HANCOCK COUNTY — The Hancock County high school wrestling landscape has gone through a few offseason changes.
The most notable differences will be evident in the corner of the mat where three new head coaches will be leading this 2021-22 season.
At Mt. Vernon High School, former head coach Chad Masters has stepped down to become an assistant while former assistant Randal Hayes has been promoted.
At New Palestine High School, former assistant coach Scot Dawson has become the new head coach, replacing Alex Johns, who is the now coaching at Avon High School.
Meanwhile, there’s been a shake up at Eastern Hancock as well with former head coach Nick Holliday being replaced by Sam Pfaff as the new man in charge of Royals wrestling.
The only mainstay remaining is head coach Josh Holden at Greenfield-Central where he will lead the Cougars a year after the team was unfortunately halted in its postseason tracks after the Warren Central Sectional due to COVID-19 protocols.
While things might appear different on the surface, the boys — and girls — wrestling teams have the same goal — winning.
Here’s a breakdown of each program with the 2021-22 season upon us.
The 2020-21 Greenfield-Central wrestling season included both elation and heartbreak.
Last winter, the Cougars led by Josh Holden, the Hancock County Wrestling Coach of the Year, finished 17-8 and more importantly, they were crowned the kings of the Hoosier Heritage Conference.
The Cougars utilized their depth and heart to clinch the HHC team trophy at New Castle Fieldhouse for the program’s first title since 2012. Four wrestlers earned HHC weight-class championships to best rival New Palestine, which finished second, 238-205.
The HHC team title was Greenfield-Central’s seventh since 1984.
In addition to the boys team’s success, Holden also coached freshman Kylie Smith-Foster to a runner-up finish at 98 pounds during the 2021 Indiana High School Girls Wrestling state finals.
At the Warren Central Sectional, the Cougars’ boys carried their momentum into the postseason and pushed nine qualifiers onto regional, but then the season came to an unexpected end due to COVID-19 protocols.
Forced to withdraw from the state tournament, the Cougars’ season was left without a true conclusion.
This season, they will also be without longtime, beloved assistant coach and historian Ed Hamant, who passed away this past February. The Cougars intend to honor Hamant’s memory at a special event this season.
“Obviously, for us, this year is about being grateful for what you have. Having lost so much last year, I think our team is closer than ever,” Holden said. “Losing the postseason makes you appreciate the opportunity to wrestle. Losing coach Hamant makes you appreciate everything. All of a sudden family, school, work, friends, character, opportunity, etc. … start to matter more than ever. Living for others begins to matter.”
The Cougars worked collectively this past weekend to win the Elwood Rex Leavitt Super Duals to open their season, and they will carry five seniors, one junior, four sophomores and four freshmen in their 2021-22 lineup.
Smith-Foster, a sophomore, starts at 106, with classmates Nate Miller at 120, Clay Guenin at 160 and Brayden Flener at heavyweight.
Freshmen Lincoln Parsons (113), JJ Harlow (132), Adam Garard (195) and James Owen (220) are first-year starters. Junior Isaiah “Zeke” Holden is at 145.
Seniors Dakota Herald (126), Matt Wickham (138), Josh VanOsdol (152), Chase Gardner (170) and Brady Durnell (182) will lead the team.
Herald and Gardner both won HHC titles in 2020-21, while the latter was a third-place finisher at sectional along with Holden and Flener.
The Cougars’ season will also include a full girls wrestling schedule for the first time ever with six competitors overall.
The Mt. Vernon wrestling team has been building over the years under former head coach Chad Masters, who watched his Marauders grow from a 10-win squad into a 22-victory program in recent seasons since 2014-15.
New head coach Randal Hayes has the same philosophy of success and intends to take the trend further following last year’s 15-6 record.
Mt. Vernon set a program record with 22 wins, a mark reached three times in the past six years, and won it’s first HHC title in 2018-19 before repeating in 2019-20. Since 2019, the Marauders have finished as sectional runners-up twice and were second at regional three times.
This winter, the Marauders welcome back five semistate qualifiers and have a trio of wrestlers ranked in the state by Indianamat.
Senior Zach Haughton (132), senior Carson Johnson (138), junior Aiden Kiner (145), junior Hunter Austel (182) and junior Russell Weaver (195) each advanced to the New Castle Semistate in 2020-21.
Johnson is ranked 13th in the state, freshman Deven Kendrex (220) is ranked ninth and junior Riley Anderson (285) is ranked 11th.
“Carson Johnson and Zach Haughton and Aiden Kiner have been close to punching their tickets to state the last couple of years, I think this could be their year,” Hayes said. “They have put in a lot of offseason work and can lead this team into a historic state tournament run. These three really set the tone for how our practices go, they have turned into great leaders.”
Freshman Connor Bayliss (106), freshman Xaiden Jenson (113), senior Gavin Muhlencamp (120), sophomore Jaysen Lewis (126), senior Kellen Kerr (152), sophomore Vanden Vail (160) and senior Sam McCullough (170) fill out the 2021-22 lineup.
Steve Hiner has been added to the coaching staff as an assistant after previous coaching stints at Hamilton Southeastern and Lawrence North. Hiner wrestled at Indiana University.
“We have beefed up our schedule this year adding arguably the two toughest tournaments in the state, with the Traicoff at Calumet and the Al Smith at Mishawaka. We have been continually building the program with 26 semistate qualifiers, back-to-back runner-up sectional and regional finishes in the last three years, but it’s time to get to that next level,” Hayes said.
“We want to be battling for sectional and regional titles against one of the best programs in the state, Cathedral, and put wrestlers on the podium at state. We can’t settle for past successes, we have to continue to push to higher levels.”
The New Palestine wrestling team will have a different look this season.
With the graduation of seven weight-classes from a year ago, the Dragons will be young but competitive, new head coach Scot Dawson remarked.
The team welcomes two key freshmen in Cole Vandygriff at 106 and Bryce Doss at 113. Senior Porter Keevers (182) has expanded his offseason preparation by competing in multiple tournaments, while senior transfer Chris Bullock (120) brings semistate experience to the wrestling room.
Bullock came over to New Palestine from Indianapolis Scecina where he was a two-time semistate qualifier at 113.
Senior Jacob Tweedy at 195 is one of six returning lettermen for the Dragons, in addition to sophomore Sydney DeLois, who was fourth at the girls state meet as a freshman and in the boys sectional at 113.
Others set to contribute this season are: sophomore Elijah Alonzo (138), sophomore Connor Schatz (145), junior Isaac Poetz (152), senior Ethan Sleeth (152), sophomore Jaedyn Jeffires (160), sophomore Brandon Brees (160), sophomore Shaun Glass (170), senior Juan Camacho (220/285) and senior Porter May (220/285).
Dawson spent two seasons at New Palestine as an assistant coach before taking over as head coach with 26 years of coaching experience overall at Beech Grove and Roncalli in addition to his time with the Dragons. A Beech Grove native, Dawson is a 1994 graduate and former wrestler at Wabash College.
The Eastern Hancock wrestling program is growing.
With the largest team the Royals have seen in quite some time, new head coach Sam Pfaff has 26 wrestlers in his practice room this season with six returners with experience.
“What we lack in experience we make up for in hard work. These guys are committed to getting better and laying the foundation for a solid program at Eastern Hancock,” Pfaff said. “We know we are the underdog in the sectional and the Mid-Eastern Conference, but our guys are ready to accept the challenge, and I think we will surprise some people.”
The key anchors for the Royals will be sophomore Cameron Volz at 120 and junior Brayden Tincher at 170.
Volz was an MEC champion, third at the Warren Central Sectional and won 35 matches as a freshman at 113. Tincher placed third at the MEC meet and was a member of Team Indiana’s freestyle and Greco-Roman squads. He placed seventh this offseason during the ISWA folkstyle state finals.
The Royals’ lineup will be filled out by sophomore Logan Gilman (106), sophomore Zane Badgley (113), sophomore Kolton Gilbreath (126), senior Zach Arnold (132), sophomore Caleb Johnson (138), freshman Kevin Beaver (145), sophomore Logan Andrews (152), sophomore Phoenix Bewsey (160) and sophomore Jeremiah Oudia (195).