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Dragons set sights on sectional title after season finale loss

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NEW PALESTINE — As soon as the final horn sounded Wednesday night, Chad Red wanted to start today’s morning practice right then and there.

Red’s son, CJ — the still unbeaten and No. 1-ranked 120-pound grappler in the state — was itching to get back on the mat as well following a frustrating shutout win.

And as a whole, the Dragons know there is more work to be done if they want to be crowned champions of the Shelbyville Sectional come Feb. 1.

No. 12 NP fell 37-19 to No. 2 Franklin in its final dual meet of the season Wednesday. The separation between the two squads wasn’t as wide as the final score would indicate — the Grizzly Cubs won eight matches; the host Dragons six — even though Franklin sported seven wrestlers ranked in the top 10 of their respective weight classes by IndianaMat.com.

“We wanted to come out with a victory. We knew Franklin was a pretty good team. I would’ve liked for us to open up a little bit more, maybe try a little more on our offensive attacks and be a little more aggressive. They came and set the tone, which set us back a little bit,” said Chad, the second-year coach of New Palestine. “... We’ve got to step up and do a little bit more. We’ve got to increase opportunities to score. They knew what their plan was and they took away what we do. They didn’t go a bad job of it.

“It looked a little worse than it was. We had a couple of matches get away from us that we’d like to have back. But that’s why you wrestle.”

For the younger Red, Wednesday proved to be a bit of a learning exercise — even though the sophomore dominated his opponent, Shane Wilkerson, from start to finish.

To understand CJ, one must first understand his routine.

He’s always moving — a trait he likely gets from Chad, who is constantly rotating and swiveling in his coaching chair — and sits down only for seconds at a time. During his teammates’ matches, Red can be found in the background. He bobs side to side and walks with a slight strut, pacing back and forth behind his team’s bench with one eye on the current match. As he walks in his pink, sky blue and highlighter yellow sneakers, Justin Beiber, Alicia Keys and assorted hip hop and rap blare through CJ’s Dragon Red Beats by Dre headphones.

“I try to keep my feet moving and my body warm because I feel like if I sit down for too long, I’ll get too lazy. I’ll get on the mat and I won’t move and I won’t wrestle the same,” CJ said, before adding with a smile: “I don’t like to stay still.”

Since he’s truly tested only a handful of times during the school season, CJ tries to work on his repertoire of moves during a match. But, that’s sometimes hard to do when the opponent isn’t interested in making any offensive advances, which was the case Wednesday with Wilkerson.

Red seized control early and put Wilkerson through a gauntlet of holds, attempting pins at various angles. To Wilkerson’s credit, he never yielded from his defensive positioning despite Red attempting to bend him in ways the human body isn’t meant to be contorted.

“I was trying to figure out…that kid just laid there on the bottom and tried not to get pinned. My dad told me he was going to try to do that,” CJ said. “I knew he was going to try to do that because he had gotten beat by a kid that I already beat. He knew what I was going for, but I just have to wrestle through it.”

Starting in a defensive position to begin the third period, Red performed an inverted escape that allowed him to gain an offensive advantage almost immediately, a move that drew audible ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the crowd.

But, Wilkerson, determined not to be pinned, never broke and Red had to settle for the shutout.

After the team match was over, the Reds had a conversation with the match referee, who explained why he didn’t whistle Wilkerson for stalling as much as the Reds would’ve liked.

CJ brushed it off, saying that he’ll just adjust in the future.

“I have start letting them back up and bringing them back down because that will break their confidence, and they won’t wrestle me the same anymore,” he said.

As a team, the Dragons were coming off a runner-up finish at Saturday’s Hoosier Heritage Conference Meet and were facing a Grizzly Cub outfit that had recently won the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association’s Class AAA Team Dual State Championship, a run that included handing No. 4 Perry Meridian its first dual meet loss since 2010.

Jared Timberman got the hosts off on the right foot with a 5-2 win at 132, but that was followed by No. 2-ranked Skyler Lykins (138) and No. 9-ranked Buck VanHorn (145) netting wins by a combined 28-7 for the visitors.

The next two matches at 152 and 160 pounds were thrillers.

Franklin’s Austin Burnside rallied for a 5-4 victory over NP’s Logan Hunt at 152, scoring an escape in the final seconds of the third and final period. Then, at 160, the Dragons’ Nick Brickens fought back from an early 3-0 hole to score a 4-3 victory over Matt Wyrick on a last second takedown.

Brickens, a sophomore, earned himself some payback from the Evansville Mater Dei Invitational in late December.

“That kid beat him twice at Mater Dei. That kid (Wyrick) is a senior too.” Chad said. “We’re trying to get these guys to peak at the right time.”

The Grizzly Cubs’ Jake Stevenson and Michael Petrole, ranked No. 3 and No. 6 in the state at 170 and 182 respectively, tallied pins in their matches to bump the visitors’ lead to 23-6.

NP’s Brian Wagner moved to 27-2 with a 7-2 victory at 195, but Franklin’s Connor Tolley (No. 3 at 220) and Quinn York (No. 9 at heavyweight) responded with a pair of impressive triumphs. Tolley handed HHC champ Noah Grable just his third loss of the year with a 13-4 decision, while York scored a second-period pin of Andrew Yazel.

At 106, Dragon freshman Alec White, the only ninth-grader to pick up an HHC title Saturday, filed a 2-0 overtime victory over Trevor Reese.

Grizzly Cub senior D.J. Smith — who lost a state finals semifinal match to eventual 106-pound champion CJ Red last winter — scored an 11-3 decision over Eugene Starks, Smith’s second victory over the NP sophomore this season.

After CJ’s victory, Rylan McCarty outlasted Peyton Reese 2-0 in the final tussle of the night.

Warren Central is the two-time defending sectional champion, and while coach Red stopped short of saying his team is the sectional favorite, he made it clear that his bunch was going to work hard enough to walk away with the trophy.

“We’re getting ready for sectionals. We’re not going anywhere. We got practice (this) morning, and I’m ready. I’m ready for practice. I’m not going to let these guys down; our coaches aren’t going to let these guys down,” he said. “We want guys on the state podium at the end of the year, so we’ve got to do better. I’ll put them on my back and we’ll get better. We want to go out there and do our best (at sectional). We have to prepare from tomorrow morning until next Saturday morning like we’re the team to beat, whether we are or not. We have to do everything right.”

CJ agreed, saying that his squad — which finished 18-3 in dual meets — needs to reach “that next level.”

“I think we can,” CJ said when asked if the Dragons can take home the sectional title. “We’ve got another week to prepare. We should take it home.”


 * Individual results and running team score from Wednesday’s dual meet at New Palestine. Match began at 132 pounds.

Weight: result                                                              NP-FR

132: Timberman (NP) def. Grames (FR), 5-2.    3-0

138: Lykins (FR) def. Wallace (NP), 13-4.    3-4

145: VanHorn (FR) def. Johnson (NP), 15-3.    3-8

152: Burnside (FR) def. Hunt (NP), 5-4.    3-11

160: Brickens (NP) def. Wyrick (FR), 4-3.    6-11

170: Stevenson (FR) def. Shanahan (NP), fall.    6-17

182: Petrole (FR) def. Weber (NP), fall.    6-23

195: Wagner (NP) def. Brownfield (FR), 7-2.    9-23

220: Tolley (FR) def. Grable (NP), 13-4.    9-27

HWT: York (FR) def. Yazel (NP), fall.     9-33

106: White (NP) def. T. Reese (FR), 2-0, OT.    12-33

113: Smith (FR) def. Starks (NP), 11-3.    12-37

120: Red (NP) def. Wilkerson (FR), 10-0.    16-37

126: McCarty (NP) def. P. Reese (FR), 2-0.    19-37

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