he was 29-15 last year. Senior Mike Hoskins returns to wrestling for the first time since the eighth grade to compete at 152 with Ballenger out.
Freshman Scott Stanley is garnering attention at 195, senior Garrett Bice is a resuming his wrestling career as a heavyweight after a two-year hiatus. At 220, Hunter Gulden, a junior, moves down from heavyweight. He was 21-15 last season.
“The state tournament could be fun. We could have a .500 dual meet season, but we could go make a lot of waves in the tournament. We could be a top 10 state team just because we got guys who could finish in the top four in the state tournament,” Holden said. “If you want to be a top 10 team and win it, you have to score 100 points in the state tournament. To do that, four champs with no bonus points scores you an 88, so it’s hard.”
The Cougars aren’t backing down from the challenge, though, beginning with their opening meet at the Elwood Invitational on Saturday morning.
“Brownsburg and Cathedral have, I think, nine guys ranked apiece. You want to start battling with those teams. We want to be in the conversation with them,” Holden said. “If you do this year, then you better take seven or eight to the state tournament or you don’t have a shot.”
2016-17 Record: 38-10
Breakdown: Rose qualified for his second straight state finals as a sophomore, placing seventh overall at 113 pounds. He was a Hoosier Heritage Conference champion, sectional runner-up, fourth at regional and third at semistate last season. He enters the season ranked sixth by Hoosier Mat.
2016-17 Record: 42-4
Breakdown: Noehre turned the corner last season to win a sectional and regional championship at 120. He racked up a team-best 28 pins during his junior campaign and qualified for his first state finals. A national qualifier in the offseason, Noehre enters his final year ranked seventh in the state by Hoosier Mat.
2016-17 Record: 30-13
Breakdown: The younger brother of Carter Noehre, Cooper tied for second on the team in wins behind both Gavin Rose and Brad Lowe at 38. Noehre was a sectional runner-up, third at regional and lost in the ticket round at semistate. A national qualifier in the offseason, Noehre is ranked 13th this season by Hoosier Mat.
2016-17 Record: 38-8
Breakdown: Lowe had a breakout campaign as a junior, tying Gavin Rose with 38 wins, including 22 by pin. Lowe won his first sectional and regional titles en route to his first state finals appearance. He was one of the team’s five national qualifiers this summer and is ranked eighth in his weight class by Hoosier Mat entering this season.