By KEVIN HARRIS
Like all wrestlers across Indiana, high school grapplers in the Clark-Floyd area have the same goal every year — to qualify for the IHSAA State Finals.
But each season, area wrestlers must face a huge hurdle in trying to reach that ultimate goal. That obstacle is getting out of the ultra-competitive Evansville Reitz Semi-State.
On Saturday at the Ford Center in Evansville, wrestlers from the Clark-Floyd region with state aspirations will compete at the semi-state, where the competition in the 14 weight classes will be fierce as usual. The top four wrestlers in each division will qualify for the state finals Feb. 15-16 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
New Albany coach Eric Burres summed up in one word why it is a challenge to advance out of semi-state, year-in and year-out — “tradition.”
The two programs with the most team state championships all-time — Bloomington South (24 state titles) and Evansville Mater Dei (12) — feed into the Evansville Reitz Semi-State. Also, Burres points out that the city of Evansville and the majority of the team in the semi-state have a huge passion for wrestling.
“Evansville schools as well as other schools in our semi-state have a rich tradition in wrestling,” the Bulldogs’ coach said. “The expectation of winning breeds tough competition and electrifying atmosphere.”
Jeffersonville coach Danny Struck agrees that the formidable programs that compete in the Reitz Semi-state make it a challenging meet. Struck points out that the semi-state is even tougher this year because of the addition of tough teams from central Indiana like Franklin and Indianapolis Ben Davis.
“Evansville is tough because you have Evansville there, meaning Evansville is a good sports town, and they love their wrestling,” Struck said. “All the area Evansville schools get excited about this event and they are ready to go. You round that up with the west side of Indianapolis and all between, and you have the makings of a great day of wrestling.”
Floyd Central will try to continue its productive season on Saturday, as it sends nine wrestlers to semi-state.
Senior Terrance Kennedy will lead the Highlanders as he enters the 106-pound division with a 36-0 record. Kennedy was one of three Floyd Central champions from last week’s Jeff Regional.
The other two Highlander regional champions competing at semi-state are Cory Troutman (138 pounds) and Nick Ottersbach (220). Troutman has a 24-6 record, while Ottersbach is 36-3.
The rest of the Highlanders participating at semi-state are Sean Brown (113), Chris Whitley (120), Austin Ward (126), John Meldrum (152), Chase Herron (160) and Ian Bagwell (170).
Six Jeff wrestlers will be joining Floyd Central’s nine grapplers at semi-state.
The Red Devils’ best chances of getting any wrestlers to state are senior Jasi Coureur (113) and junior Gavan Jolley-Little (285). Both wrestlers have won sectional and regional titles this postseason, as Coureur has a 40-7 record and Jolley-Little sports a 44-4 mark.
The other four Jeff wrestlers at semi-state are Oscar DeLeon (132), David Fridley (160), Daniel Thompson (170) and Brandon Spangler (182).
Struck says all of the wrestlers in his program have one thing embedded in their minds when they start wrestling for the Red Devils and the Team Jeff Wrestling Club, which is making the state finals.
“Kids will chant the same goal that they do every day — state,” Struck said. “The kids wrestling in semi-state will chant that. Our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders will chant that at their practice. Our freshmen, sophomores and juniors will chant that. Every kid still has the same goal. We have done a good job over the past years of peaking our kids at this time of year to put out their best performance, and we are still on track to do that.”
New Albany senior Austin Jamison will try to earn a state finals berth for the first time in his career on Saturday in the 126-pound division. Jamison (38-4) has had a successful postseason by capturing sectional and regional championships.
Four of Jamison’s teammates will be at semi-state. They are Bryce Peavler (120), Hunter Castleberry (145), Ethan Lee (170) and James Searcy (285).
“Austin Jamison is the favorite to win his first two matches and qualify for state. But all of our kids have a chance to qualify if they wrestle to their capabilities and compete,” Burres said. “My expectations is for our kids to compete and wrestle to win. Our kids have been wrestling really well and working hard in practice. Our goal is to get as many kids to qualify to the state tournament as possible. Once you qualify for the state tournament, anything can happen and anyone can win.”
New Washington will have a pair of wrestlers competing in Evansville. They are junior Jacob Franklin (44-4) at 160 and senior Brady Meenach (41-5) at 138. Franklin won the Mustangs’ first regional title since 2009 last weekend.
Charelstown junior Luke Woods will be in the 106-pound division, while Providence sophomore Matthew Hayes will participate in the 182-pound weight class. Eastern junior Brian Arnold will compete in the 220-pound division.