Marauders’ state duo fall in heartbreaking opening round

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Mt. Vernon’s Devin Kendrex locks up with Fort Wayne Concordia’s Chance Harris in their 220-pound match during the opening round of the IHSAA wrestling state finals at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022.

Rob Baker | Daily Reporter

INDIANAPOLIS — Heartbreaking.

For both of Mt. Vernon’s first-time, wrestling state qualifiers, Friday inside of Indianapolis’ Gainbridge Fieldhouse ended far too quickly, but the example they set for the program’s future remains perpetual.

During the IHSAA’s wrestling state finals opening-round, Marauders freshman Devin Kendrex narrowly missed out on advancing into Saturday’s 220-pound, medal rounds, losing by decision, 4-3, in the morning session.

In the evening session, Mt. Vernon senior Carson Johnson lost by decision 9-2 as an injury the 138-pounder suffered during last weekend’s New Castle Semistate rendered him a shell of the wrestler he had become.

Johnson, a three-time semistate qualifier, reached his first-career state finals by placing fourth at semistate. He lost his final two matches in New Castle, including his semifinal match by technical fall to Westfield’s Ike O’Neill, who the Marauder had beaten prior during the regular season.

The reason for the late letdown proved a probable torn ligament in his right elbow, which he tried to push through while on the mat against Jay County sophomore Cameron Clark (23-3) during the state finals’ elimination round.

Johnson (34-5), who was ranked eighth in the state by Indianamat, trailed 2-1 after the first period against Clark, but he quickly fell behind further, 6-2.

The Marauder was forced to use an injury timeout in the third period, screaming out in pain before resuming to finish out the match’s final 1 minute, 50 seconds.

“It’s just tough to have my fans out there. It just didn’t go the way I wanted it to,” Johnson remarked as he hunched over with tears in his eyes following his state finals match. “This is hard.”

Johnson gritted it out with the past on his mind. Losing out on his sophomore postseason due to a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow, he refused to injury default in his last high school match.

“Falling short in front of your fans is hard. They drove 45 minutes to an hour to see you, so it’s tough. They’re your fans, and they’ll do anything for you. They’re there for you when you lose and win. That’s the best part, seeing them,” Johnson said.

“I had surgery on (my left elbow) and I’ll probably have to have surgery on (my right) after season. It was just fighting through adversity and doing what I could out there. It’s a UCL ligament. I have an MRI next week. If you’ve ever broken your arm and then you break the other one, you have the feeling where you know. I’m pretty sure I tore it.”

Johnson only practiced once this week prior to Friday. Clark, who is ranked 16th in the state, controlled the remainder of the match in the third period as Johnson struggled to finish his attacks.

“I was cranking a power half and felt a little pop (last weekend), and now every time I flex I feel a little pinch right through it,” Johnson said. “I went right for the whizzer (tonight), and I couldn’t even whizzer off of it because right when I flex, it’s painful.”

Johnson worked and scored two escapes with one in each of the first two periods. He dove forward for several potential takedowns, but couldn’t pull in and overtake Clark, who also qualified for state at 132 last year.

“That was something we were keeping under our hat (the injury). There was nothing we could do about it, so we tried to figure how to get through it, and he just didn’t feel like he could do anything with it with tape on it. As soon as we took it off (prior to the injury timeout), he planted and did it again,” Mt. Vernon head coach Randal Hayes said. “Different arm, but it’s the exact same thing he did two years ago. Same thing.”

Near the mat in the stands, an entire section of Mt. Vernon fans cheered on Johnson for six minutes of regulation.

“He couldn’t finish. He got in pretty good, but he just couldn’t finish. He couldn’t use that arm the way he wanted to use it,” Hayes said. “A lot of times the guys that end up winning this thing are the ones that get through without injury or overcome an injury. It’s unfortunate that his career comes down to having to fight through that, but he did the best he could. During that last injury timeout, he told me it hurt really bad, but he wanted to tough it out. He wanted to keep going. He went out the way he wanted to go out.”

The fans he feared he disappointed, showered him with applause as the University of Indianapolis committed walked off the mat, allowing his emotions to overtake him behind closed doors.

“Putting in the work and seeing it payoff is awesome, but being that close to it and coming up short, it just really hurts. It stinks that I can’t say, there will be next year and I can work at it. There is no next year,” Johnson said.

“As an eighth-grader, if you would have told me I would have left as big of an impact as I have, I would have laughed. But the things I’ve been able to do these past four years, beginning as a freshman going to semistate, just breaking the ice, and now Devin going to state, I hope I set an example. I think Devin just went out there and he didn’t care who he wrestled this year. He knew he put in the time and it would payoff. It did. He made it here.”

Kendrex (31-7) nearly made his first state appearance a two-day event, leading Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran junior Chance Harris, 1-0, in the second period before a late takedown flipped the margin 2-1.

In the third, Harris jumped ahead 3-1, but Kendrex rallied to tie the match with a takedown during a flurry of five points scored combined in 14 seconds. Harris scored an escape with 1:35 left to win by decision, 4-3.

“It was just that late-period takedown,” Hayes said. “It was hard to come back from that for him, but he represented himself well for a freshman.”