Taking Two: Cougars’ depth, focus leads to HHC wrestling repeat

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Greenfield-Central’s Chase Gardner starts puts Delta’s Braxton Russell on his back during the 170-pound finals match at the Hoosier Heritage Conference Wrestling Championships at Yorktown High School on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. (Rob Baker/Daily Reporter)

YORKTOWN — As the final announcement was made inside the Yorktown High School gymnasium, declaring Greenfield-Central’s wrestling team the repeat Hoosier Heritage Conference champion on Saturday, Cougars head coach Josh Holden stood back and watched from a distance.

Marking the program’s first back-to-back HHC championship run since 1998-99, the Cougars celebrated with trophy in hand, led by the upperclassmen, particularly senior 170-pounder Chase Gardner, who also repeated, individually, by tournament’s end.

Wearing t-shirts with the words, “For Ed,” printed on the front, Gardner and the Cougars hoisted the HHC’s championship hardware for themselves, for their coaches, for the school and for their mentor and former assistant coach Ed Hamant.

“A lot of us were really close to coach Hamant. He coached me, my dad, my uncle and my little brother, so it’s for him. It’s what our shirt says, ‘For Ed,’ so everything we do is for him because we know if he would have been here, he would have been proud,” Gardner said.

Hamant, 75, a 40-year coaching mainstay in the Greenfield-Central wrestling program, passed away last February, but his impact remains for the Cougars, though he wasn’t there to witness the team’s second back-to-back.

As a group, the Cougars claimed two individual HHC weight-class championships, had 13 wrestlers place sixth or better, including five runner-ups, and fended off rival Mt. Vernon, 207.0-193.0, to win the team title.

Last year’s HHC championship was Greenfield-Central’s first since 2012 and sixth overall (1984, ‘86, ‘94, ‘98 and ‘99), but No. 7 was even more special, emphasized Holden, who was named HHC Coach of the Year for a second straight time.

“(Ed) was so pumped last year,” Holden recalled before his emotions overcame him momentarily. “I think, everyone feels like, obviously, there’s something missing. People try to make up for it. My coaches have been incredible. Obviously, none of us can replace him, but we just want to keep it moving. He did it for 40 years. I don’t want to let him down. I don’t want the program to go down. Think about him every second.”

Often seated to Holden’s right in the corner of the mat as his “right-hand man,” Hamant was the program’s unofficial historian and a calming presence in tense moments.

The Mt. Vernon Marauders made the tournament’s final session just that only trailing Greenfield-Central, 179.0-168.0, prior to the HHC’s placement rounds.

With five wrestlers in the championship finals, the Marauders tried to overtake the Cougars, but four HHC champions weren’t enough to close the gap as Greenfield-Central’s depth and a pair of key title wins secured the team victory.

“They wrestled for each other. I don’t know what it is now, I think, nine freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup. A bunch up top where we’re competing, but we’re young. They just wrestled for each other, and you can see them supporting each other, talking to each other and if things don’t go right, they make sure they can come back,” Holden said. “I don’t think they do it for themselves. They do it for each other.”

The ripple was felt with third-place finishes by senior Dakota Herald (20-7) at 126 pounds and senior Matt Wickham (15-13) at 132. Fifth-place wins by junior Collin Stanley at 195, sophomore Nathan Miller (11-18) at 120 and sophomore Braeden Ayres (6-10) at 106 tipped the scales.

“Me, some of the seniors and the captains told the team, ‘Look, when you go out here, same as last year, we had a really good first round and ended up winning.’ So we just told everyone, ‘We had the most pins the first round. We need to come together and win,’” Gardner said.

The Cougars used five placement-round pins to maintain the their lead with Gardner delivering the biggest blow in the 170 finals, upholding his state ranking at 19th, according to Indianamat.

Gardner’s pin over Delta’s Braxton Russell in 3 minutes, 13 seconds came after a 2-2 tie entering the second period. It also gave the Cougars a sigh of relief with the team scores at 199.0-183.0 prior and the numbers in Greenfield-Central’s favor.

“It was really, really close, but as soon as me and Clay (Guenin) got those two wins back-to-back (in the finals), you could just see the coaches’ faces light up. You knew we pretty much did this. Everybody was really excited,” Gardner said. “That’s back-to-back right there.”

Guenin, who is ranked 15th in the state, dug deep to win a 9-4 decision in the 160 finals, besting New Castle’s Wyatt Maiden. Prior to Guenin’s victory, the Cougars had lost three title matches, including one at 145 where Mt. Vernon’s Aiden Kiner (24-6) scored a 10-5 decision.

“At the end there, I was fighting for my life. I didn’t feel like I had any energy. That was everything I had, every action just to win that,” Guenin said. “There was nothing else in my mind except, ‘I need to win this for me. I need to win this for my team.’”

That mentality proved crucial as Mt. Vernon won seven placement matches to equal Greenfield-Central’s seven.

“That’s what we talked about all week. Even if you’re in the consolation bracket, those matches are just as important as the championship matches because those points count just as much as the winner’s bracket,” Mt. Vernon senior Carson Johnson said. “It was about fighting through and not getting pinned. It was very important.”

Johnson (26-0) did his part, winning his first-career HHC title at 138 to keep his unbeaten record intact. Ranked 10th in the state, Johnson capped a monumental four days with 7-5 decision in the finals over 11th-ranked Dillon Tuttle (22-2) of Delta.

However, the moment nearly flipped on Johnson, who prematurely celebrated his win with seconds remaining and Tuttle slicing into deficit off the mistake.

“I got a little too excited there at the end. Definitely, something I’ve never done before and a big mess up, but it’s something I’m not going to do again. I learned from it,” Johnson said. “I thought I lost the match there at the end, but I was still up by a two points, thankfully.”

The lesson will be applied moving forward, Johnson said, especially at the next level after making his commitment earlier in the week.

“On Thursday night, I had a great phone call with coach (Jason) Warthan, and I committed to the University of Indianapolis,” Johnson said. “A lot of ease now. A lot of stress off my shoulders.”

Marauders’ teammates Kiner, Riley Anderson (20-6) at 285, and 22nd-ranked Devin Kendrex (22-3) at 220 joined Johnson as HHC champions.

“All the work we’ve been putting in the room, it’s good to execute on a win,” Kendrex said. “Greenfield is a really good team. I really think we can win it next year, but they got it this time.”

The New Palestine Dragons made it a three-way race for most of the day as they tried to replicate last year’s second-place finish. Instead, the Dragons settled for third with 181.5 points, but they made their mark.

Dragons’ Bryce Doss (23-5) at 113, Jacob Tweedy (18-7) at 195 and Porter Keevers (13-1) at 182 all won HHC weight-class titles, while two were runner-ups and two more took third in Cole Vandygriff (12-4) at 106 and Juan Camacho (16-10) at 285.

For Keevers, his title was a family affair after placing third at 170 last year while his older brother, Tucker, won at 285 in 2020-21.

“It just feels great. I put a lot into this. I worked really hard all summer, and I feel like I earned it,” Porter Keevers said. “I had to keep the tradition going. (My brother and I) talked about this two days ago. I told him I had to do, I was going to do it, and I did it.”

The Dragons won seven of 11 placement matches with four by pin, capped by Keevers’ in 3:41 and Tweedy’s at 2:50.

Three of New Palestine’s wins were against the Marauders, which loomed large in the final team standings.

“The guys we depend on week-in and week-out, they did what they do. They led the team. They got us the points that we needed. But honestly, we have some upperclassmen seniors that didn’t step up today, and Greenfield won a lot of close matches in the last 10 seconds. We lost a lot of matches in the last 10 seconds. That was the difference today,” Mt. Vernon head coach Randal Hayes said. “That’s the difference in the maturity that we’re still chasing. They have that fight that we just don’t have yet, and we have two weeks to go. Hopefully, we figure out a way to find it going into a tough sectional.”

2021-22 Hoosier Heritage Conference Wrestling Championships

Team Scores: Greenfield-Central 207.0, Mt. Vernon 193.0, New Palestine 181.5, Yorktown 174.5, Pendleton Heights 152.0, Delta 148.0, New Castle 111.5, Shelbyville 63.0.

Championship Match Results

106: Ayden Bollinger, DHS def. Joey Cline, YK by dec. 6-2

113: Bryce Doss, NP def. Lincoln Parsons, GC by fall 0:50

120: Neal Mosier, DHS def. Chris Bullock, NP by dec. 10-6

126: Blake Nicholson, PH def. Kaeb Stebbins, DHS by maj. dec. 12-4

132: Brevan Thrine, NC def. Jackson Todd, PH by fall 4:00

138: Carson Johnson, MV def. Dillon Tuttle, DHS by dec. 7-5

145: Aiden Kiner, MV def. Isaiah Holden, GC by dec. 10-5

152: Jon Eberhart, NC def. Josh VanOsdol, GC by fall 2:16

160: Clay Guenin, GC def. Wyatt Maiden, NC by dec. 9-4

170: Chase Gardner, GC def. Braxton Russell, DHS by fall 3:13

182: Porter Keevers, NP def. Silas Frye, GC by fall 3:41

195: Jacob Tweedy, NP def. Russel Weaver, MV by fall 2:50

220: Devin Kendrex, MV def. Porter May, NP by dec. 6-4

285: Riley Anderson, MV def. Brayden Flener, GC by dec. 3-1

Third-Place Match Results

106: Cole Vandygriff, NP def. Conner Bayliss, MV by dec. 13-11 (SV-1)

113: Cole Stuffel, YK def. Isaiah Havens, SHS by tech fall 16-0

120: Carter Overby, YK def. Elijah Creel, PH by dec. 5-3

126: Dakota Herald, GC def. Justin Boone, YK by fall 4:14

132: Zach Haughton, MV def. Ben Edwards, YK by maj. dec. 11-2

138: Matt Wickham, GC def. Lane Baird, YK by fall 2:14

145: Joey Hannan, NC def. Ethan Sleeth, NP by dec. 1-0

152: Drew Barr, YK def. Garrett Clay, DHS by fall 3:51

160: Ethan Childers, PH def. Luke Wilhelm, YK by dec. 6-2

170: Peyton Wagoner, YK def. Carson Linville, SHS by fall 3:26

182: Hunter Austel, MV def. Garrett Pederson, PH by dec. 6-4

195: TD Wine, DHS def. Luke Joplin, NC by fall 0:53

220: Jackson New, YK def. Sam Mossoney, PH by fall 2:18

285: Juan Camacho, NP def. Elias Jones, SHS by maj. dec. 12-3

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