Breaking Through: Mt. Vernon’s Johnson named Daily Reporter Wrestler of the Year

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Mt. Vernon’s Carson Johnson puts Westfield’s Ike O’Neill in a hold as they compete in the 138-pound weight class at the New Castle Semistate on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022.

Richard Sitler | Daily Reporter

FORTVILLE — There was no way Carson Johnson was going to throw in the towel.

After two seasons of near misses and one lost campaign due to substantial injury, not even an immobile elbow was going to keep the Mt. Vernon senior from competing in the IHSAA wrestling state finals this past February.

Finally achieving his goal of standing inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis, Johnson wanted to conclude his high school career on his own terms.

With his right arm wrapped in a sleeve and taped up, the 138-pound, first-time state qualifier embraced the moment, even in defeat, by decision 9-2 against Jay County sophomore Cameron Clark in the state finals’ elimination round.

“I wasn’t going to quit. It was my last year. There was no, ‘I’ll be back next year.’ I knew I had to go out there no matter what,” Johnson said.

The Mt. Vernon Marauder faithful in the stands rewarded Johnson’s fortitude, including his mother, Trena Johnson, and father, Jason Halcomb, who watched on proudly, rarely missing a single match along their son’s journey.

Weeks later, Johnson fortunately discovered his elbow injury, which he initially believed to be a potential torn ligament, was a deep bone bruise and has since healed over the offseason.

While the physical setback was far from timely, the 2021-22 Daily Reporter Wrestler of the Year left his mark on Marauder wrestling history regardless, and he hopes to do the same as he continues his career at the University of Indianapolis.

Johnson finished his final season with a record of 34-5 and became the 10th Marauder wrestler to join the 100-win club. Much like his former Marauder teammates and mentors, Chris and Chase Wilkerson, both state-placers in their prep careers before heading to the University of Indianapolis, Johnson broke through.

By reaching the state finals, Johnson became the program’s first qualifier in three years and was joined in state’s capital by 220-pound freshman Devin Kendrex, a sign of future things to come for the Marauders.

However, when it comes to resilience, few can match Johnson.

“Carson was fun to watch. I think he brought some kids in that otherwise wouldn’t have wrestled because they wanted to be like him,” Mt. Vernon head coach Randal Hayes said. “Our biggest award we give to athletes is Marauder of the Year. He was a two-time winner, which is very rare. He was a great athlete, scholar and mentor for the younger kids.”

Admittedly, he lived up to what we learned.

A student of the sport since watching his uncle, Travis Gooding, a regional champion in 2014-15, compete at Pendleton Heights High School, Johnson knew what he wanted to accomplish.

His body just needed to cooperate, and for a majority of his season season, everything fell right into place.

Johnson captured his first-ever Hoosier Heritage Conference title this year and ran his record to an unbeaten 30-0 before losing in the Indianapolis Arsenal Tech Sectional finals.

He was runner-up at the Pendleton Heights Regional and at the New Castle Semistate, he put together a two-win run with a pin over Greenfield-Central’s Matt Wickham and scored an 8-4 decision against East Central’s Dylan Lengerich to qualify for state.

In the past, fortune eluded Johnson, a three-time semistate qualifier in his career.

As a freshman in 2018-19, he reached semistate at 120 and posted 30 wins to go with a sectional runner-up placement and a third-place finish at regional.

But, he couldn’t get past the round-to-go at semistate.

The next season in 2019-20, a torn ulnar collateral ligament that was “99 percent off the bone” required reconstructive surgery and cost him the postseason and another shot at state.

“My elbow injury was the toughest thing for me because I was out for around eight months. It was a long recovery,” Johnson recalled. “It was during COVID, too, so I had to do most of that at home. If I didn’t do it, then my arm wouldn’t have had full range of motion. So, I had to do it.”

Once he returned, so did his drive toward state.

“When I came back, I didn’t want to fall off. I wanted to stay at the same level I was at before and get better. It wasn’t like I just took off, I was doing cardio and getting ready,” Johnson said.

His hard work paid dividends, as he placed second at sectional and regional. Johnson won his opening round match at semistate in 2020-21, a 6-4 decision over Milan’s Ashton Myers, but in the quarterfinals, again, he fell just short.

A pin by Carmel’s Brac Hooper in 1 minute, 10 seconds both haunted and motivated Johnson in the months leading up to his senior season.

His last chance.

“The years prior, I think, those really helped me get as far as I went this year. That definitely pushed me. I didn’t want to have the same outcome as I did last year and my freshman year,” Johnson said. “That was in the back of my head a lot of the journey throughout the whole season, honestly. It was a good and a bad thing. That loss (at semistate in 2021), it definitely made me stronger.”

Hayes in his first year as head coach, newcomers such as freshman Conner Bayliss at 106 and Kendrex along with senior Zach Haughton at 132 kept Johnson focused on success.

Mt. Vernon assistant coaches Brad Kerr, Ryan Garrity, Mitch Howard and Steve Hiner, a 177-pound state qualifier at Franklin Central in 1986 and a wrestler at Indiana University, sharpened Johnson’s mindset.

“Coach Hayes, before the season even started, he told me he was going to push me harder than I’ve ever been pushed, and he explained to me, ‘Don’t think I’m coming after you. I’m doing this because I love you and I want to see you succeed.’ That helped me a lot,” Johnson said.

“Coach Hiner was awesome, especially from a mental aspect. He was huge for me because he’d been there. He’s had that mindset before, so it was very beneficial.”

In the end, though, Johnson had to rely on himself, and it was crucial while contending with Lengerich in the semistate quarterfinals.

“That was my biggest goal, getting past that match. It was 100 percent mental. I remember looking over during that match and being up and thinking, ‘I just got to win. I got to win.’ I got that win because I came out hungry. I got the pin in the first round against Matt Wickham, and he’s normally super hard to pin,” Johnson said. “It was about mentally preparing.”

Johnson’s last win as a senior proved the most significant, as his injury suffer at semistate led to a pair of losses and a fourth-place finish after he punched his ticket to the state meet.

“It was a frustration, but I knew along the way there were going to be little things like that I was going to have to overcome. And I know, especially going to college, that’s going to be something I’m going to have to prepare for because there’s going to be a lot more of that,” Johnson said. “Every match is going to be a dogfight in college. There aren’t going to be any easy matches no matter what.”

Walking out of the tunnel at Gainbridge Fieldhouse was his reward for fortitude, and he earned it.

“It’s the grit. Wrestling is not like any other sport. Not to put any other sport down, and I know wrestling is a team sport, but it can become an individual sport, especially in the state series,” Johnson said.

“It was really cool being at state. That was my main goal. Just making it down there was really cool. The whole experience of being on the floor, it was sick. That place does not look that big until there are all those people sitting in the stands. It’s tense. I won’t forget it.”

2021-2022 Daily Reporter All-Hancock County Wrestling Team

Name, School;Yr.;Weight;Record

Cole Vandygriff, New Palestine;Fr.;106 lbs.;20-6

Bryce Doss, New Palestine;Fr.;113 lbs.;28-8

Dakota Herald, Greenfield-Central;Sr.;126 lbs.;26-10

Zach Haughton, Mt. Vernon;Sr.;132 lbs.;26-9

Carson Johnson, Mt. Vernon;Sr.;138 lbs.;34-5

Isaiah Holden, Greenfield-Central;Jr.;145 lbs.;22-17

Josh VanOsdol, Greenfield-Central;Sr.;152 lbs.;23-15

Clay Guenin, Greenfield-Central;So.;160 lbs.;33-6

Chase Gardner, Greenfield-Central;Sr.;170 lbs.;30-9

Brayden Tincher, Eastern Hancock;Jr.;170 lbs.;24-7

Porter Keevers, New Palestine;Sr.;182 lbs.;21-3

Jacob Tweedy, New Palestine;Sr.;195 lbs.;24-10

Devin Kendrex, Mt. Vernon;Fr.;220 lbs.;31-7

Riley Anderson, Mt. Vernon;Jr.;285 lbs.;25-8

Coach of the Year: Josh Holden, Greenfield-Central

Honorable Mentions: Mt. Vernon — Connor Bayliss, Aiden Kiner. Greenfield-Central — Lincoln Parsons, Matt Wickham. Eastern Hancock — Cameron Volz. New Palestine — Chris Bullock, Elijah Alonso, Porter May, Juan Camacho.