> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
Every season, several of the area’s best wrestlers face one of the biggest hurdles in their attempt to qualify for the IHSAA State Finals.
That obstacle is the ultra-competitive Evansville Reitz Semistate, which will take place on Saturday at the Ford Center in downtown Evansville. The top four wrestlers in each weight class on Saturday will advance to the state finals Feb. 21-22 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Each wrestler must win his first two matches at semistate to qualify for state.
The main reason why this semistate is always formidable is because it brings in grapplers from some of the state’s perennial wrestling powers like Evansville Mater Dei, Bloomington South and Franklin.
“The Evansville Semistate is always tough from top to bottom,” Floyd Central coach Brandon Sisson said. “There really is never an easy draw when you get to this level of competition. Every wrestler is competing for that chance to go to Bankers Life Fieldhouse the following weekend. It is important for our guys to come out prepared to wrestle every match and not look ahead to the next opponent.”
According to Jeffersonville coach Danny Struck, the semistate’s challenging atmosphere has not intimidated the Red Devils in recent memory. Struck had two wrestlers earn state berths last year in former Red Devil Jasi Coureur and current Jeff heavyweight Gavan Jolley-Little.
“It is a challenge for everyone in our conference and sectional to get [to the state finals],” Struck said. “It is just a tough level of competition for all. We have the longest running streak of state qualifiers from our conference, sectional and regional. We feel like we peak at the right time, and our kids believe in themselves when they get there due to our past performances at semistate. We will do well.”
The Highlanders have the most semistate participants among the News and Tribune area schools with six.
Sisson hopes the four seniors he has competing on Saturday will each find their way to state. That quartet includes Austin Ward (132 pounds), Cory Troutman (152), Chase Herron (170) and Lance Youtsey (182). Ward was the only Highlander last weekend to win a regional title at Jeffersonville.
“I really expect all of our guys to come out and compete. But even more so, I look forward to watch the four seniors go out and lay it all on the line,” Sisson said.
Another Floyd Central grappler Sisson has high hopes for on Saturday is freshman Jarrod Cunningham (113). Cunningham finished second at regional after winning his first sectional championship on Feb. 1.
“Jarrod Cunningham also has a good shot at making it out,” Sisson said. “Jarrod has competed a great deal in the offseason and has wrestled matches at this level before.”
Highlander sophomore Sean Brown (120) also will be competing at semistate following a fourth-place finish at regional last Saturday.
Jolley-Little is the lone returning state qualifier from the area who is left in this year’s postseason. On Saturday, he could face two wrestlers he squared off against in last year’s semistate.
If Jolley-Little defeats Brownsburg senior Zach Rumschlag in the opening round, the Red Devil standout could wrestle Southridge senior Ethan Schwoeppe in the quarterfinals. Jolley-Little downed Schwoeppe in last year’s quarterfinal by a 3-2 decision.
If Jolley-Little makes the semifinals, he most likely will have a rematch with Indianapolis Ben Davis junior Norman Oglesby. Oglesby beat Jolley-Little in last season’s semis by a 5-3 decision. Oglesby proceeded to claim the semistate championship.
The heavyweights have met five times, with Oglesby holding a 3-2 advantage.
“Gavan has a great draw,” Struck said.
Two other Jeff wrestlers will compete on Saturday. Senior Jo Jo Deleon is coming off a surprising victory over Charlestown junior Bryant Haynes in the 126-pound title bout at regional. Junior Stevie Jones (113) earned a second-place finish at regional last weekend.
“Jo Jo has a great draw. Jo Jo beat three kids at regionals that had less than nine losses on the year. Both of his opponents on the way to state have more than 12 losses. Jo Jo has been on a roll,” Struck said. “Stevie has a tough draw, but is an underclassman and we are glad to have his experience coming back [next year].”
New Washington and Charlestown each have four wrestlers going to semistate.
The Mustang quartet consists of freshman Noah Franklin (106), sophomore James Wise (132) and seniors Yancey Crase (138) and Jacob Franklin (160). Noah Franklin has captured his first sectional and regional titles during the 2014 postseason.
The Pirates’ semistate participants are Haynes, senior Luke Woods (113), sophomore Zach Higdon (170) and junior Josh Hurley (220).
New Albany will send three wrestlers to Evansville in juniors Hunter Castleberry (145), Tre Lynch (152) and Patrick Landrum (220).
Providence and Eastern each will have one wrestler at semistate. Pioneer junior Matt Hayes (182) earned a runner-up finish at regional after winning his second consecutive sectional title on Feb. 1. Musketeer senior Jordan Gray (106) will be making his first trip to semistate.
Corydon Central will take four wrestlers to semistate in junior Bailey LaHue (120), sophomores Mason Kaufer (106) and Ezra Paden (138) and freshman Austin Kopp (152).
• CHARLESTOWN: Luke Woods (113), Bryant Haynes (126), Zach Higdon (170), Josh Hurley (220).
• EASTERN: Jordan Gray (106).
• FLOYD CENTRAL: Jarrod Cunningham (113), Sean Brown (120), Austin Ward (132), Cory Troutman (152), Chase Herron (170), Lance Youtsey (182).
• JEFFERSONVILLE: Stevie Jones (113), Jo Jo Deleon (126), Gavan Jolley-Little (285).
• NEW ALBANY: Hunter Castleberry (145), Tre Lynch (152), Patrick Landrum (220).
• NEW WASHINGTON: Noah Franklin (106), James Wise (132), Yancey Crase (138), Jacob Franklin (160).
• PROVIDENCE: Matt Hayes (182).