TEAM VICTORY: Cougars’ depth powers program to first HHC title since 2012


By Rich Torres | Daily Reporter

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NEW CASTLE — Josh Holden had to sit down. He had no other choice considering the magnitude of the moment.

Emotionally spent after Saturday’s Hoosier Heritage Conference wrestling tournament, Holden watched from afar with pride in the bleachers as his Greenfield-Central wrestling team celebrated on the mats — as champions.

Several feet away, Greenfield-Central senior Matt Torres hoisted the HHC team trophy for photos, but in essence, there were metaphorically 14 sets of hands holding up the hardware inside New Castle Chrysler Fieldhouse.

Winning required an all-out performance, and the Cougars collectively achieved their mission, capturing the program’s first HHC team wrestling title since 2012.

“These guys. They love each other. We’d go into the tunnel after each round and they were saying it, ‘We’re going to do this as a team,'” Holden said. “You could hear them yelling, ‘We need you! You got to pick it up and win this match!’ They don’t want to let each other down, so this is pretty awesome.”

The Cougars advanced five wrestlers into the championship finals, claiming four individual weight-classes, but the key to ending the team’s conference title drought required 1-14.

Greenfield-Central amassed 238 team points, scoring in each weight-class, to win its seventh conference championship overall and fifth in the HHC.

The team’s first league-title run unfolded in 1984, followed by championships in 1986, 1994, ’98 and ’99.

In 2021, with minimal certainty, the Cougars made it decisively so and fended off runner-up New Palestine (205), Pendleton Heights (170) and Mt. Vernon (160). New Castle finished fifth at 139, while Delta (133), Yorktown (92) and Shelbyville (80) filed in behind.

“This has been a huge goal. We’ve been talking about it the whole year,” Greenfield-Central junior 113-pound HHC champion Dakota Herald said. “About winning conference, about wrestling through every position, in every match and just giving it our best. Even if we lose in the first round, wrestle back to get third. No matter how many matches it takes.”

The Cougars didn’t have a single wrestler place lower than fifth with individual titles earned by Herald (16-7), Torres (6-10) at 145, Chase Gardner (12-6) at 160 and Scott Stanley (13-10) at 182.

Cohen Hager (12-7) was runner-up at 120, but the points continued to roll in with third-place finishes by Nathan Miller (13-12) at 106, Josh VanOsdol (6-7) at 138, Dewey Woolsey (11-9) at 195 and Jacob Blevens (15-10) at 220.

The Cougars had four fourth-place finishers that equated to 52 team points alone. With each champion also tallying 24 or more points, the numbers were stacked against their opponents.

“It’s the wrestlebacks. That’s where you win tournaments. In the last round, I think we lost two of 11 matches, but they had 14 guys wrestling for points. They were the better team today,” New Palestine head coach Alex Johns said. “I could tell our guys were down and disappointed, but they shouldn’t be. We wrestled well. Greenfield was just the more complete team today.”

In the two teams’ dual meeting last month, Greenfield-Central won 38-30, head-to-head with New Palestine. On Saturday, the Dragons did their best to flip the narrative, with four individual champions, two runner-ups and three third-place winners.

Zack Hoyt (16-3) won his first-career HHC title at 152, and he was joined by other first-timers Jack Rossell (8-3) at 106 and Tucker Keevers (16-2) at 285.

Freshman Sydney DeLois (4-11), coming off Friday night’s IHSGW state finals, battled back to place fifth at 113, and Darin Johnson (11-6) was third at 145, in addition to Porter Keevers (13-8) at 170 and Jacob Tweedy (7-5) at 182.

Dragons’ Richard Clevenger (14-3) was second at 195 and so was Shawn Glass (13-5) at 160.

Senior Christian White, who is ranked eighth in the state at 132, according to IndianaMat, was the top-point producer at 26 behind a pair of pins, but it wasn’t enough to catch the Cougars.

“We talked about it before, I don’t know if we have the bullets in our gun that New Pal has or Mt. Vernon has or New Castle has? I don’t know? So, we knew had to have some third places for sure to make up for their points,” Holden said. “Christian White pinned a very, very good kid in the finals. That’s scary when you’re trying to beat them for a title.”

White (19-0) put his intentions on display during the 132 finals, facing New Castle’s 14th-ranked Brevan Thrine (24-1) in a battle of unbeatens.

Taking an 11-0 lead after the first period, White immediately attacked in the second, pinning Thrine in 2 minutes, 49 seconds.

“I wrestled the same kid last year, and my goal was the same as it’s been all season, get backs. After the first, I was up 11-0, and with the team race being close, I needed the pin. You have to go out and get it,” said White, who collected his third-career HHC title.

Torres had the same mindset.

With the team title still undecided, the team leader essentially put the race away with a pin in 2:55 over New Castle’s Jon Eberhart after trailing his finals match 5-1 after the first period.

“I don’t really remember looking at the score to see how much I was down. I do remember being down,” Torres said. “I knew I could trust my coaches and whatever they would say. Just trying to listen to them because they were going to lead me in the right direction. They never steer anyone wrong. We definitely have the best coaches in the conference.”

The HHC agreed, naming Holden the league’s Coach of the Year.

“The team race was really all I was thinking about. Obviously, it’s nice to win for yourself, but when they put that team up on the wall, that’s what Holden is going to remember. That’s what everyone is going to remember,” Torres said. “It’s been a long time, and I think it’s really special that we got it done, especially with COVID and stuff like that, that’s hard to deal with. We prevailed.”

Defending two-time champion Mt. Vernon had four runner-ups in Matt Foor (5-3) at 285, Aiden Kiner (13-7) at 138, Haiden Rose (15-6) at 170 and Parker Smitley (14-4) at 220.

The Marauders won five consolation finals to stay within the top-four, while Pendleton Heights had two champions with wins over Mt. Vernon and New Palestine.

The upsets and inadvertent assists aided the Cougars in the end.

“We haven’t done it since 2012. No teams could do it. And, this team, that’s what they are, a team,” Holden said. “With everything this year, I didn’t think this would happen. A lot of people probably don’t care, but I just love being part of this.”

Just having the opportunity to compete with COVID-19 quarantines an ever-present hurdle was reward enough, Holden emphasized.

“Everybody’s dealing with all the stuff that’s going on. I think a lot of people think this year championships need to have an asterisk by them because maybe they don’t mean as much because it was the year of COVID. But, I think it should have an asterisk because it means more,” Holden said.

“These kids they could have quit. They could have been scared. They could have not wrestled. They could have not done the right thing and hang out with friends and get quarantined. There are so many things that makes it hard to get better, and to do this kind of thing is special.”