WHAT: Hoosier Heritage Conference Wrestling Championship
WHERE: Yorktown High School
WHEN: Saturday, 9 a.m.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Greenfield-Central
OUTLOOK: New Palestine
The Dragons, the self-proclaimed ‘Team to beat,’ have unfinished business at the HHC meet. Last January, New Palestine racked up six runner-up finishes, many of them in key matches that led to them placing second behind Greenfield-Central.
NP, which is 23-0 and ranked No. 4 by IndianaMat.com, will need those blue ribbons Saturday morning at Yorktown. The hosts are No. 2 in the state and present the red and white with its biggest obstacle to a conference crown.
The two squads met on Nov. 24 at the Yorktown Invitational, with the Dragons winning the dual matchup 36-32.
“It helped for seeds, but it’s a new day and anything can happen,” said first-year NP coach Chad Red of his team’s prior meeting with the Tigers. “We just have to match their intensity and be ready to put points on the board more than everybody there (Saturday).”
Red’s group sports a quartet of No. 1 seeds: CJ Red (106 pounds), Taylor Fee (126), Brian Wagner (182) and Noah Grable (195). That foursome — each of whom is the distinct favorite in their weight class — is a combined 101-17 on the season.
New Palestine’s title chances took a hit when Tommy Cash, ranked No. 2 in Indiana at 120, was ruled out of Saturday’s action with a concussion. (Coach Red expects Cash back next week). Cash’s absence deprives spectators of a possible matchup between the state’s top-ranked grapplers at 120, as Yorktown’s Schuyler Phillips — the 2012 state runner-up at 113 — is rated No. 1.
A possible wild card is Gabe Estes at 220. Estes, formerly of Mt. Vernon, will be wrestling his first varsity match for the Dragons Saturday.
“We expect him to get after it,” said coach Red of Estes. “He has been waiting patiently, and he is ready.”
Two more weight classes with New Palestine-Yorktown connections to keep an eye are at 138 and 145.
At 138, Yorktown’s Chandler Carroll (26-1) and NP’s Gordon Wagner (29-3) are the top two seeds. Carroll, the reigning HHC champ at 126 and a two-time top-five state finisher, is ranked No. 3 in the state. Wagner (No. 15 in Indiana) won a conference title as a sophomore, but was runner-up to Carroll last year.
It’s a similar story at 145, with the Tigers’ Eli Walker (No. 3 in Indiana) and the Dragons’ Robbie Elsea (No. 7 in Indiana) anointed as the top two wrestlers in their bracket.
Coach Red and his hungry team, who already own a dual meet victory over then-No. 3 Cathedral Dec. 12, are eager for another opportunity to back up their talk as the best.
“(We) just (have) to be relentless,” Red commented. “We have to continue to increase on our scores and we must take it to our opponents and not let them sit back.”
At last season’s HHC meet, the Cougars wrapped up six individual titles and had no wrestler finish below fourth in their respective weight class en route to the program’s first conference title since the 1998-99 campaign.
Four of those title-holders, Dezmen McGinley (170), Kyle Wilburn (182), Ian Early (195) and Austin Gearlds (220), graduated. G-C (10-6) has broken in the new faces by competing against the best, venturing to tournaments at Perry Meridian (No. 1 in Indiana), New Palestine, Connersville and North Central, as well as a dual meet at then-No. 11 Warren Central.
“Obviously, we are younger, especially in the upper weights. As a coach you just want to keep taking that next step,” G-C coach Josh Holden said. “However, every year you have to evaluate your team and set your expectations accordingly. I expect this team to go out and fight their butts off.”
The lone Greenfield-Central grappler to make it through that gauntlet unscathed is Josh Farrell (25-0 at 152), the defending state runner-up at 138.
Last season at the HHC competition, Farrell lost to eventual state champ Devon Jackson in the finals, his last setback of the season before falling again to Jackson in the state championship match.
“Josh is one of the most determined, hard-working athletes I have ever known,” said Holden of Farrell. “He is physically, mentally and spiritually tough,”
Austin Rose and Tyler Beeson are returning conference champs for the Cougars at 152 and 285, respectively, though Rose is now competing at 170.
Rose (17-7, No. 12 in Indiana) is a No. 4 seed entering Saturday, while Beeson (20-5) is a No. 3 seed.
If NP’s Willie Bryan (25-5) can win his opening match vs. Yorktown’s Josh Abbott, Beeson — who has a first-round bye because of an MV forfeit — and Bryan will meet in a rematch of last year’s finals.
Sam Locke took third at 132 last January, and will have to get past Yorktown’s Dalton Baysinger (29-3), the belt-holder at 132.
OUTLOOK: Mt. Vernon
Jason Stewart’s young Marauders have struggled on the scoreboard (3-14), but the first-year coach believes his team has made strides.
“Although the scores may not show, the team is getting better,” Stewart said. “Our goals for this weekend and the rest of the year are to be aggressive and give it our all.”
Mt. Vernon does have one wrestler favored in his weight class, with Colin McAtee (15-1) the top seed at 112. McAtee’s main competition will come from New Palestine’s Rylan McCarty (25-4), though McAtee already defeated his county rival 2-1 earlier in the season.
“Colin has a great chance this weekend,” Stewart said of McAtee. We have high expectations for him.”
In their latest match Wednesday, the Marauders fell to No. 5 Warren Central 64-10.
Kyle Cooper (126 pounds) won by fall and Dustin Tackett (160) won 10-0 for MV.