INDIANAPOLIS — The dream continues for four Hancock County wrestlers.
Greenfield-Central’s Josh Farrell and Ian Early and New Palestine’s Tommy Cash and Connor Robinson won their first round wrestling state finals matches Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to guarantee themselves a top-eight state finish.
They’ll return to downtown Indy today only three wins away from every high school athlete’s ultimate goal: a state championship.
Farrell, a 138-pound junior, has been in this situation twice, winning his Friday night match only to lose Saturday morning, ultimately finishing with a seventh-place medal last year and a sixth-place honor two years ago.
“Losing Saturday morning isn’t acceptable anymore to me,” Farrell said Friday shortly after making quick work of Franklin’s Jacob Stevenson with a technical fall, 23-8, victory.
Wrestlers who lose their first match Saturday can finish no higher than fifth overall. Last year, Farrell lost 15-0 to Lake Central’s Kyle Ayersman, the eventual state champ at 119 pounds.
“Last year’s match haunts me,” Farrell said. “I’ll never forget that match. Getting beat by Kyle Ayresman last year, I think about it every day, I literally do.
“(Losing Saturday morning), it’s just not okay anymore.”
Farrell (37-3) will take on South Bend Clay’s Mitchell Hartman (44-5) today to start things off. Ayersman is wrestling at 126 pounds this time around.
The Cougars’ state finals veteran will be joined on the ultimate day of Indiana high school wrestling by three Hancock County first-timers.
Connor Robinson, a New Palestine senior, punched his ticket with an impressive 10-5 win over Isaac Steury of Leo, a senior who entered the tourney 36-3 and ranked No. 6 in the state.
Robinson, at 37-8, had more losses on the season than all but three of his competitors in the 160-pound bracket; those other three grapplers lost Friday.
“He is a warrior,” New Palestine coach Steve Harding said of Robinson, who is set to face Tsali Lough (45-2) of Terre Haute South today. “That Leo kid, with only two losses, he was no slouch.
“Aside from one mistake, Connor wrestled well. We knew (Steury) was a leg wrestler, but Connor did a nice job defending the legs.”
Tommy Cash, Robinson’s freshman teammate, also notched a decisive victory, dispatching Evansville Reitz’s Damon Kuhn (43-3) by an 11-5 score.
Cash was momentarily rattled in one of the first matches of the evening, with Kuhn scoring a quick takedown, but Cash recovered and dominated the rest of the way.
“Started off a little shaky, a little flat,” Harding said. “But, he’s a freshman, and he got the jitters out of the way after wrestling in the Big House. He’ll be fine (today).”
Cash (43-1) will meet undefeated Steven Micic (44-0) of Hanover Central today. Cash suffered his first career defeat last week to another unbeaten wrestler, defending state champ Nathan Boston (42-0), by a 1-0 score in the semistate championship.
Micic finished third at the state finals to Boston last winter. Boston is in the other half of the 106-pound bracket this weekend.
“(Micic) also is the real deal, but we wrestled the state champ at 1-0, so we’ll see,” Harding said. “We have to go out and attack, be on the offensive.”
Ian Early will be the second county wrestler to open today’s festivities against a grappler with a perfect record. The Greenfield-Central senior (40-2) beat Spencer Raypole (37-3) of Fort Wayne Carroll 5-4 Friday to advance. Next up for the 195-pound Early is Kourtney Berry (30-0) of Merrillville. Berry finished fifth in the state finals last season.
Two other Cougars fell short in their quest to make it out of the first round. Sophomore Sam Locke (30-10) was on the wrong end of a 5-0 score to Yorktown’s Chandler Carroll (46-3), and G-C senior Austin Gearlds (34-6) was pinned by Aaron See (42-5) of Northview.
The Cougars, though, could leave Bankers Life with their heads held high. Of the 105 schools represented in the state finals, only 10 programs had more than G-C’s four qualifying wrestlers.
With veterans such as Early, Farrell and Gearlds, the Cougars have been part of a multi-year rebuilding process under head coach Josh Holden, which culminated this season in a Hoosier Heritage Conference championship and a sectional effort that was only four points shy of a team title.
“I hope that (other teams) know that we’re not a .500 team anymore,” Farrell said. “I hope they know that they’ve got to pump their kids up to beat us, not the other team around.
“I hope, other coaches say ‘Hey, Greenfield’s good, we’ve got to come after it.”
New Palestine is also on the rebound after a rare off year in 2011, when the Dragons didn’t advance a single wrestler to the state finals. They brought three competitors to Indianapolis Friday: Cash, Robinson and 113-pound junior Taylor Fee (33-6), who was eliminated by last year’s state runner-up, Jared Brooks (32-0) of Warsaw, by pin.
“I know Tommy will come back (to state next year), I think Fee will come back and we’ve got four or five kids sitting at home that were close that could have been here tonight,” Harding said. “So, yeah, I think that dry spell we had last year was a one-time thing.
“And we are really pleased to have two still in. Now we will see how high we can place.”
Notes: Cathedral wrestling brothers and New Palestine natives Brian Harvey (160 pounds) and Ben Harvey (113) won their first-round matches. … Pendleton Heights’ Mason Todd, the defending 112-pound state champ (weight classes were reclassified this season), advanced easily at 120 pounds. … Culver Academy’s Kayla Miracle, the first female wrestler to ever advance to the Indiana individual state finals, lost her opening match 4-0.