It’s a new venue, but the goals will always be the same.

The IHSAA announced last March the 86th Annual IHSAA Wrestling State Finals will be contested at the Ford Center in Evansville, going away from a traditional central Indiana location.

It is the first time the city of Evansville has hosted an IHSAA State Finals event in any sport.

The tournament was moved due to Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis being host for the NBA All-Star Game. Indianapolis had been the host of the state wrestling tournament every year since 1985, which was also the last time the city hosted the NBA All-Star Game. The tournament was in New Castle in 1985.

Nine wrestlers from Hancock County will be making the trip south with the same winning aspirations they would have if the tournament would have been in Indy or Timbuktu.

The county has been well-represented the last two tournaments. There were six county wrestlers in the 2023 event.

The previous two years there were only three total from the county and none were able to get out of the first round.

In 2021, Eastern Hancock’s Avery Wills was the county’s only state qualifier. In 2022, Mt. Vernon’s Devin Kendrex and Carson Johnson were the only locals.

In 2023, New Palestine’s Gunner Butt and Bryce Doss and MV’s Kendrex got the county’s first victories in a state tournament match since 2020.

Four of the nine wrestlers competing in Evansville this weekend are from New Palestine.

Butt, Doss, Cole Vandygriff, and Colin Whetsel will be representing the Dragons.

Butt finished sixth last season in the 106-pound class. Doss was eighth at 120.

Just a sophomore, Butt (33-5) is now in the 126-pound class and is the only county wrestler coming into the tournament as a semi-state champion. He will face a fourth-place finisher in his opening match Friday, Floyd Central junior Fynn Douglas (26-7).

Doss (31-10) is now in the 144-pound class. He was the county’s only semi-state champion in 2023. He placed third last Saturday and will face New Prairie sophomore Jeffrey Huyvaert (45-1), who suffered his first loss of the season last week. Huyvaert is ranked No. 3 in the state.

Vandygriff (28-7) was a semi-state runner-up at 132, losing to undefeated, defending 126-pound state champion Tylin Thrine of New Castle. Vandygriff, a junior, takes on Ben Davis senior Keith Parker (39-6).

Sophomore Whetsel (23-7) will take on Hobart freshman Aleksandar Tatum (29-6) in a first-round match in the 190-pound class.

Mt. Vernon’s two state qualifiers are both returnees. Eli Broady was runner-up to Butt in last week’s semi-state final. He had beaten his New Pal rival in two other meetings, once in a dual meet and two weeks ago in the regional.

Wrestling at 126 this season, Broady wrestled at 120 last year and opened with a 1-0 loss to Center Grove’s Eddie Goss, who eventually placed third. Broady will have another tough draw in his 2024 opener, facing Avon senior Luke Rioux (36-5). Rioux is ranked No. 3 in the weight class and Broady is No. 9. Rioux finished sixth in the state at 106 during his sophomore season.

Kendrex is the county’s only three-time state qualifier. He made the event as a freshman and placed fifth last year in the 220-pound class. He’ll have his work cut out Friday in his 215-pound class opener. After placing fourth at the semi-state, he’ll meet a semi-state winner in defending state champion and top-ranked Will Clark from Crown Point. Kendrex is ranked No. 9 in the class.

Greenfield-Central has its first state qualifiers since 2020. Sophomore Jett McGuire will represent the Cougars in the 120-pound class. Senior Silas Frye will wrestle at 175.

McGuire lost a tough match in last week’s semi-state championship. He appeared headed to overtime tied 3-3, but a stalling call on his opponent, Fishers’ Chayce Yant, was taken off the board, giving Yant a 3-2 win.

In a battle of Hoosier Heritage Conference rivals, McGuire (29-5) will take on Delta sophomore Kaid Jackson (33-7) Friday. McGuire beat Jackson in the HHC title match, 2-0.

Frye (25-12) backed up a fourth-place finish at the regional by beating a regional champion in his semi-state opener and then earned a state tournament spot with a win in the quarterfinals. He’ll come in as a fourth-place finisher again and will take on a semi-state champ in Garrett senior Chase Leech (38-2), who is ranked No. 2 in the state.

Eastern Hancock 113-pounder Bradyn Volz is the county’s only Royal and only freshman to make it to Evansville.

Volz (34-2) was a runner-up in the semi-state, losing to 11th-ranked Blake Getz of Roncalli. His only other loss was a 9-6 decision in a dual against Greenfield-Central when he was bumped up a weight class to have a more competitive match with G-C state qualifier McGuire.

He’ll open the tournament against Lake Central senior Mario Orueta (30-7).

First-round matches begin Friday at 2 p.m. [all times list are Central Time]. Gates open at 12:30 p.m. with the Parade of Champions beginning at 1:30 p.m. Weight classes 150-285 are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Weight classes 106-144 are slated to start at 5:30 p.m.

Saturday’s quarterfinal and semifinal contests are set to begin at 9 a.m. Consolation matches are at 4:30 p.m.with finals at 7:30 p.m.