NEW PALESTINE — After four years of coming up short, New Palestine senior Landan Burton didn’t know what to think.
A four-time semistate qualifier and facing his last shot at an elusive state finals berth, the 220-pounder finally broke through last weekend, and everyone inside the New Castle Chrysler Fieldhouse heard it.
“I just screamed. I didn’t know what to do,” Burton remarked on his post-quarterfinal semistate victory celebration last Saturday. “I don’t really know how to describe it. I’m sure I was picked to get out, but even though I was, it was still incredible to get past that first round even. The second round (at semistate) it was way different. I felt like a different person after that.”
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He’s not wrong.
For the first time in his career, Burton can truthfully proclaim he’s a state qualifier after placing fourth in his weight class at semistate. Now, he’s heading to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight with the state finals elimination round set to start at 6 p.m.
“The monkey got off his back,” New Palestine head coach Alex Johns said. “It was his fourth time making it to semistate. I was actually more nervous during the first-round match because he had made it three years and lost in the first round. Once he got past that round, I think the monkey got off his back, and he wrestled really well in that second match, getting a pin.”
Burton (42-3) reached a new level by defeating Anderson’s Venice McCullough (32-9) by major decision 11-3 to reach the semistate’s ticket round. Once, he cleared that first hurdle, North Montgomery’s Drew Webster (34-9) didn’t stand much of a chance as Burton scored a pin in 1 minute, 33 seconds to become one of the tournament’s four 220-pound state advancers.
“Even after winning the first match, it kept me grounded. It took me four years to get out of the first round. What if I couldn’t get out of the next round for another four years when I only have this one year left?,” Burton said. “Fortunately, I was able to get the job done.”
Days after his semistate breakthrough, Burton was back to work.
Running sprints inside the New Palestine Dragons wrestling room during practice, Burton didn’t skip a step, swiftly moving off the mat straight to a wrestling dummy. A quick single leg takedown was followed by a nimble duck under drill, capped by another leg sweep.
“Even though I’ve been (at state) the past three years, I don’t think it’s going to prepare me enough. I mean, I know what it’s like, but I don’t know what it’s like to be out there on the mat with 10,000 eyes on you,” Burton said. “That’s going to be different.”
The seventh consecutive state qualifier for New Palestine wrestling, Burton has watch from the stands in years past as former teammate C.J. Red, who is now at Nebraska, rolled to four straight state championships at an unbeaten 183-0 in 2016. Last year, Alec White finished his high school career as the program’s fifth straight state champ before continuing to wrestle at Purdue.
“He’s been around successful people since he’s been in this program. With coach (Chad) Red, C.J. (Red), Alec White and coach (Josh) Franklin, all of these guys have been there for him and been around him. He’s seen what it takes to be successful,” Johns said.
This week, he’s been applying what he’s learned while trying to build on the Dragons’ ongoing tradition. Much like White, who suffered a semistate setback before running roughshod at state, Burton is focused on righting his first back-to-back losing streak of the season.
After clinching a state berth, Burton, who is ranked seventh in the state, lost to Elwood’s fourth-ranked Kyle Cornwell (45-2) by decision 5-4 in the semistate semifinals. He lost again in the consolation finals by fall to Lebanon’s unranked Jacob McClaine (33-2) in 3:45.
“Our semistate was probably the deepest of all four at 220. I think there were seven or eight ranked in the state. He knew he made a mistake and he had a shot to be in the finals, which would have set him up this week, and he realized that, but I told him he had to let that go,” Johns said. “It’s the postseason; you have to have a short memory on those losses or anything that happens because the next one could take you out.”
Burton is preparing to push past Whiteland’s sixth-ranked Ryan Hammond (39-0) in an anticipated matchup tonight.
“Anybody can be beat on any given day,” Johns said. “This week, we’re taking it like last year with Alec. Don’t worry about anything else but Friday night. That’s it, and taking it one match at a time. That’s how the winners of this tournament usually take it. They don’t look ahead because then something slips or happens. You lose your train of thought.”
At 124-36 in his career, Burton has feasted by using brute strength and drive to win. His win total this season is the best in his career. He opened the season 25-0 before losing to fifth-ranked Michael Boots (35-2) of Evansville Mater Dei by decision 4-2 this past December.
He won 17 consecutive after the defeat and is sticking to his routine to hopefully put together one last 4-match streak.
“I’m just taking it like any other match. I’m not over thinking it. I’m not over planning for it. I’m just going to go out and wrestle my match,” Burton said.
His in the moment philosophy helped him capture a third sectional title in his career this season, a second straight regional and a third Hoosier Heritage Conference championship.
Burton’s offseason efforts paved the way for a successful final run, Johns said. Last April, Burton competed during the NWCA/USA Wrestling National Scholastic Dual Championships, where he beat Cornwell previously, and he rejoined the Dragons football team this fall after a two-year hiatus.
“He took a whole different approach after last season. He wrestled at the Scholastic Duals tournament on a team with a lot of talented individuals. I think being around that environment and those guys was good for him,” Johns said. “And he played football, and he got a lot stronger. He came in with a whole different attitude from years past.”
It’s all led to tonight, one that can’t get here soon enough.
“I think about it every day. When I go to bed, when I wake up,” Burton said. “It’s all I think about.”
Tonight, four Hancock County wrestlers are heading to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to compete in the 80th IHSAA wrestling state finals. The winners from tonight’s elimination round, beginning at 6 p.m., will advance into Saturday’s placement rounds with the state’s top-eight wrestlers crowned in their respective weight classes. Saturday’s quarterfinals begin at 9:30 a.m. with the consolations at 5 p.m. and the finals at 7:30 p.m. Admission for the tournament is $8 per session or $20 for both days.
Carter Noehre, Greenfield-Central
For a second straight year, Noehre is a state qualifier. Last season, Noehre competed at 120 pounds as a junior, falling in the elimination round on Friday night. At 30-1 on the season as a senior and ranked seventh in the state at 132 pounds, Noehre is the program’s 51st state qualifier in school history. And he’s coming in hot. Losing his first match of the year in the New Castle Semistate finals, Noehre draws 12th-ranked Hunter Cottingham (45-3) of Western tonight. He will look to rekindle his winning ways while adding to his back-to-back sectional and regional titles from this season.
Brad Lowe, Greenfield-Central
A two-time state qualifier, Lowe is entering tonight looking to make up for last year’s opening night shortfall. A two-time sectional champion this season, Lowe was second at regional and runner-up at the New Castle Semistate. Lowe is the program’s 52nd state qualifier in school history and as a senior, he carries a 40-4 record. He draws unranked Andy Davidson (32-16) of Columbus East tonight in the state finals elimination round. A win would propel the state’s seventh-ranked wrestler into Saturday’s placement rounds where he could become the Cougars’ second straight place-winner.
Chris Wilkerson, Mt. Vernon
The Marauders first state qualifier in 10 years, Wilkerson has an opportunity to end another program drought if he can get out of Friday night’s elimination round in Indianapolis. The 132-pound sophomore has already become the first to reach state since Jake McCarthy did at 103 pounds in 2007-08. If he advances, he would become the first state-place winner since Andrew Quintana finished third at heavyweight in 2005-06. Unranked Wilkerson (37-8) faces ninth-ranked Matt Gimson (45-2) of Jimtown tonight. En route to state, Wilkerson placed second at sectional, second at regional and third at semistate.
Landan Burton, New Palestine
It’s been a four-year wait for Burton, a four-time semistate qualifier and now a first-time state qualifier. Unable to break through in the past, Burton punched his ticket to state as a senior last weekend by placing fourth at 220 pounds during the New Castle Semistate. With a 42-3 record, Burton won 25 straight matches to open the season and another 17 in a row to claim his third sectional title, second regional championship and third Hoosier Heritage Conference title. Ranked seventh in the state, Burton faces sixth-ranked and unbeaten Ryan Hammond (39-0) of Whiteland tonight.