By KEVIN HARRIS
Terrence Kennedy’s participation in the IHSAA state wrestling finals two years ago was a learning experience for him.
The 2011 state finals was the Floyd Central senior’s first appearance in Indiana’s premier high school wrestling meet. But it was a short outing for Kennedy, a sophomore at the time, as he lost to Hanover Central standout Stevan Micic in the first round of the 103-pound division by an 11-1 decision.
Kennedy has accomplished a lot since then and has worked his way back to this weekend’s state finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. It will be the second time Kennedy (39-1) will be wrestling at state. He will take on Penn freshman Drew Hildebrandt (39-10) in tonight‘s opening-round match in the 106-pound weight class. Kennedy will be joined at state by a pair of Jeffersonville wrestlers - Jasi Coureur and Gavan Jolley-Little.
Floyd Central coach Brandon Sisson likes Kennedy’s chances to not only place in the top eight positions, but to win the 106-pound state championship.
“I think he has a very, very good chance to place in the top eight,” Sisson said. “If he wins Friday’s match, it sets him up for a great opportunity to win a state title. He has the ability to win the state title this weekend. He’s learned from [the 2011 state finals] experience and he’ll definitely be ready to go Friday night.”
If Kennedy gets past Hildebrandt tonight, it will set up a possible top-five showdown in Saturday’s quarterfinals between himself and New Palestine freshman Chad Red (44-0). Kennedy is ranked fourth in the state at 106, while Red is No. 1.
“Terrence definitely has the tools to beat him,” Kennedy said.
Sisson says Kennedy knows what to expect as far as the state atmosphere when he enters Bankers Life Fieldhouse this weekend. Therefore, Kennedy should not be in awe of the environment at the state finals and be focused on wrestling.
“I think he learned [from his first state appearance] about dealing with his nerves. It’s a professional sports venue and he didn’t know what to expect,” Sisson said. “He walked out there and there were 1,000 people out there. It can be overwhelming.
“I think he’s going to handle it a lot better this time. He said he’s definitely going to be ready to wrestle this time.”
Kennedy is the lone senior in the 106-pound division, as nine of the 16 wrestlers in the weight class are freshmen. Sisson thinks being the only senior gives his wrestler an edge.
“I think it gives him some advantage,” Sisson said. “Terrence is probably the strongest 106-pounder in the state and he’s been there before.”
Kennedy has had an unbelievable season. He won championships at the Evansville Mater Dei Classic, the Old Capital Classic in Corydon and the Hoosier Hills Conference meet during the regular season. Kennedy followed that up with Jeff Sectional and Jeff Regional titles during the postseason.
Sisson is proud of Kennedy’s accomplishments this season and hopes this weekend’s state finals will get the attention of several college coaches.
“He’s had a very, very successful season,” Sisson said. “Thirty-nine and one against the schedule we wrestle is a very good season. He wants to wrestle in college, so we’ll see what happens this weekend.”
Coureur and Jolley-Little are each making their first appearance at the state finals. They also are continuing a state finals tradition for the Red Devils, as they have had at least one wrestler reach state for the sixth season in a row.
This will be Coureur’s lone state finals appearance as he is a senior. Coureur (42-9) will compete in the 113-pound division and face Micic (44-0), last year’s 106-pound state champion, in tonight’s opening round. Micic is ranked second in the state and the entire United States.
Struck’s best advice to Coureur has been to enjoy the moment.
“I tell him to make the other guy know you were there,“ said Struck, who said several colleges have taken a look at Coureur about wrestling at the next level in the 2013-14 season. “This will be your only trip to state, so make your mark and move into the next thing. Jasi knows it is a tough draw and he wants to cherish every memory and make this match a memorable one. Jasi loves a challenge.”
Jolley-Little (46-6), a junior, also will be facing a formidable opponent in tonight’s first round of the 285-pound division. He will take on Indianapolis Cathedral junior Wesley Bernard (45-1), who is ranked first in the state and the nation.
Struck says this year’s state meet should be a learning experience for Jolley-Little, as he has a good shot to get back to state next year as a senior.
“For Gavan, win or lose, he has another year. We push our kids to get better every day,” Struck said. “We want him to remember everything, make the Ford Center [the semi-state arena in Evansville] his home, so that in his senior season he is completely comfortable at the state finals and beyond.”
Struck has liked the way both of his wrestlers have approached their preparation for state this week.
“They both got tough draws, but they both have great attitudes about it,“ Struck said. “They are coming in after school and getting their workouts in with a great attitude. Both of them know it is a tough road, but we always set our goal for the highest point of the day. They are already state qualifiers, so the goal is to win each match in front of them. To win state, they have to beat the best.
“Their goals are to give 100 percent in the first match, have fun and move on from there. Both of them have wrestling goals that go past the state finals this weekend. Our goals are to stay on track for those goals and always move forward.”